Category Archives: Grammar

passive-voice

Passive voice

Passive voice

The passive voice is a grammar form that can be used instead of writing active sentences.

Before we look at the passive voice, think about how you form an active sentence.

The easiest rule to help you build a simple active sentence is to use the Subject-Verb-Object formula. For example:

John makes boots.

In this sentence, there are 3 parts – the subject (John), the verb (makes), and the object (boots).

Passive voiceIn a basic sentence*:

  • the subject is the person who does the action
  • the verb is the action
  • the object is the receiver of the action

* This is a simple explanation, but like most languages, there are exceptions and other rules you need to consider.

In the passive voice, the order of the sentence changes. For example:

Sentence Structure Type
John has finished the painting. S-V-O This is an active sentence
The painting has been finished. O-V This is a passive sentence

There are two important points to note:

1. In a passive voice sentence, the form of the grammar changes and must always include a form of the auxiliary verb be. In the example above, see how ‘has finished’ changes to ‘has been finished’

2. The subject of an active sentence can be completely left out of a passive voice sentence (or can added at the end of the sentence with ‘by’ – The painting has been finished by John). In a passive sentence, the traditional ‘subject’ is often referred to as the ‘agent’. For example:

John has finished the painting => John is the subject in an active sentence

The painting has been finished by John => John is the agent in a passive sentence.

When / why do we use the passive voice?

There are four common reasons for using a passive voice sentence rather than an active sentence.

Use Example Explanation
1. When we don’t know the subject My car has been stolen We don’t know the thief
2. When the subject is obvious Taxes will be raised It must be the government
3. We want to avoid stating the agent The window was broken I don’t want to say who broke it
4. When we want to bring the important information to the front of the sentence The criminal was seen by the security guard. We are most interested in the criminal – not the security guard

All passive voice structures use a form of the verb ‘to be’. See the table below for more detail:

Form Active Passive
Present simple They make toys in that factory. Toys are made in that factory.
Present continuous He is repairing the computer. The computer is being repaired.
Past simple The lesson bored the students. The students were bored by the lesson.
Past continuous He was driving the car very badly. The car was being driven very badly.
Present perfect Someone has stolen my car! My car has been stolen!
Future simple (will) I will finish the project next month. The project will be finished next month..
Future with ‘going to’ They are going to sell the old factory. The old factory is going to be sold.
Future perfect They will have eaten all the food before we get there! All of the food will have been eaten before we get there!
Past perfect They had already eaten most of the food when we got there. Most of the food had already been eaten when we got there.

Note that intransitive verbs are not generally used in the passive voice.

Click here to try the passive voice exercises.

countable_uncountable_nouns2

Countable and uncountable nouns – more rules

Countable and uncountable nouns – more rules

countable_uncountable_nouns2Sometimes nouns can act as both countable and uncountable nouns (often with a slight difference in meaning). This can make learning the rules even more complicated!

For example, coffee is generally used as an uncountable noun. However, it is acceptable to say “I’d like two coffees please” because in this case the speaker is thinking about 2 cups of coffee.

This rule also applies when thinking of other uncountable liquids and the container they might come in.

For example: “Do you want a (bottle of / glass of) beer? Beer is uncountable, but the speaker is thinking about the bottle / glass it comes in.

The table below shows usage of the same words as countable and uncountable nouns – note the different forms of the same word.

Countable – There is a hair in my soup! (one countable strand of hair)

Uncountable – He doesn’t have much hair. (usually uncountable – all the hair on a person’s head)

……

Countable – Do you often read a paper? (the speak means a newspaper – newspapers are countable)

Uncountable – Do you have some paper I can use? (paper is uncountable, BUT pieces / sheets of paper are countable)

……

Countable – Did you leave a light on? (a light in the building that the person is talking about)

Uncountable – He couldn’t sleep because of the light coming through the curtains. (the speaker means ‘sunlight’ – uncountable noun)

……

Countable – On the farm they have a few chickens. (the birds – they are countable)

Uncountable – I love chicken – it’s my favourite meat! (the meat – uncountable. The same applies to lambs (animals) lamb (the meat) / ducks (the birds) duck (the meat) etc.

……

Countable – They had a terrible time last week! (the speaker is talking about one specific situation in the past)

Uncountable – Do you have time to help me? (‘time’ in general – uncountable noun)

countable_uncountable_nouns

Make uncountable nouns countable

Make uncountable nouns countable

make _uncountable_nouns_countableNouns can be split into two different groups – countable and uncountable. (see Countable and uncountable nouns for more information)

Countable nouns, as the name suggests, can be counted. For example, you can have 1 pen or 2 pens, a car or some or a lot of cars.

However, uncountable nouns cannot be counted. For example, you cannot have 2 advices or some or a lot of advices.

However, there are two ways to make an uncountable noun countable.

How to make an uncountable noun countable method 1

Add a countable ‘container’ for the uncountable noun.

For example, milk is uncountable but bottles of milk can be counted. You can say a bottle of milk, 2 bottles of milk etc.

How to make an uncountable noun countable method 2

Use a countable form of the word.

For example, work is uncountable, but job is countable.

The table below shows more examples of how to make uncountable nouns countable.

Uncountable Countable
Advice A piece of advice – pieces of advice
Luggage A suitcase, a bag or a piece of luggage – suitcases, bags or pieces of luggage
money a note, a coin – notes, coins
cake a slice of cake, a piece of cake – slices or pieces of cake
furniture a table, a chair, a piece of furniture – tables, chairs, pieces of furniture
bread a slice of bread, a loaf of bread, a piece of bread – slices, loaves, pieces of bread
knowledge a fact – facts
travel a journey, a trip – journeys, trips
toothpaste a tube of toothpaste – tubes of toothpaste
wine a bottle of wine, a glass of wine – bottles of or glasses of wine
butter a pat of butter – pats of butter
cheese a slice of cheese, a chunk of cheese, a piece of cheese – slices, chunks or pieces of cheese
sugar a sugarcube, a spoonful of sugar, a bowl of sugar – sugarcubes, spoonfuls of sugar, bowls of sugar
Petrol (gas) a litre of petrol – litres of petrol.
Salt a pinch of salt – pinches of salt
soap a bar of soap – bars of soap
hair a strand of hair – strands of hair
glass a sheet of glass, a pane of glass – sheets or panes of glass
prepositions-time

Prepositions of time (A2)

Prepositions of time A2

prepositions-of-timePrepositions of time (and all types of prepositions) can be one of the hardest parts of English to use correctly because the rules are often quite difficult, and like most rules for a language, there are lots of exceptions.

In this lesson we will look at the prepositions of time ‘within’ and ‘before’.

Prepositions of time – within

WITHIN: We try to answer all emails within 24 hours.

‘Within’ is commonly used to express that something will be done inside or not later than the period of time stated.

Note: time given must be an amount of time, NOT a specific time in the future.

For example:

We try to answer all emails within 24 hours.

We try to answer all emails within the following day. Incorrect

 

Other uses could be: within the next few minutes, within the next week, within the next six months, within this financial year etc.

Prepositions of time – before

BEFORE: The repairs will be completed before Friday.

Before is also used to express that something will be done inside or not later than the time stated.

Note: the time given must be a specific future time. For example:

The repairs will be completed before Friday.Incorrect

We try to answer all emails before 24 hours. Incorrect

Other uses could be: before 1pm, before next week, before July, before the start of the next financial year etc.

Click here to try the Level A2 Prepositions of time exercises.

 

 

 

prepositions_of_place_2

Prepositions of place (A2)

Prepositions of place (A2)

prepositions_of_place_2Prepositions of place (and all prepositions) can be one of the hardest parts of English to use correctly because the rules are often quite difficult, and like most rules for a language, there are lots of exceptions.

In this lesson we will look at the prepositions of place ‘against’, ‘alongside’, ‘beside’, ‘by’ and ‘towards’.

Prepositions of place examples of use

AGAINST: having contact with something, touching.

  • ‘He put the bike against the wall.’
  • The dog leaned against its owner.’

ALONGSIDE: in parallel, like train tracks

  • ‘The horses worked alongside each other to pull the cart.’
  • It is a beautiful drive as the road runs alongside the coast.

BESIDE: at the side of, not necessarily touching.

  • ‘He put the book beside his bed.’
  • She sat beside an elderly man on the train.’

BY: in the area of

  • ‘I live by some shops and a library.’
  • If you go that way, you will drive by a park.’

TOWARDS: getting closer, aiming at each other

  • ‘The cars drove towards each other and only turned away at the last minute.’
  • He waved as he walked towards me.’

Click here to try the prepositions of place exercises.

transitive_intransitive_verbs

Transitive and intransitive verbs

Transitive and intransitive verbs

transitive_and_intransitive_verbsTransitive and intransitive verbs have different rules when you use them to make sentences. Read the two sentences that follow. They contain examples of transitive and intransitive verbs.

Do you know which sentence contains a transitive verb and which one contains an intransitive verb?

Examples of transitive and intransitive verbs in sentences.

1. The boss surprised his workteam.

2. The boss smiled.

Answers to the examples of transitive and intransitive verbs in sentences.

1. is a transitive verb. 2. is an intransitive verb.

Can you see the important difference in sentence structure when using transitive and intransitive verbs? Think about the sentence structure NOT the meaning……

Read the rest of this post to learn about the differences.

Transitive verbs

A transitive verb needs a direct object to make a complete sentence.

Nouns or pronouns can act as direct objects.

For example:

She likes. Incorrect

She likes ice cream. Correct

I have invited. Incorrect

I have invited him. Correct

The verb ‘like‘ needs a direct object – in these examples ‘icecream‘ (noun) and ‘him‘ (pronoun) to make sense and to form a complete sentence.

The direct object of an transitive verb is something that ‘receives the action’ of that verb.

Intransitive verbs

An intransitive verb does not take a direct object. For example:

He arrived. Correct

You can add more information to the sentence above.

For example: ‘He arrived half an hour late‘.

‘half an hour late‘ is NOT the direct object of ‘arrived‘ though. It is a noun phrase that acts as an adverb. It doesn’t ‘receive the action’, it adds extra information by describing when the man arrived.

More information about transitive and intransitive verbs

Some verbs can act as both transitive and intransitive verbs.

For example:

The All Blacks won. Correct (this sentence is grammatically complete)

The All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup. Correct (the Rugby World Cup is the object of the verb ‘won’)

Some transitive verbs can be followed by two objects (one direct and one indirect object).

For example:

Sam bought Jane some chocolates.

Send me the report when you’ve finished it.

use_of_articles

Using articles in English

Using articles in English (a, an, and the)

Using articles in English can be very difficult as there are a lot of rules to remember. In this lesson, we will look at when to use ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’.

Read the sentences:

  • She has a dog.
  • She doesn’t have a cat.
  • The dog is 4 years old.

Articles

1. The indefinite article – A or AN

Examples of use of indefinite articles: Do you have a pen?  I need an umbrella.

2. The definite article – THE

Examples of use of definite articles: The boy lives at home. Here is the book I borrowed.

 

Below are the common rules for when to use articles.


Articles – rule #1

We use ‘a’ or ‘an’ when there are many of something and you are talking generally about a single one.

Examples:

Do you have a pen I can borrow? (it doesn’t matter which pen)

I would like an apple (it doesn’t matter which apple)


Articles – rule #2

We use ‘the’ when there is only one of the thing we are talking. It could be that it is unique, or it could that there is only one that you could logically be talking about.

Examples:

The sun rises in the east. (it is unique – there is only one sun)

Have you fed the dog? (the people speaking only have one dog and they both know which dog they are talking about)

Who’s the girl over there? (we identify the girl so now the speaker and listening know which one)


Articles – rule #3

We use ‘a’ in front of words that begin a vowel sound, and ‘an’ in front of words with a consonant sound (this is very important – it is NOT spelling, just the sound of the word).

Vowels: a, e, i, o, u

Consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z

Examples:

  • a potato
  • a carrot
  • an egg
  • an apple
  • an hour (the word hour sounds like ‘our’, so has a vowel sound to start)
  • a university (the word university sounds like ‘you-niversity’ so has a consonant sound to start).

Articles – rule #4

We use ‘a’ or ‘an’ the first time we talk about something; we use ‘the’ for the second, third, fourth etc time we talk about it.

Examples:

She has a dog and a cat. The dog is friendly but I don’t like the cat.


 

Click here to try the ‘Using articles in English’ exercises.

conditional_sentences

Conditional sentences

Conditional sentences

conditional_sentencesConditional sentences are ‘if’ sentences. There are five types of conditional sentences:

  • zero conditional sentences
  • first conditional sentences
  • second conditional sentences
  • third conditional sentences
  • mixed conditional sentences

*Mixed conditionals are created from two different conditional forms.

Look at the table that follows for examples of each of the different types of conditional sentences.

The zero conditional If you heat ice, it melts.
The first conditional If I learn better English, I will get a better job.
The second conditional If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house.
The third conditional If I had studied harder, I would have passed my exam.
Mixed conditionals If I hadn’t broken my leg, I would be skiing right now.

The zero conditional

Structure 1 If + present simple + comma (,) + present simple
Example If you heat ice, it melts.
Structure 2 Present simple + if + present simple
Example Ice melts if you heat it.
Use We use the zero conditional to talk about rules, laws or truths. Using the example above, we know that if you heat ice, it melts; it is a fact that if the first part happens, then the second action will also happen.

The first conditional

Structure 1 If + present simple + comma (,) + will + base verb
Example If I learn better English, I will get a better job.
Structure 2 Will + base verb + if + present simple
Example I will get a better job if I learn better English.
Use We use the first conditional to talk about results that are likely; if the first part happens, then the second action will probably / be likely to also happen.

The second conditional

Structure 1 If + past simple + comma (,) + would + base verb
Example If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house in the country.
Structure 2 Would + base verb + if + past simple
Example I would buy a big house in the country if I won the lottery.
Use We use the second conditional to talk about a situation that is either not likely or even impossible; the speaker believes that they probably won’t win the lottery.

The third conditional

Structure 1 If + past perfect + comma (,) + would have + past participle
Example If I had studied harder, I would have passed my exam.
Structure 2 Would have + past participle + if + past perfect
Example I would have passed my exam if I had studied harder.
Use We use the third conditional to talk unreal situations, often involving regret. The third conditional talks about a situation that did not happen, but what the result would have been if it had.

Mixed conditionals

Mixed conditional sentences talk about unreal situations, they can talk about the past, present or future. Study the table below to learn how mixed conditional sentences can be put together.

NB: There are many different forms of mixed conditional.

Type 1 If I hadn’t broken my leg,
I would be skiing right now.
Past condition Present result

Type 2 If John hadn’t forgotten to buy tickets,
I would be going to the concert tomorrow night.
Past condition Future result

Type 3 If I could use a computer,
I would have got that job yesterday.
Present condition Past result

Type 4 If you could speak better English, you would be going on the business trip to London next week.
Present condition Future result

Click here to try the conditional sentences exercises.

present_perfect_continuous

Present perfect continuous

Present perfect continuous (also known as the present perfect progressive)

present_perfect_continuousPresent perfect tenses are used to talk about situations that connect the past to now.

Present perfect continuous is formed using:

have / has + been + [verb] + ing

For example:

I have been running.

Have you been running?

He has been studying?

Has he been studying?

Do you know when to use present perfect simple and when to use present perfect continuous?

Read the information that follows to check your ideas…..

When to use present perfect continuous instead of present perfect simple

1. Using present perfect continuous to focus on a recent but unfinished activity

Look at these examples.

I have been reading that book you gave me. (present perfect continuous)

I have read the book you gave me. (present perfect simple)

In the present perfect continuous sentence, the person is focussing on the recent action of reading. Using present perfect continuous does not tell us that the reading is actually finished – the person wants to emphasise their recent activities.

In the present perfect simple sentence, the person is focussing on the recently completed activity. Using present perfect tells us that the reading is finished with a present result (nothing left to read in the book).

2. Using present perfect continuous to focus on the duration of a recent activity (how long) instead of quantity (how much)

Compare these two sentences.

I have been reading the book you gave me all afternoon. (present perfect continuous)

I have read four chapters of the book you gave me. (present perfect simple)

In the present perfect continuous sentence, the person is focussing on the recent action of reading and the time they have spent doing it, using present perfect continuous does not tell us that the reading is actually finished, the person wants to emphasise their recent activities and the length of time spent doing it.

In the present perfect simple sentence, the person is focussing on the recently completed activity and quantity completed. Using present perfect tells us that they have finished four chapters of their book.

BUT some verbs in this situation could be used in both forms to talk about duration.

For example: I have studied English for 4 years / I have been studying English for four years.

3. Using present perfect continuous where a recent activity is more temporary

Compare these two sentences.

I usually work in Auckland, but for the last month I have been working in Wellington. (present perfect continuous)

I have worked for the same company since I left school. (present perfect simple)

In the present perfect continuous sentence, the person is focussing on the recent action of working in Wellington, but use of present perfect continuous there instead of present perfect simple in the second sentence indicates that the work situation is more temporary.

future and past

Future simple tense

Future simple tense (will and be going to)

future-simple-tenseThe future simple tense has two forms in English – ‘will’ and ‘(be) going to’.

When you use the future simple tense to talk about the future , using ‘will’ or ‘(be) going to’ can alter the meaning of what you are saying.

Read the information below to see what the differences are and when to use which form of the future simple tense.

Future simple tense – differences between ‘will’ and ‘(be) going to’

will: will + (base form of the verb)
(be) going to: be (am, are is) + going to + (base form of the verb)

Will

1. To talk about a future ‘fact’.

The population of New Zealand will be 6 million by 20**.

2. To talk about something we have just decided to do (had no plan – decision made at the time of speaking).

Person A: “I feel really ill.’ Person B: Do you? I‘ll drive you home.

3. To make a promise.

I will love you forever.

(Be) going to

1. When we have evidence that something will happen (we can see something or know something that gives us evidence).

You’ve eaten so many chocolates! You are going to be sick!

2. To talk about something we will do in the future and have already planned

I’m going to have a holiday next week.

Future simple tense – will – more examples

Use #1: To talk about a future ‘fact’

‘The sun will rise at 6.10 a.m. tomorrow.’

Using ‘will’ means that this is fact.

Remember that a ‘fact’ can be subjective.

For example:

‘My team will win the World Cup’ is a ‘fact’ for the speaker, but not necessarily for the listener.

Use #2

A: “I have a headache!”
B: “Really? I will (I’ll) get you a tablet”

Speaker B has made a decision at the same time as speaking, so uses will.

I will remember and follow your advice!

Future simple tense – (be) going to – more examples

Use #1: When we have evidence (we can see something or know something) that something will happen in the future

Look at those clouds! It is going to rain!

We can say ‘going to’ because we have evidence – we can see the clouds.

Use #2: To talk about something we will do in the future and have already planned.

‘I’m going to have my hair cut tomorrow – I booked the appointment last week’

We say ‘going to’ because this must have been decided last week when the appointment was booked.


 

Compare:

A: I’m going to see that new film at the cinema today with John. (speaker is talking about something they will do in the future and have already planned)
B: But John can’t go – he asked me to tell you that he’s not feeling well.
A: Oh, OK. I‘ll go to the library instead then. (speaker is talking about something they have just decided to do (they had no plan – the decision was made at the time of speaking).

 

Click here and here to try the future simple exercises.