english grammar

Making comparisons

How well can you make comparisons in English. Can you remember the forms that we use?

Skill: Grammar Theme: Making comparisons
Level: Pre-intermediate/Intermediate (A2-B1)

In the slide presentation below you will find a number of contexts where you can practise making comparisons.
But first, a quick review:

To make the comparative or superlative of: you:
one-syllable adjectives ending in e add -r, -st
other one-syllable adjectives add -er, -est
two-syllable adjectives ending in -y change the y to i and add -er, -est
other two-syllable adjectives put more, most in front
longer adjectives put more, most in front

Choose a few examples from the slide presentation, and write as many comparisons as you can.  You can use some of the additional language on the third slide to help you.  Example:

Being an employee is generally more stable than being self-employed, but it is also more restrictive. Whereas social charges are lower when you’re self-employed, retirement benefits are not as high.  Self-employed people have a more flexible schedule, while employees work more predictable hours.  The percentage of employees in France is much higher than the percentage of self-employed people.  That may be because it is easier to be an employee.

Now it’s your turn.  What comparisons can you make?

Choose one of the contexts in the slide presentation and write a paragraph in the comments field below using the language of comparison.

Situations adapted from Business Result DVD Edition: Pre-Intermediate: Student’s Book with DVD-ROM and Interactive or Online Workbook

Quantifiers: few or little?

In the last post on quantifiers we learnt about words we use to talk about a large quantity of something: much, many and a lot/lots of and talked about the difference between them.

Words we use to talk about small quantities include few and a few, little and a little.  There are also expressions like barely any, hardly any and less common, scarcely any.

Look at the following sentences and see if you can tell the difference between few and little:

Few teachers enjoy marking their students’ work.
There are only a few apples left on the tree.

I have little patience with politicians.
Why don’t you take a little sugar with your tea?

Did you notice that we use few with plural nouns, and we use little with singular uncountable nouns?

Now what about the difference between few/little and a few/a little?  Look at the following sentences and try to notice the rule:

The average parent has little control over how much television their children watch.
Few doctors visit patients in their homes these days.

Could you you put a little oil in the car before you leave?
John has said a few times that he would like to change jobs.

Few and little usually have a negative meaning.  They suggest ‘not as much/many as one would like’ or ‘ not as much/many as expected’.

A few and a little have a more positive meaning.    The meaning is similar to ‘some’, and gives the idea of ‘better than nothing’, ‘just enough’, ‘more than expected’ or ‘enough to be noticed’.

In informal style it is more common to use not many or not much instead of few or little.  Using the same examples as above:

The average parent doesn’t have much control…
Not many doctors will visit you in your home…

A related word is fewer, which we often confuse with less.  The meaning is the same but they are used differently.  See the following sentences:

There are fewer men than women working in our company.
I have less time than I used to to read novels.

Did you get it?  Fewer is used before plural words, and less before uncountable words.

For more details I recommend the following resources:

Quantifiers: much, many or a lot of?

calculator2Here’s a quick grammar tip that may help improve your English today.

A quantifier is a word that talks about the number, quantity or amount of something.  Examples of English quantifiers include words like each, both, either, neither, few, some, any, much, many, a lot of etc.

The last three, much, many, a lot of/lots of cause some problems.  Sometimes I hear sentences like the following:

How much money have you got?  It’s okay, I’ve got *much.

Did you have any trouble with customs?  Rather *much.

There isn’t much food left is there?  There’s *much bread and soup.

He’s got a lot of friends, but he doesn’t know *lots of girls.

We’ve played a lot of matches this season, but we haven’t won *lots.

None of the above sentences are correct.  As a general rule we use LOTS/A LOT OF in affirmative phrases, and MUCH (for uncountable nouns like « money ») and MANY (for countable nouns like « girls ») in negative phrases and questions.

Can you correct the above sentences?

In formal writing the rules are a little bit different.  We don’t like using LOTS OF in formal writing.  A LOT OF is possible, but we prefer to use expressions like the following:

Mr Lucas has spent a great deal of time in the Far East.

The auditors have found a large number of mistakes in the accounts.

In very formal style, you will find phrases that look like mistakes when you take into account the rules about much/many above:

Much research has been carried out in order to establish the causes of cancer.  In the opinion of many scientists…

In formal style it is quite acceptable to use much/many in affirmative phrases, not only in negatives and questions.

For more information on quantifiers see the next post on few and little.

For more details I recommend the following resources:

Can you ask questions correctly?

« English grammar is easy!  »  « The reason English is a world language is that it is so easy to learn. »

I have often heard comments like these, and there’s probably some truth in it.  Perhaps it seems easy because there are so few verb forms, nouns don’t change except for making them plural, but perhaps the simplicity of elementary English grammar causes other problems.  It seems simple, so learners who want to go on to more exciting language fail to lay good foundations.

This is especially true in the area of forming questions.

Out of these questions, only one is correct.  Do you know which one?  Can you correct the others?

1. Did you went climbing last weekend?

2. Do you can tell me the time?

3. What does ‘periphrastic’ mean?

4. Is coming your mother tomorrow?

5. How much the room costs?

6. Like you Mozart?

7. You have received my letter?

These are all mistakes that I hear learners make often, even advanced students.  Did you get the correct question?  It was number 3.  All the others contain mistakes.

There are only four basic rules for forming questions in English.  If you can remember to use them, you will avoid the most common mistakes and speak English like a pro!  Download a free cheat sheet here:

 Question forms basic rules

photo credit: Marco Bellucci cc