Grammar

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”

Present tense

English has two main ways of talking about present time: the simple present and the present progressive.

THE SIMPLE PRESENT

You make the simple present by using the verb in its basic form. You add -s or -es to the verb in the third person singular.

The simple present is used in the following ways:

1. You use the simple present to talk about something which is happening now, and which will continue to happen in the future. You often use the simple present in this meaning to talk about things that are true about your life, for example where you live, your job, or the kinds of things you like.

Martin lives in Canada.

I work in a hospital.

“What kind of books do you read?”  “I mostly read science fiction.”

2. You use the simple present when you talk about something which happens again and again, or when you say that something happens regularly at a particular time. Use words such as always, often, sometimes, occasionally, and never, or phrases such as on Tuesdays or every day with the simple present in this meaning.

They often go out to restaurants.

I travel to London twice a month.

He gets up at 6 o’clock.

She goes to church every Sunday.

3. You use the simple present to talk about something which stays the same for ever – such as a scientific fact.

Oil floats on water.

Two and two make four.

4. You use the simple present when you are describing what is happening at the exact moment when you are speaking. This meaning of the simple present is used for example in sports commentaries.

Shearer gets the ball from Gascoigne. He shoots  and scores!

For descriptions of actions that are happening now, you usually use the present

progressive rather than the present simple. For example:

“What are you doing?” “I’m  making a poster.”  NOT “What do you do?” I make a poster.”
THE PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

You make the present progressive by using a form of the verb be in the present tense,

followed by the main verb with an -ing ending, for example l am waiting, she is coming.

The present progressive is used in the following ways:

1. You use the present progressive to talk about something which is happening now at the time you are speaking or writing. You often use this meaning with words and phrases that express present time, such as now, at the moment, and currently.

“What’s Bob doing?” “He’s watching television.”

It’s raining again.

I’m looking for my glasses.

2. You use the present progressive to say that something is happening now, but will only continue for a limited period

of time. Compare these pairs of sentences:

We live in France. (=”France” is our permanent home)

We’re living in France. (=”we” are living there for a limited period of time)

He cooks his own meals. (=”he” always does it)

He’s cooking his own meals. (=”he” does not usually do it)

If you want to talk about the subjects you are studying at school or university, you usually use the present progressive.

She’s studying law at Harvard. NOT She studies law at Harvard.

I’m studying English. NOT I study English.

VERBS THAT CANNOT BE USED IN THE PROGRESSIVE

Verbs which express a situation or process, rather than describing a definite action, are not usually used in the progressive. Do not use the progressive with the following verbs:

be   have  see  believe   like  agree  belong

know  love  disagree recognize  hate  mean  wish

remember  prefer  need understand  want  deserve

I know the answer.  NOT I am knowing the answer.

She understands me.  NOT She is understanding me.

Conditionals

When you want to say that one situation (described in the main clause) depends on another situation, you use a conditional clause. Conditional clauses usually begin with if or (for negative clauses) unless.

Jane will pass the exam if she works hard.
Jane will not pass the exam unless she works hard.

They may follow or go in front of the main clause.
If Jane works hard, she will pass her exam.

Conditional clauses are used in two main ways:

– If you see the situation as a real one, and likely to happen, you use the present simple tense in the conditional clause and will (‘ll) or won’t in the main clause. Don’t use will in the conditional clause.

If you take a taxi, you will be there in good time.  NOT If you will take a taxi…
If you wear a coat, you won’t get cold. NOT If you will wear a coat…

– If you see the situation as unreal, imaginary, or less likely to happen, you use the simple past tense in the conditional clause and would (‘d), might, or could in the main clause. Don’t use would in the conditional clause.

If you saw a ghost, what would you do?  NOT If you would see a ghost…
If I bought a new coat, I might not feel so cold. (=I would possibly not feel so cold)
If I found their address, I could write to them. (=I would be able to write to them)

In sentences of this kind, the past tense of the verb be appears as were after the first and third persons, in formal speech and writing. Only use was in informal speech.

If I were at home, I would be watching television. (informal: If I was at home…)
If John were playing today, we’d have a chance of winning. (informal: If John was playing…)

– If you want to talk about conditional situations in the past, use had (‘d) in the conditional clause, and would have in the main clause.

If I’d seen her, I would have asked her to call. (=I did not see her)
The books wouldn’t have been damaged if Mary had moved them. (=”Mary” didn’t move them)

– You can use when instead of if in sentences of the first type (present simple + will etc), but not with those of the second (simple past + would etc). When is not used in situations that are unlikely or impossible.

What will John do if he goes home? (=”John” is probably going home)  OR What will John do when he goes home? (=”John” is definitely going home)
What would John do if he went home? (=”John” is probably not going home)  NOT What would John do when he went home?
I would shout if I saw a ghost.  NOT I would shout when I saw a ghost.

I wish
If you want to talk about a situation in the present which you are not happy about, and would like to change, use the simple past tense in the conditional clause.

I wish I had a new bike. (=”unfortunately,” I don’t have a new bike)

If you want to talk about a situation in the past which you are not happy about, and would like to change, use had in the conditional clause.

I wish I’d gone by train. (=”unfortunately,” I didn’t go by train)
I wish I hadn’t gone by train. (=”unfortunately,” I did go by train)