grammar


Sometimes words in English are countable (you can add an -s) or not depending on their meaning.  A very common example is birds that you eat, such as chicken and turkey.  When you are talking about the whole animal (alive or dead), chicken and turkey are countable.

The farmer owned many chickens.

Since they could not find a large turkey, they bought two smaller turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner.

However, when you are talking about part of the animal, or the meat itself, chicken and turkey are uncountable.

I bought 1kg. of chicken at the store.

I ate so much turkey on Thanksgiving I felt sick.

Another word which can be countable or uncountable depending on its meaning is paper.  If paper has writing on it (handwritten or printed), it is countable.

Please pass your homework papers to the front of the class.

She left the important papers on the bus.

If paper is blank (no writing), then it is uncountable!

The printer was out of paper.

Students should never come to class without paper.

If you want to count blank paper you can use the counting marker “sheet” or “piece.”

I need two sheets of paper.

Can I have a piece of paper to write on?

Some other words which are sometimes countable and sometimes not are experience(s), fruit(s), and trouble(s).

For more information, check out this site.

In general, if you are talking about a large, general group, you should use most.

Most people know how to ride a bike.

Most doctors earn a lot of money.

If you are talking about a smaller, more specific group, you should use most of.

Most of the people in this neighborhood are married.

Most of the doctors at this hospital earn a lot of money.

Grammatically, most is not followed by a determiner (a, the, this, etc.); you should use most of. If no determiner is used, just use most.

Most of people like chocolate. (no determiner, so don’t use of)

I like most of fruits. (no determiner, so don’t use of)

Most of my friends like movies. (my is a determiner, so you should use of)

I want to see most of the movies playing at the theater right now. (the is a determiner, so you should use of)

Of course, there are always exceptions:

If you are talking about a specific country or region , use most of.

Most of Africa is very hot.

Most of Europe uses the euro.

Note: for more detail, refer to Practical English Usage by Michael Swan

Several weeks ago, I talked about the difference between because and because of. Basically, because is a conjunction, while because of is a preposition.

He was late because his sister was sick. (conjunction connecting 2 clauses)

He was late because of his sister. (preposition with an object – only 1 clause)

The difference is clear. If you are connecting 2 clauses (complete sentences) together you should use because. If you are just adding an object, you should use the preposition because of.

However, some words in English, such as before and after, can be used as either a conjunction or a preposition:

After he ate dinner, he studied. (after used as a conjunction)

After dinner, he studied. (after used as a preposition)

He ate dinner before he went to the party. (before used as a conjunction)

He ate dinner before the party. (before used as a preposition)

These examples are also pretty clear. Many students become confused, though, when using a gerund (verb form +ing) after the preposition.

After eating dinner, he studied. (after used as a preposition with gerund as object)

He ate dinner before going to the party. (before used as a preposition with gerund as object)

When using before or after as a conjunction, the subject must be repeated. (A conjunction connects 2 clauses.) When using before or after as a preposition with a gerund, the subject should not be repeated. (The gerund phrase modifies the existing subject.)

I was tired after I drove all day. (conjunction – subject is repeated)

I was tired after driving all day. (preposition- no subject in gerund phrase)

Before the team got on the bus, they had lunch together. (conjunction – subject repeated)

Before getting on the bus, the team had lunch together. (preposition – no subject in gerund phrase)

Don’t make this mistake.  Be careful not to repeat the subject when using a gerund phrase.

Many students make mistakes when they ask and answer questions about their families.

Common questions, answers, and mistakes

  • Question: Do you have any brothers (and/or) sisters?
    • Answers: I’m an only child (no brothers or sisters).
    • A: I’m the youngest child. I have 1 older brother and 1 older sister.
    • A: I’m a middle child. I have 1 younger sister and 1 older sister.
    • A: I have one younger sister.
  • Q: How many people are in your family? (NOT: How many is your family?)
  • Q: How big is your family?
    • NOT: My family is 4.
    • NOT: The people in my family is 4.
    • A: There are 4 people in my family: my parents, my sister, and myself.
    • A: My family has 4 members: my parents, my sister, and myself.
    • A: I have 2 sisters.

Siblings is a common word used to talk about families. It means “brothers or sisters”

  • How many siblings do you have?
    • I have 2 siblings: 1 brother and 1 sister.
    • I have 2 siblings: 2 older brothers.

When asking people about their family, it is safest to ask about their brothers or sisters. This will avoid any awkwardness if the person’s parents are divorced or possibly dead. Also, when talking about your family, it is often not necessary to talk about your parents. People will assume that you have 2 parents unless you tell them differently.

Because is a conjunction which connects 2 sentences. (Every sentence must have a subject and a verb.)

Because of is a phrasal preposition. A preposition should always be followed by a noun only (not a verb).

The picnic was canceled because it was raining. (“it was raining” is a sentence.)

The picnic was canceled because of the rain. (“rain” is a noun)

In the first sentence, “rain” is being used as a verb. In the second sentence, “rain” is used as a noun.

Because there was traffic, he was late to the party. (“there was traffic” is a sentence.)

Because of the traffic, he was late to the party. (“traffic” is a noun)

In the first sentence, “there was” is added to “traffic” to make a sentence. In the second sentence, only the noun, traffic, is needed.

He couldn’t sleep because the baby was crying. (“the baby was crying” is a sentence)

He couldn’t sleep because of the crying baby. (“baby” is a noun)

In the first sentence, “baby” is the subject and “was crying” is the verb. In the second sentence, “crying” is an adjective modifying the noun “baby.” (“Crying” is a present participle.) There is no verb.

As I promised last week, I’m going to talk about specially today.

Specially means “for a particular purpose” and is almost always used with the past participle.

This course has been specially designed to teach you English grammar.

The vitamins are specially formulated to increase your memory.

That scarf was specially made from goat hair.

Informally, specially is sometimes used as a short form of especially.

I baked this cake ‘specially for you.

As with especially, specially cannot be placed at the beginning of a sentence.

1) Especially is an adverb which usually means “particularly.” (If you need an adjective, use “special” instead.)

I felt especially after the party. (WRONG!)

I felt special after the party. (CORRECT)

2) You cannot start a sentence with especially.

Especially I like chocolate. (WRONG!)

I especially like chocolate. (CORRECT)

3) Especially is often used to introduce an example (don’t forget the commas).

Many Asian students, especially Koreans, study English.

I like superhero movies, especially “Spiderman” and “Batman.”

I’ll post on the proper use of “specially” in the next day or two.

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