Basic English grammar

Small children seem to have an intuitive grasp of language structure – which is why they sometimes make mistakes, assuming principles that are not always true. If you hear a child talk about ‘two mouses’ he is not repeating something he has heard; he has understood the concept that we add the sound ‘-es’ to a word ending in a ‘s’ sound, to create a plural. Continue reading “Basic English grammar”

Nouns in English

As you may know, nouns are a class of words that relate to names of objects, places, and living things. Unfortunately, when you are trying to sort out the subject of a sentence, it can be difficult to tell which words are being used as nouns, and which ones are being used in a more descriptive fashion. For example, the word “city” can be a noun, or it can describe a specific population density. Therefore, when determining where nouns are in a sentence, you’ll need to use cues within the sentence to make sure that you’ve identified them correctly.

Nouns in regular sentences

In many cases, you’ll find that either the first or second word of a sentence is a noun. For example, in the sentence “Mary went to the store”, “Mary” is a noun and the subject of the sentence. Regardless of where the name of a person or specific place appears in a sentence, it will be capitalized. This should help you determine where the nouns are in most typical sentences.

Nouns in conversational sentences

When you see quotation marks in printed text, it usually means that someone is speaking or quoting something else that was said or written. In particular, if you’re reading a work of fiction, quotation marks can help you identify the subject of the sentence. The person that is doing the speaking is usually named outside the quotes, while the subject of the sentence is found in what was said by the speaker.

How to determine which noun is the subject of a sentence

Consider a sentence such as, “Claudia went visit Mary in Ohio”. In this case, you have three nouns, Claudia, Mary, and Ohio. Even though Claudia is the topic of the sentence, you may need to do some work to arrive at that conclusion. Depending on your skill level in English, you may want to list all of the possibilities; even if you know they do not make sense.

To begin, as you may know, Ohio is a state, and therefore cannot visit Claudia or Mary. Since Ohio cannot take any action and is not being described, you can safely rule it out as the subject of the sentence. You can also apply the action and description rules to Mary and Claudia. As you can see, Claudia is the only one taking action in the sentence, and there is no additional information being given about Mary.

Even though nouns are a fundamental part of every sentence, identifying them and sorting out their meaning can be complicated. Unfortunately, even if you look in a dictionary and find out that a particular word is a noun, it may not help you to sort out the subject of the sentence. Therefore, you may have to try rephrasing sentences in order to see if you can come up with a meaning that fits the syntax and makes sense. Have patience – with time, identifying nouns in English will become second nature to you

Basic English grammar components

When you’re learning the English language, you may feel overwhelmed when it comes to all the different grammar components.  There are so many variables that affect the choice of words, even in everyday conversations.  In order to get the most from your English lessons, you’ll need to understand all the different grammatical elements that are used.  The following is a listing of some of the most commonly used English grammar components and what each one means.

Pronouns:  Personal pronouns will often take the place of a person’s name.  There are four different cases of personal pronouns: subjective, objective, genitive, and possessive.  Pronouns may also have number, person, or gender attributes.  Here are some examples:

Subjective: These are pronouns that are used in the subject of the sentence and include “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “it,” “we,” “you,” and “they.”  An example of a subjective pronoun used in a sentence is, “I have a book.”  In this case, “I” is the subject of the sentence and has taken the place of the speaker’s name.

Objective:  These are words that are used as the object of the sentence and include “me,” “you,” “him,” “her,” “us,” “you,” and “them.”  An example of an objective pronoun used in a sentence is, “Give her the book.”  In this case, “her” is the object of the sentence.

Genitive:  These are words that generally used to modify noun phrases.  This type of pronoun is also called an “attributive possessive pronoun.”  These pronouns include “my,” “your,” “his,” “her,” “our,” and “their.”  An example of a possessive adjective is, “This is your book.”  In this case, “your” demonstrates ownership of the book without actually giving the name of the owner.

Possessive:  These pronouns occur in the object of the sentence and include “mine,” “yours,” “his,” and “hers.”  An example of a possessive pronoun is, “This book is ours.”  In this case, “ours” shows a more detailed point of ownership of the book.

Participles:  Participles are verbs that are used as adjectives and commonly end in “–ed” or “–ing.”  A participle expresses a deed or state of action.  Since participles are used as verbs, they usually end up modifying nouns and pronouns.  The following are two examples of participles in action:

“The crying baby woke up.”
“The burning wood smells good.”

Past participles usually end in “–en,” “-ed,” “-d,” “-t,” and “-n.”

Prepositions: These are words that are used to link one part of a sentence to another.  Here’s an example:  “The dog slept on the floor.”  The preposition in the sentence is the word “on,” which connects the dog to the floor.

Verbs: Verbs are action words.  In the sentence, “I caught the ball,” the verb is the word “caught.”  Many of these verbs will be spoken, written, and read differently, depending on the choice of nouns or pronouns.  If you’re ever stumped, try speaking with someone who is fluent in English.  While they may not be able to tell you “why” something is wrong, they can tell you the correct way to conjugate different verb tenses.

It’s not as difficult as you may think to learn English grammar; however, it will take dedication and patience.  It’s best to set aside a specific time each day to study – if not, it’s easy to become frustrated and quit.


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  

Nouns: singular and plural

Most countable nouns have both a singular and a plural form, showing the difference between one and more than one.


The regular way of changing a noun from singular to plural is to add -s at the end.

dog / dogs, chair / chairs, difference / differences

For nouns ending in -y, you drop the -y and add -ies to form the plural.

dictionary / dictionaries, opportunity /opportunities

For nouns ending in o, you add -es to form the plural.

tomato / tomatoes, potato / potatoes


There are also several irregular ways of forming a plural.

1. With seven nouns you change the vowel. They are:

man / men  woman / women

foot /feet  goose/ geese mouse/ mice  tooth / teeth louse /lice

2. With a few nouns you change the final -f to -ve before adding the -s ending.

They include:

knife / knives  leaf / leaves wife / wives  half / halves

Some nouns in this group have a regular plural as well: scarfs and scarves, hoofs and hooves. Both possibilities are correct.

3. With three nouns you add -en. They are:

ox / oxen, child / children, brother/brethren (only in the religious sense)

4. A few nouns which have been borrowed from foreign languages have an irregular plural. They include:

stimulus / stimuli, crisis / crises, criterion / criteria, phenomenon / phenomena

Often these nouns have two plurals: they have developed a regular plural but have also kept their original irregular one. In these cases, the regular form is more informal and popular; the irregular form tends to be used by specialists.

There are no certain formulas for success. (informal)

We have to learn all the relevant chemical formulae. (specialist)

5. A few nouns have no plural ending, but you can still use them in a singular or plural way: they include the names of some animals (such as sheep, deer, cod), certain nationalities (such as Japanese, Swiss), some nouns expressing quantity (such as ton, p (=”pence)),” and a few others (such as aircraft, crossroads, kennels, offspring).

The sheep was making a noise.The sheep were making a noise.


Compound nouns combine two or more words into a single unit. You usually make them plural by adding -s at the end of the word: can-openers, grown-ups. But in a few cases, the first part of the compound takes the -s ending, especially when the compound contains a preposition.

runner-up – runners-up

passer-by – passers-by

man-of-war – men-of-war

Sometimes, a regular plural form has developed, which is slowly replacing the irregular one.

spoonfuls (also spoonsful

mother-in-laws (also mothers-in-law)


Several nouns are used only in the singular. There are three main types:

1. Proper names – names of particular people, places, times, occasions, events, and so on.

John, Robinson, Christmas, Tuesday

You can use these in the plural only if you think of them in a countable way. This is especially common with proper nouns expressing time.

On Tuesdays I go swimming.

Are the Robinsons coming to the party?

We stayed with Mary three Christmasses ago

2. Most uncountable nouns, such as music and advice, are only singular.

3. A group of nouns which you use in the singular, even though they end in -s. These include the names of certain subjects, diseases, and games.

physics, linguistics, mumps, measles, billiards

A common mistake is to think of these as plural, and use them with a plural verb or form a singular noun from them.

Linguistics is fascinating.  NOT  Linguistics are fascinating.

Billiards is a game.  NOT  Billiards are a game.

Poor Mike’s got measles.  NOT  Poor Mike’s got a measle.


Several nouns are used only in the plural. There are three main types:

1. A few nouns are related to things consisting of two joined parts. They include jeans, binoculars, trousers, pliers, scissors. To talk about these in the singular, you use a pair of.

Your jeans are in the wash.  NOT Your jeans is in the wash.

I need to buy another pair of jeans.  NOT I need to buy another jeans.

NOT I need to buy another jean.

2. A few nouns ending in -s are used only in the plural. They include congratulations, outskirts, remains, stairs, thanks.

The stairs were steep and winding.  NOT The stairs was steep and winding

NOT The stair was steep and winding.

These are not uncountable nouns, because they are used with how many, not how much.

How many stairs are there?  NOT How much stairs are there?

3. A few nouns express the idea of groups of people or animals. They include people, folk, police, cattle, poultry, livestock.

The police are outside.  NOT The police is outside.

NOT The polices are outside.