Grammar Guide for Private Language Teachers

A guide for those teaching English

Present Simple

We use Present Simple to talk about what we do regularly, in the past, the present and the future. We use it also to talk about constant situations and facts:

I eat sushi every day.
You should buy a new car.
My friend and I like playing with marbles.
The Harlem Globetrotters play basketball well.
It doesn't rain very much around here.

Present Progressive

We use Present Progressive to talk about unfinished actions or actions that are happening during the time of speaking, or when talking about temporary situations.

I am playing football with my friends.
What are you doing? I need to see you.
Jun Suzuki is in Scotland. He is learning English.
The water is boiling. Could you switch off the kettle?
Adam and Tomoko meet every day. They are falling in love with each other.

Present Perfect

We use the Present Perfect form to talk about a past action which has a connection with, or a relevance to, the present situation. It is often used when describing the very recent past which affects the present. When we say something has happened, we are talking about the past, but also thinking about a present situation. Perfect forms of the verb, are preceded by have or has.

I have finished my dinner.
John has been to France.
Have you ever eaten nato?
Have you worked abroad?
Mayuko has not lost her purse 8 times.
We have never travelled to China.

Present Perfect Progressive

We use the Present Perfect Progressive form to talk about a past action which has finished either very recently, or has not yet finished. When we say we have been doing something, it means either we are still doing or we have finished it very recently and, as such, has an effect on the present.

"Shhhh.....I have been watching this movie for 2 hours now. Please don't interrupt me". (The person is still watching the movie)
"I have been working hard all day and I'm pretty tired now" (The person may be working now, or may have just stopped, i.e. taking a break).
"The ground is wet. It has been raining."(It has recently stopped raining)
"It has been raining for the last hour." (It is still raining)
My knees are dirty because I have been playing football.
John has been smoking a lot recently. He really should cut down.
I have been playing professional football for 12years now.
It's good to see you Jimmy. What have you been doing since we last met?
I have been working really hard these past few months.

Past Simple

We use Past Simple to talk about things that have already happened, actions that are completed and finished. There are two types of verb, regular and irregular. Regular past tense verbs end in 'ed', whereas irregular ones don't.

I worked in a computer company last year.
The dog walked home alone last night.
Bob Sapp played American Football 10 years ago.
You ate all the pies, didn't you?
Jun Suzuki was in Scotland. He bought a castle.
I was a policeman for two years.
You were in France last year weren't you? In questions and in negative statements we can use did / didn't + infinitive: I didn't like the movie
Did the earth move for you?
I didn't drink a glass of orange pop, I drank a whole bottle

Past Progressive

We use the Past Progressive when describing what we was happening at a particular point in past time. The past action we are referring to is not complete.

I was playing football with my friends yesterday.
What were you doing yesterday at three O'clock? I needed to see you.
Jun Suzuki was in Scotland. He was learning English.
The water was boiling. Why didn't you switch off the kettle?
Adam and Tomoko met every day. They were falling in love with each other, until Adam revealed his secret past.

We often use the past progressive with the simple past tense. The past progressive refers to a past event which was going on for a longer period of time and the simple past refers to an event which happened during the longer event was happening;
The phone rang while I was having breakfast
While I was watching a movie, Mary finished her homework

Past Perfect

We use the Past Perfect to talk about an action which happened before another action in the past. We use it to talk about something that already happened before the past event we are talking about.Past Perfect forms of the verb, are preceded by had.

I had finished my dinner before she called me.
John had been to France already, but he went again with Miho.
Had you ever eaten nato before you came to Japan?
I had worked abroad before I came here.
I recognised him immediately. I had seen him before.
We weren't hungry. We had just eaten dinner

Past Perfect Progressive

We use the Past Perfect Progressive form to talk about a continuous action that was happening before another action/time in the past

I had been watching the movie for 2 hours when someone interrupted me(the person is still watching the movie)
I had been working hard all day and therefore was pretty surprised when my boss asked me to do more overtime
This morning when I woke up the sun was shining but the ground was wet. It had been raining.(It had recently stopped raining)
My knees were dirty because I had been playing football.
When I met John he stank of cigarettes. He had been smoking
I had been playing professional football for 12 years , when I became injured

Future Simple

When talking about the future we can use both going to and will. Generally we can use either for must future situations but there are some slight differences in usage.

Going To

We use 'going to' to talk about an action which has been planned for the future, and are already decided now (perhaps they have already started)
She is going to have a baby
We have decided to have a party, we are going to invite a lot of people
What are you doing today? I am going to go to the cinema with Jimmy. We are going to watch The Joker/
The sky is black. It is going to rain


'Will' is commonly used to describe events that are not already clearly decided, or slightly unplanned:
If she has a baby she will call it Ken.
If we have a party, we will have it in Nobuhiro's house.
Nobody will ever know what happened to him.

NOTE: We also use shall or will + infinitive to express 'interpersonal' meanings when we are offering, making requests, promising or threatening:
Will you keep the windows open please
If you don't pay me the money I will break your kneecaps
Will you give me hand for a second please?

Future Progressive

We use Future Progressive to talk about something that will be taking place in a particular point in the future:

I will be playing tennis at 3 O'clock tomorrow .
What will you be doing tomorrow? I need to see you then.
Jun Suzuki is going to be in Scotland next month. He will be learning English.
This time tomorrow I'll be sitting on a plane bound for Mexico

Future Perfect

We use the Future Perfect tense when we are referring to an event which has finished in the future:

I will have finished by then.
I will have eaten my dinner in around 20 minutes. Please call me around that time again.
I will have returned from the supermarket when you get back home

Future Perfect Progressive

We use the Future Perfect Progressive tense when we are referring to a instant that will have already begun and will be continuing in the future:

I will have been playing tennis for one hour by the time you call me.
He will already have been driving for 20 minutes if you call him at three O'clock.
You can meet me at 3 O'clock if you want, but I will already have been drinking for 3 hours then, so I will likely be very drunk.


An article (the, a, an , some, any) generally proceeds a noun.

no article

Generally, no article is needed when we use uncountable and plural nouns to talk about things generally:
What are your hobbies?
I like listening to music, playing tennis and collecting stamps.


We use 'the' when it is clear which thing or person we are talking about:
We saw a tiger and an elephant at the zoo, but the tiger was my favourite. (the one I mentioned a second ago).


We use a or an when we don't specify which things or people we are talking about:
Should I use a pencil (not a particular one) or a pen (not a particular one) to fill in this form?


'Some' and 'any' can be used with uncountable or plural nouns when we do not know (or say) how many /much:
I can't understand why my bank balance is so low. I'm sure I paid some money into the account last week. (I can't remember how much)

It sometimes makes no difference if we use 'some' or 'any' or no article:
I've bought (some) tomatoes (some) apples and (some) cream but I couldn't find (any) peaches.
However, because 'some' and 'any' usually suggest uncertain quantities, it would sound strange to say the following:
She's really beautiful. She's got some long blond hair (=I'm not sure how much), a lovely smile and some beautiful teeth. (=I'm not sure how many)


Conjuctions (because, as, since, though, although, even though) are used when providing reason in a sentence or clause.

'because', 'as' and 'since'

'Because', 'as' and 'since' are used to answer the question: 'Why?'.
They join two clauses in the same sentence:
Joe resigned because he wanted to spend more time with his family. 'Because', 'as' and 'since' show the relationship between the ideas in two clauses:
A: Why did you resign from such a well-paid job, Joe?
B: Because I wanted to spend more time with my family.

'Because' is more common than 'as' and 'since 'when the reason is the most important thing. The because-clause usually comes after the main clause:

I went to Cyprus for a holiday last October because I knew it would be warm and sunny every day I was there.
'As' and 'since' are used when the reason is already well-known and/or less important. The as or since-clause often comes at the beginning of the sentence and is separated from the main clause by a comma:
As my family had finished dinner when I got home, I went to this really good burger bar.
(I'm telling you about the burger bar. It's not so important 'why' I went there).
Since it's your birthday, I'll make you breakfast in bed (I'm going to make you breakfast.
(I know, and you know, it's your birthday)
Note! In conversation, so is often used instead of since and as. The so-clause comes after the main clause.
My family had finished dinner when I got home, so I went to this really good burger bar.

'though', 'although' and 'even though'

'Though', 'although' and 'even' though are used to show a contrast between two clauses:
Our new neighbours are quite nice (this is good) although their two dogs bark all day long. (this isn't good)

We can use 'though' or 'although' with no difference in meaning. But, some differences are:
'Though' is more common than 'although' in conversation or writing.
'Though' (but not 'although') can come at the end of a sentence:
My new bike is really fast. I don't like the colour, though.
'Though' (but not 'although') can be used as an adverb:

I'm not good at maths but I can help you with your geography, though, if you want.

The meaning of 'though' is similar to 'however', but though is much more common than however in conversation.
'Even though' can be used to make the contrast between two clauses stronger:
Dad got back from work really late, even though he had promised to take mum to the cinema.


We use prepositions (in, on, at, to, into, from, out of) when talking about position, movement place or time

'in', 'on', 'at' - place

'In' is used to talk about position inside larger areas:
Your new shirt is in the wardrobe.

'On' is used to talk about something's position on a line or flat surface:
It's on the top shelf in the wardrobe.

'At' is used to talk about a 'point' rather than a space, and events where people gather:
Write your phone number at the top of the page.
I met him at the Radiohead concert.

'in', 'on', 'at' - time

'At' is used to talk about a specific time:
I'll meet you outside the cinema at 7.15.

'In' is used to talk about a longer period of time (the morning, the summer, 1972 etc):
During the holiday, I usually read in the morning and go to the beach in the afternoon.
'On' is used to refer to particular days and dates:
It's Michael's birthday on Saturday.

'In' is used to say how much time will pass before something happens, and to talk about how long something takes:
Hurry up, we've got Aerobics class in 20 minutes.
I managed to get to Level 3 of Tomb Raider in about half an hour.

to, into, from, out of - movement

How far is it from the guesthouse to the beach?
If you climb into that hole you'll never get out of it.
With certain expressions with determiners (this, that, some, all, every) and before next and last, there is no preposition.
How are you feeling this morning? You weren't very well last week, were you?

Relative Clauses

Sentences can be divided into parts called clauses. A relative clause is a part of a sentence that describes the person or thing we are talking about and is connected to other clauses in the sentence via a 'relative pronoun', who, which or that. Relative pronouns replace the subject or object of the verb:

Where is the new boy? He was in class yesterday.
Where is the new boy that was in class yesterday?

Can I borrow the CD? You bought the CD.
Can I borrow the CD that you bought?

Identifying relative clauses

The girl that I sit next to in class, gave me her phone number.
'that I sit next to in class' (the relative clause) identifies 'which' girl (there could be many girls in the class).

Non-identifying relative clauses

This is my friend, Thomas, who came on holiday with me last year.
who came on holiday with me last year does not identify 'which' friend (we know 'which' friend - the friend is Thomas).
Note! In written English, non-identifying relative clauses are separated by commas, and in speech, by pauses.

When to use 'who', 'which' and 'that'

You cannot leave out 'who', 'which', 'that' when:
It is the subject of the verb in the relative clause:
Where is the new boy that was in class yesterday?
It is part of a non-identifying relative clause:
The trees that at one time lined this road have all been cut down. Leaving out who, which and that
You can leave out 'who', 'which', 'that' when: it replaces the object of the verb in the relative clause
Can I borrow the CD (that) you bought?
Note! In identifying relative clauses, where which thing or person talked about is clear without the relative clause, it is very common in spoken English to leave out who, which, that.


There are three types of conditionals, first, second and third.

First conditional

This refers to a grammar structure used to talk about the 'likely' result of something happening or not happening. The grammar structure is:
if-clause: 'if' + present tense (eats)
main clause: will or won't
If he takes these antibiotics, he'll get better quickly. If he doesn't, he won't.
Note! Certain other modal verbs (for example, might, but not would), can be used in the main clause.

Second conditional

This refers to a grammar structure used to talk about an 'unreal' or 'unlikely' situation. The grammar structure is:
If-clause: 'if' + past tense (ate)
Main clause: 'would' or 'wouldn't'
If my shares went up 500% I'd sell them instantly. (but it's unlikely that they will go up 500%)
Note! Could and might can also be used in the main clause.

Third conditional

This refers to a grammar structure used to imagine the impossible. It is impossible because something happened in the past and can't be changed. The grammar structure is:
If-clause: 'if' + past perfect (had eaten)
Main clause: would have + past participle
You would have passed your exam if you had studied harder. (but you didn't study hard and you didn't pass your exam)
Note! Could have and might have can also be used in the main clause.


'much and many'

Much is used with uncountable nouns and many is used with plural nouns. They are used mainly in questions and negative sentences:
In my Spanish exam, I didn't have much time left for the third question.
I don't have very many DVD discs.

'a lot of' (lots of, plenty of and loads of)

In conversation, a lot of, lots of, plenty of and loads of are more common with uncountable and plural nouns used in positive sentences:
There is a lot of pollution in this city, isn't there?
There are loads of tourists in town today. (informal spoken English)
Note! In a more formal English style, much and many are preferred to a lot of of, lots, of, plenty of, loads of.

'much' and 'a lot'

Much and a lot can be used as adverbs (used to say more about the verb) after certain verbs:
I still read a lot but I don't write very much these days.

'little' and 'a little', 'few' and 'a few'

We use few and a few with plural nouns, and little and a little with uncountable nouns. Little and few carry negative ideas. A little and a few carry much more positive ideas and are similar in meaning to some:
He showed little interest in socialising (he wasn't very sociable) and few people came to his twenty-first birthday party. (some people came, but not enough to make a 'good' party)
He had a little money in the bank (not a lot of money but enough to travel) and a few friends in the travel business and was able to go on holiday every year. (not many friends but enough to give him discounts on flights etc) What are the differences in use between must have, can't have, should have and needn't have?


We use the modal verbs(must have, can't have, should have, needn't have) in the following situations;

'must have'

When we use 'must have' and the past participle (must have phoned), we are making a deduction about something that has happened. We are saying, 'I feel sure that this is the case':
If your keys aren't in your pocket, you must have left them in the house.

'can't have'

We use can't have and the past participle (can't have phoned) when we are making a deduction about something that didn't happen in the past. That is, you believe, based on present evidence, that something didn't happen (or hasn't happened):
He's not looking. He can't have heard you. Shout again!

'should have'

Should have and the past participle (should have phoned) expresses the idea that something was desirable or needed, but did not take place:
I should have phoned my mum last night, but I forgot. (I needed to phone my Mum but I didn't phone her)

Shouldn't have and the past participle

(shouldn't have phoned) expresses the idea that something did take place but that it wasn't desirable or needed:
You shouldn't have eaten so much chocolate, you'll be sick. (you ate a lot of chocolate and it wasn't a good idea)

'needn't have'

Needn't have and the past participle (needn't have phoned) is opposite in meaning to should have. It indicates that something was done, but that it was not necessary. That is, the person who did something thought it was necessary:
A: You needn't have cooked a meal this evening. I had lunch at The Chinese Dragon with Tom.
B: Well, why didn't you phone and let me know?

Reported Speech

We use reported speech when describing what someone else has said.

When reporting someone else's speech, the time, the place and the speakers are often different, so tenses or modals (past/present tenses, will, can etc), words connected with time and place (today, here etc), and pronouns (I, you, he etc) often change:
DIRECT: "I'll do my homework, here, at the library, tonight." (said on Monday 5th)
REPORTED: She said she would do her homework, there, at the library, last night. (reported on Tuesday 6th)

Verbs used in the original speech generally become more 'past' (i.e. they often go back a tense) but some of them stay the same:
present simple > past simple
present progressive > past progressive
past simple > past perfect (or remains as past simple)
present perfect > past perfect
past progressive > past perfect progressive (or remains as past progressive)
past perfect remains as past perfect
can/may/shall/will > could/might/should/would
would, could, should, ought to and might remain the same
must > had to (or remains as must)

If the speech that we report talks about things that you think are still true then the tense doesn't need to change:

DIRECT: "Sally has broken her leg."
REPORTED: He said Sally has broken her leg.

When we report 'requests', 'offers', 'advice', 'orders', and 'suggestions' we often use a to-infinitive clause:

DIRECT: "Can you pick me up from the station tonight?"
REPORTED: I asked him to pick me up from the station.

Questions in Reported Speech

The subject comes before the verb. The tense often changes (see above). Note also that question marks are not used in reported questions:
DIRECT: "What's the matter?"
REPORTED: She asked me what the matter was.
If the question is a 'yes/no' question, we use if or whether to report the speech. The auxiliary verb do is not used:
DIRECT: "Do you like cheese?"

REPORTED: He asked me if I liked cheese.

Say and Tell

In reported speech, said followed by that is one of the most common constructions. We cannot say told that. If we want to use told, we have to mention the 'hearer' by using an object (him, her, us, Bob etc):
DIRECT: "I love you but I can't marry you!"
REPORTED: He told me (that) he loved me but couldn't marry me.

Other Reporting Verbs

We can use announce, answer, reply, promise, claim, warn etc instead of the more common say, tell and ask:
DIRECT: "I'll call you tomorrow."
REPORTED: He promised he would call me today.