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5 Grammar Concepts Every English Teacher Should Know

1. Count vs. Non-Count Nouns

Homer Simpson once asked the question, “I have 3 kids and no money. How come I can’t have no kids and 3 money?”

The grammatical reason is because kids are a count noun, and money is a non-count noun.

Non-count nouns can only be singular, they cannot be counted by themselves. This is why the following sentences are incorrect:

Ashley will buy 9 gasolines.
My father gave me 3 advices.
I have 27 sands in my shoe.

Count nouns are nouns that can be singular or plural. Non-count nouns can only be measured in terms of count nouns:

Ashley will buy 9 gallons of gasoline.
My father gave me 3 pieces of advice.
I have 27 grains of sand in my shoe.

2. Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs

Let’s look at two sentences:

John walks.
John likes.

Both have a subject and a verb, so why is one sentence correct and the other not?

The difference is that the second sentence requires a direct object. It is necessary to state what John likes in order for the sentence to make sense. The difference is that the second sentence uses a transitive verb.

transitive verb requires a direct object, an intransitive verb does not. Native speakers can easily tell that the following sentences are missing something:

Today I will fix.
We named.
She repairs.

Intransitive verbs do not take direct objects, and must be followed by prepositions. That’s why the following sentences don’t make sense:

I sleep the bed.
Mary falls the floor.
They voted the election.

Some verbs can be transitive or intransitive.

I eat food.
I eat at the table.
Michael reads.
Michael reads it.

Others have slightly different meanings in the transitive or intransitive

We run the school.
We run to the school.

3. Phrasal Verbs

A student once told me, “I had a fight with my friend yesterday, and then we made out.”

Why is this sentence incorrect? Or is this just the way European conflicts are resolved?

The problem with this sentence is the misuse of a phrasal verb. A phrasal verb is a verb + preposition that changes the meaning of the verb. It is the reason that the following sentences all have slightly different meanings:

made my friend.
made up my friend.
made up with my friend.
made out with my friend.
made over my friend.

Some phrasal verbs have very subtle differences. Consider the difference between make and make up, or the difference between carry off and carry away, or between fill in and fill out. Other phrasal verbs have drastically different meanings, such as make up and make out, or take off and take over, or do over and do away with.

Phrasal verbs can be transitive or intransitive, or sometimes both.

4. “Born” is an adjective, not a verb

Beginning English learners often write sentences like:

I borned in 1985.
I was borned in 1985.

This is because many languages, such as Spanish, have a verb that means “to be born.” In English the verb used is “to bear,” meaning “to give birth to.”

“Bear” is conjugated the same as the verbs “tear” or “swear.”

tore the paper yesterday.
The paper was torn by me yesterday.
The paper was torn yesterday.

My mother bore me in 1985.
was born by my mother in 1985.
was born in 1985.

The verb “bear” is rarely used in the present tense. Sentences like “She bears children” or “She is bearing a child” are correct but not often used. The verb is sometimes used in the past tense as in “My mother bore three children.” It’s also used occasionally in the gerund tense, as in “I am in my child-bearing years.” But the verb “to bear” is usually used in the past participle tense, making it into the adjective “born.”

5. Comparative and Superlative Adjectives

Why is it correct to say “happier” but not “joyfuller”? Why do we say “the most intelligent” but not “the most smart”?

These are comparative and superlative adjectives. Comparative adjectives are used to compare two people or things. Superlative adjectives are used to compare a person or thing to more than one person or thing.

The rules for creating these adjectives depend on their syllables and final letter.

Adjectives that are one syllable, or end with the letter “Y” use the -er and -est endings, such as:

big bigger biggest
sweet sweeter sweetest
happy happier happiest
tiny tinier tiniest

Adjectives that are two or more syllables and do not end with the letter “Y” use the words “more” and “most” to modify them, such as:

careful more careful most careful
interesting more interesting most interesting

Of course, not all adjectives follow these rules. There are many exceptions, such as:

good better best
bad worse worst
many more most

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