What is grammar?

Language consists of words – spoken or written – which we use to communicate with other people. Grammar is the structure of that language: the way it’s used, and the conventions that help us understand what is meant from the context.  We learn grammar as toddlers when we learn to speak, so if you speak correctly it’s likely that your children will too, without ever having been taught formally. Continue reading “Grammar”

Grammar Review


A noun is a the name of a person, place, thing, quality, concept or action. The first letters of some nouns are capitalized to show a specific name or title (Greg). These are called proper nouns. Other nouns that are not specific do not use a capital letter (man). These are called common nouns. Nouns that have a singular and plural form are called count nouns. Nouns that only have a singular form are called non-count nouns. For example, homework is a non-count noun.

Incorrect: I have some homeworks.
Correct: I have some homework.


“A” and “An” are used before general or non-specific count nouns such as people, animals, things and places. But they can not be used before non-count nouns. “The” is used before specific names of people, animals, things and places (both count and non-count nouns).

Incorrect: I have a homework to do tonight.
Correct: I have homework to do tonight.


Incorrect: I am going to Abbey.
Correct: I am going to the Abbey.


A verb is a word that tells what the subject of the sentence does. The verb tells the action of the sentence. Sometimes the action shows movement (jump) or sometimes it shows how a thing is or that it exists (is). The verb also shows time which is called tense. The form of the verb or its tense can tell when the action takes place.

Present Simple
Past Simple
Future Simple
will kiss
Present Perfect
has/have kissed
Past Perfect
had kissed
Future Perfect
will have kissed
Present Continuous (Progressive)
is/am/are kissing
Past Continuous (Progressive)
was kissing
Future Continuous (Progressive)
will be kissing
Present Perfect Continuous (Progressive)
has/have been kissing
Past Perfect Continuous (Progressive)
had been kissing
Future Perfect Continuous (Progressive)
will have been kissing


If you are writing more than one sentence (a paragraph, an essay, etc), you should try to use a consistent tense.  In other words, if you begin in the past, stay in the past, do not shift to the present tense without a good reason. Constant changes in tense confuse the reader.  For example:

Incorrect: Yesterday afternoon, I played my stereo and watch TV.
Correct: Yesterday afternoon, I played my stereo and watched TV


Grammatically, modal verbs behave in a different way from ordinary verbs.  They do not show tense and do not follow subject/verb agreement rules.  The structure of the sentence is subject + modal + second verb.

Never add -s, -es, -ed, or -ing to the second verb.

Incorrect: I can sleeping six hours tonight.
Correct: I can sleep six hours tonight.


Incorrect: I couldn’t work ed last night.
Correct: I couldn’t work last night
Incorrect: I couldn’t work s last night.
Correct: I couldn’t work last night.

*Modals don’t follow the subject-verb agreement rule for 3rd person singular.  They do not add s in the third person singular (he, she, it).

Incorrect: She mights go to class.
Correct: She might go to class

*Most modal verbs are followed by the verb without the infinitive (to) or the gerund (-ing).

Incorrect: Gallaudet should to build a new computer center.
Correct: Gallaudet should build a new computer center.
Incorrect: My teacher can signing well.
Correct: My teacher can sign well

 Subject-Verb Agreement
In English, the subject and verb of a sentence must agree.  In the present tense, all singular subjects except I and you require that you add ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the verb.  If the subject is plural, do not add ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the verb.

First person singular
First person plural
Second person singular/plural
Third person plural
don’t add -s to the verb (I sign.)
don’t add -s to the verb (Sue and I sign. We sign.)
don’t add -s to the verb (You sign.)
don’t add -s to the verb (Sue and Bob sign. They sign.)
Third person singular { he
add -s to the verb (Adam signs. He signs.)
add -s to the verb (Sue signs. She signs.)
add -s to the verb (A cat meows. It meows.)

Remember, most nouns use -s or -es to show plurality while verbs do not. If your sentence has an -s on the subject and an -s on the verb, your sentence is probably wrong.

Incorrect: Many students learns American Sign Language at Gallaudet.
Correct: Many students learn American Sign Language at Gallaudet

Pronoun Agreement

Pronouns are substitutes for nouns that keep writers from unnecessarily repeating words in writing.

Without Pronoun: Carol finished Carol’s paper.
With Pronoun: Carol finished her paper.

 In the above example, her takes the place of Carol.  Just like verbs and subjects must agree, pronouns have to agree with the noun or verb they are replacing.

Incorrect: A student should write their own paper.
Correct: A student should write his/her paper


Words in a pair or a series should have parallel structure. Parallel structure means that if you write a sentence that uses two verb infinitives, for example, then add a third verb, all three verbs should use infinitives.  However, you only need to use the word to for the first verb.  It will automatically apply to the other verbs in the list.

Incorrect: I decided to lose weight, study more, and watching less TV.
Correct: I decided to lose weight, study more, and watch less TV


Every sentence must have a subject and a verb and must express a complete thought. A word group that lacks a subject or a verb and that does not express a complete thought is a fragment.

Incorrect: Because Tom ate and drank too much.
Correct: Because Tom ate and drank too much, he got sick

 Adjectives made from Verbs (-ED/-ING)

Verbs of EMOTION can become Adjectives by adding either ED or ING.

My English class bores me.

(verb)  (adj.)
am bored by my English class.(verb)  (adj.)
The class  is boring to me.    

Verb+ED becomes an adjective when it is used to describe a person or animal that experiences an emotion You can call this adjective the Experiencer adjective.

  • One good way to remember to use ED to describe the Experiencer’s emotion is to remember that both words start with E. The Experiencer is described with ED.
Incorrect: I am interesting in sports.
Correct: I am interested in sports. (I is the Experiencer, which means that you must use ED).

 Verb+ING becomes an adjective when it is used to describe the things that cause an emotion. You can call this the Instigator (Causing) adjective.

  • One good way to remember to use ING to describe the Instigator (or Causing) adjective is to remember that both words start with I. The Instigator is described with ING.
Incorrect: The football game is excited. (This means that the game itself feels excited, which is impossible).
Correct: The football game is exciting. (This means that the football game is causing someone to feel excited)

 Commonly Confusing Words

You’re and Your

You’re is a contraction for you + are. You’re very busy today;
Your shows possession. Is that your book?

To and Too

To shows direction. I am going to work.
Too shows how much. It is too hot to work today.

 They’re and Their

They’re is a contraction of they + are. They’re going to Panama next week.
Their is a pronoun that shows possession. Their books are on the table.

 It’s and Its

It’s is a contraction of it + is. It’s a beautiful morning.
Its is a pronoun that shows possession Tell the cat to keep its paws off the table.

Whose and Who’s

Whose is a pronoun. Whose book is this?
Who’s is a contraction for who + is. Who’s there?

Advice and Advise

Advice is a noun. I need some advice on my grammar.
Advise is a verb. My teacher advised me to revise the paper.

 Effect and Affect

Effect is a noun The tax increase had an effect on the poor.
Affect is a verb. The weather affects my mood.

Word Choice

Some words can become different parts of speech by changing their endings or their placement in the sentence.  The forms of these words look almost the same, but depending on which part of speech they are, their spelling changes.

Verb Noun (thing) Noun (person) Adjective Adverb
Succeed Success   Successful Successfully
Analyze Analysis Analyst Analytical Analytically
Predict Prediction Predictor Predictable Predictably

 Some words use the same spelling for different forms of the word, but depending on how it is used in the sentence, it can mean different things.

Verb Noun (thing) Noun (person) Adjective Adverb
Love Love Lover Loving Lovingly
Challenge (A) Challenge Challenger Challenging/ed  

Articles and Determiners

Determiners are used before a noun to determine the character of the noun  in particular, how definite or general a noun it is, and whether it is one or more than one. When you use a noun, you have the choice of using it in one of three possible states.

1. You can use the noun without any determiner at all.

in the singular, if it is a proper noun  Boston is on the east coast.

in the singular, if it is an uncountable noun.  I can hear music.

in the plural, if it is a countable noun.  Tigers have black stripes.

When you use a plural countable noun without the article, you are seeing the noun in a general way – tigers in general.

2. You can use the noun with either of the articles, a or the:

use a with singular, countable nouns.  I can see a car.

use the with singular countable nouns.  I can see the car.

use the with plural countable nouns.  I can see the cars.

use the with uncountable nouns.  I can see the water.

The articles are the most common determiners in English. Their main job is to say whether the noun is definite or indefinite.

3. You can use the noun with one of the other determiners. This adds a further meaning to the noun. For example:

determiner adds the meaning of

my book possession also (our, his, her etc)

this book nearness to the speaker (also plural these)

that book distance from the speaker (also plural those)

some books quantity (also any)

Writing an article

You’re sure to be asked to write an article at some time during your course or for your exams. It might be a piece of writing that needs to persuade, argue and inform, for example. Above all, though, being an article, it will need to be interesting and lively.

Here are some typical questions:

Write an informative / persuasive article for…
…your local newspaper / a teenage magazine / your school magazine / a travel guide

on the topic of…
…adventure holidays / the benefits of exercise / keeping a pet / eating healthily / cycling to school.


In an article written for the exam, technical accuracy is often worth many marks so spelling and grammar are important. Marks are also awarded according to the how well your writing shows that you have considered the following key aspects:

This is far more important to the marks you will receive than most students realise. The examiner will be looking closely for evidence that you have considered your audience in your writing.

· What style of language will suit the type of reader you are writing for?

· Would a formal style be best? Or a more informal – even chatty style?

· You will certainly need to capture and hold your reader’s attention and this means being lively and interesting – most especially when you begin writing (a flat sounding… y-a-w-n …opening to any article is a sure mark loser!).

The chances are you will need to adopt a rather formal style but many modern newspaper and magazine articles often intersperse chatty, informal features to soften the formality and create a rather conversational tone; in magazines, it’s sometimes almost as if the article were one half of a conversation between a friend and his or her slightly older, rather wiser friend.

What style of writing will achieve the aims of your article? Are you writing to persuade, inform or explain? The Englishbiz pages on these kinds of writing should help.

What style and form (i.e. format) of writing would satisfy the genre conventions you need to follow?

* Think what you would expect to see and read in such an article: catchy or witty headlines – maybe a pun (i.e. a witty play on words), subheadings to aid clarity and reading, use of bullet points, lists, images, tables, etc.

* Would the writing need to be very lively, even chatty or perhaps much more formal – perhaps a mixture of the two styles (which is an increasingly common aspect of the style of articles these days)?


* Where and in what situation is the article likely to be read and understood?

* What language choices will help here?

* What tone of voice needs be adopted to suit such a context?

Often an article is not read ‘in depth’ and at a time when full concentration is possible, so… a catchy lively style which does not demand too much of your reader and which follows a clear and logical structure is almost certain to be a good choice for many articles.