A Way With Words specializes in translation, writing, and editing, with a focus on the Scandinavian languages.
Copyright (c) 2008-
A Way With Words specializes in translation, writing, and editing, with a focus on the Scandinavian languages.
Copyright (c) 2008-
A Little English Reference Guide
by B.J. Epstein
This is just a short review of some of the major topics in English grammar, along with a couple of other items. It is not complete and it does not include all the details.
Singular and Plural, Possessive
Infinitives, Present Simple, Present Continuous, Past Tense, Past Continuous, Present Perfect, Present Perfect Continuous, Past Perfect, Past Perfect Continuous, Future, Passive, Helping Verbs, Contractions
Personal Pronouns, Possessive Pronouns, Reflexive Pronouns
Cardinal Numbers, Ordinal Numbers, How Many Times
Singular and Plural
A noun is a living being, place, or thing.
Examples: person, Paula, boy, dog, table, living room, and notebook.
To make plural nouns, usually you just add an “s” to the word.
one girl – two girls
one cat – two cats
one computer – two computers
There are some exceptions, though.
Nouns that ended in “s” become plural by adding “es.”
one bus – two buses
one kiss – two kisses
Nouns that end in “y” become plural by taking away the “y” and adding “ies.” If there is a vowel before the “y,” you just add “s.”
one family – two families
one penny – two pennies
one boy – two boys
Some nouns that end in “o” become plural by adding “es.”
one tomato – two tomatoes
one echo – two echoes
Some nouns that end in “f” become plural by taking away the “f” and adding “ves,” while others become plural in the usual way.
one shelf – two shelves
one wolf – two wolves
one roof – two roofs
Some nouns change their spelling.
one man – two men
one child – two children
one foot – two feet
one mouse – two mice
To make the possessive of a singular noun, you usually just add an apostrophe (') and an “s.”
the woman's car
the student's backpack
If a noun is plural and ends in an “s” or if there is a name or a singular noun that ends in “s,” you just add an apostrophe.
the brothers' fish
the wolves' paws
the children's teacher
A verb shows action or a state of being. Verbs change form depending on the meaning of the sentence and what time period is being referred to.
The infinitive is the base form of a verb. It often follows the word “to” and can be used as a secondary verb in a sentence.
Examples: to be, say, do, to eat
Do you like to swim?
She wanted to call you.
The present simple form refers to the current time and to habits or conditions. In
general, the third-
Examples: grow, likes, have, plays
The boy throws the ball.
You are nice.
We go for walks every evening.
She gets up at seven-
The continuous form is used for actions that occur for a certain period of time or that are still going on, or for things that are only true for the moment. The continuous form is built by adding “ing” after the base form, and has to be used with the correct present tense form of the verb “to be.”
Examples: am/are/is speaking, am/are/is running, am/are/is reading, am/are/is playing, am/are/is being
Are you talking to your father on the phone now?
She is learning how to speak Finnish.
What are you doing?
We are drinking coffee, chatting, and having a good time.
The present continuous form can also be used to show annoyance or to imply that something is irritating. The word “always” is often included in the sentence, to exaggerate how often something occurs and how annoying it is.
I am always losing my keys!
He is teasing me again!
The past tense is used to show that actions have occurred and are now finished. It is often formed by adding “ed” to the base form of the verb, but there are some irregular verbs as well.
Examples: was, went, hopped, called
She read the newspaper last night.
We saw a good movie two weeks ago.
They walked along the beach.
I listened to an interesting lecture.
The past continuous form is frequently used to describe one thing that was taking place while another occurred. It is built by adding “ing” after the base form, and has to be used with the correct past tense form of the verb “to be.” Usually it is in a sentence with a past tense verb as well.
Examples: was/were arguing, was/were moving, was/were brushing, was/were growing
I was watching tv when someone rang the doorbell.
They were driving home when it started raining.
My brother's pencil broke while he was taking a test.
While we were eating dinner, Francine told us a funny story.
The present perfect tense is used for actions that have been completed in the present, or recent, time, or to refer to unfinished actions or conditions, or to speak about life experiences. It is built by using “have” or “has” with the past participle of the verb.
Examples: have traveled, has finished, has spoken, have gone
Have you ever been to India?
I've forgotten what you told me.
We have worked here for seven years now.
She has never eaten salmon.
Present Perfect Continuous
The present perfect continuous tense is used for actions that have recently been completed or for actions that are repeated for a certain period of time. It is built by using “have” or “has,” plus “been,” and the verb in the “ing” form.
Examples: has been singing, have been waiting, has been raining, have been building
I am tired because I have not been sleeping well lately.
They have been spending their vacations in Wisconsin for the past three years.
She has been working really hard this week.
How long have you been playing the clarinet?
The past perfect tense is used to talk about something that happened in the past, usually in regard to something else. It is formed by using “had” with the past participle of the verb.
Examples: had left, had called, had admitted, had opened
We hurried to the store, but by the time we got there, it had already closed.
Albert wanted to go to the theater, but his wife had seen the play before, so they stayed home.
Vivian didn't want to drink coffee. She said she didn't like it, though she had never tried it.
I thought it was strange they had never met before.
Past Perfect Continuous
The present perfect continuous tense is used for actions that had taken place before something else happened or became true. It is built by using “had,” plus “been,” and the verb in the “ing” form.
Examples: had been sleeping, had been complaining, had been climbing, had been dancing
I looked out the window and saw that it had been snowing.
She had been waiting for half an hour by the time the bus finally came.
When his boss arrived at the office at eight, he had already been working for two hours.
It was obvious from the way they exchanged a glance that they had been talking about me before I got there.
Verbs in the future tense tells what is expected to happen in the future. This tense is simple and usually consists of “will” or “going to” in combination with the infinitive form of another verb. British English, and very rarely American English, also uses the word “shall” for the future.
Examples: will learn, going to ask, will try, shall remember
Tomorrow he is going to buy a new bicycle.
I shall never forget your kindness!
My grandmother will teach you how to knit.
We're going to travel to New Zealand next year.
The passive tense is used when an action happens to subject, rather than the subject performing the action. To make a verb passive, use participle with the appropriate form of the verb “to be.”
Examples: was seen, is being sent, were brought, has been built
The ball was thrown so hard it flew out of the park.
The plates have been broken.
She is being driven to the museum right now.
Those candies are being eaten by the dog!
English uses helping verbs sometimes, most often when asking questions or in negative statements. A common helping verb is “do.” A helping verb must be in the correct tense and when one is used, the verb that follows it is in the infinitive form.
Examples: do not want, does work, did paint, did not care
He said that he doesn't like tea.
Do you want to go see a movie?
Did he really say that?
I didn't know that.
A contraction is a way of shortening a pair of words by leaving out some letters and putting the words together. When speaking English, it is very common to use contractions, but it is usually only used in informal writing.
I am – I'm
you are – you're
he is – he's
she is – she's
it is – it's
we are – we're
they are – they're
I am not – I'm not
we are not – we're not or we aren't
I can not – I can't
I would – I'd
you would – you'd
he would – he'd
I would not – I wouldn't
I did not – I didn't
I could not -
I should not – I shouldn't
I will – I'll
I will not – I won't
I have – I've
I have not – I haven't
Note: It is a common mistake to pronounce the contractions the way the non-
An adjective describes how a noun is; it gives more information or details about something.
Examples: loud, small, friendly, pretty, wooden, new
a soft noise
a mean person
the old car
the red building
The comparison form of the adjective is used to compare two nouns and it usually shows that one noun is more something than another noun. To build the comparative form, you generally just add “er” to the adjective, but for longer words, such as beautiful, intelligent, or expensive, you add the word “more” in front of them. Sometimes the spelling changes, such as when “big” becomes “bigger” or “healthy” becomes “healthier.”
Her apartment is cheaper than his.
My bag is larger than yours.
The brown dog is friendlier than the gray one.
This painting is more beautiful than that one.
The superlative form of the adjective is used to compare three or more nouns and it usually shows that one noun is more something than the others. To build the superlative form, you generally just add “est” to the adjective, but for longer words, such as beautiful, intelligent, or expensive, you add the word “most” in front of them. Sometimes the spelling changes, such as when “big” becomes “biggest” or “healthy” becomes “healthiest.”
His apartment is cheap, hers is cheaper, and mine is cheapest.
Which of these bags is largest?
The brown dog is friendlier than the gray one, but the black dog is friendliest of them all.
This painting is the most beautiful one in the museum.
An adverb describes how, where, or when an action is done; it gives more information or details about a verb. Usually adverbs are made by adding “ly” to an adjective, but some adverbs have a different form altogether.
Examples: quickly, softly, generously, well
She laughed loudly.
The boy walks slowly.
You speak English well.
A pronoun is used in place of a noun, but only when it is understood who or what the pronoun refers to.
Personal pronouns come in both subject forms and object forms.
Subject forms: I, you, he, she, it, we, they
Object forms: me, you, him, her, it, us, them
He likes her.
I had dinner with them at a restaurant.
We study English.
Possessive pronouns show that a noun owns something. There are two different forms, depending on whether the object owned is named or not.
Forms for when the object is named: my, your, his, her, its, our, their
Forms for when the object is not named: mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs
This is my pen.
That is yours.
Which house is hers and which is his?
Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject.
Reflexive pronouns: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves
I can fix it myself.
He saw it himself.
We looked in the mirror at ourselves.
Cardinal numbers are the basic numbers. Using this list, you can figure out the pattern for how numbers are written in English.
0 – zero
1 – one
2 – two
3 – three
4 – four
5 – five
6 – six
7 – seven
8 – eight
9 – nine
10 – ten
11 – eleven
12 – twelve
13 – thirteen
14 – fourteen
15 – fifteen
16 – sixteen
17 – seventeen
18 – eighteen
19 – nineteen
20 – twenty
22 – twenty-
30 – thirty
40 – forty
50 – fifty
60 – sixty
70 – seventy
80 – eighty
90 – ninety
100 – one hundred
101 – one hundred and one
200 – two hundred
500 – five hundred
1000 – one thousand
1,000,000 – one million
1,000,000,000 – one billion
Ordinal numbers show something's place. Usually they are formed by taking the regular number and adding “th,” but there are some exceptions.
1st – first
2nd – second
3rd – third
4th – fourth
5th – fifth
6th – sixth
7th – seventh
8th – eighth
9th – ninth
10th – tenth
11th – eleventh
12th – twelfth
13th – thirteenth
20th – twentieth
21st – twenty-
22nd – twenty-
100th – hundredth
How Many Times
Usually, you just add the word “times” after a number to show how many times something was done. But there are a few exceptions. “Once” means that something was done one time, “twice” means two times, and either “thrice” or “three times” can be used, though thrice is not so common.
Often, there are a couple of possible ways to refer to the time in English.
1:00 – one o'clock
1:05 – one oh five, five past one, five after one
1:10 – one ten, ten past one, ten after one
1:15 – one fifteen, quarter past one, quarter after one
1:20 – one twenty, twenty past one, twenty after one
1:25 – one twenty-
1:30 – one thirty, half past one
1:35 – one thirty-
1:40 – one forty, twenty to two
1:45 – one forty-
1:50 – one fifty, ten to two
1:55 – one fifty-
English uses capital letters for, among other things, the word “I,” names, days, months, periods of time, holidays, languages, countries, nationalities, and religions.
She is Russian, but she lives in England. She speaks Russian, English, and Japanese.
Christians celebrate Easter on a Sunday.
This church was built in the Middle Ages.
I was born on a Monday in October.