Grammar for Teachers
A Guide to American English for
Native and Non-Native Speakers
Grammar for Teachers: A Guide to American English for Native and Non-Native
Speakers is a result of my frustrations over many years of teaching graduate-level
structure courses and not being able to ﬁnd an appropriate grammar text for the
pre- and in-service teachers enrolled in these classes. The students in these courses
have represented a variety of teaching backgrounds: ESL and EFL teachers, native
and non-native speakers of English, and mainstream content-area teachers with ESL
students in their classes, to name a few. Some of these students have had a strong
knowledge of English grammar, but often have difﬁculties in applying their knowl-
edge to real-life discourse. Other students’ exposure has been limited to lessons in
“correctness,” and are generally unaware of which language features are central to
teaching ESL/EFL learners. Some students are resistant to taking this course, but
are required to do so, whether to satisfy speciﬁc degree requirements, for state or
professional certiﬁcation, or for other reasons. A few students have had some lin-
guistics, many not. The challenge has been ﬁnding a way to convey the essentials of
American English grammar clearly, to engage students actively in their own learning
and understanding of grammar as applicable to ESL/EFL learners, and to motivate
them to undertake perceptive analyses of grammatical elements and structures, and
of ESL/EFL learner needs and difﬁculties.
The overall aim of Grammar for Teachers is to make grammar accessible and
comprehensible. The text assumes no prior knowledge and can be used with active
and prospective teachers who have little or no background in grammar, linguis-
tics, foreign languages, or other related ﬁelds. It is also intended for those users
whose exposure to English grammar has been primarily limited to prescriptive rules
of what speakers should say and write with little or no consideration of the con-
cerns and problems ESL/EFL learners face in learning and using English. The text
encourages users to develop a solid understanding of the use and function of the
grammatical structures in American English so that they may better appreciate the
language difﬁculties of ESL/EFL learners. The underlying premise is that teachers
of ESL/EFL learners need to understand how English works from a practical, every
day approach of “What does the learner need to know in order to produce X.” When
teachers understand the grammar of American English and the problems and needs
of ESL/EFL learner, they are in a better position to teach and explain elements of
What is Grammar?
When I think of grammar, I think of word usage – which, of course, everyone
I despise grammar. I ﬁnd the rules trite and boring. Grammar (and its enforcers)
need to loosen up and enjoy life more!
Grammar makes my stomach churn.
These comments will strike a chord with many users of this textbook. The term
grammar does not bring pleasant memories to the minds of many people. The term
grammar frequently brings to mind tedious lessons with endless drills, repetition,
and other generally mindless practice, focused on mostly obscure rules of how peo-
ple are supposed to write and speak. For native speakers of any given language,
grammar often represents to them the great “mystery” of language, known only to
language specialists or those of older generations, the ones who really know what is
“right”. Many feel that “grammar” is something that they were never taught and that
feel they therefore “don’t know.” Grammar is also often linked to both explicit and
implicit criticisms of people’s use or “misuse” of language, which may have created
a sense of resentment or frustration with the notion of grammar.
Grammar as a Set of Rules
The idea that grammar is a set of rules, often seen as arbitrary or unrealistic, is only
one narrow view of grammar. Such a view is based on the belief that:
r grammar must be explicitly taught;
r grammar is absolute and ﬁxed, a target or goal that speakers need attain in order
to be “good” speakers or writers of the language;
r grammar is inherently difﬁcult and confusing, its mysteries only apparent to
teachers, language mavens, or linguists.
A. DeCapua, Grammar for Teachers, 1
C Springer 2008
Redundancy in Language 39
Do ESL/EFL learners have trouble with these 8 inﬂectional endings?
Although English has relatively few inﬂectional morphemes, some of the most
frequent learner errors are in the correct use of these inﬂections. ESL/EFL
students for example, will frequently omit the third person singular ‘s or the
omit the past tense –ed and produce sentences such as:
*she like cats.
*we walk home yesterday.
You will note that the two sentences above are preceded by an asterisk (*). Through-
out the text, when you see an asterisk before a sentence, it means that the sentence
following it is incorrect or ungrammatical.
The omission or incorrect use of these eight inﬂectional morphemes is another
central focus of this book. We will see more examples of the difﬁculties ESL/EFL
learners have with these inﬂectional morphemes in later chapters.
Redundancy in Language
In most languages, there is a feature that we call redundancy. The term redundancy
refers to any feature that provides the same grammatical information that another
one already provides. In other words, when more than one grammatical clue or
marker is required to reveal grammatical information, it is called redundancy.
Discover Activity 7 will help you understand the notion of redundancy more
Discovery Activity 7: Redundancy
Examine the following two sentences.
1. Which of the two sentences is incorrect or ungrammatical in Standard
2. Underline those elements in the sentence you choose that make it ungram-
(a) Yesterday, two teachers expressed their feelings about John’s grade.
(b) Yesterday, two teacher express their feeling about John’s grade.
48 3 The Noun Phrase
structural analysis allows us to account for and understand the (occasional) use of
adjectives as nouns in the sentences we saw earlier:
(9) The rich have a good life.
(10) The poor have a hard life.
The structural clues of Sentences (9) and (10) deﬁne the function of the adjectives
in these two sentences as nouns, without changing their class membership; poor and
rich remain adjectives. In Section 3 of this chapter we will examine structural clues
in greater detail.
In Chapter 2 we saw how certain derivational endings provide us with clues to
identiﬁng class membership and we discussed how learning common derivational
endings is a valuable tool for helping learners of English identify new words and
their word class membership. We saw for instance, that the sufﬁx –ment generally
signals nouns as in amazement, settlement, or movement.
Also in Chapter 2 you were introduced to inﬂectional endings and we saw that
certain inﬂectional endings go with nouns. These inﬂectional endings are the -s for
regular plural formation and the ’s to show possession. The -s is also referred to as
the genitive case.
Function of “s”
(11) I have books, pencils, pens, and folders. plural s
(12) I have Justin’s car.
The cat’s whiskers are long. possessive (genitive)’s
The girl’s jacket is here.
r In Sentence (11), books, pencils, pens, and folders are all plural nouns marked
by the inﬂectional –s.
r In Sentence (12), Justin’s, cat’s, and girl’s all have the possessive ’s.
Thus, words that are plural or take the possessive ’s provide derivational clues in
identifying them as nouns. However, as we will see in Section 2, not all nouns can
form the plural. In addition, a concern for ESL/EFL learners is how to distinguish
the plural –s from the third person singular present –s. Finally, as we discuss below,
not all nouns can take the possessive ’s inﬂection.
Answer Key: Chapter 3 Discovery Activities 81
I think there are numerous beneﬁts to travel in groups with a tour guide. There is
many informations about new places, but I need a speciﬁc one. Tour guides can give
me good advices. People who want to travel alone should have many experiences
about traveling. I don’t have experiences, so I don’t prefer to travel alone.
Answer Key: Chapter 3 Discovery Activities
Discussion: Discovery Activity 3
Possible expressions of quantity include: (note that not all in the list will work with
all the different noncount nouns in the activity.)
r a pound of
r a slice of
r an ounce of
r a sheet of
r a cup of
r a piece of
r a bit of
r a great deal of
r a blade of
Discussion: Discovery Activity 4
r Sense, coffee, hair, concern, and experience: both count and noncount. When
used as count nouns, they refer to individual faculties, pieces, items, interests, or
◦ Pam has an acute sense of smell: refers to Pam’s ability to smell.
◦ Llyod’s experiences abroad proved invaluable: refers to the events Llyod
r coffee: both count and noncount. It has become common for speakers to use such
expressions as a coffee, two milks, three sugars. These expressions have become
a type of shorthand for underlying longer expressions, which include the actual
descriptive phrases making them countable:
◦ a cup of coffee → a coffee
◦ two containers of milk → two milks
◦ three packets of sugar → three sugars
r music: noncount, May be used with a noun pharses such as type of music or piece
124 5 Introduction to Verbs and Verb Phrases
Section 2: Main Verbs versus Auxiliary Verbs
Verbs are generally divided into two major categories: main verbs and auxiliary
verbs. Main verbs are verbs that can stand alone and that do not need to be accom-
panied by any other verb. Main verbs also contribute the key semantic meaning in
any verb phrase.
(6) I walk to school.
(7) Jenny walks to school.
(8) She walked to school yesterday.
In Sentence (6), the main verb is walk. In Sentence (7), the main verb is also
walk, but this time it has the third person present tense –s inﬂectional ending.
In Sentence (3), the main verb is still walk, but this time it has the past
tense –ed inﬂectional ending, which all regular past tense verbs in English take.
None of these three sentences has an auxiliary verb. There is only the main
Other types of sentences need auxiliary verbs. Auxiliary verbs accompany main
verbs. They are only there to “help” the main verb in some way and they have no
semantic meaning. Different auxiliary verbs have different functions. For example,
auxiliary verbs can support the negative as in Sentence (9) below.
(9) I do not (or don’t) walk to school.
In Sentence (9), we have to include the auxiliary do before not and the main verb
to make a negative sentence in present tense. This is a grammatical requirement in
standard English. We cannot say:
*(9a) I not walk to school.
Before we continue on with our exploration of the difference between main verbs
and auxiliary verbs, review your knowledge of main verbs by completing Discovery
Activity 1. If you feel conﬁdent in your ability to identify main verbs, continue on
to the following section. The answers to this Discovery Activity are at the end of the
chapter in the Answer Key.
Discovery Activity 1: Identifying Main Verbs
Look at the excerpt.
1. Underline the main verbs.
The elephant’s trunk is both a hand and a nose . . . Elephants also use their trunks to
communicate in a kind of sign language. A young elephant sucks its trunk the way
babies suck their thumbs.
276 8 Basic Sentence Patterns and Major Variations
Answer Key: Chapter 8 Discovery Activities
Discussion: Discovery Activity 1
Noun phrase Verb Phrase Prepositional Phrase
Scuffy sailed into a big city
truck motors roared
Mr. Nubble frowned
You ’re stepping on my house
Felix jumped off the hose
She waved toward the pond
Four hundred frogs’ heads poked out (phrasal verb) of the water
Discussion: Sentence Problem
(2) The smart boy very carefully picked up some scattered rocks by the river.
The smart boy noun phrase
very carefully adverb phrase
picked up verb phrase (past, phrasal)
some scattered rocks object noun phrase
by the river prepositional phrase
Discussion: Discovery Activity 3
In every question, the wh-question word is in initial position, then:
1. Where was he
the subject and be auxiliary are inverted according to our auxiliary
2. Why has she called
the subject and have auxiliary are inverted according to our auxiliary
3. When is the party? the subject and verb are inverted because the main verb is be.
4. When did she call? the do auxiliary must be inserted according to our auxiliary rule.
5. Who wrote that
the verb follows in the appropriate tense because who is asking for the
subject of the verb.
6. Who did you call
did is inserted because who is asking for the object of the verb and the
verb is in simple past.
7. Who are you calling
the subject and verb are inverted according to our auxiliary rule. Who
is asking for the object of the verb1
8. What did you read
did must be inserted because what is asking for the object of the verb
and the verb is in simple past.
9. What author do you
like the best?
The subject, followed by an auxiliary verb, unless the main verb is be
because what is asking for the subject of the verb.
1 In formal prescriptive grammar whom is the correct form for Sentences 6 and 7.
362 11 Complex Sentences Continued
Noun Clauses Derived from Questions
In addition to that-type noun clauses, what other kinds of noun clauses are there?
who what when where why which how
There are two types of noun clauses derived from questions, wh-question word
noun clauses and yes/no noun clauses. The wh-question words introduce noun
clauses derived from information questions. The wh-question words, unlike that,
cannot be omitted in noun clauses.
Word Order After Question Words
When the wh-question words introduce a noun clause, the noun clause follows
normal afﬁrmative sentence word order. This is a difﬁcult concept for many
learners of English to remember, even at advanced levels.
(18) I don’t know where Melanie is.
In Sentence (18) the noun clause is introduced by where and then followed by nor-
mal afﬁrmative sentence word order:
where Melanie is
For ESL/EFL learners, even proﬁcient ones, there is a tendency to use question
word order after a wh-question word:
*(18a) I don’t know where is Melanie.
What is the sentence position of noun clauses introduced by wh-question words?
Noun clauses introduced by wh-question words usually follow a main clause. They
can also appear in initial position, with the main clause following. Regardless of
the position of the wh-noun clause, normal afﬁrmative word order follows the
(19) What we are doing is important.
*(19a) What are we doing is important.
370 11 Complex Sentences Continued
Reported Speech as Impression
Is reported speech always an exact report of what someone has said?
Up to this point we have discussed reported speech as though it were a mirror
of direct speech. Indeed, this is how reported speech is often taught to ESL/EFL
learners. In reality, however, reported speech is not always an exact replica of direct
speech with the appropriate verb tense and pronoun changes. Very often, reported
speech is more an approximation of what someone said. When reported speech
is intended to convey a general impression of the words actually spoken, there is
usually more than one way to structure the sentences.
Direct Speech to Reported Speech
(48) “Is there any new information
about the murderer?” asked
(48a) Sophie asked whether there
was any new information
about the murderer
(49) “He is thought likely to be
either a student or a Master in
the Faculty of Arts,” he
replied. “Who else would
think of setting us a
(49a) He replied that he was
thought likely to be either
a student or a Master in the
Faculty of Arts because who
else would think of setting
them a philosophical riddle.
[Gross, C. (2004/2002), Scholarium. H. Atkins, Transl. New Milford, CT: Toby Press. p. 70].
r In Sentence (48a), the reported speech is an exact replica of the actual quote of
r In Sentence (49a), the reported speech is similar to, but not identical to the orig-
inal quote of Sentence (49). The reported speech begins with the main clause He
replied, which is followed by a noun clause introduced by that.
r An important difference between Sentences (49) and (49a) is the change of the
question Who else. . . to an adverbial clause introduced by because.
Still another way to reformulate Sentence (49) is:
(49c) He replied that he was thought likely to be either a student or a Master
in the Faculty of Arts. After all, who else would think of setting them a
Reported speech may also reﬂect the writer’s or speaker’s interpretation of
what was said by using certain verbs to introduce the noun clause. These verbs
include claim, demand, insist, and allege. Compare, for example, the follow-
ing reported statements, Sentences 50a–50c, with the original direct statement,