English Grammar

From Leo's Notes
Last edited on 30 December 2021, at 01:05.

Quick review of the English grammar.


There are five kinds of verbs: The action verbs which are transitive or intransitive, and the non-action verbs that are to be, linking, or auxiliary.

Action verbs are actions that can be taken. Examples include walk, study, laugh. Action verbs are either

  1. transitive or
  2. intransitive.

Transitive verbs act on an object while intransitive verbs do not. Eg. I walked to the beach uses walk as a transitive verb. I laughed uses laugh as an intransitive verb.

Non-action verbs are classified as one of:

  1. the verb to be,
  2. linking verbs, or
  3. an auxiliary or helping) verbs.

The to be verb is typically used to define something about the subject. Eg. The apple is red, where is is conjugated from the to be verb.

A Linking verb links (or shows the relationship between) the main noun (subject) to an adjective. Eg. The apple appears rotten, where appears links the apple to the adjective rotten. Examples of linking verbs include appear, become, feel, grow, look, seem, sound. To test whether a verb is a linking verb, replace the verb in question with a form of to be. If the sentence still makes sense, the verb is a linking verb.

Auxiliary or helping verbs preceeds the main verb in a sentence. Main helping verbs are to be, to have, and to do. Eg. I am watching you, I have programmed that, I do not like running. Notice that the main verb watching, programmed, and running are preceded by another helping verb.

Irregular verbs are those that do not conjugate normally. Examples are ring/rang, think/thought.


There are a few moods:

  1. indicative (fact of reality)
  2. imperative (command)
  3. interrogative (question)
  4. conditional (causes something to happen)
  5. subjunctive (statement contrary to reality)


There are 3 modes of time: past, present, and future. Each of these can be written in simple or as perfect tense. Present perfect is formed using an auxiliary verb 'have' along with the past participle of the main verb.

Simple Perfect
Present Action happening now.

I talk.

Past action that extends to the present.

I have talked.

Past Past action that has completed

He talked. He worked for this company for 30 years.

Past action completed before another action. This mode is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past.

I had talked. He gave blankets he had made to charity.

Future A future action that has yet to happen.

I will talk.

Action that will have been completed in the future by some future time.

They will have talked. By the end of next week, I will have completed the report.

In addition to simple and perfect forms, each may also have a progressive tense as well. This shows the action 'in action' at that moment of time.

(Simple) Progressive Perfect Progressive
Present A current action that is underway.

I am talking.

Past action extending to present and is still underway.

I have been talking.

Past Past action that was underway.

He was talking.

Referring to a past action while it was underway.

I had been talking.

Future A future action that is underway.

I will be talking.

A future action while it is underway.

I will have been talking.

There are grammatical aspects between the progressive and continuous. English does not distinguish the two and is generally used interchangeably but there can be a slight shade of difference in meaning which a careful writer can use. In general, progressive implies the action is in progress at the moment whereas continuous is the action that has started previously and is currently ongoing. In Cantonese, progressive uses 緊 like 做緊 (jouh gán, doing) while continuous uses 住 like 揸住 (jah jyu, holding) or 著住 (jurt jyu, wearing). One implies the action is still in progress but incomplete, whilst the other implies the action is still on-going but could eventually change. (See: https://cantolounge.com/present-tense-cantonese/#Words_that_indicate_continuous_or_progressive_states)

Progressive Continuous
Present Often implies a process, or something in progress.

I am putting on clothes.

You are driving too fast here.

Something that his happening at this precise moment.

I am wearing clothes.

You are reading this sentence.

You are going to dinner this evening.

Past action from a specific time in the past that is continuing, or that something took place while something else was happening, or something did not complete, or criticize something that happens periodically.

She was rewriting the report all day yesterday

While I was reading a book, the cat was scratching the sofa.

I was painting the fence when I had to go.

He was always arriving late to work on Mondays.

Something that happened in the past and is still happening, action is not completed

I was going to complete the report but I decided to leave.

Future shows action will be in progress at some time in the future

At 9AM tomorrow, I will be attending a meeting

continued or an ongoing future in the future. Eg. project our self in the future

This time tomorrow, I will be working.

In general, most grammar books will not distinguish progressive and continuous tenses.



Coordinating conjunctions connect words, phrases, dependent clauses, or independent clauses as equals

The FANBOYS acronym.

  1. For - a reason (because)
  2. And - sequence, cause & effect (but), contrast, unexpected result (yet)
  3. Nor - negative connection, part of correlative neither...nor...
  4. But - contrast, except
  5. Or - link, stress, counter previous statement
  6. Yet - addition, stronger form of but, combined with and
  7. So - connect independent clauses, cause & effect (therefore), as well / in addition


a white bus

  1. after
  2. when
  3. how
  4. if
  5. though
  6. even
  7. before
  8. until
  9. since

offer a transition and show relationships. time , place, cause effect


  1. as if - how something is done
  2. even though
  3. even if
  4. whereas
  5. whenever
  6. because

Creates a dependent clause


Correlative deals with pairs. Unlike coordinating, correlative is used to emphasize something.

both ... and not only ... but also not ... but either ... or neither ... nor

Keep in mind plurality on the verb. The word closest to the verb determines singular or plural. neither the dog nor the cats were in the yard. neither the cats nor the dog was in the yard.

When using correlative conjunctions, the two items should be parallel. Eg. Either wait or call: 'We can either wait for Jon to arrive or call a cab.' Not 'Either wait or call: We can either wait for Jon to arrive or we can call a cab.'


  • demonstrative: those, these, this, that. Used as pronouns or as adjectives
  • interrogative: which one
  • indefinite: some, somebody, each
  • reciprocal: each other
  • relative: who, which that
  • reflexive and intensive: myself

Common issues are with agreement of number. Both the pronoun and its antecedent must be either singular or plural. Indefinite pronouns are singular: somebody, everybody, anybody. Sentences like "Everyone should sign their name on the list" is incorrect since everyone is singular and their is plural. To fix, either:

  1. remove the pronoun: Everyone should sign the list
  2. Replace 'everyone' with a plural pronoun: All attendees should sign the list
  3. Or cumbersome: Everyone should sign his/her name on the list

Subjective/Objective case.

Subjective Objective
I Me
He Him
She Her
They Them

Use the subjective case when the pronoun is used as a subject. Use the objective case when the pronoun is the object of a preposition.

Subjective Objective
Josh and he are on the committee Josh said she would send an email to Alice and him

Pronouns must be specific.

  • "It has been found that..." in most cases can be removed completely since 'it' refers to nothing.
  • "whether ..., it ..." the 'it' also refers to nothing and can be removed.

Anticipatory reference refers to pronouns that occur before the subject, and should be avoided whenever possible.

  • "If they arrive today, please tell me when I can open the supplies". (Dubious sentence since 'they' might not necessarily refer to supplies)

Who/Whom/That That refers to things and never people. Only Who/Whom can refer to people.

  • "Employees that are late will be terminated" should be "Employees who are late will be terminated"

Who is used as the subject; Whom refers to the person as the object.

To is a preposition and prepositions take objects. Always say "To whom" and not "to who".

Adjectives and Adverbs

An adjective describes a noun. An adverb modifies and adjective or another adverb. Eg: He ran really fast. (ran = verb, really = adverb modifying fast, fast = adjective on run)

Adverbs typically end with -ly (Eg. slowly, quickly). Exceptions to this rule are typically flat adverbs such as soon, fast, now, not, deep, short. There are also other words ending in -ly that are both adjectives and adverbs (Eg. friendly, lovely).

Flat adverbs have the same form as a related adjective. It is similar to a normal adverb without the -ly. Eg. slowly in Drive slow.

An adverb clause always happens after a subordinating conjunction. Eg. The computer booted up so quick with the new SSD..

A conjunctive adverb (also known as adverbial conjunction) is a type of adverb that joins together two independent clauses or complete sentences. It is used to transition and show the relationship between two clauses.

Desire Conjunctive Adverb
to illustrate example
current time now, meanwhile, henceforth, elsewhere
show cause & effect therefore, hence, then
emphasize certainly
contrast however, in contrast, yet, conversely
add to furthermore , additionally, moreover
result of accordingly, incidentally, namely
sequence of events subsequently, finally, thus

Do not confuse adjectives with adverbs.

  • Bad vs. badly. Bad is an adjective, badly is the adverb.
  • Good vs. Well. Good is an adjective, well is an adverb.

Some adjectives have different meanings depending on usage. Be mindful and use the appropriate adjective.

  • Little vs. a little. Little refers to size. A little refers to something positive
  • Much vs. Many: Much is used for singular or collective nouns. Many is used with plural nouns.


A preposition is used to indicate either:

  • A location. Eg. in, near, beside, on top of
  • or a relationship between the subject a noun or pronoun (subject) and other parts of the sentence. Eg. about, after, besides, instead of, in accordance with.

When writing, avoid:

  • Idioms or 'slangy' language when writing. Eg. Don't miss out on ...
  • Hanging prepositions. Eg. Where are you going to? What did you do that for? Where are we eating at?

Some common misused prepositions and their associated meanings:

Sentence with questionable preposition Preposition meaning
Do you want me to wait [on / for] you?

for = you are waiting for me to arrive

on = you are waiting on me to bring something for you

on to vs. onto

onto = on top of, to position upon

on to = when part of a verb phrase (log on to, held on to).

differ [with / from] me

differ with me = disagree on something

differ from me = appearance is different

different [from / than] Always differ from and never different than. British may say different to.
divided [among / between] between = between two

among = more than two

into/in into for movement. Eg. unloaded into the water.

in for location. Eg. boat is in the water.

like vs. as like = similarities between two items

as = describes how something functions

about vs on about = routine, ordinary. Eg: discussion about ...

on = serious, academic. Eg: lecture on ...


A semicolon unites two highly related but independent sentences. The thoughts preceding and following the semicolon must each be grammatically complete sentences. Semicolons should be followed by a lower case letter. Eg:

  • I work in two buildings; the Smart building, and at Foothills campus.
  • Fred called in sick; I hope he gets better soon.
  • Run reboot on the system; don't run this if others are logged in.

Avoid using semicolons for embedded lists; use commas as a separator unless list items also contains commas.

Colon provides a pause before introducing related information. Common uses are:

  • Introduce a list. Do not use a colon after a verb or preposition.
  • It can be used to show the previous idea will be further explained, clarified, or restated.



Sentences employ either:

  • Active voice, an actor acts on the target and follows the syntax: subject + verb + target. Eg. The cat scratched the post.. Imperative (ie. commands) verbs are also in active voice because the subject is typically you. Eg. Sit down! Open the window.
  • Passive voice, where the syntax is the reverse of active voice: target + verb + subject. Eg. The post was scratched by the cat. A feature of passive voice is that the subject can be omitted. Eg. The post was scratched. (The subject is ambiguous).

Typically, sentences written in active voice is easier to read and understand because readers typically convert passive voice to active voice. Passive voice also turns sentences on their heads and obfuscates the intention or ideas of the sentence. For technical writing, try to always use active voice for clarity.

Passive voice sentences require the use of a passive verb. A passive verb is formed with a form of to be (is/are, was/were) followed by the past participle of the verb (irregular verbs aside, this is the -ed of the verb). Eg. scratched becomes either is/was scratched, or was/were scratched.


  • Use strong verbs in sentences and avoid weak or imprecise terms such as forms of to be, have, occur, happen.
  • Do not start sentences with there is/are. Sentences that do this use a generic subject there. Try to replace this with a more meaningful subject.
  • Each sentence should focus on a single idea, thought, or concept. Sentences with many nonessential subordinate clauses should be separated. Nonessential subordinate clauses convey information not immediately important to the main idea of the sentence. Subordinate clauses typically start with words which, that, because, whose, until, unless, since, etc.
  • Eliminate or reduce extraneous words. Eg. is able to to can, determine the location of to find, at this point in time to now.


Paragraphs are group of sentences that focus on a single topic with the sole purpose of answering the following main questions:

  1. What are you trying to tell your reader?
  2. Why is this important?
  3. How should the reader use this knowledge or supporting reasons on why they should believe you.

The opening sentence should set up the theme for the paragraph. It should explain what the paragraph will try to convey. Subsequent sentences that do not relate to the topic outlined in the opening sentence should be edited out or made relevant to the topic.


Misused Words

Irony: The result of something that you did or some situation which was the opposite result of what was intended.

Similar Words

Piriah - an outcast Piranha - the fish

Misfit Grammar

  • Split infinitive. Don't split a verb with an adverb (to walk quickly is fine, not to quickly walk).
  • "Try and" is wrong, use "Try to"
  • Repetitive subjects "The engineers, they submitted the plan"
  • "Hopefully, ... " is [controversial https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disjunct_%28linguistics%29]. This is technically a disjunct (where an adverb starts a sentence). This usage has been accepted by oxford, but the proper use should be "I am hopeful..." or "I hope..."

See Also

Additional resources