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Some English Grammar Features

At the first sight, English is quite a simple language. The conjugation of verbs remains the same except for the third-person singular. But the English language has also its traps which are often forgotten or barely learnt, unless you are studying foreign languages. In that case, the whole grammar is deepened.

Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid. This article is certainly very long, but take the time to read it, it is important!

Uncountable nouns

  • No “s” for plural

Information: no, you do not say one information, two informations. This noun is always singular, although the equivalent expression in many languages would be in the plural: “Your information is useful“. In this way, you cannot say an information but one piece of information: “That is an interesting piece of information!”

Advice: “advices” does not exist! Remember that! Advice is always a singular: “Your advice is useful“. If you want to say one particular element, you will need to use one piece of advice.

There are also other examples such as cheese, fish or sheep which do not have a final “s” in the plural.

  • Always “s” at the end of the word

A few English words always have a “-s” ending. This is the case for diseases (mumps, measles), activities (gymnastics, athletics) or games (billiards, darts). News is also one of them. They are singular nouns: “Billiards is easier than snooker“. “Economics is a very difficult subject“. “News is good!

It is also the case for some items of clothing which are always plural nouns such as trousers, pants but also glasses or scissors. Those are always in the plural. You can remember that there are two legs for trousers or pants. The same goes for glasses or scissors which have two elements.

  • How to make uncountable nouns singular?

You need to learn on a case-by-case basis. For example, you say a piece of advice, a piece of information or an item of furniture, but a slice or a loaf of bread, a drop of water, a bar of soap or a pinch of salt and a flash of lightning

  • Few, little, a few, a little

Little and a little are used with uncountable nouns, such as water, flour…

Few and a few, on the contrary, are used with countable nouns, such as people, apple…

Examples: “Do you have some water? – I am sorry, I only have a little“. “Do you have some apples for my pie? – Yes, I have a few“.

  • Much, many

Much is used with uncountable nouns (much water, much flour), whereas many is used with countable nouns (many people, many apples).

  • Reference to a group or a single person

Some nouns refer to groups of people, animals or things, and can be used either as singular nouns or as plural nouns.

Examples: “My family is very dear to me“. “I have a large family. They are very dear to me“.

In the first, we consider the family as one group, so we use the singular. In the second case, we use we consider each member of the family one by one, that is why we use the plural.

Examples: “The government is very unpopular“. “The government are always changing their minds“.

In the first case, we see the government in general. On the contrary to the second one in which we rather see each politician one by one.

The names of many organisations and teams are also collective nouns, but they are usually plural in spoken English: “Barcelona are winning 2-0“.

  • Singular nouns which change when in the plural

It is the same case as in French for “un cheval, des chevaux” (horse, horses), the ending changes. In English there are also a few words like that. For example, one goose becomes two geese BUT one sheep stays two sheep.

The most common mistake is for people. It is one person, two people. Moreover people is always followed by a plural, since it is a plural. “People are nice!

  • Exceptions

One fish, two fish but also two fishes. The latter refers to different kinds of fish and not to the number of fish. The same goes for cheese (one cheese, two cheese but also two cheeses = two kinds of cheese).

This people is big” refers to the people as a community and not to one person.

  • “It” for nouns

When you refer to an object, you have to say “it”, because an object is considered as something inanimate: “This house is beautiful. It has a nice colour.

But there is an exception for the noun boat. Indeed, some boats are considered by their captain as something precious, that is why if you hear: “My boat, she is a marvel!” It is not wrong. The person who says such a thing has got a particular feeling for their boat.

The same goes for animals. If you love them, you tend to say he or she depending on their genders: “That is my dog Tobby. He is 5.

On the contrary, if there is a bad meaning towards this dog, the “it” remains. For instance, the neighbour is not happy or does not like dogs: “That dog is my neighbour’s. It always comes in our garden!

The last example is baby. Indeed, we do not immediately know the gender of the baby, so we commonly use “it” even if it is a person. Once we know the gender, “it” will become “she” or “he”.

  • General

We cannot say “He said me!” It is a common mistake made by non-native speakers. The correct thing to say is “he told me that” or “he said that“. “He said that to me” is also correct even if we commonly use “he told me that“.

When we use words like each, every, everybody, nobody or anybody, we are thinking about a number of people or things. But all those words are grammatically singular. Indeed, they refer to just one person or thing at a time. That is why we say: “Everybody is nice!

When we want to order at the restaurant, we make some mistakes. For example, we cannot order pig. I mean, we can, but the waiter would bring you the animal alive. If you want to order the meat, you have to ask for pork. The same goes for calf, which is the animal but the meat would be veal. Beef stays the same.

Some names of citizen are also mistaken. For example, “Spanish people live in Spain. They are called Spaniards“. Yes, and not Spanish! The others are more or less easier.

Moreover I would like to add that in English all the adjectives, nouns of countries and citizens take a capital letter, unlike French, for example, which only have capital letter for nationalities or countries. “Il est français. C’est un Français” is in English: “He is French“.

When you do not know the gender of someone, you can use them. For example: “Tell the doctor they did a great job!” In that case, they want to thank the doctor in person but they do not know if it is a she or a he, so they use them. The same goes on the phone, for instance you pick up the phone and nobody answers. When you hang up, you say: “They did not answer“.

The feminine of some nouns changes in English. Here are some examples: a stallion/a mare, a dog/a bitch, a ram/an ewe, a buck/a doe, a bull/a cow, a fow/a vixen

In general, if you do not know the feminine of some animals, you can put a she in front of the male name: a dog/a she-dog, a she-wolf. For people: an actor/an actress, a bachelor/a spinster, a bridegroom/a bride, a duke/a duchess.

The difficult thing to do now is to remember those few rules and to apply them.

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