The 5 absolutely worst grammar rules to ever appear in English textbooks

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines grammar as “the study of the classes of words, their inflections, and their functions and relations in the sentence”.

The Cambridge dictionary describes the discipline as being “the rules about how words change their form and combine with other words to make sentences”. Whatever its definition, grammar is a major frustration, even for native language speakers. But learning English grammar is far from impossible. By sticking to a few simple rules (and practicing of course), you can master the mysteries of grammar in no time at all.

Gymglish has selected some of the most treacherous rules of the English grammar to help you on your language learning journey. Take 5 of these and call us in the morning.

1) There/They’re/Their

This grammar rule is tricky for both native and non-native speakers, though it’s particularly evident in written English. There, they’re and their are words that sound the same, but actually have very different meanings: they are called homophones.

  • There is the opposite of here, and means “in that place”.

Example: Where did you put my book? It’s over there.

  • They’re is the contracted form of “they are” and most commonly followed by the present participle. The apostrophe indicates that the letter “a” has been left out.

Example: When they’re older, they’ll understand.

  • Finally, their is a possessive adjective used before a noun.

Example: I didn’t know that it was their cat.

2)  Much vs. many

Most learners of English understand the difference between the two, until comes the time to use them in a sentence.

Much and many suggest a large quantity, “a lot of” something.

  • Much precedes uncountable nouns:

Example:  I don’t have much time, and you don’t have much money 

  • Many precedes countable nouns:

Example: We have many friends in many countries.

This important distinction is found in the way of asking “How much, how many” questions.

Example: How much did you pay for the car? How many children does Bob have?

Watch out for the following traps:

  • “People” is a plural noun always preceded by many, and never by much.

Example: There are too many people.

  • Information, luggage (or baggage) and equipment are uncountable nouns and therefore are always singular:

Example: How much luggage did you bring? How much information do you want?

3) Each, every, all

Each and every can mean “each one”, “every one” or “all”: 

  • Each is used when all cases are considered separately:

Example: Each of them is extremely qualified. They are all extremely qualified.

  • Every is used when we are referring to a group:

Example:  I brush my teeth every day. I brush my teeth Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Each” and “every” are always used with singular subjects. Therefore, they cannot precede the word “people” (We cannot say “every people” or “each people” but rather we say “all the people” or “everybody”).

 4) Can vs. be able to

One of the trickiest rules in the book. Many students only use “can/could” and often forget “to be able to” even existed.

  • Be able to has a similar meaning to “can” (or “could” in the past):

Example: I’m not able to move my leg. = I can’t move my leg.

  • However, can is mainly used to express capabilities or aptitudes acquired with time, while “to be able to” refers to temporary or abilities or inabilities:

Example: He can’t swim, he never learned how // He’s not able to swim, the swimming pool is closed today.

Be able to also allows us to express “can” in different tenses in the past and the future:

Example: I was able to get to the meeting on time, despite the fact that the metro was late.

5) Superlatives

  • Superlatives of superiority: if the adjective is short (monosyllabic).

Example: Bill is the tallest guy in the building > tall is the adjective

     My boss is the craziest person I have ever known. > crazy is the adjective

Just like in the past tense, the final consonant is sometimes doubled:

Example: thin -> thinnest

       hot -> hottest

  • If the adjective is long, “most” is used:

Example: She is the most intelligent person in the company.

Bear in mind that there is no strict rule to determine if an adjective is short or long. Obviously, monosyllabic adjectives are considered short, however, there are some two-syllable adjectives which can be both short and long.

Example: happy -> happiest or most happy

       ugly -> ugliest or most ugly

We’ve established that understanding grammar is key to understanding any foreign language. But thanks to our online English course Gymglish, English grammar tips are easy to learn and retain. Don’t believe us? Find out for yourself.

Photo: Pixabay

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