Spoken by more than a billion people, English is the most learned foreign language in the world. And yet English grammar, as beautiful and mysterious as it may be, gives learners a run for their money in terms of pure frustration. As a matter of fact, the Spanish users of our online English course Gymglish are no exception to the rule.
Gymglish has carefully selected the 10 most common English grammar mistakes our Spanish-speaking users have made over the past year. We’re not here to point fingers.*
1) The present perfect
Another pitfall for advanced English learners, the present perfect is no picnic.
Construction of the present perfect is as follows: auxiliary verb have + past participle.
I have lost my keys.
Bruno has decided to take a break.
We use the present perfect when:
• The action occurs in an unfinished time period.
I haven’t seen him lately. I haven’t seen him recently.
Everything has been alright so far. Everything has been alright up to now.
Sometimes the present perfect is used in the progressive form.
How long have you been living in San Francisco? – I have been living here for 10 years (or since 1999). Since when have you lived in San Francisco? I’ve lived here for 10 years (or since 1999).
• The action is finished and we want to emphasize this fact, or it is still relevant to the present moment.
He’s (or He has) done his work. He has finished or completed his work.
Note : When there is an adverb (such as never, always, etc.), this is always placed between the auxiliary verb and the past participle.
I have never been to San Francisco
Susie has always dreamed of working in PR.
Going further on the present perfect here
2) The simple past tense (preterit)
This grammar rule is tricky for both native and non-native speakers. The simple past (the main past tense) expresses completed actions.
It is formed by adding -ed to the end of the verb, if the verb is regular.
I washed the floor yesterday.
He talked to Horatio two hours ago.
If the verb is irregular, you need to learn the forms of the simple past and the past participle!
Some frequently-used irregular verbs:
Yesterday I found money on the floor. (to find)
Susie went to England last week. (to go)
We got up at 6 this morning. (to get)
Bruno came earlier. (to come)
Where did you buy this book? – I bought it on the internet. (to buy)
More on the simple past tense here
3) The present progressive
We couldn’t possibly establish a list of terrifying grammar rules without mentioning the present progressive now could we?
The present progressive (auxiliary verb be + verb ending in -ing) is used to express a current action, an action in progress or an unfinished action.
The children are sleeping right now.
It is often used for descriptions.
Polly is wearing nice shoes today.
The jaguar is lying on a tree branch.
The present progressive also allows us to express a future action or an intention, mainly with the expression to be going to.
We are going to count the votes this afternoon. We will count the votes this afternoon.
Are you going to accept the proposal? Will you accept the proposal? Do you plan to accept the proposal?
It can also be used with modal auxiliary verbs.
They should be sleeping by now.
The use of the present progressive is the opposite of that of the present simple, which is used:
• for permanent truths (Christmas falls on December 25th.)
• to express habits (Kevin plays golf every Saturday.)
• for announcements (The President announces a tax increase.)
More on the present progressive here
4) The auxiliary verb would
One of the trickiest rules in the book. The auxiliary verb would, used as a conditional, expresses a notion of willingness, acceptance or preference.
I would buy a car if I could. If I were able to buy a car, I would buy one!
I would make an omelette if I had some eggs.
(had forms the past subjunctive)
What would you do in my position? If you were me, how would you act?
I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if we started dinner without them.
(started is in the past subjunctive here)
Would is used when we want to be polite.
I would like some change please. (“would like” is a polite way to say “want”)
Would you like something to drink? Do you want something to drink?
It also allows us to express the future in a past sentence (would is the past of will).
Bruno says he will come to the meeting. (he says it in the present)
Bruno said he would come to the meeting. (he said it in the past)
More on would here
5) The interrogative form
The construction of the interrogative form is different if the verb is an auxiliary verb (be, have, will, can, etc.), or a ‘normal’ verb.
• If the verb is an auxiliary verb, the interrogative is formed without the auxiliary do/does/did.
Is Bruno in his office?
Can I talk to you?
Have you read this book?
• If the verb is ‘normal’, the interrogative is formed with the auxiliary do/does/did. As always after an auxiliary verb, the verb is added in the infinitive without to.
Do you like that album?
Did she see the movie?
Does Kevin drink alcohol?
In both cases, the sentence is formed by inverting the first auxiliary verb.
She’s dreaming. -> Is she dreaming?
You would tell me. -> Would you tell me?
Note: The ‘normal’ verb to do is also conjugated with the auxiliary do/does/did.
Did you do it?
Does he do his homework on time?
• In the case of interrogatives introduced by pronouns (Who, What)
If the interrogative pronoun is a subject, there is no inversion:
Who told you this?
Who is here?
If the interrogative pronoun is an object, there is inversion.
Who(m) are you talking to?
What did he say?
What are you thinking about?
More on the interrogative form here
6) The negative form
The negative construction is formed differently depending on whether the verb is an auxiliary verb (be, have, will, can, etc.) or an ordinary verb.
• If the verb is an auxiliary verb, the negation is constructed with not (or with the contraction -n’t) and without the auxiliary verb ‘do/does/did’.
She cannot know the truth. It’s impossible that she knows the truth. (Note that the words ‘can’ and ‘not’ form only one word in the negative; ‘cannot’!)
I am not ready yet. I am still not ready. It is too early for me to be ready.
They won’t come. They will not come.
• If the verb is an ordinary verb, the auxiliary verb do/does/did is used to introduce negation.
He does not (or doesn’t) play rugby. Rugby is not a game which he plays.
They didn’t go to the theater yesterday.
The contractions -n’t (isn’t, aren’t, doesn’t, don’t, won’t, can’t…) are frequently used in spoken English. Using not separated from the word often allows us to emphasize the negative idea in the sentence.
Is Bruno home? No, he is NOT (at home). Is Bruno home? No, he is definitely not.
The ordinary verb to do also conjugates with the auxiliary verb do/does/did.
He doesn’t do his work properly. He does not complete his work correctly.
You didn’t do my laundry. You failed to wash my clothes.
Negation can also be introduced by the adverb never, which in itself carries a negative meaning.
I have never seen the Eiffel Tower. I have not ever seen the Eiffel Tower.
More on forming negative constructions here
7) The auxiliary verb should
The auxiliary verb should, used as a conditional, expresses recommendations or suggestions.
You should talk to him. I recommend that you talk to him.
The employees shouldn’t behave like this. It’s my opinion that the employees behaving like this is not a good idea.
Should I bring something to eat? Would it be a good idea for me to bring something to eat?
Should sometimes expresses probability.
Horatio should be in his lab right now. It’s probable, expected or likely that Horatio is in his lab right now.
The results of the vote should satisfy everyone. The results of the vote will probably satisfy everyone.
Should can express duty and obligation, but is less strong than have to and must.
You should be wearing your seatbelt. You are obliged to wear your seat belt.
For a past action, we use should + ‘have’ + past participle.
Kalvin Krime should have hired Horatio while he was available.
Should like to allows us to express a wish in a polite way. In informal English, would is more commonly used.
I should like to visit Uganda one day. I would like to visit Uganda one day.
Note: The auxiliary verb ought to is a synonym of should:
I ought to go = I should go.
Want to know more about should? Click here!
8) The common tenses
The most common tense is the simple present, followed by the simple past and the perfect present. These times can be used in both passive and active voice.
How to express the main tenses in English:
• The present:
– The present simple, for permanent truths, and habits:
Winter begins December 21st. This happens on the same date every year.
Icarus works from 8 to 6 every day. Icarus always works from 8 to 6.
– The present progressive (be + verb ending in -ing), if the action is in the process of being carried out:
The children are playing in the garden. They are playing in the garden at this moment.
What are you doing? What are you doing right now?
• The past:
– The past simple (verb + –ed ending, for regular verbs) expresses a completed action:
I finished my homework five minutes ago. I don’t have any more homework to do.
We went to France last summer. We went to France last summer, and then we came back home.
– In the past continuous, the action was in the process of being carried out:
When the boss arrived, I was sleeping on my desk. I was sleeping on my desk at the very moment my boss arrived.
• The future:
– The future simple, with the auxiliary verb WILL:
Tomorrow I will go and buy stamps.
The train won’t arrive on time.
– The future progressive expresses an ongoing action in the future:
At this time tomorrow, we will be surfing the waves of the Indian ocean.
– The near future, using the expression be going to, expresses an intention, or a conviction:
I am going to call him, I can’t wait anymore. Pass me the telephone!
More on the common tenses here
9) Common question words
Common question words :
|What?||What are you doing?||(-I am playing tennis.)|
|Who?||Who is this boy?||(-This boy is my brother.)|
|Where?||Where are you going?||(-I am going to the cinema.)|
|When?||when does the train arrive?||(-The train arrives at 4 o’clock.)|
|Why?||Why is Bruno angry?||(-Bruno is angry because his grandfather died.)|
|How?||How is your Dad?||(-My dad is tired.)|
|How much? How many?||How many children do you have?||(-I have eight children.)|
|Which?||Which of the following is correct?||(-The first one is correct.)|
|Whose?||Whose pencil is this?||(-This is Icarus’ pencil.)|
How is frequently followed by an adjective or an adverb.
How long have you been married? For how many years have you been married?
How far is the Golden Gate Bridge from here? What is the distance to the Golden Gate Bridge from here?
How often does Kevin go to Asia? With what frequency does Kevin go to Asia?
How many times must I tell you to clean up your desk? Why do I have to tell you several times to clean up your desk?
How old are you? What is your age?
How tall are you? What is your height?
How come? Why?
More on the common question words here
10) The ‘ing’ verb form
The -ing verb ending has different functions :
• It mainly allows us to express progressive verb forms with the auxiliary verb be, (present, past, future progressive) :
Kevin is eating right now.
What are you doing?
I was going to call him when he appeared at my apartment.
At this time tomorrow, we will be drinking a cocktail by the beach.
• The gerund, which is the verbal noun:
Surfing relaxes me.
Bear hunting is forbidden.
Do you mind my wearing casual clothes?
It was great seeing you again Bruno.
• The verbal adjective :
The weeping willow
The living dead
The rising tide
Some verbs followed by the gerund :
Horatio enjoys smoking in the laboratory.
(To enjoy is never followed by the infinitive.)
We try to avoid staying in dangerous places.
To give up smoking to stop smoking
To keep (on) doing something to continue doing something
More on the ‘ing’ verb form here
We’ve established that understanding grammar is key to understanding any foreign language. But thanks to our online English lessons Gymglish, English grammar tips are easy to learn and retain. Don’t believe us? Find out for yourself.
*Anonymous data collected from our users regarding our English course Gymglish since 2004.