Collaborative Post

Grasp the nettle and learn to love grammar


English grammar is one of the biggest bugbears for English language students but also TEFL teachers; it’s not that easy when you are asked to explain something complicated that you may not even be sure about yourself.  Rather than avoid grammar, learn to love it and then you will feel more confident as a TEFL teacher.

Everyone makes grammar mistakes from time to time but you can supplement your knowledge as a TEFL teacher by studying designated courses which will increase both your knowledge and confidence.  If you want to teach English as a foreign language then you will have to learn to love the grammar.

Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

A solid grasp of English grammar is going to be essential for a successful TEFL career.  It’s all very well knowing when something sounds right or wrong but explaining this to a student is a different kettle of fish entirely.  Here are some of the most common mistakes made in English grammar and which you will have to correct your students for although there are plenty more:-

  • There/their/they’re – easy to mix up even if you are a native speaker never mind a foreign student learning the lingo. The way to explain it is that ‘their’ is always used to indicate the possessive and is almost always followed by a noun, for every other occasion, it is, therefore, like to be ‘there’.  ‘They’re’ is a shortened version of ‘they are’ and is actually quite distinct so if you look at the sense of the text then this should help you clarify which one to use
  • Effect and affect – lots of people struggle with this one. ‘Effect’ is a noun and ‘affect’ is the verb so again, it is all about the context.  ‘Affect’ means to alter or influence something and ‘effect’ is the net result of this so what happens after the change.  But, life is never that simple!  ‘Effect’ can act as a verb so the past participle and ‘affect’ can also be an adjective, for example, ‘affected behaviour’ referring to an affectation
  • Further and farther – ‘farther’ is used when referring to a physical distance and ‘further’ for a figurative distance, if that sounds confusing then it really is quite easy to work out which word you should be using. In reality, people have been mixing these two up for so long that it is considered quite acceptable to do so
  • Which and what – ‘which’ can often be replaced with ‘what’ and it can still be grammatically correct but this doesn’t work the other way around. ‘Which’ is used when several choices or possibilities are being referred to so, ‘which ice-cream would you like?’.  This is still correct if replaced with ‘what’ but it just doesn’t sound quite so smooth.  ‘What’ is used when the choice is unlimited so, ‘what is your email address?’ – clearly, ‘which’ would not work in this context because the implication is that there is only one possible answer
  • Me and I – not usually a confusing problem but there is one scenario when people can get in a tangle and that is when they use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’. Try the phrase, “could you leave the car on the drive for Angela and me?” and change it to, “could you leave the car on the drive for Angela and I?”  However, there is a very clever trick to tell which is the correct version and that is to remove the other person from the question, “could you leave the car on the drive for I?” clearly is not correct and should be, “could you leave the car on the drive for me?”.
  • g and i.e – these are often used interchangeably whereas, in fact, they have quite different meanings. E.g means, for example, whereas ‘i.e’ is an abbreviation of ‘id est’ which is Latin meaning, ‘that is’.  Use ‘e.g’ when you are listing examples and ‘i.e’ when you would like to say, ‘in other words’
  • Its and it’s – the mix up between these two is very common and it’s such an easy one to sort out! ‘It’s’ is a shortened version or contraction or ‘it is’ so if you have used, ‘it’s’ just replace it momentarily with’ it is’ and the sentence should still make sense.  If it doesn’t then you should be using ‘its’ which indicates possession
  • Who or whom – ‘who’ refers to the subject and ‘whom’ refers to the object of a verb or preposition. The trick here is to look at the answer to the question; if the answer is ‘he’ or ‘she’ then the correct word to use is, ‘who’. If the answer is ‘him’ or ‘her’ then it is ‘whom’
  • Less and fewer – which one you need depends on whether the noun is described as ‘countable’ or ‘uncountable’. A countable noun is one which you can count – the clue is in the name.  The noun can be either singular or plural.  Uncountable nouns cannot be counted with numbers and will always be in the singular.  ‘Fewer’ is always used with a countable noun so, “please can I have fewer carrots?” but if you were being served rice which not a countable noun then the correct terminology would be, “can I have less rice please?”
  • Lose and loose – ‘loose’ is the adjective and ‘lose’ is the verb. They are often swapped around incorrectly in the written context but sound very different when you say them so the confusion is not usually oral.  If you are unsure that what you have written is correct, then say the phrase out loud and this will often sort out the muddle

Even if you already have a TEFL certificate there are lots of bolt-on courses you can add to your accreditation if you need any more assistance with grammar.

Plus, there are software packages you can use to help you when you are preparing lesson content for your students.  Try Grammarly or GrammarMonster, the former will correct your text and the latter is great if you need more explanation.