Archive | Grammar

Articles: a/ an/ the

Articles (the, a, and an) help say what kind of noun you are talking about. To make it easier, there are a few rules for you to follow.

Basic Vocabulary

Before getting to the rules, you should know this vocabulary:

  • Vowels– letters A, E, I, O, U.
  • Consonants– any letter that isn’t a vowel. These are letters like B, C, D, F, etc.
  • Proper nouns- names of people, places or things such as David, Germany, or Samsung.
  • Singular count nouns– can be counted, but are only one unit, as in key, prison, and getaway.
  • Plural count nouns- countable nouns that have more than one unit (officers, dogs, and search parties).
  • Non-countable nouns- cannot be counted. This is true for things like cheese, milk, and patience.



Use a or an with singular count nouns. A comes before words that start with consonants; an comes before words the begin with vowels: A little dog can make an awful lot of noise.

Use the when the noun is:

1. unique (there’s only one)

  • The moon shone over the Pacific Ocean.

2. specific (the listener is familiar with it)

  • Go to the supermarket on your way home from the bank.

3. mentioned a second time

  • I bought some ice cream. The ice cream was good.
  • I bought a pen. The pen didn’t work.

4. superlative

  • The most ambitious student bothered the greatest number of teachers.

5. a river, desert, or forest

  • I’ve never paddled down the Mississippi, never felt the burning hot sand of the Sahara, and never ventured anywhere like the Amazon.

6. a region or country that is plural*, united, a kingdom, or a republic

  • The Balkans
  • The Netherlands
  • The Philippines
  • The United Arab Emirates
  • The United Kingdom
  • The United States of America
  • The Republic of Ireland

*When a country is officially divided, it is possible to refer to the parts together with the plus –s.

  • The Koreas, North and South Korea

Avoid using articles for:

1. general non-count nouns

  • Incorrect: The water is a precious natural resource in every country.
  • Correct: Water is a precious natural resource in every country.

2. a person’s name and other singular proper nouns

  • Incorrect: Fifi, the Sally’s favorite cat, was bought in a London.
  • Correct: Fifi, Sally’s favorite cat, was bought in London.

*If a person is famous, you may clarify this by stating the before the name.

A: Hello, I’d like to make a reservation for Michael Jordan.
B: Wow, is this the Michael Jordan?
A: No, I’m a plumber.


Subject/ Verb Agreement

English is a marriage between subjects (who or what is doing the action) and verbs (what the subject is doing), everything else is extended family. Together they make beautiful sentences. Without them, you’ll end up with horrible mutations. Here are some simple examples :

  • I eat
  • You love
  • We are
  • He knows

Subjects and verbs are inseparable. Even when one is away, it’s really there: “Eat!” “Go!” or “Get out of my life!” The subject here is of course you (You eat! You go! You get out of my life!).

Unlike a normal marriage, bickering isn’t allowed. Subjects and verbs have to agree with each other. This is called subject/ verb agreement. An English teacher’s job is to counsel the ugly, bickering language coming out of students’ mouths.

Subject/ verb disagreement often happens because of ‘s.’ ESL speakers have trouble with this because English adds an ‘s’ to both nouns and verbs, but not at the same time.

noun + s: The students want to go home.

verb + s: That student really wants to go home.


Additional Rules


1. Use doesn’t with singular verbs and don’t with plural.

  • The teacher doesn’t like his students.
  • The students don’t like their teacher either.

2. Verbs agree with subjects even when information is put between them.

  • Soccer players who are over the hill play in the US.
  • My holidays, which start next month, are long overdue.
  • That guy with all the kids is always stressed out.

3. When two or more nouns are joined by ‘or,’ ignore everything except the noun before the verb.

  • Ten dimes, four quarters or a dollar bill is needed for the vending machine.
  • A bagel or two muffins are all I need for breakfast.

4. Some plural nouns take on singular verbs (especially when they are considered an entire group, condition, or discipline).

  • Mathematics is a difficult subject for many westerners.
  • Herpes is something you want to avoid.

5. Collective nouns (team, group, crew, etc.) can be considered singular or plural. If singular, you mean the group collectively. If plural, you put emphasis on each member doing the action.

Past Continuous (Past Progressive)

Subject + was/ were + ing

Examples: I was walking They were running
You were killing He/ she/ it was crying*
We were eating




Past progressive is used for:

 1.  Explaining two or more actions that happened at the same time.

–  Sorry I couldn’t answer the phone. I was making dinner when you called.


2.  Remembering how someone typically acted.

–  Yeah, I remember little Timmy; that kid was always coming in late to class.



Past Perfect

Subject + had + past participle

Examples: I had walked They had run
You had killed He/ she/ it had cried*
We had eaten *Note: if the verb ends in -y, change the -y to an -i and add -ed.




Use past perfect for explaining an action or event that happened before the main action you’re talking about.

–  Jack traded his cow for beans at the market, but his mother was angry because she had told him to sell it!

–  I walked into the kitchen for a snack, but my wife had already eaten the bananas.