What are grammar questions in verbal reasoning tests?

A verbal reasoning test assesses your ability to understand written information. This will involve questions broadly concerning most aspects of English language, including analogies, spelling and meaning of words, and of course, grammar.

Correct use of grammar is essential for meaning and intent, and is therefore a crucial part of any candidate’s armoury of assessable verbal skills.

Although verbal reasoning tests are all different, they will follow a similar structure. You are likely to be assessed using multiple choice, and will be asked to identify incorrect uses of grammar in such forms as tenses or punctuation.

5 aspects of grammar that feature in verbal reasoning tests

1) Principles of word order

To determine the correct meaning of a sentence, the sequence of words (also known as ‘syntax’) is crucial. The standard word order in English is: Subject + Verb + Object. To determine the proper sequence of words, you need to understand what the subject, verb and object(s) are.

For example, “Luke (Subject) bought (Verb) oranges (Object)”.

This is the basic overview for this principle; to further aid your research, it may be helpful to investigate English language sentence structure separately.

2) Principles of punctuation

Being familiar with the following principles of grammar is key to completing a verbal reasoning test with as much comprehension as possible.

Without punctuation, most texts in written English would be rendered impossible, or at the very least, very difficult to understand. Furthermore, incorrect punctuation can distort and even completely change the meaning of a sentence.

A story told to many English students to illustrate just how important punctuation can be is one concerning a condemned prisoner, whose life was supposedly saved by a comma. When signing off a document of condemned prisoners, Tsar Alexander III wrote next to one of the names, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia”. The Tsar’s wife saw an opportunity to save the life of an unknown prisoner, scratched it out, and reinserted the comma. The new line now read, “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.”

Main punctuation elements of English are as follows:

. The full stop (British English) or period (American English)

The colon (:)

; The semi-colon

, The comma

? The question mark

! The exclamation mark

’ The apostrophe

– The dash

The hyphen (-)

” “ Inverted commas, or quotation marks

’ ‘ Single quotation marks

( ) Brackets, or parentheses

3) Principles of tense and aspect

Many languages have grammatical means to indicate the time when an action or event occurs, or when a state or process holds. This phenomenon is called tense.

For example:


“I was a dancer.”


“I am a dancer.”


“I will be a dancer.”

4) Use of Determiners

Determiners are always used in conjunction with nouns. Unlike verbs (doing words), nouns (naming words) are unable to stand alone and still make sense, for example a person can say, “Jump!” and it makes sense.

But if a person says, “House!”, it doesn’t make sense without a determiner. A determiner can be classified as one of the following; an Article (a/an/the), or a Demonstrative (this, that, these, those).

For example:

“The Pacific is the world’s largest ocean. These are the fish that live in it.”

‘The’ here is the article, and ‘These’ are the demonstrative.

5) Use of Connectors

Connectors (also known as conjunctions, or conjunctive words) are words that link things together within a sentence. For example, ‘and’ and ‘or’ are both connectors.

Example grammar questions

1) Principles of Word Order


Put the following words into the correct order:

every Imogen to the gym goes Friday

Correct answer:

Imogen goes to the gym every Friday.

2) Principles of Punctuation


Which sentence has the comma in the correct place?

  1. The room had many, beautiful pieces of furniture including a leather sofa.

  2. The room had many, beautiful, pieces of furniture including a leather sofa.

  3. The room had many beautiful pieces of furniture, including a leather sofa.

  4. The room had many, beautiful pieces of furniture, including a leather sofa.

Correct answer:


The comma is perhaps the most commonly used punctuation mark in the English language. It is also one of the most regularly misused. There are lots of rules about comma usage, so it is a good idea to try to familiarise yourself with these before the test.

The comma here acts as a natural pause in the sentence. ‘The room had many beautiful pieces of furniture’ is a simple sentence that doesn’t need a comma. However, ‘including a leather sofa’ is an added clause, and therefore needs a comma to signify a natural break.

3) Principles of tense and aspect


“He asked me if I ________ been to this restaurant before.”

  1. Have
  2. Had
  3. Was
  4. Is

Correct answer:

He asked me if I had been to this restaurant before.

Here the verb asked is in the past tense, and so we amend the tense of the verb that follows (‘have’ to ‘had’).

4) Use of Determiners


He was wearing an earring in __________ ear.

a) each

b) any

c) every

Correct answer:

He was wearing an earring in each ear

For this question, it could be easy to select every single one of these answers, as technically they all make some kind of sense. However, the key to this question will be to read it carefully within its context; you have a pair of ears, and therefore ‘each’ will be the correct answer.

5) Use of Connectors


“Miranda has an early appointment at 8 AM. She has set her alarm for 6 AM _______________ oversleep.”

Fill the blank by choosing the appropriate connector from the following.

  1. in order not to
  2. for
  3. to
  4. in order to

Correct answer:

Miranda has an early appointment at 8 AM. She has set her alarm for 6 AM in order not to oversleep.

In making a) and d) very similar in wording, it would be easy to carelessly pick the wrong answer. This is a prime example of how important it is to read each question and answer very carefully, before making a choice.

Tips for grammar questions

When in doubt, return to the rules

Once you have grasped the grammar rule, you have won most of the battle already; putting your understanding into practice is the next step.

Practice each rule, one at a time

Creating your own example sentences for each rule helps you to put the rules in your own context.

Learn from your mistakes

Always take care to invest time in reviewing grammar rules you’re having difficulty with, or mistakes that you repeat often.

Read critically

Stand back, read what you have written carefully, and ask yourself honestly if it would make sense to someone else. Can the sentence be read more than one way?

Immerse yourself in the written word

As well as practicing in a focused way for the test, one of the best strategies for getting to grips with grammar is to read good quality writing, such as broadsheet newspapers and classic authors. When reading, ask yourself what grammar rules are being used and how.