Category Archives: Grammar

Collective Nouns for Animals

I received this in my e-mail recently, and I thought I’d share it with all of you.

The English language has some wonderfully anthropomorphic collective nouns for the various groups of animals. We are all familiar with a herd of cows, a flock of chickens, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese.

However, less widely known is a pride of lions, a murder of crows (as well as their cousins the rooks and ravens), an exaltation of doves and, presumably because they look so wise, a parliament of owls.

Now consider a group of Baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates.

And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons?????

Believe it or not ……. a congress of baboons, and that explains the chaos that we have in the House of Representatives. 🙂


Report, report

Which verb comes before the word “report“? See the phrases below. Can you tell when each one is used?

  • make a report
  • write a report
  • present a report
  • give a report

You make a report when something happens and you want to inform others about that incident. For instance, in an accident, you’re required to make a report at the police station. The report can be either verbal or written – mostly verbal as the cops will do all the paper work.

You write a report to inform your fellow colleagues about some  incidents, events or the financial situation in the company you work. Reports are written at the request of the management. If your boss keeps quiet, so do you. In most cases, it is a monthly routine, so you have to do it. 😛

After writing a report, you may be required by the management to present a report in the next meeting. When you present the report, you have to orally summarise what you have reported in writing. Written reports are normally sent to every one after the meeting, so your fellow colleagues do not know what you’ve written until the meeting.

Give me your report!” – your boss commands. Presumably, you have already written it, and you’re required to personally hand it to him soon before your posterior gets  burnt.  So you give a report when you’re forced to do it – something like “write a report” but more urgent.

Sigh, so many reports to  make, write, give and present. 🙂

"with" or without

Someone has just sent me a message and wants to know if this sentence is correct: “I feed the cat with some milk.” One of her colleagues said the preposition “with” should be dropped. This friend of mine argued that having “with” in the sentence is acceptable.

Well, “with” could be used if it is followed by an eating utensil or food. That means, these examples are correct:

  • Foreigners find it strange that some Chinese in Malaysia eat with their fingers. (√)
  • The little boy fed the chick with a syringe. (√)
  • I had rice with curry and some meat. (√)

It is therefore incorrect to say:

  • They fed the boy with fried chicken. (X)
  • My neighbour feeds his chickens with corn each morning. (X)
  • Did you feed the baby with milk though you know he’s allergic to it? (X)

The general rules are as follows

  • [someone] feeds [person/animal] [food]
  • [someone] eats [food] with/and [food]
  •  [someone] eats [food] with [an eating tool/fingers]

I believe there are some exceptions. Care to add? 🙂

If I Were You…

“If I were you, I would [start exercising].”

How often have you heard someone say that statement?  Our teachers have taught us that singular subjects are followed by singular verbs. Check out my post on Subject-verb Agreement.

Back to the above statement. Why do we use the verb “were” instead of “was“? The answer is, it has something to do with “mood” of the verbs used. There are three types of mood:

  • indicative: “You have to come.”
  • imperative: “Come here!”
  • subjunctive: “If I were taller, I would be able to reach it.”

(a) Present subjunctive

In the present subjunctive, use “were” for people.


  • If I were rich, I would be a philanthropist.

→ I am not rich (this is a factual statement).

(b) Past subjunctive

In the past subjunctive mood, use “had” in all cases.


  • If the police had arrived sooner, the robber wouldn’t have escaped.

→ The police arrived late (this is a factual statement).

Remember this:
Subjunctive mood is the use of “mood” verbs to express conditions, hypotheses, and wishes.

Mass Nouns

Learners of grammar know that nouns are words that name people, objects and abstract ideas. For instance, words like house, John, insect, happiness etc. are all nouns. Click here for more details on nouns.

Some nouns can be quantified, or counted. These are called countable nouns (e.g.: house – houses; child – children; book – books); others cannot be counted. These are mass nouns or uncountable nouns.

Here are some mass nouns:


  • news
  • information
  • furniture
  • stationery
  • equipment
  • baggage
  • jewellery
  • hardware
  • machinery
  • scenery

Mass nouns cannot be pluralised as they are considered as ONE unit.  That means, you cannot add an “-s” or “-ies” at the end of the word. So, it is incorrect to say these:

  1. I need informations about that case immediately. (X)
  2. My parents are going to IKEA to look at a few furnitures. (X)
  3. We took pictures of beautiful sceneries when we were in Paris. (X)
  4. I’m going to the bookstore to get my stationeries. (X)
  5. A few jewelleries were stolen from the goldsmith last night. (X)

Mass nouns should be preceded by “some” or “the” only, and always use singular verbs.

  1. I need some information about that case immediately. (√)
  2. My parents are going to IKEA to look at some furniture. (√)
  3. We took pictures of beautiful scenery when we were in Paris. (√)
  4. I’m going to the bookstore to get my stationery. (√)
  5. The jewellery was (not “were”) stolen from the goldsmith last night. (√)


A gerund is a special noun. It is a verb that has been transformed into a noun by adding the “-ing” suffix.

Using gerunds in a sentence:

(a) as a Subject

  • Swimming is my favourite past time.
  • I find that reading and writing are difficult language skills to master.

(b) as a Complement

  • My favourite past time is swimming.
  • The most difficult skills to learn are reading and writing.

(c) as an Object

  • Mary loves drinking hot chocolate with her boyfriend.
  • My students dislike watching romantic movies.

(d) with articles and adjectives

  • The (art.) actual (adj.) making of the movie will be shown on TV.
  • The (art.) strange (adj.) writing on the wall is a mystery.

So, a gerund is a verbot that deceptively transforms into a nounbot to confuse our fellow humans. If you haven’t been watching “Transformers“, you obviously wouldn’t understand. 😀


Modals are special verbs, sometimes known as auxiliary verbs. A modal verb always has the same form and never has the -s, -ing or -ed suffixes. That means, modal verbs are always followed by the base form. Here’s a list of modals:


  • can
  • could
  • must
  • should
  • ought
  • may
  • might
  • will
  • would
  • shall

Look at the following examples. You will see that modals are followed by the base word come instead of came or coming, and run instead of ran or running:


  1. You can come in when you’re ready. (√)
    You can came in when you’re ready. (X)
  2. We should run if you want to catch the bus. (√)
    We should ran if you want to catch the bus. (X)

Functions of modal verbs in sentences





  • They can run fast.
  • We can’t see the road.
  • Can I stay over tonight?
  • Can you help me?

  • Ability, Possibility
  • Inability, Impossibility
  • Asking for permission
  • Request


  • Could I leave the room now?
  • Could you please repeat?
  • You could try again later.
  • There could be another war.
  • I thought he could, but he can’t.
  • Asking for permission.
  • Request
  • Suggestion
  • Future possibility
  • Ability in the past


  • May I carry your luggage?
  • If things don’t change, we may have to close our business.
  • Asking for permission
  • Future possibility


  • I might be at home, I’m not sure.
  • They might be praying now, so it’s better to call later.
  • Future possibility
  • Present possibility


  • You mustn’t smoke in campus.
  • It’s getting late. I’m afraid we must go.
  • Prohibition
  • Necessity, Obligation

ought to

  • She ought to see a doctor. She has been complaining since yesterday.
  • Saying what’s right or correct


  • Shall I open the door for you?
  • Shall we leave in half an hour?
  • Offer
  • Suggestion


  • We should call for a meeting now; it’s urgent.
  • You should check the expiry date.
  • Recession should be over next year.
  • Saying what’s right or correct
  • Recommending action
  • Uncertain prediction


  • I’ll do that for you if you like.
  • I’ll get you a bike if you do well in the exam.
  • I believe it will rain this evening.
  • Offer
  • Promise
  • Certain prediction


  • Would you mind if I smoked?
  • Would you help us, please?
  • Would 9 A.M. be fine with you?
  • Would you like to see my house?
  • Would you prefer coffee or tea?
  • Asking for permission
  • Request
  • Making arrangements
  • Invitation
  • Preferences

Take note that modals change form in the past and future tenses. For example:

  • I can do it. – present tense
  • I could do it just now. – past tense
  • I could do it later today. – future tense

The table above gives some example sentences to illustrate this point.

Regular and Irregular Verbs

Verbs generally are action words. When written in a sentence, verbs may change in form to suit the verb tense used in the sentence. However, verb forms do not always change. There are instances when the forms remain the same no matter what the tense. That’s why there is a need to learn regular and irregular verbs.

Verbs that have quite the same spelling and pronunciation in any tense are called regular verbs. On the other hand, verbs that remain unchanged or are spelt differently are called irregular verbs.

Examples of regular verbs in use:

All the verbs below come from the root word collect. The change in spelling and sound is very minimal.

  • I collect stamps. (simple present)
  • I collected stamps last time. (simple past)
  • I have collected stamps before. (present perfect)

Examples of irregular verbs in use:

All the verbs below come from the root word drink. Notice that the spelling and pronunciation change as the tenses change.

  • She drinks milk. (simple present)
  • She drank milk a few minutes ago. (simple past)
  • She has drunk a bottle of milk. (present perfect)

In the following examples, nothing changes! 😀 You’ll see that the verb “put” is spelt the same in all tenses.

  • They put their books on the desk. (simple present)
  • They put their books on the desk and left. (simple past)
  • They have put their books on the desk. (present perfect)

Here are some examples of irregular verbs:

Root Word

The past

Past participles
(has, have, had)

awake awoke awaken
be was / were been
beat beat beaten
become became become
bend bent bent
bite bit bitten
blow blew blown
break broke broken
buy bought bought
catch caught caught
choose chose chosen
cut cut cut
deal dealt dealt
do did done
draw drew drawn
drink drank drunk
dream dreamt / dreamed dreamt / dreamed
eat ate eaten
find found found * – not founded
fly flew flown
forgive forgave forgiven
get got got
go went gone
hang hung hung
hide hid hidden
know knew known
lie lied lied
lose ** – not loose
lost lost
misunderstand misunderstood misunderstood
overwrite overwrote overwritten
pay paid paid
prove proved proven
put put put
read read read
rewrite rewrote rewritten
ride rode ridden
rise rose risen
see saw seen
send sent sent
shine shined shined / shone
show showed shown
shut shut shut
sing sang sung
take took taken
tear tore torn
throw threw thrown
wear wore worn
withdraw withdrew withdrawn
write wrote written

* founded (v.) = established, started – it’s not the same meaning as “found
** loose (adj.) =  The word “loose” is an adjective, not a verb. Take note of the difference in spelling, too.

Verb Consistency

Verb consistency is important to ensure harmonious and clear sentences.  What if your friend tells you this:

  • I’m so happy today because my mother was coming back from abroad. She was supposed to be home yesterday afternoon but the flight will be delayed. She arrived late evening.

As you can see from the above example, the shift in tenses would obviously cause chaos to the meaning of the message. You’ll wonder whether his mother is already back from abroad, or she is coming back this evening.

In a single sentence, the verb tense that you use is straight forward. You would know whether it should be in the present tense, the past and so on. It is also easy to point out the errors. However, it’s not as easy to spot a verb tense error in a paragraph, or more. There will be inconsistencies. Take a look at these paragraphs and see if there are errors in tenses.

  • Kamal Prasad Sharma, aged 12, was a student at Saraswati Secondary School in a small village not far from Kathmandu. He was afraid when he saw a computer for the first time. He didn’t dare enter the room, thinking the computer would harm him. However, things are changing now. The E-library has helped him with his studies.

How many errors did you find, or is the paragraph error-free? Here’s the corrected version:

  • Kamal Prasad Sharma, aged 12, is a student at Saraswati Secondary School in a small village not far from Kathmandu. He was afraid when he saw a computer for the first time. He didn’t dare enter the room, thinking the computer would harm him. However, things have changed now. The E-library has helped him with his studies.

Explanation for the first error:

The sentence is factual. The boy, Kamal, is a student at Saraswati Secondary school. There is nothing to indicate that he is not studying there anymore. Besides, the second sentence indicates the past when Kamal first saw the computer.

Explanation for the second error:

Athough you see the word “now” in the sentence, don’t be fooled into thinking that the present continuous tense should be used. Therefore, it is wrong to say, “…things are changing now” because in reality, they have already changed. This is shown in the next sentence about the E-library which also uses the present perfect tense.

Identifying inconsistencies:

The question is, how do you know which tense to use in long paragraphs (in a text) to ensure that tenses do not shift incorrectly?

  • Read the entire text to get a grasp of the timelines (in each paragraph).
  • Once that’s done, tackle each paragraph carefully.
  • Do not attempt to shift tenses before you even read the text once.

This guide is good for learning Writing; however, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be used in spoken English. Remember the first example I gave earlier about your friend’s mother? That is a good example of its usage in the verbal form.