Chapter 1 English Grammer
A few grammatical terms and what they mean
A sentence is a group of words, which makes complete sense. A sentence has two parts. Subject and predicate.
The person, thing, or idea that performs the action in the verb (do-er of the verb) or shows the beingness in the verb (be-er of the verb) is the grammatical subject of the sentence.
For E.g. He plays cricket. (He is the do-er of the verb, hence He is the subject)
He is a great cricketer. (He is the be-er, hence the subject)
For E.g. He was awarded the Man of the Match by the ICB.
(He in a way shows the beingness of the verb ‘was awarded’, hence He is the grammatical subject of the sentence. This is the case in the passive voice; the grammatical subject may look like the beneficiary of the action performed by another agency and not appear to be the do-er or the be-er. The do-er or the be-er will then be the object of the preposition ‘by’ (the ICB). In the passive voice, most sentences will make perfect sense without the ‘by …’ phrase.
What is said about the subject is the predicate.
E.g. Lovebirds are parrots.
Lovebirds tend to sit close to their mates with their heads touching.
The italicized part is the predicate in each case.
A group of words which makes sense but not complete sense.
E.g. tend to sit close to their mates with their heads touching.
A group of words that makes sense and contains a predicate in itself, but is different from a sentence in that it still does not make complete sense.
For E. g. that tend to sit close to their mates with their heads touching. (‘tend to sit close to their mates with their heads touching’ functions as a predicate though there is no subject.)
Parts of Speech:
The words in English are classified into eight groups depending on their function in a sentence.
(The key here is the function of a particular word in a sentence. The same word can be of different parts of speech depending on its function in another sentence.)
The parts of speech are Nouns, Pronouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, Conjunctions, Prepositions, and Interjections.
(Some authorities would not list ‘interjections’, but would list ‘determiners’, instead.). We will study determiners (a, an, the, some, etc.) under adjectives
A noun is a name. The moment we name something that exists or does not exist, that name becomes a noun. A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or an idea.
A Proper Noun — names a specific person, place, or thing. A proper noun almost always begins with a capital letter.
E.g. Sachin, King Asoka, Far East, Delhi, India, God, Hindi, Hinduism, the Bharatiya Janata Party….
Common Nouns — name everything else. Common nouns usually are not capitalized.
E.g. man, city, nation, pen ….
Abstract Nouns — These are names of ideas and are theoretical and intangible.
E.g. information, anger, education, melancholy, softness, violence ….
Compound Nouns — These are combinations of different nouns.
E.g. girlfriend, fish merchant, playground…
Collective Nouns — These are nouns which can take a singular form but are composed of more than one individual person or items.
E.g. jury, team, class, committee, herd, flock
A Noun Phrase — A Noun phrase is frequently a noun accompanied by modifiers, is a group of related words acting as a noun.
E.g. the fee reduction proposal, the oil depletion allowance, the abnormal behaviour, hideously enlarged nose
A Noun Clause — A group of related words can act as a single noun-like entity within a sentence. A Noun clause contains a subject and a verb and can do anything that a noun can do: What he does to the street children is a blessing.
Take a closer look at the following categories of nouns, as situations in competitive exams test your awareness of these.
Count Nouns — Simply, these can be counted
E.g. six books, a dozen eggs, many players, a few mistakes, some coins
Non-Count Nouns — Sometimes these are called Mass Nouns as it is not always possible to count them.
E.g. wood, cloth, ice, etc.
Usage Notes on Nouns
‘fewer mistakes’ or ‘less mistakes’?
Which of the following sentences is correct?
She made fewer mistakes in her paper today
She made less mistakes in her paper today.
All count nouns will take fewer. All non-count nouns will take less/lesser.
Hence ‘She made fewer mistakes in her paper today’ is the correct sentence.
Count nouns are used with: a, an, the; many, few/fewer, number; this, that, every, each, either, neither; these, those, some, any, enough, a number of.
Non-count nouns are used with: much, less/lesser, this, that, some, any, enough, amount of.
‘some troubles’ or ‘many troubles’?
We should note that some words can be either a count noun or a non-count noun depending on how they’re being used in a sentence.
He got into trouble. (The noun trouble is used as an uncountable noun)
He had many troubles. (The noun troubles is here used as a countable noun)
Experience (non-count) is the best teacher.
We had many exciting experiences (countable) in college.
Whether these words are count or non-count will determine whether they can be used with articles (a, an, the) and determiners (a few, some, etc.) or not.
We would not write “He got into the troubles,” but we could write about “The troubles of India”.
Since ‘some’ as a determiner can precede both the countable and the uncountable nouns, both ‘some troubles’ and ‘many troubles’ are correct depending on the context.
‘foodstuff’ or ‘foodstuffs’?
The categories of count and non-count nouns can be confusing at times. However, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out if something is count or non-count if the context in which it is used is understood well.
Count nouns can be pluralized when appropriate. We can use expressions such as
- many pens
- few pens
- a few pens
These nouns, both singular and plural, can be preceded by the appropriate definite and indefinite articles —
the with both singular and plural, a or an with singular count nouns.
Singular count nouns can be preceded by this and that and by every, each, either, and neither.
Plural count nouns can be preceded by these and those and by some, any, enough, and the zero article.
The phrase number is accompanied by count nouns. Count nouns cannot be preceded by much.
The phrase amount is also a sure sign that you are not dealing with a count noun.
Here is a list of Mass Nouns (non-count) for you to consider. Can you count any of these things? Do we use the plural form of any of these words in common speech and writing?
I. wood, cloth, ice, plastic, wool, steel…
II. water, milk, wine, beer, sugar, rice, meat, cheese, flour …
III. reading, boating, smoking, dancing, hockey, weather …
IV. Chinese, Spanish, English, luggage, equipment, furniture….
Generally, nouns under III and IV categories cannot be pluralized.
The non-count nouns of the second column (foodstuff) are pluralized when we use the word to express a ‘type’:
There are new beers being introduced every day. (types of beers)
The waters of the Atlantic are much warmer this time of year. (The Atlantic is presumed to be divided into different parts or seas.)
The Indians are famous for their curries.
The rains came early this year.
These foodstuffs are exceedingly rich in fat and can harm your heart.
All of the above are good sentences. ‘Foodstuff’ belongs to the second type of mass nouns which depending on the context can take a plural form. Hence, both ‘foodstuff’ and ‘foodstuffs’ are correct depending on what you want to communicate.
‘Morning sunlight is healthful’ or ‘The morning sunlight is healthful’?
We can use expressions such as-
- much sunlight
- little sunlight
- a little sunlight
It is appropriate to precede these nouns (II and III categories) with a definite or indefinite article.
- the sunshine
- an experience
- a beer
But they frequently appear with zero articles:
- Smoking is bad for you.
- Sugar is sweet.
- Experience is the best teacher.
- Sunlight is good for your skin.
These nouns can be preceded by some, any, enough, this, that, and much. You can now reason that with or without (zero) definite article ‘sunlight …..’ sentences have exactly the same meaning. Some of you would
merely want the article because you are comfortable with the sound.
However, both are correct. Also, remember that because they are not countable, these nouns cannot be preceded by these, those, every,
each, either, and neither.
‘… the friendship’ or ‘… the friendships’?
Look at the list of these abstract nouns. Think about each category of abstract nouns.
Can you count any of them?
Can you create sentences in which some of these words can be used as plurals?
I. peace, warmth, hospitality, information, anger, education …
II. conduct, courage, leisure, knowledge, safety ….
III. speed, experience, time, friendship, trouble, work, culture …
IV. virtue, taste, evil, liberty, democracy, death, grief, piety …
Because they refer to ideas, concepts, it is difficult to see how abstract nouns can be pluralized. In fact, many of them cannot be.
The abstract nouns in I and II cannot be pluralized; the abstract nouns in III and IV can be.
The examples below discuss what happens to an abstract noun when it is pluralized.
The griefs of mankind are too much to bear.
She formed many friendships at college.
These are difficult times.
If you are sharp enough in your reading, you may have noticed that the words that precede these nouns (the griefs, many friendships, these times) indicate that what we say about the non-count nouns, above, can be
said about abstract nouns.
The friendship that she formed with me is everlasting.
The friendships that she formed at college worked to her advantage.
Both are good sentences.
‘hair’ or ‘hairs’?
If we conceive of the meaning of a noun as a continuum (range) from being specific to being general and abstract, we can see how it can move from being a count noun to a mass noun. Consider, for example, the
When I say,
I had many pleasant experiences as a teacher.
I’m referring to specific, countable moments in my life as a teacher.
When I say,
This position requires experience.
I’m using the word in an abstract way; it is not something you can count; it’s more like an idea, a general thing that people need to have in order to apply for this job.
If I write,
The talks will take place in Kohinoor Hall (these talks are countable events or lectures).
If I say,
I hate it when a meeting is nothing but talk (the word talk is now uncountable; I’m referring to the general, abstract idea of idle chatter).
Evils refer to specific sins — pride, envy, laziness, etc. are evils — whereas evil refers to a general notion of being bad or ungodly.
One more example: “I love the works of Beethoven” means that I like his symphonies, his string quartets, his concerti and sonatas, his choral pieces — all very countable things, works. “I hate work” means that I
find the very idea of labour, in a general way, quite unappealing.
Notice that the plural form means something quite different from the singular form of this word; they’re obviously related, but they’re different.
Apply this reasoning to hair and hairs you will see that both make
perfect sense, but in different ways.
Almost all mass nouns can become count nouns when they are used in a classificatory sense:
They served some nice beers.
There were some real beauties in that class.
We had some serious difficulties in English.
But some things cannot be made countable or plural: we cannot have ‘furnitures’, ‘informations’, ‘knowledges’, ‘softnesses’, or ‘chaoses’. When in doubt, consult a good dictionary.
Correct: He advised me several times on this project.
Correct: He gave me his advice on this project.
Incorrect: He gave me his advices on this project.
Incorrect: Please get me two waters. (two glasses of water)
Correct: I want an ice cream.
Correct: I want ice cream.
The first sentence refers to specific ice cream but the second sentence means that the idea of eating ice cream appeals to me — any ice cream will do.
Study these examples for greater clarity about count and non-count nouns.
She had many experiences. Does she have enough experience?
The lights were bright. Light hurts my eyes.
Give me three coffees. I’d love some coffee.
We study sugars in organic chemistry. Put sugar in my coffee.
The papers were stacked on the table. We wrote on paper.
When a non-count noun is used to classify something, it can be treated as a count noun. And sometimes a noun will be either countable or non-countable and mean practically the same thing:
Correct: French wine is superb.
Correct: French wines are superb.
Correct: Your hair looks great.
Correct: Your hair looks great except for the several white hairs.
‘My family is always fighting’ or ‘My family are always fighting’?
Collective Noun is the name of the same type of persons or things taken together and regarded as one entity. Collective Nouns referring to a living group (single-word nouns like committee, jury, crew, family, etc.) may be either singular or plural depending on their use in the sentence.
Inanimate collective nouns
(e.g. furniture, luggage, etc.) will take the singular verb only.
The crew is large (The workforce is large in number).
The crew are taken prisoners (The members of the crew are taken prisoners).
Both the above sentences are good. With collective nouns, when you think or imply ‘members of ….’ use the plural verb. However, when the collective noun is of the form ‘a _ of __’ as in a ‘a flock of sheep’,
living or non-living, always use the singular verb.
Correct: A group of boys is at the park.
Correct: A bevy of beauties has just entered the discotheque.
Both the above are good sentences.
Incorrect: A group of boys are at the park.
Incorrect: A flock of sheep are running helter-skelter.
Incorrect: The crew is taken prisoners.
The last sentence too is incorrect because the crew cannot be functioning as a unit because of the word ‘prisoners’. What is meant is ‘members of the crew are taken, prisoners’. It is not necessary to use ‘members of…..’ all the time when you use such collective nouns. The plural verb is correct and sufficient to communicate that you are referring to the members and not to the collective unit as one entity.
More importantly, when the collective noun functions as ‘members…’ the singular verb will create an error Or drastically change the meaning of the sentence. For example: ‘The crew is large’ means that the number of members is large. But, ‘the crew are large’ will mean ‘the members of the crew are large (in size)’, in other words, the members of the crew are plump and corpulent. Study these sentences and try to see the reasoning for each one to be correct or incorrect.
Correct: My family is going for a vacation this summer.
Incorrect: My family are going for a vacation this summer.
Correct: My family are going to fight throughout the vacation.
Incorrect: My family is going to fight throughout the vacation.
Correct: My family is always fighting (against the others).
Correct: My family are always fighting (amongst themselves).
Study these sentences:
The staff is in a meeting.
The staff are in disagreement about the findings.
The luggage has been flown to a wrong destination.
Subjects are nouns/noun phrases/ noun clauses.
The basic rule is simple. It is: A singular subject takes a singular verb, while a plural subject takes a plural verb. The trick lies in identifying whether the subject is singular or plural.
First, identify the subject of the sentence. The question ‘who?’ put to the verb unfailingly gives you the subject of the sentence.
E.g. They has/have bought a new car. (Ask ‘Who?’ to the verb – Who has/have? Answer is ‘They’. ‘They’ is the subject of the sentence. Now ascertain whether the subject is singular or plural. Make the verb agree
in number. Singular verbs are: is/was/has/takes.
Plural verbs are: are/were/have/take.)
As a general rule, use a plural verb with two or more subjects when they are connected by ‘and’.
Correct: A car and a bike are my means of transportation.
But, not always,
Correct: Bread and jam is good for breakfast.
Correct: Rice and beans, my favourite dish, reminds me of my native Kannur.
When two subjects are only related by either…or, neither…. nor, not(only) … but( also), or the verb will agree with the subject that is near to it.
Correct: Neither the manager nor his assistant is available.
Correct: Either she or I am getting the Best Student’s Award.
Note: Am agrees with the subject close to it, I.
Correct: Neither the oceans nor the sea is a dumping place for toxic waste.
[When you have a plural subject and a singular subject related by such (correlative) conjunctions, some authorities prefer that you put the plural subject close to the verb unless you have a specific reason to use the
a singular subject close to the verb.]
When a singular subject is connected by or nor to a plural subject, put the plural subject last and use a plural verb.
The book or magazines are on the shelf.
Neither John nor the others are available.
Parenthetical Element between the subject and the verb
Sometimes the subject is separated from the verb by words such as along with, as well as, besides, not, etc.
Ignore these words when determining whether to use a singular or plural verb.
The politician, along with the newsmen, is expected shortly.
Excitement, as well as nervousness, is the cause of her shaking.
Grammatically, these phrases/nouns following as well as, in addition to, along with, etc. are called ‘parenthetical element’. Parenthetical elements are introduced using a preposition; what follows the preposition is not another subject, as may be the case with conjunctions. The verb agrees with the subject.
The parenthetical element — separated from the subject using ( ), or commas, or hyphens — deemphasizes the information thus presented.
Incorrect: Amisha, as well as Sony, were present at the Silver Jubilee party.
As well as is a preposition (used to bring in Sony). The subject is Amisha and hence the verb has to be singular.
Correct: Amisha, as well as Sony, was present at the Silver Jubilee party.
Correct: The boys, as well as the girls, were pleased by the teacher’s remark. (The subject is ‘The boys”, which is plural.)
Study the construction of these sentences. Pay attention to the punctuation.
The boys, as well as the girls, were pleased by the teacher’s remark.
Amisha (as well as Sony) was present at the Silver Jubilee party.
The father – along with his sons – was going fishing.
Some singular subjects
The pronouns each, everyone, everybody, anyone, anybody, someone, either, neither, and somebody are always singular. Do not be misled by what follows ‘of’.
Each of the girls sings well.
Every one of the cakes is gone.
Everyone in this batch is expecting a call from the IIMs.
Neither of them is available to speak right now.
Subject – Verb Agreement (a few more usage concerns) With words that indicate portions — percent, fraction, part, majority, some, all, none, remainder, etc. — you must look at what follows the ‘of’ to determine whether to use a singular or plural verb. If what follows of is singular, use a singular verb.
Fifty percent of the population is against government policy. (Population follows of and is singular hence the verb is the singular ‘is’) But,
Fifty percent of the people are against government policy. (The word ‘people’ that follows is plural, hence the verb is plural ‘are’.)
The words here and there are never subjects because they are not nouns. In sentences beginning with here or there, the true subject follows (comes after) the verb.
There are four hurdles to jump.
There is a high hurdle to jump.
Use a singular verb with sums of money or periods of time.
Ten thousand rupees is a high price to pay.
Five years is the maximum sentence for that offence.
If the pronoun who, that, or which appears as the subject in the middle of the sentence, you must decide whether to follow it with a singular or plural verb. In order to decide, look at the noun immediately before the who, that, or which. If it is singular, use a singular verb. If it is plural, use a plural verb.
She is the secretary who writes the letters.
The word in front of who is secretary, which is singular. Therefore, use the singular verb writes.
He is one of the men who do the work.
The word in front of who is men, which is plural. Therefore, use the plural verb do. Words such as glasses (spectacles), pants, pliers, and scissors are regarded as plural (and require plural verbs) unless they’re preceded by the phrase ‘pair of’ (in which case the word ‘pair’ becomes the subject).
My glasses were on the bed.
A pair of cotton trousers is in the closet.
Some words end in ‘s’ and appear to be plural but are really singular and require singular verbs.
The news from Delhi is bad.
Politics is the art of lying.
On the other hand, some words ending in ‘s’ refer to a single thing but are nonetheless plural and require a plural verb.
My assets were wiped out in the depression.
The average worker’s earnings have gone up dramatically.
Our thanks go to the workers who supported the union.
But we have to look at the word ‘economics’ differently. It can take a singular or plural verb depending on the situation
Economics was one of the subjects at B.Com.
The economics of the situation demand that we tighten our belts.
The expression ‘more than one’ (oddly enough) takes a singular verb:
More than one student has tried this.
Sums and products of mathematical processes are expressed as singular and require singular verbs.
Two and two make four.
Four times four divided by two is eight.
Some sentences can be tricky in that, the subjects in them can take both singular and plural verbs. Depending on the number of the verb, the meaning of the sentence changes. Hence, in our eagerness for the correct form, we should not be ruled out one or the other. But, we should
consider the communication implied in them and choose the right verb.
My name and address are printed on the box.
His colleague and friend deserve equal credit.
(His colleague and friend is clearly the same person)
This sense of unity is not simply a stylistic flourish. Using a singular or plural verb changes the meaning of the sentence.
Keeping awake late in the night and working on the computer sometimes gives me a headache.
(The above sentence means that the combination of keeping awake late, and working on the computer can cause a headache.)
Keeping awake late in the night and working on the computer sometimes give me a headache.
(With a plural verb (give), the sentence implies that keeping awake late, and working on the computer, act separately; either can bring a headache.)
Subject Verb Agreement — ‘None’
There is one indefinite pronoun, ‘none’, that can be either singular or plural. Use a plural verb unless something else in the sentence clearly determines its number.
Correct: None of you claim responsibility for this incident?
Incorrect: None of the students has done their homework.
Correct: None of the students have done their homework.
Incorrect: None of the luggage have reached us.
Correct: None of the luggage has reached us. (‘luggage’ determines the number.)
Do as directed in the brackets.
- In the newspaper, an interesting article appeared. (Underline the subject of the sentence)
- Across the road lived her boyfriend. (Underline the subject of the sentence)
- Around every cloud is a silver lining. (Underline the subject of the sentence)
- Neither he nor his brother are capable of such a crime. (Underline verb twice and subject once. If the verb does not agree with the subject, correct the verb.)
- The teacher or student is going to appear on stage first. (Underline verb twice and subject once. If the verb does not agree with the subject, correct the verb.)
- The mother duck, along with all her ducklings, swim so gracefully. (Underline verb twice and subject once. If the verb does not agree with the subject, correct the verb.)
- Each of those games is exciting. (Underline verb twice and subject once. If the verb does not agree with the subject, correct the verb.)
- The file, not the documents, were misplaced. (Underline verb twice and subject once. If the verb does not agree with the subject, correct the verb.)
- Here is the three books you wanted. (Underline verb twice and subject once. If the verb does not agree with the subject, correct the verb.)
- Five hundred rupees is/are all I am asking. (Strike out the inappropriate underlined word.)
- Three-fourths/A of the pizzas/B have been eaten./C No error /D. (Spot the error. If there is an error, correct the sentence.)
- The majority of the Parliament is/are Congressmen. (Strike out the inappropriate underlined word.)
- Rohit /A is one of those students/B who is always ready./C No error /D. (Spot the error. If there is an error, correct the sentence.)
- Every/A one of the dancers/B is very limber./C No error /D. (Spot the error. If there is an error, correct the sentence.)
- The original document, as well as subsequent copies, was/were lost. (Strike out the inappropriate underlined word.)
- Only forty per cent/A of the eligible voters/B is going to the polls./C No error /D. (Spot the error. If there is an error, correct the sentence.)
- Almost all of the magazine is/are devoted to advertisements. (Strike out the inappropriate underlined word.)
- Here is/are Manish and Mandar. (Strike out the inappropriate underlined word.)
- Taxes on interest is/are still deferrable. (Strike out the inappropriate underlined word.)
- Five rupees/A are all I have/B to my name./C No error /D. (Spot the error. If there is an error, correct the sentence.)