Grammar notes on...


Past Tenses

Modal Verbs

Continuous Tenses 

It's time,I'd rather,I'd prefer


Conditionals and Wishes

Cleft sentences

The Passive

Relative Clauses

Verb Patterns: Gerund/Infinitive

Future Forms

Indirect Speech





Problem Areas


Since shows the starting point of the action in the past, so the verb must be a past simple. It is a very easy mistake to make to assume that all the verbs in a sentence with since are present perfect forms.

e.g. He has been working as a waiter since he has left the college.

• last year and in/over the last year

Last year is clearly a period in the past so we use a past simple. And careful, Spanish speakers, never the last year in this context.

e.g. Last year I spent a month travelling around the USA

over the last year indicates an action which started in the past but the period of time includes the present:

e.g. More progress has been made over the last year that was made over the previous five years.

• stative and active verbs

know / meet : typical mistakes for Spanish speakers because both verbs have the same meaning conocer.

I’ve known her for over a year now. I first knew met her last August.
I’ve been ill for two weeks. I was became ill when I came back from holiday.
I’ve known about the mistake for a while. I knew discovered it while going through the accounts.

• until, once, by the time, after, before, as soon as and when

Some of these expressions are used to emphasize that one action took place before the other and that's exactly when the past perfect tense is used. For example:

My boss didn’t allow me to go home until I’d finished what I was doing.
Once I’d prepared my speech, I had a break.
By the time the fire brigade arrived, the house had burnt to the ground.

But in other cases, this emphasis is not necessary:

Before he read the letter he had taken took a deep breath.
As soon as she had heard the news she burst into tears.
Fortunately someone had been was waiting for me when I arrived at the hotel.

• Past continuous, past simple and used to

For Spanish speakers, the past continuous is sometimes a source of mistakes because in some context it is equivalent to the Spanish 'imperfecto', which is identified with the English form 'past simple'.

e.g. When she was leaving home, she heard someone call her name.
(= Cuando salía de casa, oyó que alguien la llamaba)

Sometimes this idea of 'past continuous' equivalent to 'imperfecto' can lead to mistakes:

When he was in the army he was smoking used to smoke heavily.

In this context the past continuous is impossible because the action does not indicate duration or progression of the action. In this case, the verb form indicates an action that took place regularly during a period of time and which probably is no longer true.








be, consist of, exist


belong to,have, include, lack, own, possess


adore, desire, despise, detest,dislike,envy,hate, like, love, need, prefer, trust, want, wish


believe, doubt, expect, feel(=think) forget, imagine, intend, know, realise, recogninse, remember, see (=understand)


appear, resemble, seem


concern, depend, deserve, fit, matter, measure, mean, mind, weigh


It is possible to use many of the verbs above in the continuous, but the verb has a different meaning or expresses a temporary action: 



John is a very obedient child, isn't he?
John is being very obedient at the moment.(= is behaving obediently)


They're very rich. They have three homes and a yacht.
I'm having really a good time. (=am experiencing)


I think that the world's problems are getting worse.
I'm thinking of taking up yoga. My life is too stressful. (=am considering)


The sign means 'slow down'
You're always meaning to call us, but you never do (=are intending)


It appears the government is not going to reform the legislation.
The Three Tenors are appearing at the Lyceum.(=are performing)

We do not usually use the continuous form with verbs which describe a sense or a form of perception, e.g. hear, notice, see, smell, taste.
With verbs which describe a sense, we usually use the simple form of can / could when we deliberately use the sense, i.e. the use is involuntary:

I can taste cream in this.
I'm tasting the cream.
(The cream might be off; intentional action)










Problem areas

First conditionals

A typical mistake in these contruction is interpreting that as we are talking about a future time we necessarily have to use will in both clauses of the sentence:

e.g. If you will go to the party tonight, you'll see Mark's new girlfriend.
You'll do well in the exam as long as you won't don't do anything silly.

It's a mistake that is also present in time clauses, maybe influenced by French language:

When I will arrive, I'll give you a call.


Unless is used in sentences which mean X will happen if it is not stopped by Y. It cannot be used to mean X will be the result of Y not happening.

e.g. We'll go for a picnic tomorrow, unless it rains.
Ill be quite relieved unless she comes if she doesn't come.

Unreal present / future
If you would work worded harder you would be top of the class.

Unreal past
If she hadn't been so rude to him, he wouldn't have punished her.
If I would have had taken more interest in the course, I had would have done better in the exams.

Past: They wish they had had the chance to go abroad last year (= but they didn't)
Present: I wish I would be were in a different class. (= but I'm not)
I wish I would could speak French. (= but I can't)
Irritating habit: I wish he won't wouldn't interrupt me when I'm talking to someone. (=but he does it regularly)

Wish and hope
We use hope to say that we would like something to happen, although we don't know whether it will or not. When we want a situation to be different from what it already is, we use wish.
I hope he marries her.
I hope we don't have a history test tomorrow.









The expression It's time... can be used with the infinitive or the past tense.

It's time to go.
It's time for you to go

With the infinitive, we assumed that the speaker is included in the action. If the speaker wants to specify who 'has to go' we can introduce a kind of 'subject' of the infinitive with the preposition for.

It's (high) time you went

When we use the past tense we introduce an idea of unreality. With the adjective high we don't use the infinity: It's high time to leave we left.





I'd rather can be followed by two structures: infinitive (without to) and past tenses.

I'd rather go now

I'd rather you went

In these examples, if we use the infinitive, there's only one person involved in the action. If we state our preference about somebody else's action, we must use the past tense and the full sentence. It's again a use of past tenses for an action in the present or the future time. If we want to express our preference about an action in the past with this construction, we use the perfect infirnitive without to: I'd rather have studied law.






I'd prefer can be followed by infinitive (I'd prefer to go now) or a full sentence in the past with the verbs in the past tenses. The peculiarity of this contruction is the appearance of the pronoun it:

I'd prefer it if you went now.

In fact, the sentence is a second conditional construction. That's why we need the pronoun IT, because if we didn't introduce it we would have a transtive verb without an object, which is a grammar mistake in English.




The general rule for word order in English (subject – verb – object) can be broken by placing certain adverbial words or phrases, at the beginning of the sentence: this is done to produce a more dramatic effect, particularly in story- telling, stating strong opinions and the giving of rules.

Look at the following examples:


‘Dramatic inversion’

The result was never in doubt. At no time was the result in doubt
I have never heard such a terrible lecture. Never have I heard such a terrible lecture.
You can’t see such large forests anywhere else. Nowhere else is it possible to see such large forests.
He didn’t realise the extent of the damage until he saw it in daylight. Not until he saw the damage in daylight did he realise how bad it was.
I can only relax after I have had a drink. Only after I have had a drink can I relax.
I was not only tired, I was also hungry. Not only was I tired, (but) I was also hungry.
Almost as soon as I got into the house, the telephone rang. No sooner had I got into the house than the telephone rang.
The sun rose and almost immediately it began to rain. Hardly had the sun risen when/before it began to rain.
A public figure had seldom been more completely humiliated. Seldom has a public figure been more completely humiliated.
He didn’t realised that she had heard every word. Little did he realise that she had heard every word.
It was such a heavy vase that he dropped it. Such was the weight of the vase that he dropped it.
He spoke so quickly that nobody could understand. So quickly did he speak that nobody could understand.
He must no leave the country on any account. On no account must he leave the country.
I wouldn’t go back to university under any circumstances. Under no circumstances would I go back to university.
The club will only admit men under exceptional circumstances. Only under exceptional circumstances will the club admit men.
There has not been an invention which so radically affected society since the printing press. Not since the printing press as there been an invention which so radically affected society.




1. When the active form would involve the use of an indefinite or vague pronoun or noun as a subject, we generally prefer to use the passive (the agent with “by” is nor expressed)

They had to demolish the building
The building had to be demolished

2. The passive provides a means of avoiding an awkward change of subject in the middle of the sentence.

The PM arrived back in London last night, and reporters immediately besieged him ? The PM arrived back in London last night, and was immediately besieged by reporters.

3. When we wish to make a statement sound impersonal.

The new working methods we have introduced will result in higher earnings for all workers ? The new workings methods that have been introduced will result in higher earnings for all workers.

Special constructions

1. Sentences with two objects, one direct and one indirect.

The crowd gave the king a great reception
A great reception was given to the king by the crowd.
The king was given a great reception by the crowd.

2. Have something done

I’m having my flat painted = Someone is painting my flat for me.

3. Need doing

Your hair needs cutting = Your hair needs to be cut.

4. Subject + verb (say, think, feel, expect, etc) + noun clause object

They say that he knows some very influential people.
It is said that he knows some very influential people.
He is said to know some very influential people.

There is one point to note here: the form of the passive infinitive depends on whether or not the time reference of the verb in the noun clause is the same as that of the verb in the introductory (main) clause. If the time reference is the same, we use the “present” infinitive.

It is said that he knows some very influential people = He is said to know some …
It was said that he knew some very influential people ? He was said to know some…

If the verb in the noun clause has a time reference anterior to that of the verb in the main clause, use the “perfect” infinitive.

It is thought that he acted very foolishly ? He is thought to have acted…
It was thought that he acted very foolishly ? He was thought to have acted...








MODAL VERBS: Meanings and examples


May May I smoke?
Can You can smoke in here.
Could Could I use your phone?
Be allowed / permitted to I was allowed to cross the frontier because I had a visa.


Can Can you speak Portuguese?
Could I couldn´t see because of the fog.
Be able to I was able to see him through the window.

Obligation / Necessity

Must You must get up earlier in the morning.
Have to Men have to do the military service.
Need / Need to Do I need to get permission?
Should (advice) You should prepare your trip to Africa very carefully.
Ought to (advice) You ought to inform the police.
Had better (advice) You’d better leave now if you want to catch the train.


Mustn´t You mustn´t break the law.
No Obligation / No Necessity
Don´t / Didn’t have to I don´t have to make a speech.
Don´t / Didn’t need to He doesn´t need to get a visa.
Needn´t You needn´t eat everything.


Can The system can be frustrating.
May It may take a year to get the results.
Could You could be very successful.
Might She might be very lucky.


Must He won a lot of money in the pools last year so he must be rich.
Can´t You can´t be hungry. You´ve just had dinner!

Prediction / Certainty

Will He’s been found guilty of murder. He’ll be in prison for a long time.

Willingness / Refusal (present)

Will The doctor will act as witness to your signature. She doesn’t mind doing that sort of thing.I won’t lower the price. And that’s that.

Willingness / Refusal (past)

Would Dad would always help us with out maths homework. (habit)
The shop assistant wouldn’t change this jumper for me, even though I hadn’t worn it.


Can / Could Could you hold on a minute?
Will Will you give a call when you get to the hotel?
Would Would you book a hotel for me?


Will Sit down. I’ll wash up this evening.
Shall Shall I get you a coffee?
Would Would you like some more wine?


Will I’ll write you back as soon as I get your letter, I promise.





Some verbs can take either the gerund or the infinitive with a change in the meaning.

Remember and forget

These verbs take a gerund when they refer to an action which occurred beforehand.

Do you remember seeing this man before?
I’ll never forget arriving in Venice by ship the first time.

They take an infinitive when they refer to an action which comes afterwards.

Remember to put out all the lights before you leave.
I’m afraid you forgot to sign the cheque.

Regret and dread

These verbs take the gerund when they refer to the past or unlikely future:

Do you regret not having gone to university?
I’m dreading going to the dentist’s.

In addition, dread takes the infinitive “to think” and regret the infinitive “to say”, “to tell” and “to inform”:

I dread to think what might have happened if you’d tried to drive the car.
I regret to tell you that your application has not been successful.

Like, love, hate and prefer

These verbs may take either a gerund or an infinitive when they mean “to enjoy” or “take pleasure in”. (Negative sentences, however, usually takes a gerund):

I simply love getting unexpected invitations.
I don’t like cooking all that much.
Would you like to have a look round?

When they mean “want” or “wish”, they take the infinitive.

I don’t like to bother you when you’re busy, but…
He likes to arrive in plenty of time for his appointments.

When prefer is used in a comparison, the gerund is always used.

Do you prefer typing your letters to writing them by hand?


(You’ve locked yourself out…)

Try ringing the doorbell. Someone may be in.
( When this verb takes the gerund, the meaning is “experiment”. You’ll have no difficulty in ringing the bell but the action may or may not be successful in enabling you to enter)

Try to climb in through the window.
( When the infinitive is used, the meaning is “attempt”. You may or may not be successful in climbing thought the window)


With the infinitive, the verb means “intend”

He means to get at the truth, however long it takes.

With the gerund, the verb means “involve”

Are you sure the job won’t mean moving to another area?

Need and want

With the gerund, these verbs mean “be in need of”

The hedge needs trimming.
The piano wants tuning.

With the infinitive, need means “have a need” while want can mean “should / ought to” (informally) or “wish”.

We’ll need to borrow a substantial sum of money to repair the roof.
You want to ask John. He’s the financial expert.
Do you want to discuss the matter?

Go on

With a gerund, this verb means “continue an action”.

They went on talking about the contract all the evening.

With an infinitive, the verb means “introduce a new action”.

After describing the arrangements for our accommodation, he went on to give us some useful tips for living abroad.


With a gerund the verb means ”cease”.

If you would stop crying for a moment, I might find out what’s wrong.

With an infinitive, it means to interrupt one action in order to perform another.

He stopped to look at the map and then walked on.

Cleft sentences

These are sentences introduced by it is / it was or by a clause beginning with what. This constructions are used to add emphasis to one part of the sentence.

a. CLEFT SENTENCES: “It is / was…”

e.g. Sue borrowed my bike last night.

It was Sue who borrowed my bike
It was last night that Sue borrowed my bike.(*)
It was my bike that Sue borrowed.

(*) Notice that we use that and not where or when.

Sentences with because are also possible

e.g. I left because I felt ill
It was because I felt ill that I left.

Modal auxiliaries are also possible:

e.g. You can’t have read the same book
It can’t have been the same book that you read.

b. What clauses

These are common with verbs such as need, want, like, hate.

e.g. I hate rainy weather - What I hate most is rainy weather.
You need a holiday - What you need is a holiday.

It is also possible to emphasize events, using auxiliary do / did.

e.g. Peter left the widows unlocked. - What Peter did was (to) leave the windows unlocked.
e.g. They are destroying the environment - What they are doing is destroying the environment.(* )

(*) We use an –ing clause (destroying) in the second part of the sentence because the verb in the wh- clause is in the continuous form (What they are doing…).

c. Clauses beginning with all

They emphasise the idea of “the only thing”.

e.g. I only need another £ 15
All I need is another £ 15