Sunday, 22 June 2008

If You Don't Know Me By Now...(First Conditional)

In the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' the characters often talk about the 'interconnectedness' of everything. If a butterfly flaps its tiny wings in Asia today there will be a hurricane tomorrow in the West.

Things are connected...
if I miss my train tomorrow, I will be late for work... and if I am late for work, the boss will shout at me...

Ok, before we go on just think for a moment how you would say that in your language...think about the verbs and which form and which tense you use..

It's like one domino knocking down the next one...and so on...isn't it? Ok, so in these sentences there is a condition...and it comes in the "if" part of the sentence ('if' clause):

If I miss my train, I will be late for work..

If I catch my train, I will be on time...

If you read English is Easy, you will learn English...

Life is full of situations like this and I bet you make these kind of sentences lots of times every day. Because there is a conditon in the 'if' clause, these sentences are called
conditional sentences.

In this case the
First Conditional (there are second and third conditionals and even a general conditional - but we will worry about them later).

Right, how do you make a First Conditional in English?

You just need a simple present in the 'if' clause and a simple future in the other part (the main clause).

If it rains (simple present) at the weekend, I will stay (simple future) at home

It can be negative too:

If it doesn't rain (simple present negative) on Saturday, we will go out (simple future) for the day.

They can also be the other way round when the 'if'' clause comes second:

I will throw my PC out of the window, if it doesn't stop crashing...

Listen out for this grammar in comes quite often:

...if you don't know me by now, then you will never ever know me...

If you have an English teacher, maybe he or she will sing it for you!!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

To Be... this point someone always says, "...or not to be!" So, I will not disappoint you.

We looked at personal pronouns - basic building blocks for a sentence - and now we need to look at "to be"; the basic verb.

It must have been great for the caveman or woman who first invented "to be". So far they could only say:

I cold? Weather terrible!

With "to be" they could now say:

I am cold...are you cold? Isn't the weather absolutely terrible!

"To be" is a little irregular, maybe because it is so old.

The positive looks like this:



you, we, they


he, she, it


The negative is the same with a "not" stuck on the end:



you, we, they


he, she, it



To ask a question with "to be" just turn the positive forms around:




you, we, they...?


he, she, it...?

That's it! Those are all the present forms. The other tenses are coming soon...

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

For German-speaking Readers...

If you are a native German speaker and are learning English then you really need a copy of my book, "The Best Mistakes In English and How To Avoid Them or At least Stop Worrying About Them" (Yes, it is a long title!)

It's available in hardback or paperback versions from my storefront with LULU publishers.

Order a copy today! Or order some copies for your friends!!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Excuses, excuses... (Present Perfect)

I am sorry I haven’t written for a while.

I have been busy the last few weeks.

This happens to be true but it is also a good example of English grammar.

First, what am I saying here? Well, I am making an excuse:

I haven’t written for a while = my last post was on March 15th and from then until now I have not posted anything…

And why?

Because from my last post until now I have been busy.

Just have a think about how you would make an excuse like that in your language…

One reader asked me why I always write, “think how you say this in your language”.

The reason is: when you learn a foreign language it is easy to think that it is just funny words and stupid rules and to forget that people really use this language to do things like making excuses or asking how their friends are…

It is very important to remember that English people say things in English not to use a complicated grammar but to communicate something! The same as you do when you speak your language!!

And it is easier to learn the English phrases and sentences if you see that they mean something and realise that it is not just a sack full of mixed up words.

My excuses above are examples of the Present Perfect:

I haven’t written

I have been busy

And I bet that the same excuse looks very different in your language.

In the next couple of weeks we will look more closely at the Present Perfect…yoohoo!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Present 'Simple' Can't Be Difficult...?

Languages are made of words and words are made of letters but the basic building block of a language is the sentence.

In English the shortest possible sentence is a subject and a verb:

I (subject - first person singular nominative personal pronoun, remember?) exist (verb).

(subject) bark (verb).

They are not fantastically informative sentences, but they are sentences and they are very short!

You have the subject which is what the sentence is about and the verb which tells you what the subject does.

Verbs come in different tenses (a kind of 'time form') so that they can tell you what the subject does in the present or in the future or the past.

The verbs in our mini sentences above are about the present, so they are in the present simple tense. The present simple tells us about things which kind of always happen or never happen...etc.

People always exist, dogs always bark (especially the neighbour's dog).

So for things which happen always, usually, often, sometimes, rarely or never we can use this tense.

In some languages there is a different form of the present for each person too. Greek for example has a different form of the verb for I, you, we, they, he/she/it
(first, second and third person singular and plural):

iparcho - I exist
iparcheis - you exist
- he/she/it exists...

In English the verb only changes for the third person singular, he/she/it. We put an "s" on the verb:

I exist - he exists
Dogs bark - A dog barks

In other words it works like this:

I, you, we, they


he, she, it

VERB + s

Easy enough? Well, there is a catch.

Those sentences up there are all positive. If you want to say what is not always true then you have to use a negative form...and if you want to ask a question about what always happens, you need a question form.

Now, don't panic! Remember
auxiliary verbs? Well we use 'do' to make the present simple negative and question forms.

Negative: Cats do (auxiliary verb) not bark (main verb)
Question: Do (auxiliary verb) you exist (main verb)?

In those sentences the 'do' has no meaning, only a function.

[Tip!! The auxiliary verb tells you the tense, the main verb tells you the sense]

So, it looks like this:

Negative Form

I, you, we, they


he, she, it




Question Form


I, you, we, they


he,she, it


...and what about that 's' on the third person form? Well, you can see it goes on the auxiliary verb 'does' and NOT the main verb!

Now if that does not make you agree that English is Easy, then I give up!

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

First Person Singular Blah Blah...etc etc..(Personal Pronouns)

It is time to have a first look at these personal pronouns. They are very important in English and we use them all the time (there are 3 in this sentence).

Here is a story full of third person personal pronouns:

John went to Susan's last night. He had flowers for her because it was her birthday. At her house he gave them to her and then he gave her a kiss. He took her to her favourite restaurant. They enjoyed it very much.

If you don't use personal pronouns it looks like this:

John went to Susan's last night. John had flowers for Susan because that day was Susan's birthday. At Susan's house John gave the flowers to Susan and then John gave Susan a kiss. John took Susan to Susan's favourite restaurant. John and Susan enjoyed the evening very much.

I think you can see that the first version is better...but imagine the conversation between John and Susan using no personal pronouns:

John: Hi Susan, how are...erm...oh, how is Susan?
Susan: Hi John, I...oh erm, sorry...Susan is fine...
John: I...oh, John got these flowers are for...Susan...
Susan: Oh, the flowers are lovely! Thank...John..

It is impossible...if you don't want to sound like a caveman!

We have personal pronouns for the first person - if I want to talk about myself; for the second person - if I want to talk to you and the third person if we want to talk about someone or something else.

There is also a singular form for one person or thing and a plural form for more people or things.

And they come in nominative, accusative and genitive forms!

(English is Easy! Remember?)

So the nominative (i.e. for the subject of the sentence) personal pronouns look like this:











he, she, it


It's not that bad is it?

You can find the full set

In the dialogue above, between John and Susan, I think you can also see the evolution of the language. You can imagine primitive humans thumping their chests and saying, "Caveboy John like cavegirl Susan!".

The first and second personal pronouns were invented later perhaps.

Little babies also use the third person when they are just starting to speak.

When my younger daughter Biddy (her nickname) was very little she used to say:

"Biddy hungy."
(I am feeling a little hungry)

"Biddy DON'T shoesson!"
(I would prefer not to put on my shoes just now thanks)

"Biddy poodink!"
(Erm, I have just done a poo and it is rather stinky!)

Not perfect English but we knew what she wanted!

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Auxiliary Verbs....Help!

Auxiliary...what's that? Well, it's Latin again. It's from auxilium which means 'help' so these auxiliary verbs are help verbs.

And what do they help? In English they help to form different kinds of sentences; perhaps a negative sentence or a question or a Present Continuous...

So, what are these strange mysterious "auxiliary verbs"?

To do, to be, to have.

Hang on a minute, you know them already: I do my homework, he is on holiday, I have a Ferrari...

That's all fine BUT these verbs have a second job in English as auxiliary verbs. And when they are doing this job they don't have their usual meaning; they only have a function.


I have a Ferrari.
I have seen a Ferrari.

In the first sentence 'have' means have but in the second 'have' doesn't mean anything; it is only there to form the Present Perfect tense.

So, 'to have' helps to form the Present Perfect:
you read English is Easy?
We haven't met before.
I have known John for years

'To be' helps to form the Present Continuous:

I am reading English is Easy.
Is she watching TV?
They aren't listening

And 'do' is for questions and negatives in the Present Simple and Past Simple:

Do you read English is Easy every week?
I don't live in
New York

Did you read English is Easy last week?
He didn't eat his breakfast.

Auxiliary verbs? Easy!!

Friday, 15 February 2008

Be Nice to My Grammar (2)

Another thing to remember about grammar is that it isn't as complicated as it sounds. The names of the things sound complicated, "indefinite article", "past perfect continuous", but it is only terminology...and terminology - which is a big word for "complicated name" - can make anything sound difficult.

I am sure you are interested in things which sound really complicated if you try to explain it to a friend who is new to the subject.

When I listen to my kids talking about PlayStation or X-box it sounds like a language from another planet!

So, the thing is don't panic when you see the name for a bit of grammar - it's only a name !

For example:

Me: What is the "first person singular nominative personal pronoun"?

You: WHAT????!!!!

Me: The "first person singular nominative personal pronoun"!

You (running out of the room): Aaaaaaarrrgghhhhhh!!!!

Well, the answer is 'I'!

'I' as in "I live in
Munich", "I Did it My Way"

('My' is the first person singular possessive personal pronoun!)

You see, the grammatical name for that one little letter 'I' is "First Person Singular Nominative Personal Pronoun".

You can impress your family and friends by telling them:

You: Hey, last night I learned the first person singular nominative personal pronoun!!

Friend: Wow!!

You (in pathetic, exhausted voice): Today in class we learned the first person singular nominative personal pronoun!

Mother/Father/Girlfriend/Boyfriend/Wife/Husband: Oh, you poor thing! Sit down, I will make you a drink!

Grammar is GREAT!

Tuesday, 29 January 2008



You can blame the Romans for the word abbreviation, it comes from the Latin and means "short form". So if you say "Liverpool F.C.", the F.C. bit is an abbreviation. It stands for Football Club.

We use these a lot in English so that we have more time to drink tea.

Some abbreviations are easy to understand. If you see p.t.o. at the bottom of a page, it is not too hard to accept that it means, please turn over but there are some abbreviations which are a little strange to say the least.

How about, e.g? This means "for example".

What? e.g. means for example?? Huh?

And then there is, a.m. for in the morning....HELP!!!

Well, don't panic, we can blame the Romans again. E.g. and a.m. are abbreviations for Latin expressions...aha!

e.g. = exempli gratia which is Latin for "for example"


a.m. = ante meridian, Latin for "before
midday", i.e. in the morning.

Oh, there's another one - i.e.

Latin? Yep!

i.e. = id est, "that is" which we use to mean "in other words" as I did above.

More common abbreviations are:

etc. = et ceterea which means "and others", i.e. "and so on".

N.B. = nota bene - "please note"

and to go with a.m. there is

p.m. = post meridian - "in the afternoon"

If you find any more which puzzle you, please contact me here and I will try and work out what they are!

Meanwhile, no more abbreviations, o.k? Oops!

(p.s. don't forget '"p.s." - post scriptum for something you remember after you have finished the text)

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