I just came across Grammarman, the world’s first and only grammar superhero.
Grammarman is the invention of “creative guy”, Brian Boyd, an English teacher in Thailand. What started out as a conversation between teachers wondering how to stop students reading mangas in class became the brilliant idea of Grammarman, a superhero defending “Verbo City” from the enemies of grammar, with help from sidekicks Alpha-bot and Syntax. Boyd’s comic strips are now published in newspapers and magazines in Malaysia, Argentina, Thailand and China.
As a learner: click on the “Free Stuff” link for a number of self-study activities designed for young learners (mostly for lower levels).
As a teacher: I’m always hunting for ideas to meaningfully use a spare ten minutes at the end of a class. Each of the comic strips contain built-in error correction exercises – great for reinforcement.
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:
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:
Should I use the, a/an or no article? How can I know for sure? Are there any rules? It’s so complicated!
If you find it difficult to use the three English articles, you are not alone. It is one of the most difficult areas of English grammar. I have two pieces of good news for you if you are a learner having difficulty with English articles.
1. When you make mistakes it’s not usually serious. Most native speakers are used to “international English” and can usually understand what you mean.
2. If you can remember 3 simple rules, you will avoid the mistakes that are the most common and the most obvious. Here they are:
Have you seen the car key? I don’t know; there is a car key on the table. Is it yours? (not *Have you seen car key? etc.)
Politics is boring. (not *The politics is boring)
Apples are good for your health (not *The apples … )
Peter was a salesman, but he is now training to become an architect. (not *Peter was salesman etc.)
Just remembering these three rules will fix most of your article errors. Do you have questions about using articles? Ask your question in a comment.
“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: