The Most Difficult Aspect of English Grammar, Ranked

Choose the aspect you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on May 13, 2024 06:23
Mastering English grammar can often feel like solving a complex puzzle, where each piece must fit perfectly to reveal a clear picture. Many learners find certain areas particularly challenging, which can vary widely from one individual to another depending on their native language and exposure to English. By creating a ranked list of the most challenging grammar topics, we provide a unique insight into common learning hurdles. This list is dynamically updated based on votes from users like you, reflecting a collective experience and offering guidance on which topics might require extra attention or resources.

What Is the Most Difficult Aspect of English Grammar?

  1. 1
    English has 12 different verb tenses, making it challenging to choose the correct one in different situations.
    Verb tense is a grammatical feature in English that denotes the time at which an action or event takes place. It indicates whether an action occurred in the past, present, or future. The verb tense helps convey the timeline of events and establish the chronological order of actions in a sentence or discourse.
    • Simple Present: Used to describe actions that happen regularly or facts.
    • Present Continuous: Used for ongoing actions happening at the moment of speaking.
    • Present Perfect: Used to show actions that occurred in the past but have a connection to the present.
    • Simple Past: Used to express completed actions in the past.
    • Past Continuous: Used to describe actions that were in progress at a specific time in the past.
  2. 2
    Constructing sentences with conditional clauses (if/then statements) can be tricky, as the word order and verb tense can change depending on the situation.
    Conditional sentences are a type of sentence structure in English grammar that express conditions and their possible outcomes. They typically consist of two parts: the conditional clause (if clause) and the main clause. The conditional clause states a condition, and the main clause states the result or consequence of that condition.
    • 1: There are four types of conditional sentences: zero conditionals, first conditionals, second conditionals, and third conditionals.
    • 2: Zero conditionals are used to talk about general truths or facts.
    • 3: First conditionals are used to discuss real or likely situations in the future.
    • 4: Second conditionals are used to discuss hypothetical or unreal situations in the present or future.
    • 5: Third conditionals are used to discuss hypothetical or unreal situations in the past.
  3. 3
    Using modal verbs (can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would) correctly can be difficult, as they have different meanings and uses.
    Modal verbs are a category of auxiliary verbs used to express possibility, necessity, ability, permission, and other modalities in the English language. They modify the main verb in a sentence to indicate the attitude or perspective of the speaker towards the action. Modal verbs play a crucial role in expressing various shades of meaning and adding precision to statements.
    • Should: Used to express advice, recommendation, and obligation.
    • Will: Used to express future actions and promises.
    • Would: Used to express politeness, requests, and unreal or hypothetical situations.
    • Can: Used to express ability, possibility, permission, and request.
    • Could: Used to express past ability, possibility, and polite requests.
  4. 4
    Choosing the correct preposition to use in a sentence can be challenging, as there are many options and they can change the meaning of a sentence.
    Prepositions are a category of words in English grammar that are used to express the relationship between nouns, pronouns, or phrases with other words within a sentence. They typically indicate location, time, direction, manner, or possession.
    • Form: Prepositions are usually single words, with a few exceptions where they can be composed of multiple words.
    • Placement: Prepositions are typically placed before the noun, pronoun, or phrase they are modifying.
    • Function: Prepositions help establish the relationship between other words in a sentence.
    • Common examples: Some common prepositions include 'in', 'on', 'at', 'to', 'from', 'with', 'under', 'above', 'between', and 'among'.
    • Object case: Prepositions often govern the objective case and influence the form of the word that follows.
  5. 5
    Knowing when to use "a," "an," and "the" can be difficult, as the rules are complex and vary depending on the context.
    Articles in English grammar are a set of words (a, an, and the) that are used to specify or indicate whether a noun refers to something specific or general. They help to establish the reference of nouns in a sentence.
    • Types of Articles: Definite article (the), Indefinite articles (a, an)
    • Function: To indicate the specificity or generality of a noun
    • Use with Singular and Plural Nouns: a/an is used with singular countable nouns, the is used with singular and plural countable or uncountable nouns
    • Use with Proper Nouns: Articles are not typically used with proper nouns
    • Use with Uncountable Nouns: The definite article 'the' can be used with uncountable nouns to specify a particular instance or group
  6. 6
    Using pronouns correctly can be challenging, as they have different forms depending on their function in the sentence.
    Pronouns are a type of word used in place of a noun or noun phrase to avoid repetition or to refer to a person, thing, or idea. They play a crucial role in English grammar to replace nouns as subjects, objects, or possessive elements.
    • Number: Pronouns can be singular (e.g., he, she, it) or plural (e.g., they, we).
    • Person: Pronouns can indicate first person (e.g., I, we), second person (e.g., you), or third person (e.g., he, she, they).
    • Gender: English pronouns can indicate gender, including masculine (e.g., he, him), feminine (e.g., she, her), or gender-neutral (e.g., they, them).
    • Case: Pronouns have different forms depending on their grammatical role: subjective (e.g., I, we), objective (e.g., me, us), or possessive (e.g., mine, ours).
    • Reflexivity: Some pronouns have reflexive forms (e.g., myself, yourself) used to refer back to the subject.
  7. 7
    Knowing when to use an adjective (describing a noun) or an adverb (describing a verb) can be difficult, as the rules are nuanced.
    The 'Adjectives vs. adverbs' aspect of English grammar deals with the distinction between adjectives and adverbs, which are both used to modify or describe other parts of speech. Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns, providing more information about their qualities or characteristics, while adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs, indicating manner, time, place, degree, or frequency. Understanding the correct usage of adjectives and adverbs is crucial for expressing ideas accurately in English.
    • 1: Adjectives describe or modify nouns or pronouns.
    • 2: Adverbs describe or modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
    • 3: Adjectives provide information about qualities or characteristics.
    • 4: Adverbs indicate manner, time, place, degree, or frequency.
    • 5: Adjectives often answer the questions 'what kind?', 'which one?', or 'how many?'
  8. 8
    Constructing sentences in the passive voice can be tricky, as the subject and object are reversed and the verb tense changes.
    The Passive voice is a grammatical construction in English where the subject of a sentence is the recipient of the action, rather than the doer of the action. In passive voice sentences, the focus is on the action and not the person or thing performing the action.
    • Structure: Passive voice sentences typically consist of a form of the verb 'to be' and the past participle of another verb.
    • Subject placement: The subject appears after the verb.
    • Agent omission: The doer of the action (agent) is often omitted or introduced with a prepositional phrase starting with 'by'.
    • Tense usage: Passive voice can be used in various tenses, such as present, past, future, etc.
    • Emphasis on action: Passive voice is used to highlight the action rather than the person or thing doing it.
  9. 9
    Knowing when to use a gerund (a verb form ending in "-ing") or an infinitive (a verb form starting with "to") can be challenging, as the rules are complex and vary depending on the verb.
    The concept of Gerunds vs. infinitives in English grammar refers to the different options for using a verb as a noun, either in the form of a gerund or an infinitive. This aspect often poses difficulties for non-native English speakers.
    • Definition: Gerund - a verb form ending in -ing that functions as a noun. Infinitive - the base form of a verb preceded by 'to'.
    • Usage: Gerunds often used as the subject or object of a sentence, after prepositions, or in certain verb patterns. Infinitives can be used as subjects, objects, after adjectives, or to express purpose or result.
    • Verb patterns: Certain verbs are followed by gerunds (e.g., 'enjoy,' 'practise'), while others are followed by infinitives (e.g., 'want,' 'need'). Some verbs can be followed by both with a change in meaning (e.g., 'like,' 'love').
    • Prepositions: Some prepositions are followed by gerunds (e.g., 'by,' 'before'), while others are followed by infinitives (e.g., 'to,' 'for'). Some prepositions can be followed by either with a change in meaning (e.g., 'in,' 'on').
    • Meaning: Gerunds often indicate ongoing or continuous actions, while infinitives often imply intention or potential.
  10. 10
    Creating sentences with noun clauses (clauses that function as a noun) can be difficult, as they have their own syntax and can be used in many different ways.
    A noun clause is a type of dependent clause that functions as a noun in a sentence. It can act as the subject, object, or complement of a verb or preposition.
    • 1: Noun clauses are introduced by words like 'that', 'if', 'whether', 'why', and 'wh-' words (e.g., 'what', 'when', 'where')
    • 2: They can function as the subject of a sentence (e.g., 'What she said disappointed me.')
    • 3: They can function as the object of a verb or preposition (e.g., 'I don't know if he will come.')
    • 4: They can function as the complement of a linking verb (e.g., 'Her only wish is that he succeeds.')
    • 5: Noun clauses can contain any type of clause (e.g., 'I don't know what she said.'), including other noun clauses

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Ranking factors for difficult aspect

  1. Learner's native language
    The difficulty level of a specific grammar aspect may vary depending on the similarities or differences between the learner's native language and English.
  2. Irregularities and exceptions
    Aspects that have numerous irregularities or exceptions can be more challenging for learners. For example, English verb conjugations have several irregular verbs that don't follow the standard patterns.
  3. Complexity of rules
    Grammar aspects that involve complex or multiple rules can be harder to understand and apply correctly.
  4. Frequency of usage
    Some grammar aspects may be challenging because they are used less frequently in everyday speech, making them harder to recognize and remember.
  5. Ambiguity or nuance
    Aspects that involve subtle differences in meaning or usage can be challenging to grasp. For instance, understanding the difference between present perfect and simple past tenses.
  6. Syntax and sentence structure
    Aspects that involve word order or the arrangement of sentences and phrases can be particularly challenging, especially if they differ significantly from the learner's native language.
  7. Vocabulary
    Grammar aspects that require the learner to have a broader vocabulary to fully understand or use them effectively may be more difficult.
  8. Formality and register
    Some aspects of English grammar might seem more challenging due to their use in particular social or professional contexts and registers, such as the subjunctive mood in formal written English.
  9. Idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs
    Aspects that involve the use of idioms or phrasal verbs can be difficult due to their often non-literal meanings and unique conjugation patterns.
  10. Learning resources and support
    The availability and quality of learning resources, as well as the level of support from teachers or mentors, will also influence the difficulty level of a specific grammar aspect.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult aspect of English grammar. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or aspect is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 169 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each aspect once every 24 hours. The rank of each aspect is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.


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More information on most difficult aspect of english grammar

English grammar is a complex system of rules and structures that govern the way we communicate in the English language. It encompasses everything from basic sentence structure to more advanced concepts such as verb tense, subject-verb agreement, and the use of articles and prepositions. While some aspects of English grammar may come naturally to native speakers, others can prove to be quite challenging, even for those who have been speaking the language for years. In fact, many people consider English grammar to be one of the most difficult aspects of learning the language. With so many rules and exceptions to remember, it's no wonder that even seasoned English speakers can struggle with certain aspects of grammar from time to time. In this article, we explore some of the most challenging aspects of English grammar and offer tips and tricks for mastering them.

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