Hot! 100 Golden Grammar Rules!

GOLDEN GRAMMAR RULES

By Michael Swan

1. Don’t use an with own.

Sue needs her own room. (NOT Sue needs an own room.)
I’d like a phone line of my own. (NOT … an own phone line.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 405.


2. Use or rather to correct yourself.

She’s German – or rather, Austrian. (NOT She’s German – or better, Austrian.)
I’ll see you on Friday – or rather, Saturday.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 157.


3. Use the simple present – play(s), rain(s) etc – to talk about habits and repeated actions.

I play tennis every Saturday. (NOT I am playing tennis every Saturday.)
It usually rains a lot in November.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition sections 461–4.


4. Use will …, not the present, for offers and promises.

I’ll cook you supper this evening. (NOT I cook you supper this evening.)
I promise I’ll phone you tomorrow. (NOT I promise I phone you tomorrow.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 217.


5. Don’t drop prepositions with passive verbs.

I don’t like to be shouted at. (NOT I don’t like to be shouted.)
This needs to be thought about some more. (NOT This needs to be thought some more.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition page section 416.


6. Don’t use a present tense after It’s time.

It’s time you went home. (NOT It’s time you go home.)
It’s time we invited Bill and Sonia. (NOT It’s time we invite Bill and Sonia.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 306.


7. Use was/were born to give dates of birth.

I was born in 1975. (NOT I am born in 1975.)
Shakespeare was born in 1564.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 108.


8. Police is a plural noun.

The police are looking for him. (NOT The police is looking for him.)
I called the police, but they were too busy to come.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 524.


9. Don't use the to talk about things in general.

Books are expensive. (NOT The books are expensive.)
I love music. (NOT I love the music.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 68.


10. Use had better, not have better.

I think you’d better see the doctor. (NOT I think you have better see the doctor.)
We’d better ask John to help us.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 230.

11. Use the present progressive - am playing, is raining etc - to talk about things that are continuing at the time of speaking.

I’m playing very badly today. (NOT I play very badly today.)
Look! It's raining! (NOT Look! It rains!)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition sections 461–4.

12. Use for with a period of time. Use since with the beginning of the period.

for the last two hours = since 9 o'clock
for three days = since Monday
for five years = since I left school
I’ve been learning English for five years. (NOT I’ve been learning English since three years.)
We’ve been waiting for ages, since eight o’clock.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 208.

13. Don't separate the verb from the object.

VERB

OBJECT

She

speaks

English

very well . (NOT She speaks very well English.)

Andy

likes

skiing

very much. (NOT Andy likes very much skiing.)


For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 611.

14. Don't use the present perfect - have/has seen, have/has gone etc - with words that name a finished time.

I saw him yesterday. (NOT I have seen him yesterday.)
They went to Greece last summer. (NOT They have gone … last summer.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 456.

15. English (the language) normally has no article.

You speak very good English. (NOT You speak a very good English.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 149.

16. After look forward to, we use -ing, not an infinitive.

I look forward to seeing you. (NOT I look forward to see you.)
We’re looking forward to going on holiday. (NOT … to go on holiday.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 298.

17. Information is an uncountable noun.

Can you give me some information? (NOT Can you give me an information?)
I got a lot of information from the Internet. (NOT I got a lot of informations from the Internet.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 148.

18. Use -ing forms after prepositions.

I drove there without stopping. (NOT I drove there without to stop.)
Wash your hands before eating. (NOT Wash your hands before to eat.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 298.

19. Use this, not that, for things that are close.

Come here and look at this paper. (NOT Come here and look at that paper.)
How long have you been in this country? (NOT How long have you been in that country?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 148.

20. Use a plural noun after one and a half.

We waited one and a half hours. (NOT We waited one and a half hour.)
A mile is about one and a half kilometres. (NOT A mile is about one and a half kilometre.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 231.

21. Use the present perfect, not the present, to say how long things have been going on.

I've been waiting since 10 o'clock. (NOT I'm waiting since 10 o'clock.)
We've lived here for nine years. (NOT We live here for nine years.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 460.

22. The majority is normally plural.

Some people are interested, but the majority don't care. (NOT ... but the majority doesn't care.)
The majority of these people are very poor. (NOT The majority of these people is very poor.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 526.

23. Use too much/many before (adjective +) noun; use too before an adjective with no noun.

There's too much noise.
I bought too much red paint.
Those shoes are too expensive. (NOT Those shoes are too much expensive.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 595.

24. Use that, not what, after all.

I've told you all that I know. (NOT I've told you all what I know.)
He gave her all that he had.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 494.

25. Don't say according to me to give your opinion.

I think it's a good film. (NOT According to me, it's a good film.)
In my opinion, you're making a serious mistake. (NOT According to me, you're making a serious mistake.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 8.

26. Don't ask about possibilities with May you ...? etc.

Do you think you'll go camping this summer? (NOT May you go camping this summer?)
Is Joan likely to be here tomorrow? (NOT May Joan be here tomorrow?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 339.

27. Use who, not which, for people in relative structures.

The woman who lives upstairs is from Thailand. (NOT The woman which lives upstairs is from Thailand.)
I don't like people who shout all the time. (NOT I don't like people which shout all the time.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 494.

28. Use for, not during, to say `how long'.

We waited for six hours. (NOT We waited during six hours.)
He was ill for three weeks. (NOT He was ill during three weeks.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 167.

29. Use to ..., not for ..., to say why you do something.

I came here to study English. (NOT I came here for study English.)
She telephoned me to explain the problem. (NOT She telephoned me for explain the problem.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 289.

30. Use reflexives (myself etc) when the object is the same as the subject.

I looked at myself in the mirror. (NOT I looked at me in the mirror.)
Why are you talking to yourself? (NOT Why are you talking to you?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 493.

31. Use a present tense to talk about the future after when, until, as soon as, after, before etc.

I’ll phone you when I arrive. (NOT I’ll phone you when I will arrive.)
Let’s wait until it gets dark. (NOT Let’s wait until it will get dark.)
We’ll start as soon as Mary arrives. (NOT We’ll start as soon as Mary will arrive.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 202.

32. Before most abstract nouns, we use great, not big.

I have great respect for her ideas. (NOT I have big respect for her ideas.)
We had great difficulty in understanding him. (NOT We had big difficulty in understanding him.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 106.

33. Don’t use the with a superlative when you are not comparing one person or thing with another.

Compare:

§ She’s the nicest of the three teachers.

§ She’s nicest when she’s working with small children.

§ This is the best wine I’ve got.

§ This wine is best when it’s three or four years old.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 141.

34. Put enough after, not before, adjectives.

This soup isn’t hot enough. (NOT This soup isn’t enough hot.)
She’s old enough to walk to school by herself.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 187.

35. Don’t use a structure with that … after want or would like.

My parents want me to go to university. (NOT My parents want that I go to university.)
I’d like everybody to leave. (NOT I’d like that everybody leaves.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 283.

36. After link verbs like be, seem, feel, look, smell, sound, taste, we use adjectives, not adverbs.

I feel happy today. (NOT I feel happily today.)
This soup tastes strange. (NOT This soup tastes strangely.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 328.

37. Use than after comparatives.

My mother is three years older than my father. (NOT My mother is three years older that/as my father.)
Petrol is more expensive than diesel.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 139.

38. In questions, put the subject immediately after the auxiliary verb.

Where are the President and his family staying? (NOT Where are staying the President and his family?)
Have all the guests arrived? (NOT Have arrived all the guests?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 480.

39. Used to has no present.

I play tennis at weekends. (NOT I use to play tennis at weekends.)
Where do you usually have lunch? (NOT Where do you use to have lunch?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 604.

40. Use through, not along, for periods of time.

All through the centuries, there have been wars. (NOT All along the centuries, there have been wars.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 45.

41. Use can’t, not mustn’t, to say that something is logically impossible.

It can’t be the postman at the door. It’s only 7 o’clock. (NOT It mustn’t be the postman at the door. It’s only 7 o’clock.)
If A is bigger than B, and B is bigger than C, then C can’t be bigger than A. (NOT … then C mustn’t be bigger than A.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 359.

42. Use the present perfect with This is the first time … etc.

This is the first time I’ve been here. (NOT This is the first time I’m here.)
This is the fifth cup of coffee I’ve drunk today. (NOT This is the fifth cup of coffee I drink today.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 591.

43. Use be, not have, to give people’s ages.

My sister is 15 (years old). (NOT My sister has 15 years.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 32.

44. Use between, not among, to talk about position in relation to several clearly separate people or things.

Switzerland is between France, Austria, Germany and Italy. (NOT Switzerland is among France, Austria, Germany and Italy.)
The bottle rolled between the wheels of the car.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 105.

45. We don’t normally use the before abbreviations that are pronounced like words (‘acronyms’).

My cousin works for NATO. (NOT My cousin works for the NATO.)
The money was given by UNESCO. (NOT … by the UNESCO.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 2.

46. Everybody is a singular word.

Everybody was late. (NOT Everybody were late.)
Is
everybody ready? (NOT Are everybody ready?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 548.

47. Use any, not some, in negative sentences.

She hasn’t got any money. (NOT She hasn’t got some money.)
I didn’t see anybody. (NOT I didn’t see somebody.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 547.

48. Use interested for feelings; use interesting for the things that interest people. The same goes for bored/boring, excited/exciting etc.

I’m interested in history. (NOT I’m interesting in history.)
History is interesting.
I’m bored in the maths lessons. (NOT I’m boring in the maths lessons.)
I think maths is boring.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 409.

49. Use by, not until/till, to mean ‘not later than’.

Can you mend this by Tuesday? (NOT Can you mend this until Tuesday?)
I’ll finish the book by tonight. (NOT I’ll finish the book till tonight.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 602.

50. Use like, not as, to give examples.

I prefer warm countries, like Spain. (NOT I prefer warm countries, as Spain.)
I eat a lot of meat, like beef or lamb.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 326.

51. Use whether, not if, after prepositions.

We talked about whether it was ready. (NOT We talked about if it was ready.)
It’s a question of whether we have enough time. (NOT It’s a question of if we have enough time.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 453.

52. Use the present progressive passive, not the simple present passive, to talk about things that are going on just around now.

Our flat is being decorated this week. (NOT Our flat is decorated this week.)
Your bill is just being prepared, sir. (NOT Your bill is just prepared, sir.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 412.

53. We don’t normally use must to talk about the past.

I had to see the dentist yesterday. (NOT I must see the dentist yesterday.)
When I left school, young men had to do military service. (NOT When I left school, young men must do military service.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 358.

54. When you put two nouns together, be careful to get the right order.

I like eating milk chocolate. (NOT I like eating chocolate milk.)
What’s your phone number? (NOT What’s your number phone?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 385.

55. Use the whole of, not whole, before the name of a place.

The whole of Paris was celebrating. (NOT Whole Paris was celebrating.)
He knows the whole of South America very well. (NOT He knows whole South America very well.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 40.

56. We don’t normally use progressive forms of believe.

I don’t believe him. (NOT I’m not believing him.)
Do you believe what she says? (NOT Are you believing what she says?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 471.

57. Don’t use in front of to mean ‘facing’ or ‘opposite’.

She sat down facing me and looked into my eyes. (NOT She sat down in front of me and looked into my eyes.)
There’s a hotel opposite our house. (NOT There’s a hotel in front of our house.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 402.

58. Use it, not I, he, she etc to identify people.

(on the phone): Hello. It’s Alan Williams speaking. ((NOT Hello. I’m Alan Williams.)
‘Who’s that?’ ‘It’s John.’ (NOT Who’s that?’ ‘He’s John.’)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 428.

59. People (meaning ‘persons’) is a plural word.

The people in this town are very friendly. (NOT The people in this town is very friendly.)
Who are those people? (NOT Who is that people?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 524.

60. Use although or but, but not both together.

Although it was late, she went out.
It was late, but she went out.
(BUT NOT Although it was late, but she went out.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 511.

61. With if, we normally use the present to talk about the future.


If I have time, I’ll phone you. (NOT If I’ll have time, I’ll phone you.)
I’ll be surprised if she answers my letter. (NOT I’ll be surprised if she’ll answer my letter.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 257.

62. Use almost, not nearly, to say that one thing is very like another.


She is almost a sister to me. (NOT She is nearly a sister to me.)
I almost wish I had stayed at home. (NOT I nearly wish I had stayed at home.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 43.

63. If you don’t do something any more, you stop doing it.


The doctor told me to stop smoking. (NOT The doctor told me to stop to smoke.)
I’m going to stop working so hard. (NOT I’m going to stop to work so hard.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 299.

64. A singular countable noun must normally have a determiner
(e.g. a/an, the, my, that).


She broke a/the/that/my window. (NOT She broke window.)
Where is the station? (NOT Where is station?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 62.

65. We don’t often use would in subordinate clauses; instead, we use past tenses.


Would you follow me wherever I went? (NOT Would you follow me wherever I would go?)
I would tell you if I knew. (NOT I would tell you if I would know.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 580.

66. With when, use the past perfect to make it clear that one thing finished before another started.


When I had written my letters, I did some gardening. (NOT When I wrote my letters, I did some gardening.)
When he had cleaned the windows, he stopped for a cup of tea. (NOT When he cleaned the windows, he stopped for a cup of tea.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 424.

67. Don’t use can to talk about the chance that something will happen.


It may/might/could rain this evening. (NOT It can rain this evening.)
I think Jane may/might/could come tomorrow. (NOT I think Jane can come tomorrow.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 345.

68. Don’t use an infinitive after think.


I’m thinking of changing my job. (NOT I’m thinking to change my job.)
Are you thinking of going home this weekend? (NOT Are you thinking to go home this weekend?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 588.

69. Use a singular noun after every.


I play tennis every Wednesday. (NOT I play tennis every Wednesdays.)
He wrote to every child in the village. (NOT He wrote to every children …)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 193.

70. When you say what somebody’s job is, use a/an.


My sister is a photographer. (NOT My sister is photographer.)
I’m studying to be an engineer. (NOT I’m studying to be engineer.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 62.

71. Use at last, not finally, as an exclamation.

At last! Where have you been? (NOT Finally! Where have you been?)
She’s written to me. At last!

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 204.

72. Get can mean ‘become’, but not before nouns.

It’s getting cold.
It’s getting to be winter.
(BUT NOT It’s getting winter.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 223.

73. Don’t use negative questions in polite requests or enquiries.

Could you help me, please? (NOT Couldn’t you help me, please?)
You haven’t seen John, have you? (NOT Haven’t you seen John?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 368.

74. One negative word is usually enough.

She looked, but she didn’t see anything. (NOT She looked, but she didn’t see nothing.)
I have never heard of him. (NOT I haven’t never heard of him.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 370.

75. Much and many are unusual in affirmative sentences (except in a very formal style).

He has a lot / plenty of money. (NOT He has much money.)
My father has travelled to lots of countries. (More natural than My father has travelled to many countries.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 357.

76. Don’t use since to talk about the future.

I’ll be home from three o’clock. (NOT I’ll be home since three o’clock.)
The shop will be closed for two weeks from Monday. (NOT The shop will be closed for two weeks since Monday.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 308.

77. Singular fraction + plural noun: use a plural verb.

A third of the students are from abroad. (NOT A third of the students is from abroad.)
A quarter of the trees have been cut down.

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 389.

78. You listen to something.

She never listens to me. (NOT She never listens me.)
Listen to this! (NOT Listen this!)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 449.

79. Don’t use the past progressive for past habits.

When I was 20 I smoked / I used to smoke. (NOT When I was 20 I was smoking.)
I played / I used to play a lot of football at school. (NOT I was playing a lot of football at school.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 422.

80. Don’t use most of directly before a noun.

Most of these people agree with me.
Most people agree with me.
(BUT NOT Most of people agree with me.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 356.

81. In ‘unreal’ conditions with if, use would, not will.

If I knew the price, I would tell you. (NOT If I knew the price, I will tell you.)
It would be better if he told the truth. (NOT It will be better if he told the truth.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 258.

82. Don’t use later with an expression of time to talk about the future.

I’ll see you later.
I’ll see you in a few days.
(BUT NOT I’ll see you a few days later.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 315.

83. Don’t use in case to mean ‘if’.

Compare:
I’ll take an umbrella in case it rains. (= ‘… because it might rain.’)
I’ll open the umbrella if it rains. (NOT I’ll open the umbrella in case it rains.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 271.

84. Use so before an adjective, but not before adjective + noun.

I love this country – it’s so beautiful. (NOT I love this so beautiful country.)
Thanks for your help. That was so kind of you. (NOT Thanks for your so kind help.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 538.

85. Only use unless to mean ‘except if’.

Compare:
I’ll see you tomorrow unless I have to work.
I’ll be really upset if I don’t pass the exam. (NOT I’ll be really upset unless I pass the exam.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 601.

86. Use be with adjectives, not have with nouns, to talk about physical sensations like cold, hunger, thirst etc.

I am thirsty. (NOT I have thirst.)
We are cold in this house. (NOT We have cold in this house.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 92.

87. Don’t use to-infinitives after can, could, will, would, may, might, shall, should or must.

I can swim. (NOT I can to swim.)
Must you make so much noise? (NOT Must you to make so much noise?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 353.

88. Use not, not no, to make sentences negative.

I’m not asleep. (NOT I’m no asleep.)
We are open on Saturdays, but not on Sundays. (NOT … but no on Sundays.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 382.

89. We don’t usually use present tenses after past reporting verbs.

She told me she had a headache. (NOT She told me she has a headache.)
I asked him what he wanted. (NOT | asked him what he wants.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 275.

90. Use to after married, engaged.

He’s married to a doctor. (NOT He’s married with a doctor.)
My sister is engaged to a computer engineer. (NOT My sister is engaged with a computer engineer.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 449.

91. Use which, not what, to refer back to a whole sentence.

She passed her exam, which surprised everybody. (NOT She passed her exam, what surprised everybody.)
My father has just climbed Mont Blanc, which is pretty good for a man of 75. (NOT … what is pretty good for a man of 75.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 494.

92. Don’t use the with society when it has a general meaning.

We all have to live in society. (NOT We all have to live in the society.)
Rousseau said that society makes people evil. (NOT Rousseau said that the society makes people evil.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 68.

93. Use a to-infinitive after want.

I want to go home. (NOT I want go home.)
The children want to stay up late. (NOT The children want stay up late.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 613.

94. Use make, not do, with mistake.

I have made a mistake. (NOT I have done a mistake.)
You can’t speak a language without making mistakes. (NOT … without doing mistakes.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 160.

95. Don’t repeat a relative pronoun with another pronoun.

There’s the man that I work for. (NOT There’s the man that I work for him.)
She saw a doctor who sent her to hospital. (NOT She saw a doctor who he sent her to hospital.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 494.

96. After a superlative, use in with a place expression.

Which is the biggest city in the world? (NOT Which is the biggest city of the world?)
This is the best restaurant in the city. (NOT This is the best restaurant of the city.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 139.

97. You explain and suggest something to somebody.

Please explain to me what you want. (NOT Please explain me what you want.)
Can you suggest a good restaurant to us? (NOT Can you suggest us a good restaurant?)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition sections 198 and 570.

98. Work is an uncountable noun.

I’m looking for work. (NOT I’m looking for a work.)
My brother has found a new job. (NOT My brother has found a new work.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 148.

99. Be careful of the word order in negative infinitives.

It’s important not to work too hard. (NOT It’s important to not work too hard.)
I asked her not to make so much noise.


For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 280.

100. Possessives replace articles.

We stayed in John’s house at the weekend. (NOT We stayed in the John’s house at the weekend.)
She’s been studying Britain’s foreign policy since 1980. (NOT She’s been studying the Britain’s foreign policy since 1980.)

For more details, see Practical English Usage 3rd Edition section 70.

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