9 Basics of English Grammar

Matt | Teach English: Grammar | Monday, December 1st, 2008

Recently I came across a fantastic summary about the basics of English grammar in an unexpected source.  I came across the grammar summary in the book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, which is a great book for young boys or older boys such as myself.  Still like Confucius (and Emerson) said, anyone can be your teacher, so here goes.

The structure of simple English grammar has only 9 pieces to it.

1. Nouns – gives a name to things.  Names people, places, ideas or things.

  • Proper nouns – names of people or places, “Matthew” or “Ottawa”
  • Common nouns – general things, “dogs”, “cats”, “mobile phones”
  • Abstract nouns -  ideas or qualities, “courage” or “truth”

2. Pronoun – are words that are used to replace nouns.  So instead of Matthew went with Matthew’s girlfriend to buy Matthew’s girlfriend a present.  Too many Matthew’s here.  Instead we can use

  • I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they
  • me, you, him, her, it, us, them
  • my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their

3.  Verbs action or change words, “to become”, “to wash” or “to eat”.

to eat

  • First-person singular: I eat
  • Second-person singular: You eat
  • Third-person singular: He/She/It eats (Need to add ‘s’)
  • First-person plural: We eat
  • Second-person plural: You eat
  • Third-person plural: They eat

4. Adjective – modify a noun or a pronoun.

  • the cow vs.  the brown cow

5. Adverbs – are the words that modify verbs, adjectives and other adverbs.  Usually adverbs end in (-ly).

  • The dog was smiling nastily (nastily ends in -ly)
  • I often go to Starbucks (often modifies the verb “go” and doesn’t end in -ly)

6. Conjunction – is a word that joins parts of a sentence together.

  • For example, “and, so, if, then, but, however, although, because, since, while”
  • These usually do not start in the beginning of a sentence and instead join two simple sentences into one.

7. Articlea/an/the

  • Indefinite article – a/an – are used when the object is unknown. A dog is in my yard.  (We don’t know whose dog it is.)
  • Definite article – the – is used when the object is known.  The dog is in my yard.  (We know the dog, it’s probably ours.)

8. Prepositions – are words that tell us the position or relationship of different words to each other.

  • For example, in/out, on/under, front/behind, between, beside, above/below

9. Interjections – these are simple sounds used to express an inward feeling.

  • Oh! I didn’t know you were married.

That is all nine.

Here is an example sentence.  Can you define all the words?

“No! I saw the old dog growling viciously at his children and friends.”


(Answer: “No!” – interjection, “I” – pronoun, “saw” – verb, “the”- definite article, “old” – adjective, “dog” – common noun, “growling” – verb, “viciously” – adverb, “at” -preposition, “his” – pronoun, “children” – common noun, “and” – conjunction, “friends” – common noun.)

For more information you can visit this grammar site and click on the left-side link Sentence Elements. This will give you all the details you can probably want and more.  Enjoy.  Yeah!

Grammar help – Speaking About Their Past Vacation

Matt | Teach English in China,Teach English: Grammar | Monday, April 7th, 2008

Chinese students have some common problems when learning English. A lot of these mistakes are a result of their first language, Chinese, does not have these grammar structures, so when they are trying to learn their second language, English, they get confused.

Some of the biggies include:

  • the past tense – as they don’t have this in Chinese, it causes confusion.
    • This morning I eat (wrong) Vs. I ate yesterday.
  • third person “s
    • I eat, You eat, He eats, She eats, It eats, We eat, They eat.
  • a/an/the – with proper nouns (person, place, and things) we need to use these little words.
    • He ate apple (wrong). Vs. He ate an apple.
  • Singular/Plural “s” –
    • One (an) apples (wrong) Vs. An apple. Two apple (wrong) Vs. two apples
  • Male/Female – sex – as they don’t have this in Chinese (China has it though).
    • Matt is a strong man. She is very hairy and strong. (wrong)

Here is a speaking exercise that I’ve found that can help the students review the past tense in a fun and energetic way. It’s called:

I went to Paris and…

Aim: To get students to talk about a story using past tense.

Timing: 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the class and the amount of times played.

Focus: Listening, Speaking in the past tense

Procedure: Teacher gets to the board and brainstorms places to travel to.

– Paris, France – Egypt – Africa – Australia – Canada

Get the students to pick a place. Say Paris, France. Then introduce the game. It’s a listening, chain game. Where each student has to build upon the last.

  1. I went to Paris and saw the Eiffel tower.
  2. I went to Paris, saw the Eiffel tower, and drank some red wine.
  3. I went to Paris, saw the Eiffel tower, drank some red wine and visited Mona Lisa at the Louvre.

Each student must listen to the previous students. I help the students by writing the verb on the board that was used, or possibly drawing a picture if possible, to help them jog their memory.

Often the students will help each other which isn’t great in making sure they stay focused. So, to make it more difficult, often the second trip, what I’ll do to up-the-ante is say if any one helps anyone, or anyone says verb in the wrong tense they have to sing an English song. This will depend on your class. If you’ve used songs in your class before this won’t be a problem and it is a fun, exciting way to catch the students and to make they focus hard on 1) listening, and 2) using the correct grammar – the past tense.

Extension: If you want to extend this you could then get the students to write about their past vacation. Or to make up an interesting vacation they’ve been on. This will reinforce their use of the past tense.

Overall, this is a simple, easy and fun way to get your students to practice using the past tense correctly.

I hope you had a great vacation.

Grammar Help on the Net

Where can a teacher turn to if they help in understanding or explaining something like English grammar?

In the old days, I’d say open a book (like Azar’s Fundamentals of English Grammar). And while this still isn’t bad advice, there are now quicker answers on the Net. Here are a couple of my favourite sites if you are looking for help with grammar.

Englishpage.com – this site was a life saver for me. I loved the one page summary of all 12 English grammar verb tenses. It’s a great way to quickly understand and explain grammar. Like when a student asks you, “what’s the difference between past perfect continuous and past perfect tense?” In the past, I’d probably freeze in fear or look for the nearest exit. But now, I’d 1) ask the student to give me an example (to buy myself some time), pull out my print out of Englishpage.com‘s Verb Tense Overview with Examples summary to jog my memory and then explain away with an example sentence.

Verb Tense Overview with Examples

Simple Present Simple Past Simple Future
I study English every day. Two years ago, I studied English in England. If you are having problems, I will help you study English.I am going to study English next year.
Present Continuous Past Continuous Future Continuous
I am studying English now. I was studying English when you called yesterday. I will be studying English when you arrive tonight.I am going to be studying English when you arrive tonight.
Present Perfect Past Perfect Future Perfect
I have studied English in several different countries. I had studied a little English before I moved to the U.S. I will have studied every tense by the time I finish this course.I am going to have studied every tense by the time I finish this course.
Present Perfect Continuous Past Perfect Continuous Future Perfect Continuous
I have been studying English for five years. I had been studying English for five years before I moved to the U.S. I will have been studying English for over two hours by the time you arrive.I am going to have been studying English for over two hours by the time you arrive.

On Englishpage.com there very detailed tutorials explaining in simple terms the differences between the grammar tenses.  If you click on one of the links in their table above you’ll get a detailed breakdown of that grammar point.  Below is an example of what you’ll see.

Past Perfect Continuous


[had been + present participle]


  • You had been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.
  • Had you been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived?
  • You had not been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.

Complete List of Past Perfect Continuous Forms

USE 1 Duration Before Something in the Past

We use the Past Perfect Continuous to show that something started in the past and continued up until another time in the past. “For five minutes” and “for two weeks” are both durations which can be used with the Past Perfect Continuous. Notice that this is related to the Present Perfect Continuous; however, the duration does not continue until now, it stops before something else in the past.


  • They had been talking for over an hour before Tony arrived.
  • She had been working at that company for three years when it went out of business.
  • How long had you been waiting to get on the bus?
  • Mike wanted to sit down because he had been standing all day at work.
  • James had been teaching at the university for more than a year before he left for Asia.
  • A: How long had you been studying Turkish before you moved to Ankara?
    B: I had not been studying Turkish very long.


I believe Englishpage.com gives you all you need to know and to explain grammar easily.

This site is a great one

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