Quirky Grammar & Other Obscure Things Good To Know

Discussions on tuition centres/enrichment services that specialise in English.

Quirky Grammar & Other Obscure Things Good To Know

Postby Learning Partners » Fri Sep 03, 2010 4:06 am

It has been oft said that the English language has so many exceptions to the rule that one might as well do away with the rules completely.

It can indeed be quite confusing and daunting for the uninitiated. So we thought it would be good to share some of the knowledge and ideas that we have picked up in our years of teaching. We hope you find this useful. Please feel free to give any comment or query.


The One Grammatical Item That Confounds P1 & P2 Pupils

The grammatical item mentioned in the title is the Infinitive.

The Infinitive is the base or root form of the word; i.e. it does not come in the singular or Past Tense forms.

Before we embark on the Infinitive, it would be useful to review the two main rules in English grammar that we need to look out for – agreement and tenses.

Rule 1 : Agreement aka Concord

This basically means that the verb must agree with the subject (the noun that does the action).

For example:

Carol likes red roses.

In the example above, Carol is a singular subject, so we have to use the singular verb ‘likes’.

Example:

The girls like red roses.

'The girls' however is a plural subject so the plural verb 'like' is used in the sentence.

So far so good.


Rule 2: Tenses

Generally, a sentence could be in the Past Tense, Present Tense or Future Tense and the verbs should comply.

Example:

James' jaw dropped when he saw the snake on the dining table.

The above sentence is in the Past Tense. Both verbs, 'dropped' and 'saw' are in the Simple Past Tense.

Example:

Lily brushes and flosses her teeth twice a day.

This sentence is in the Present Tense and the verbs ('brushes' and 'flosses') are in the Simple Present Tense.

Then things start to get complicated.


Tricky Exceptions To Look Out For

The problem is that after most children master these rules, they tend to apply them with an iron hand. But there are certain tricky exceptions they have to look out for. Below is a list of questions that many children tend to be tricked by.

1. The To-Infinitive

Julie forgot to _____(wash) the grapes yesterday.

Many children, when confronted with this question, will choose ‘washed’ as the answer because they see the words ‘forgot’ and ‘yesterday’, so they think that the answer should be in the Past Tense.

Correct answer is:
Julie forgot to wash the grapes yesterday.


The rule is that in a sentence, after the word 'to', the Infinitive is generally used

For the younger children, it helps to tell them to circle the word ‘to’ and to remember that if the action is immediately after ‘to’, the action should not end with ‘s’ or ‘ed’ (the Past Tense form).

2. The Special Infinitive

James can come to the party if he wants to.

Peter will remember that he has to bring the Chinese book tomorrow.

It is useful to give the children a list of ‘special words’ (these are actually Special Finites but I call them 'special words' so as not to confuse the P1 and P2 children) and highlight to them that any action that comes immediately after these words should not end with ‘s’ or ‘ed’ (the Past Tense form).
The list consists of the following words:
    to
    not
    can/could
    will/would
    shall/should
    may/might

3. The Question-Infinitive

(a) Did Percy _____(take) the keys on the table?

(b) Does Amy _____(want) to have a slice of apple pie?

The above questions are also traps that many children will tumble into. In (a), they will see ‘Did’ and assume that the answer should also be in the Past Tense (took).

In (b), they see either ‘Does’ or ‘Amy’, thinks that the subject is singular and hit on ‘wants’ as the answer.

In both cases, they are wrong.

The answers are ‘take’ and ‘want’ respectively. Yes, the almighty Infinitive again.

The reasons are that in the above question form, the tense is indicated by 'Did'. Likewise for (b), the tense and agreement are already indicated by 'Does', so the verb we are looking for should be in the Infinitive form.

It not easy to explain the concept of the Infinitive to young children.

It is easier to tell them that when they come across questions that begin with 'Do', 'Does', 'Did' or one of the 'Special Words', then they must remember that the action in the middle of the question should not end with ‘s’ or ‘ed’ (the Past Tense form) again.

These 3 types of questions are some of the trickier ones that the P1 and P2 pupils would come across. However, many P5 and P6 pupil (sometimes secondary school students too) are also stumped by such questions.

Hope this makes it easier for your children to understand. :D
Learning Partners

Learning Partners
OrangeBelt
OrangeBelt
 
Posts: 69
Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2010 12:11 pm
Total Likes: 0


Postby Learning Partners » Sat Sep 04, 2010 2:06 am

Some Commonly Mispronounced Words

Hi parents,

A few weeks after the September holidays next week, the P1 to P5 pupils would have to prepare for their school oral examinations. Hence, we thought it would be useful to share with you some words that children commonly misread/mispronounce.

1. The silent 'b'

'B' is silent under 2 instances:

(a) when the word ends with '-mb'

as in 'lamb', 'comb', 'climb', etc.


(b) when we see 'bt' in the word (this is where children make the mistake)

The most common culprits are 'debt' (read as 'det'), 'subtle' (sutle) and 'doubt' (dout).

There are exceptions, however. The 'b' is still read in words like 'obtain' and 'unobtrusive'.


2. Then there is also the silent 'h'.

We are familiar with words like 'honour', 'honest' and 'hour'. They begin with 'h' but we do not pronounce the 'h' sound. As a result, they sound like they begin with the vowel 'o'.

Which is why we use the article 'an' in conjunction with such words rather than 'a'.

Example:

It is an honour to meet you.

Elizabeth will be here in an hour.


What is lesser known however is that 'h' is also silent when it is sandwiched between two vowels.

Example:

vehicle (can be read as 'vi-i-kle' or 'vi-a-kle')


Besides these, there are also those words that are borrowed from other languages and thus do not follow the usual phonetic rules.

1. reservoir (re-ser-vua)

2. quay (key)

3. bouquet (boo-kay)

4. debris (silent 's'; read as 'day-bri')

5. parquet ('pa-ki' or 'pa-kay')

6. opaque (opek)

7. deny (de-nai)

8. police (per-lis)

9. picturesque (picturesk)


This list is by no means exhaustive (silent 'h' :D) but they are words that commonly appear in the scope of the primary school curriculum.

So it is a good start if the children could master their pronunciations (another commonly misspelled and mispronounced word; should be read as 'pro-nun-see-a-tions).

Learning Partners

Learning Partners
OrangeBelt
OrangeBelt
 
Posts: 69
Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2010 12:11 pm
Total Likes: 0


Postby moomoo7368 » Sat Sep 04, 2010 11:32 pm

Thanks, learning partners.

I'm struck by the fact that I've been pronouncing 'debt' and 'doubt' wrongly for the past 40 years. How embarrassing! And to think that I've been teaching dd the wrong thing too. Must correct the mistake!

This is really useful and interesting. With all the emphasis of speaking good English now, it's really important to present a good image upfront. Do you have any more examples to share?

moomoo7368
KiasuNewbie
KiasuNewbie
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2010 11:12 pm
Total Likes: 0


Postby ksme » Tue Sep 07, 2010 10:29 am

Learning Partners,
Thanks for your sharing. The materials are helpful. Looking forward to more sharings from you.

:thankyou:

ksme
BrownBelt
BrownBelt
 
Posts: 587
Joined: Tue Mar 02, 2010 12:47 pm
Total Likes: 1


Postby Learning Partners » Wed Sep 08, 2010 2:37 am

moomoo7368 wrote:Thanks, learning partners.

I'm struck by the fact that I've been pronouncing 'debt' and 'doubt' wrongly for the past 40 years. How embarrassing! And to think that I've been teaching dd the wrong thing too. Must correct the mistake!

This is really useful and interesting. With all the emphasis of speaking good English now, it's really important to present a good image upfront. Do you have any more examples to share?


Hi Moomoo6873,

We are glad that you found our post useful. Below are some other words that children and even some adults tend to mispronounce:

1. sword ('sord')

2. won (when used as past tense of 'win', it should be read as 'one'; it's only read as 'w-o-n' if you are referring to the Korean currency).

3. medicine (silent i - 'med-cern')

4. vegetable ('e' in the middle is silent - 'vej-table')

5. wind (read as 'whined' when used to mean 'twist' as in 'the winding road')

6. wound (when used as the past tense form of 'wind' should be read as 'wownd')

We hope you find this useful too.

Learning Partners :D

Learning Partners
OrangeBelt
OrangeBelt
 
Posts: 69
Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2010 12:11 pm
Total Likes: 0



Postby moomoo7368 » Wed Sep 08, 2010 11:05 pm

Hi learning partners, thanks for sharing.

I hope you can share more less-known things about english with us parents.

moomoo7368
KiasuNewbie
KiasuNewbie
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Sat Sep 04, 2010 11:12 pm
Total Likes: 0


Postby Learning Partners » Fri Sep 10, 2010 12:30 am

ksme wrote:Learning Partners,
Thanks for your sharing. The materials are helpful. Looking forward to more sharings from you.

:thankyou:


No problem, ksme.

We are glad that you find the materials informative. We would be glad to share more about English with the parents of KSPforum.

:celebrate:
Learning Partners

Learning Partners
OrangeBelt
OrangeBelt
 
Posts: 69
Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2010 12:11 pm
Total Likes: 0


Postby Learning Partners » Fri Sep 10, 2010 1:35 am

What's the difference between 'neither...nor...' and 'neither of...'?

A favourite during English tests and examinations.

This genre of questions usually appear under Grammar MCQ.



(a) 'Either...or' and 'Neither...nor' questions

Example:

Neither John nor his sisters _____ going to the party next week.

1) is

2) are

3) was

4) were

In such questions, there are two subjects (the nouns - in this case, people - that do the action). The two subjects in this sentence are John and his sisters.

The confusion lies in that John is singular (1 person) whereas 'his sisters' is a plural noun. So should the verb be singular or plural?

The rule for 'neither...nor' and 'either...or' questions is that the verb agrees with the subject closest to it. In the above example, the subject closest to the verb (the blank) is 'his sisters'.

And as the action has yet to take place, the answer cannot be in the Past Tense so the correct answer is '(2) are'.

This concept may be easy for adults to understand but it can be rather difficult for children to process and digest. Fortunately, there are some process skills that we can teach them to make it easier for them to grasp the concept.

Step 1: Categorise the question. Tell them that these are 'neither...nor' or 'either...or' questions.

Step 2: Identify the tense of the question. We tell our students to circle/highlight the helping words that give us information about the tense of the question.

In this example, the words 'next week' should be circled/highlighted as this phrase tells us that the actions have not happened yet.

As such, the Past Tense options (3) and (4) can be crossed out.

Step 3: Decide if the verb should be singular or plural. Remember that the verb agrees with the subject closest to it, so remind the children to look out for the subject that is closest to the verb and highlight/circle it.

Returning to the example, as the subject closest to the verb (the blank) is 'his sisters' (plural), the correct is '(2) are'.

Pretty complicated, right?

But the good news is that almost all children do get it after some drilling. So they can develop the ability and the process skills (circling/highlighting the clues) make it easier for them to do so.



b) 'Either of...' and 'Neither of...' questions

Example 2:

Either of the twins _____ in the room a moment ago.

1) is

2) are

3) was

4) were

The rule for 'Either of...' and 'Neither of...' questions is that the verb is always singular.

This is because 'either' and 'neither' are actually singular pronouns.

You could make it easier for your child(ren) to remember by explaining that if the sentence reads 'Either of the twins _____ here a moment ago.', it means that only 1 of the twins was here in the room. Since it refers to only 1 twin, the verb should be singular.

Likewise for the sentence:

Neither of the twins _____ in the room a moment ago.

This sentence means that both twins were not in the room. Since there was no one in the room, the verb should be singular.

The same process skills apply.

Step 1: Categorise the question. Example 2 is a 'Neither of.../Either of...' question. (Singular!)

Step 2: Identify the tense of the question. Circle/highlight the phrase 'a moment ago' which tells us that this has already happened so the sentence should be in the Past Tense (possible answers: 'was' and 'were').

Step 3: Decide if the verb is singular or plural. Circle/highlight 'Neither of...'. This being a 'Neither of...' question, the verb has to be singular and so the correct answer is '(3) was'.



These questions used to be taught only in P5 and P6. But in recent years, some schools have started to teach them in P3 and P4 too.

The concepts could be a little tricky for P3 and P4 pupils but from our experience, if they are taught the process skills, they can master the concepts.

Allowing them to use highlighters helps. Children, especially the younger ones, tend to be quite fascinated with colours so they get all excited and motivated when they are asked to highlight the clues. :wink:

Learning Partners

Learning Partners
OrangeBelt
OrangeBelt
 
Posts: 69
Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2010 12:11 pm
Total Likes: 0


Postby sinus123 » Fri Sep 10, 2010 11:32 pm

Hi Learning Partners,

Kind of you to share your knowledge of the English Language. Thank you! As a parent, I am often confused with some grammar items. after looking at some of the pointers you gave, I start to question myself, "how come i didn't know of that?


Waiting for more English tips in the future...

sinus123
KiasuNewbie
KiasuNewbie
 
Posts: 3
Joined: Wed Jul 14, 2010 4:52 pm
Total Likes: 0


Postby Learning Partners » Thu Sep 16, 2010 1:26 am

Hi sinus123 and moomoo7368, we are glad that you like our posts.

In this post, we will be sharing with you and other parents the trickier grammatical questions under Agreement aka Concord.

SHOULD THERE BE AN 'S' AFTER THE VERB?


In English sentences, the subject (the person or thing that does the action) and the verb (action word) must agree.

This means that a plural subject must go with a plural verb.

Example:

The boys go to school by bus everyday.


And a singular subject agrees with a singular verb.

Example:

The boy goes to school by bus everyday.


Very simple, right? In fact, this is what every single Primary One student learns.


Problems arise when we have sentences that are slightly unusual. Below, we have highlighted a number of the trickier questions that tend to appear during the examinations.


(a) Brendan, along with his sisters, is/are going to the zoo tomorrow.

The subject in (a) is Brendan.

Since Brendan is one person, he is a singular subject and so the verb that goes with Brendan is 'is'.

If your child should have problems remembering this, there are certain process skills that (s)he can follow.

Firstly - identify the phrase between the commas and strike out the phrase because it is not the subject.

Secondly - identify the subject (Brendan in this case) and highlight it. Then draw an arrow from the subject to the blank. This is to reinforce in the child's mind that this is the subject that determines the answer and to choose the answer accordingly.

The process skills are useful because they can be applied to a wide range of questions and help the child(ren) to remember better how to answer the questions.

For this genre of question, the phrase between the commas could also be:
    along with his sisters;
    together with his sisters;
    like his sisters;
.



(bi) Neither Alice nor her brothers likes/like strawberries.
(bii) Either the boys or their cousin has/have taken the pen.


For 'neither...nor' and 'either...or' questions, the verb must agree with the subject closer to it.

For (bi), the subject closer to the verb is 'her brothers' so the answer is 'like'.

For (bii), the subject closer to the verb is 'their cousin' and hence the answer is 'has'.



(ci) Neither of the boys has/have been to Sentosa.
(cii) Either of the boys has/have been to Sentosa.


'Neither of' and 'Either of' are always in the singular form so the answers for both (ci) and (cii) are the same - 'has'.



(d) One of the boys has/have been talking non-stop during the class.

This is a question which many children would get wrong. They see the word 'boys' and decide that the answer is 'have'.

But the key word is actually 'one'. Only one of the boys was talking so the subject is actually singular. Hence the answer should be 'has'.



(e) This troop of monkeys lives/live in the eastern side of the forest.

This question is actually very similar to (d). Do not be tricked by the word 'monkeys'. The subject now is the noun phrase 'troop of monkeys' and the key word is 'troop'. It is one troop and so it lives in the eastern side of the forest.



(fi) The audience laughs/laugh loudly at the antics of the clown.

In this case, 'audience' is considered a single entity, so the answer should be 'laughs', the singular verb.

However, take note that collective nouns like 'audience' can also become plural if the people in the audience are doing different things.

Example:

(fii) Some of the audience were talking on the phone while others were watching the show.

This is because now 'audience' no longer refers to one entity but to the individuals in the audience.




We hope that this will come in useful if you are doing the end-of-year exam revision with your child(ren). For our next post, we would be covering even more obscure points of Agreement. Until then, adios :D.


Learning Partners

Learning Partners
OrangeBelt
OrangeBelt
 
Posts: 69
Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2010 12:11 pm
Total Likes: 0


Next

Return to English