English Grammar

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CHAPTER 1.  THE SIMPLE PRESENT OF THE VERB TO BE

1. Grammar

The grammar of a language is an analysis of the various functions performed by the words of the language, as they are used by native speakers and writers.

There are many different ways of analyzing a language. In such an analysis, words can be given various names, depending on the function which they perform. For instance, words which perform the function of naming things are commonly referred to as nouns, and words which perform the function of expressing states or actions are commonly referred to as verbs.

It should be kept in mind that many English words can perform more than one function. For instance, in the following sentences, the underlined words can be referred to as nouns because they perform the function of naming things.

e.g. I have lost my comb.

e.g. Water is one of the necessities of life.

However, in the following sentences, the same words can be referred to as verbs because they perform the function of expressing actions.

e.g. I comb my hair every morning.

e.g. Do you water your plants once a week?

In this book, widely used terms such as noun, verb, pronoun and so on, will be used in order to explain the way in which words function in the English language.

 

2. Verb forms

English verbs may have different forms, depending on the subject of the verb, and depending on when the action expressed by the verb takes place.

In the following sentences, the subjects of the verbs indicate who or what is performing the actions expressed by the verbs. The verbs in these examples are underlined.

e.g. We live in the city.

e.g. He lives on Queen Street.

These examples illustrate how the form of a verb may vary, depending on the subject of the verb. In the first example, the subject is we, and the form of the verb is live. In the second example, the subject is he, and the form of the verb is lives.

The different verb forms which indicate when the action expressed by a verb takes place are usually referred to as tenses.

e.g. We always walk to work.

e.g. We walked to work yesterday.

In the first sentence, the verb walk is in the Simple Present tense. In the second sentence, the verb walked is in the Simple Past tense. Present tenses are usually used to express actions which are taking place in the present; whereas past tenses are usually used to express actions which took place in the past.

The infinitive form of a verb can be used without reference to any particular subject or any particular time. In English, the infinitive form of a verb begins with the word to. For instance, to walk is the infinitive of the verb used in the two preceding examples.

 

3. Uses of the simple present tense

The Simple Present is one of four present tenses in English, and is used in various ways. In the examples given below, the verbs in the Simple Present tense are underlined.

For instance, the Simple Present can be used to refer to actions which occur at regular intervals.

e.g. We visit our friends every Sunday.

e.g. They take a holiday once a year.

e.g. Geese fly south every fall.

The Simple Present is also used in stating general truths.

e.g. Gas expands when heated.

e.g. The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world.

e.g. Canada lies north of the United States.

In addition, the Simple Present is used when referring to printed material, and when describing events portrayed in a book, film, or other work of art.

e.g. The report presents the information clearly.

e.g. At the end of the film , the hero finds the hidden treasure.

Occasionally, the Simple Present is used to express actions occurring in the future or the past.

e.g. Our plane leaves at eight o'clock tomorrow night.

e.g. Burglar Steals Valuable Paintings.

In the first example, the Simple Present is used to refer to something which will happen in the future. In the second example, which is written in the style of a newspaper headline, the Simple Present is used to refer to something which happened in the past.

 

4. The simple present of the verb To Be

A conjugation of a verb is a list showing the different forms a verb may take. When a verb is conjugated, it is usually accompanied by all of the personal pronouns which can act as subjects of a verb. Thus, a conjugation can show the different forms a verb must take when it is used with different subjects.

The English personal pronouns which may be used as subjects of verbs are as follows:

   I  ,   you  ,   he  ,   she  ,   it  ,   we  ,   they

It should be noted that in modern English, the same verb forms are used with the subject you, whether you refers to one or more than one person or thing. In an older form of English, there was another personal pronoun, thou, which was used with different verb forms, and which generally referred to one person or thing.

The Simple Present of the verb to be is conjugated as follows. In spoken English, contractions are often used.

Without contractionsWith contractions
I amI'm
you areyou're
he ishe's
she isshe's
it isit's
we arewe're
they arethey're

In written English, an apostrophe: ' is used in a contraction, to indicate that one or more letters have been omitted.

 

4a. Affirmative statements

An affirmative statement states that something is true. In an affirmative statement, the verb follows the subject.

e.g. I am awake.

e.g. They are ready.

In the first example, the verb am follows the subject I. In the second example, the verb are follows the subject they.

In written English, statements are always followed by a period: . Statements and questions must begin with a capital letter.

In order to review the preceding points, see Exercise 1.

 

4b. Questions

For the Simple Present of the verb to be, questions are formed by reversing the order of the subject and the verb, so that the verb precedes the subject.

e.g. Am I awake?
e.g. Are they ready?

In the first example, the verb am precedes the subject I. In the second example, the verb are precedes the subject they.

In written English, questions are always followed by a question mark: ?

See Exercise 2.

 

4c. Negative statements

In the Simple Present of the verb to be, negative statements are formed by adding the word not after the verb.

e.g. I am not awake.

e.g. They are not ready.

In the first example, not follows the verb am. In the second example, not follows the verb are.

In spoken English, the following contractions are often used:

Without contractionsWith contractions
  is not  isn't
  are not  aren't

See Exercise 3.

 

4d. Negative questions

In the Simple Present of the verb to be, negative questions are formed by reversing the order of the subject and verb, and adding not after the subject.

e.g. Am I not awake?
e.g. Are they not ready?

In spoken English, contractions are usually used in negative questions. In the contracted form of a negative question, the contraction of not follows immediately after the verb. For example:

Without contractionsWith contractions
  Are you not awake?  Aren't you awake?
  Is he not awake?  Isn't he awake?
  Are we not awake?  Aren't we awake?
  Are they not awake?  Aren't they awake?

It should be noted that there is no universally accepted contraction for am not. In spoken English, am I not? is often contracted to aren't I?. However, although the expression aren't I? is considered acceptable in informal English, it is not considered to be grammatically correct in formal English. In formal English, no contraction should be used for am I not.

See Exercise 4.

 

4e. Tag questions

A tag question is a question added at the end of a sentence. A tag question following an affirmative statement generally has the form of a negative question, with the meaning: Isn't that true? In some languages, such tag questions are invariable. However, in English, tag questions vary, depending on the verbs and subjects of the preceding statements.

In the following examples, the tag questions are underlined. Contractions are usually used in negative tag questions. For example:

Affirmative statementAffirmative statement with tag question
  Are you not awake?  Aren't you awake?
  I am awake.  I am awake, am I not?
  You are awake.  You are awake, aren't you?
  She is awake.  She is awake, isn't she?
  We are awake.  We are awake, aren't we?
  They are awake.  They are awake, aren't they?

These examples illustrate how the subjects and verbs of the preceding statements are repeated in tag questions. For instance, in the first example, the subject I and the verb am are repeated in the tag question. In the second example, the subject you and the verb are are repeated in the tag question.

In spoken English, the expression aren't I? is often used as a tag question. However, this is not considered to be grammatically correct in formal, written English.

See Exercises 5 and 6.

 

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