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0 Grammar Study guide

Page history last edited by Béatrice H. Alves 14 years, 6 months ago




Verb tenses



Tenses Plus 

Reported speech 

Reported Speech 

Reported Speech Plus 

Embedded question





Modals Plus 

Word formation





Causative Plus 




Gerunds and infinitives





Conditional Plus 

Relative clauses







Passive voice  

Passive voice Plus
Quantifiers Quantifiers Quantifiers Plus 















Comparisons Comparisons Plus











Phrasal verbs






Indirect objects with or without to and for



False cognates



Most usual mistakes












    What grammar should be taught? What has just been said about vocabulary also applies to grammar. We can here only make suggestions, show directions, advise to teach this and avoid that but your actual teaching will depend on your students' level. It is clear that with mediocre students you will have to dwell at length on very basic aspects of grammar such as verb forms or low-level sentence building whereas, with more advanced students the field of study is much wider. For instance, one contributor writes : " At this university we have found that the level of English that technically minded students leave secondary schools with is not very high. Due to this we have been teaching/revising general English (using general English textbooks) with these students to get them to a high enough level to be able to deal with the specialist material which we have access to. "

It is true that all the structures commonly said to be typical of English for engineering are found in ordinary language, though not so commonly.

It seems possible to make the following recommendations:



so usual in English for science and technology will be a problem:  your students will (probably) have no (or little) difficulty in understanding passive verbs (be careful with continuous passives, though) but are unlikely to use them spontaneously.

Moreover it is a well-known fact that French-speaking students (and probably lots of others) tend to forget using irregular past participles or to drop "ed" or also to mix "ed" and "ing" suffixes. It will be one of your repeated tasks to remind them that a/ they must watch this grammar and b/ they ought to avoid saying / writing things such as "we have / one has / the operator has fitted in a new part" instead of "a new part has been fitted in".



They allow to say that something has to be done or is advisable or forbidden; or, like a rheostat, they enable you to express a whole range of nuances from certainty to doubt or impossibility. Granted, this is commonly used in general English, and students ought to be able to handle such verbs correctly, but ...is it always the case? Besides, though we have no study to prove it, we feel modal verbs tend to be more frequently used in "technical" English.

It may be important to go into some details, e.g; 'will' to express capability and not  futurity ( The needle will point towards the magnetic pole); 'can' means ' what sometimes happen', or expresses ability or possibility as well as capability ( Metal which cools rapidly can fracture - The losses can easily be calculated - Thermo-couples can be used to measure.. - These planes can fly at 600 miles per hour.)



The problem is not limited to English for engineering and your students have already tacked the problem.

If it is not 100% clear for them, they should be made aware that, in phrasal verbs, the particles (?) can

a/ convey no real information: find out - fill in;

b/ express a 2nd idea: switch off - lift out;

c/ give the verb a totally different meaning : carry out - make out.

However some phrasal verbs are extremely usual in technical English and students have to know them well. Here are a few:

built in - wear out - keep away - take off - carry out - set up - work out - pick up - go / switch off/on - throw out - carry along - run out of.

Now, opinions are divided about the use of phrasal verbs or their (often more formal) equivalents: several contributors (but all of them) believe that many phrasal vebs tend to be used when speaking, while  more formal verbs are commonly used in technical (and scientific) writing: for instance take in / absorb - built in / incorporated - carry out / perform - take to pieces / dismantle - held up / supported, etc.



In all technical writing the noun or the naming-word has a major function. You know how widespread compound  nouns and adjectives are ( particularly in computing and electronics). Quite a lot of languages (for instance these from Latin origin) do not use compound words and unless your students are already good at English (and even then, they may find it difficult to understand long or complex compound words ), you can be convinced this will be one of the main difficulties, something which your students will find really tough and to which you will have to come back again and again. If you can read French, have a look at Lire l'anglais scientifique et technique and Gearing Up (See Part I - Books) where you'll find quite a lot of exercises to introduce this tricky point.



are of course essential: an engineer or a technician is always referring to quality and/ or quantity, hence he has to compare things, data, results, etc. In addition to "conventional" comparatives,  you'd better check whether your students are really able to use " same... as /that, similar /equal to, different from, other...than" not to mention " the more ..., the more... " (as well as other ways to express variables (e.g. : as the velocity increases, so the turbine speed increases - the velocity varies according to/with the turbine speed).

With more advanced students, don't forget to teach about numerical problems such as "it is less than one third as high as..." or "one third less high than...". You can be sure this will be quite difficult to explain



Compared to prepositons in some other languages, English preps are extremely precise and consequently sometimes difficult to understand.

First of all, make clear the difference between prepositions expressing position or movement (e.g. in / inside and into - on and onto)

Intermediate French students have difficulties making out the the following differences: beside / by the side of and near / close to, bottom and back / rear, before and beyond, upside down and wrong way round. Of course students speaking another L1 will have their own list of difficulties!

Among the prepositions to teach or revise: back- / down- / for- /in- / to- / upward(s), (anti)clockwise, from side to side - sideways and of course very commun ones such as below / underneath / beneath, in the middle, and on the left, across and through (a difficulty, sometimes), along, out of, etc, etc.



are particularly essential in a language that has to be logical and accurate and in which the notions of cause, consequence and purpose are often expressed. Your students are likely to know already quite a few of them, teach them a few new ones, including: as a result - further / furthermore - on account of - thus + ing (thus resulting in / thus leading to).

Teach your students to find out the structure of sentences and arguments by spotting the linkwords, remind them / or show them that, when a linkword comes at the beginning of a new paragraph this means the paragraph (or, at least a good part of it) will express a different opinion /will add a new argument / will re-inforce the previous idea, etc, (depending on the linkword that is used).

In particular, insist that

a/ SINCE is a linkword expressing cause in most cases and and seldom refers to time;

b/ YET is generally used  as a synonym of however;

c/ special attention could be givent to AS which  has so many different muses and meanings: as (large) as, as well (as), as = because, as a whole, such as, as though, as (or like), as a result, etc...


* CONTRACTED TIME STATEMENTS, contracted passive forms / if-clauses such as When in the triggered mode, the oscilloscope.../ if using the built-in microphone / when on, oscillation will begin... This kind of phrases (with a subject and a verb missing) does not exist in many languages and may require more than a few minutes' attention. With quick-minded students this won't be a problem after they have seen it once or twice. With others, it may take longer before they clearly realise which categories of words are missing. In addition to a few systematic exercises to show and explain what is missing in this phrases, don't forget to draw your students' attention every time you meet one such contracted statement by asking to provide the full sentence and, at least, you'll be sure everyone has understood !



Depending on the students' L1 they may be a problem or not. Some languages such as French use conditionals very much in the same way as English so that here in France, we tend to skip  this part of grammar -or  teach it very quickly. It is obvious that you may have  to dwell at length on this point with some other students. This is an  area which may be important to future engineers for instance to handle tables of truth or to talk about  the technique of troubleshooting which  relies a lot on understanding the subtler forms of conditionals. "Traces of oil may indicate a broken seal" ( If traces of oil are present this may indicate a broken seal).



You should not forget to teach scientific phrases concerning precise levels of knowledge: It appears, it seems, it is clear that, there can be no doubt, etc...

You may also think of the following pattern, so common to start a statement : its + adjective + (that)... It is likely / essential / known - it should be noted - it can be shown / demonstrated - it has been arranged / noticed....





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