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Grammar

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Future Continuous Tense

The future continuous is a rare but challenging verb form in English. It is used to describe actions that will be in progress at a specific point in the future. Read about the rules for using the future continuous tense and how we form it, with charts and over 25 example sentences!

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Present Perfect Continuous Tense

The present perfect continuous is an important verb form for talking about recent events and their durations. Read about the rules for using the present perfect continuous tense, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!

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Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect is an important verb form for describing events in the past. Read about the rules for using the past perfect tense, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!

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Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous is an important and challenging verb form in English. It is used to describe actions that were in progress at a specific point in the past. Read about the rules for using the past continuous tense and how we form it, with charts and over 25 example sentences!

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Present Continuous Tense

The present continuous is a common but challenging verb tense in English. It is used to describe actions that are happening at the current moment. Read about the rules for using the present perfect tense and how we form it, with charts and over 25 example sentences!

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Pronouns in English

Pronouns are among the most common and important words in English.  Pronouns can be difficult because we use different ones for different parts of speech. This post teaches all the types of pronouns with charts and examples.

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Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect is a common but confusing verb tense in English. It is used to connect the past to the present.. Read about the rules for using the present perfect tense and how we form it, with charts and tons of example sentences!

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Simple Future Tense

The simple future is a very common verb tense used to talk about plans and expectations in English. Read about the rules for using it, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!

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Contractions in English

One challenging aspect of learning English is that there are different registers: we have spoken English and written English, formal English and informal English. Some words are okay in every register, but others are only okay in speech. Some only sound right in writing. 

Contractions are a big part of distinguishing between these different forms of English. If you ever go to an English-speaking university, you'll find that you can't use can't or don't or isn't in your academic writing. Let's take a look at what contractions are and how they can make your English more or less formal.

What are Contractions?

Contractions are words that combine two or more other words together into a new shortened version, usually using an apostrophe ('). Contractions are very common in spoken English. You have probably heard some of these common contractions: I'm, can't, aren't, don't, didn't

The apostrophe is small, but important. In writing you must use the apostrophe. You do not pronounce it, but it is important in writing. Notice that the apostrophe represents some letters that are missing from the longer form of the word. For instance, the apostrophe in didn't is in place of the O in did not and the apostrophe in I'm  is in the place of the A in I am.

Be careful, because not every word with an apostrophe is a contraction. Possessive nouns in English end with apostrophe -s, (Bob's house, Carla's mom) but these are not contractions.

Why Do We Have Contractions?

Contractions originate in speech. We are lazy when we speak English! When we are speaking quickly, we reduce certain sounds (make them shorter and quieter), and over time we elide them completely (we don't pronounce them at all). So over time, she will becomes she'll, I have becomes I've, going to becomes gonna

When do we use contractions?

This question has a slightly complicated answer.

We frequently use contractions in spoken English, and you should try to use common contractions in your speech to make your English more fluent. We generally do not use any contractions in formal writing (academic papers, for examples).

In between casual speech and formal written English, there is a gray area: we have more formal spoken English, like presentations and business meetings. We have less formal writing, like emails and letters. In this case, you have more of a choice. Some people use contractions and some do not. In this gray area, we should also talk about different types of contractions!

Standard Contractions

Not all contractions are the same. Some are more standard and acceptable than others. Standard contractions include the following:

 

Great poem by Shel Silverstein about informal contractions

  • there's
  • wasn't
  • we'd
  • we'll
  • we're
  • we've
  • weren't
  • won't
  • wouldn't
  • you'd
  • you'll
  • you're
  • he's
  • how'd
  • how's
  • I'd
  • I'm
  • I've
  • isn't
  • let's
  • she'd
  • she'll
  • she's
  • shouldn't
  • aren't
  • can't
  • couldn't
  • didn't
  • doesn't
  • don't
  • hadn't
  • hasn't
  • haven't
  • he'd
  • he'll
  • he's

Some Standard English Contractions

You can use these in anything but formal writing. This means they are common in speech, creative writing, emails, text messages, notes, and letters. Try to pay attention when you are reading online. Are there contractions in what you are reading? If there are no contractions, you are probably reading a more formal style of writing.

 

Nonstandard Contractions

But there are other contractions that are nonstandard. These contractions have evolved more recently and haven't become as acceptable in written English yet. Nonstandard contractions should only be used in very informal situations (text messages with friends, for instance) or to be funny. Here are some examples:

  • gimme
  • gonna
  • gotta
  • hafta
  • I'd've
  • I'm'a
  • must've
  • there're
  • there've
  • those're
  • wanna
  • we'd've
  • what're
  • who'd've
  • why'd

This is not a complete list. People can often get creative and make their own contractions like these, so watch and see if you can identify new contractions!

Nonstandard English Contractions

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Simple Past Tense

The simple past is a very common English verb tense used to talk about actions that happened at a specific time in the past. Read about the rules for using it, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!

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Simple Present Tense

The simple present is the most common and useful verb tense in English. It is used to talk about repeated actions and to describe people or states of being. Read about the rules for using the simple present tense, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!

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The Most Common English Adjectives

Are you wondering where to start studying English vocabulary? Adjectives are a really important part of speech. An adjective is a word used to describe a noun.

It is a good idea to focus on the most common ones in the language. Below are lists of the 50 most common words in both American and British English.

50 Most Common Adjectives
🇺🇸 in American English 🇺🇸
No. Adjective
1 OTHER
2 NEW
3 GOOD
4 AMERICAN
5 GREAT
6 BIG
7 HIGH
8 OLD
9 DIFFERENT
10 NATIONAL
11 SMALL
12 LITTLE
13 BLACK
14 IMPORTANT
15 POLITICAL
16 SOCIAL
17 LONG
18 YOUNG
19 RIGHT
20 BEST
21 REAL
22 WHITE
23 PUBLIC
24 SURE
25 ONLY
26 LARGE
27 ABLE
28 HUMAN
29 LOCAL
30 EARLY
31 BAD
32 BETTER
33 ECONOMIC
34 FREE
35 POSSIBLE
36 WHOLE
37 MAJOR
38 MILITARY
39 FEDERAL
40 INTERNATIONAL
41 TRUE
42 FULL
43 HARD
44 SPECIAL
45 RECENT
46 RED
47 OPEN
48 PERSONAL
49 GENERAL
50 CLEAR
50 Most Common Adjectives
🇬🇧 in British English 🇬🇧
No.Adjective
1 OTHER
2 NEW
3 GOOD
4 OLD
5 DIFFERENT
6 LOCAL
7 GREAT
8 SMALL
9 SOCIAL
10 IMPORTANT
11 NATIONAL
12 HIGH
13 BRITISH
14 POSSIBLE
15 LARGE
16 RIGHT
17 LONG
18 LITTLE
19 YOUNG
20 POLITICAL
21 ABLE
22 GENERAL
23 ONLY
24 PUBLIC
25 AVAILABLE
26 FULL
27 EARLY
28 BEST
29 BIG
30 MAIN
31 MAJOR
32 ECONOMIC
33 SURE
34 REAL
35 LIKELY
36 BLACK
37 PARTICULAR
38 INTERNATIONAL
39 SPECIAL
40 DIFFICULT
41 CERTAIN
42 CLEAR
43 WHOLE
44 FURTHER
45 WHITE
46 OPEN
47 EUROPEAN
48 FREE
49 CENTRAL
50 SIMILAR

Most of the most common adjectives are the same in the US and the UK (78% of the top 50 and 92% of the top 25 words appear in both lists). Notice that American is the 4th most common adjective in American English and British is the 13th most common adjective in British English. We shouldn't read too much into these simple lists, but it is interesting to note that militaryfederal, and personal all appear in the American list. Do you notice any other patterns?

That's all for now! Start studying!

If you're looking for something similar, check out the most common verbs in English.


more free english tips

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Silent K Words

If you’re looking for explanations and examples of words with silent K, you’ve come to the right place. Charts, definitions, word lists, and the history of how silent K became silent.

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English for Halloween Costumes

Halloween Costume Trends

I recently came across this great infographic over at the W5 blog, called Spooktacular Halloween Costumes (notice that spooktacular is just a fun portmanteau of spooky and spectacular—more on portmanteaus in this blog post). 

This seems like a great opportunity to talk about how we talk about costumes in English, which can be a little tricky. If you're talking to an American friend about an upcoming Halloween party, she might ask you:

What are you going as?

What am I going as? Going as?

It may sound like a strange question, but your friend is asking you what your costume will be, or what you will be pretending to be for halloween. Another way to say this is:

What are you dressing up as?

You could answer with:

  • I'm going as a ghost.
  • I'm going as a dog.
  • I'm going as Wonder Woman.
  • I'm going as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones.

Notice that if you are going as something generic (not a single, specific character), we use an indefinite article—a ghost, a cat, an elephant—but for specific characters, we don't need an article.

One more thing: if you're a character from a movie or TV show, it's common to add from [the movie]:

  • I'm going as Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. 
  • She's going as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
  • He went as Wolverine from X-Men.

So, what are YOU going as for Halloween!?

 

 

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Most Common English Verb Tenses

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Most Common English Verb Tenses

English Verb Form Frequency

We spend a lot of time in English class studying all the different verb tenses. I can't tell you how many times my students have asked me, "How often do we really use the future perfect progressive???" My answer is usually that it is very rare, but it's meaningful, and it can be helpful to understanding how the past perfect progressive works as well. But that really is a good question:

How often do we use each verb tense in English?

Let's start by saying that there is no one answer. As you may know, the English we use for speaking is different from the English we use in writing. There are many different situations to be speaking or writing in, and in each of those situations we would see different verb frequencies. Even from person to person, our individual speaking style might lead one person to use, for example, the present tense more often than another person. We can, however, observe some useful patterns.


The Source Material

For this post, I looked at an interesting research study by Krámský (1969). Krámský took several different samples of three different styles (or registers) of English—novels, plays, and specialized (academic and technical) texts. He analyzed 20,000-word samples from each text, counting each form of each verb, and sharing all his data.

His results are complex, and grouped in ways that might not be too helpful, but I have tried to regroup them and show them in charts that are more useful for language teachers and learners.

Before we look at some of those patterns, I want to include a caveat, or warning. When compared to all the language in the world, Krámský's sample is actually very, very small. Ideally, we would get this information from a larger base of language called a corpus, like the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Unfortunately, information of this kind is currently difficult (if not impossible) to get from most corpora. Still, the general proportions and patterns that Krámský found should be fairly accurate. The one other warning is that the texts Krámský used as samples of spoken (or colloquial) English are actually plays, written to sound like spoken English. It is very possible that examples of actual spoken English would be different from the language found in the plays.

Ok, now let's get to the fun stuff!


Verb Tense Frequency

First, I've broken each text type down by verb tense: past, present, and future:

As you can see, there are some big differences between different text types. Spoken English is mostly in the present tense (68.9%), but fiction is mostly past tense (57.6%). Specialized texts overwhelmingly use the present tense (87.1%).

This makes a lot of sense. In fiction, we generally tell stories that take place before: first this happened, then that happened, then that happened. When we speak, though, we talk a lot more about what we think and feel and like, what we do, who people are, our experiences and all of these things are expressed in the present tense. In specialized texts, we are often writing about things that are generally true, and here again, we use the present tense a lot.

The future tense is less used in all text types: 9% in speech, 2% in fiction, and 4% in specialized texts.

This table breaks down each tense by frequency in all three text types:

Usage of Verb Tenses by Frequency in Spoken English
Tense Speech Fiction SPecialized
Present 68.9% 40.3% 87.1%
Past 22.4% 57.6% 8.7%
Future 8.7% 2.1% 4.3%

Verb Aspect Frequency

The tenses are easy enough—past, present, future—but the really tricky thing about learning English verbs is the four aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive. Thankfully, there isn't as much difference between the different styles of English when it comes to aspect. Take a look:

The charts look generally the same. In every style of English, the simple aspect—simple present, simple past, and simple future—makes up over 85% of verbs that we use. The lesser-used aspects all fall in the same order: after simple, it's perfect, then progressive, then perfect progressive gets a tiny little sliver of use.


Most Used Tenses and Aspects

5 verb forms make up 96% of all verbs in spoken English.

I think this may be one of the most useful insights from Krámský's work for teachers and students. Although there are 12 tense/aspect combinations in English, 5 of these cover around 96% of spoken English.

Notice that the simple present alone accounts for 57% of verbs. Next is the simple past (19.7%), then simple future (8.5%), followed by present perfect (6.0%) and then present progressive (5.1%). If you want to know which verb tenses to learn first, these five will definitely give you the most bang for your buck!

The remaining 7 tense/aspect combinations are each under 1.5% of spoken English verbs. Of course, it is valuable to learn all the combinations, but if you want to prioritize the most useful verb tenses, this should be helpful.


Active and Passive Voice

The passive voice is another of those constructions that challenges students and leads to the question, how useful is this? Well, again, Krámský's work gives us some idea how useful they are. Here is a breakdown of active and passive constructions in the three registers: 

The vast majority of verbs in English are in the active voice.

It is not surprising that the vast majority of verbs are active. The most important takeaways that I see are these: 97.5% of verbs in spoken English are active, but the passive voice is much more common in specialized and academic texts, in which only 82.2% of sentences are active.


Complete Table of Most Common Verb Tenses in English

Usage of Verb Tenses by Frequency in Spoken English
# Tense Frequency
1 Simple Present 57.51%
2 Simple Past 19.7%
3 Simple Future 8.5%
4 Present Perfect 6.0%
5 Present Progressive 5.1%
6 Past Progressive 1.4%
7 Past Perfect 1.2%
8 Present Perfect Progressive 0.7%
9 Future Perfect 0.2%
10 Future Progressive >0.1%
11 Past Perfect Progressive >0.1%
12 Future Perfect Progressive >0.1%

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Level:  B1+
Topics:  Grammar, Verbs

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