For non-native speakers, these rules, which are often broken in casual situations, can make mastering the language more challenging. Fortunately, there are several tricks that can help you overcome some of the more confusing aspects of grammar—and perhaps even help you speak better English than native speakers.
1. Verb tense
Verb tenses are an important and central part of many languages because they signal to the listener or to the reader when an action has happened or will happen. With that said, verb tense is an aspect of grammar that many people (including both native and non-native speakers) struggle with. Verb tense becomes even more complicated when you realize that, in English, there is more than one present tense.
While there are many elements of verb tenses that can be downright confusing, we will focus on consistency. Consider this passage: “She was walking through the park. A stranger stopped her, and asks, ‘How do I get to Main Street?’” This is an example of improper use of verb tense because “She was walking through the park,” is in the past tense, but “A stranger stopped her, and asks, ‘How do I get to Main Street?’” is in both the past and present. If you are unsure about how to remain consistent with your verb tenses, always consider when the action that you are describing happened, and then remember that all other actions in the passage must happen at the same time.
2. Contractions—specifically “it’s”
In grammar, the term “contraction” refers to when two words are combined to form a single word like “they’re” (short for “they are”), “don’t” (“do not”), or “weren’t” (“were not”). In most cases, contractions are fairly simple, and they can help you make your use of the English language a bit less formal or wordy. However, there is one use that can be very confusing: “it’s” versus “its.”
When you wish to change “it is” into a contraction, you simply place an apostrophe between the t and the s to form “it’s.” Using the word “its” without an apostrophe is not a contraction, but instead a possessive pronoun because you are attaching a thing (“it”) to something else. For instance, “The dog wagged its tail,” calls for the possessive form (“its”) because you are talking about the dog’s tail. (In other words, the tail belongs to the dog.) If you are ever unsure about which to use, ask yourself, “Do I want to say ‘it is’?” If the answer is no, then you most likely want to avoid the contraction.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.