English Grammar Rules

Reference & EducationWriting & Speaking

  • Author Cyprain Esemuede
  • Published March 22, 2020
  • Word count 4,997





Advanced English grammar

 Compound Adjectives

English Grammar

A compound adjective is sometimes called a hyphenated adjective. What are they?

Let's look at the following sentences:

• I saw a man-eating alligator.

• I saw a man eating alligator.

The first sentence contains a compound adjective.

The second sentence doesn't.

However the meaning of the two sentences are very different as can be seen in the picture below:

I saw a man-eating alligator.

We are describing the alligator. What type of alligator is it? It is one that eats men (or people).

I saw a man eating alligator.

This sentence without the hyphen sounds like a man is eating an alligator.

(man is the subject, eating is the verb, alligator is the object or thing that is being eaten).

As you can see, the hyphen (or lack of it) makes a big difference in the meaning of the sentence.

Before we explain in more detail why we put that hyphen between those two words in the first sentence, we need to do a quick review of Adjectives.

What is an adjective?

An adjective is a word that describes something.

A red car (red is an adjective because it describes the car. How is the car? Red)

A big book (big is an adjective because it describes the book. How is the book? Big)

See our other grammar notes about Adjectives in English. (LINK coming soon)

But sometimes we use more than one adjective to describe something.

Compound adjectives

A compound adjective is an adjective that contains two or more words.

In general we put a hyphen between two or more words (before a noun) when we want them to act as a single idea (adjective) that describes something.

• I live in an English-speaking country.

English-speaking is an adjective (used to describe the country). We use a hyphen to connect the word English with speaking to show that it is one adjective (or one idea).

This adjective with two words joined by the hyphen is called a compound adjective.

Some more examples of compound adjectives are:

• Our office is in a twenty-storey building.

• I have just finished reading a 300-page book.

• He is a well-known writer.

There are many types of Compound Adjectives. Here is a list of the most common types:

Periods of Time

When he have compound adjectives using a number + a time period, that word referring to a time period is in singular form and is joined to the number with a hyphen.

• I work eight hours every day --> I work an eight-hour day

• I'm going on vacation for three weeks --> I have a three-week vacation

• There was a delay of 5 seconds --> There was a five-second delay

Notice how we normally write the number as a word, not in numerical form.

Adverbs and Compound Adjectives

Adverbs modify a verb.

• She walks slowly.

How does she walk? Slowly. Slowly is an adverb that modifies (or describes) the verb.

Adverbs can also be used to modify an adjective.

• It is very hot today. (Very is an adverb)

• She is extremely intelligent. (Extremely is an adverb)

Notice how we do not put a hyphen between an adverb and an adjective (not even before a noun).

• It is a very hot day.

• She is an extremely intelligent girl.

Adverb + Past Participle

However when we have an Adverb + past participle, we put a hyphen between the two words to make it a compound adjective.

• This is a brightly-lit room.

• She is a well-known actress.

• We live in a densely-populated city.

Noun + Past Participle

When we have a noun + past participle, we put a hyphen between the two words to make it a compound adjective.

• We should start using wind-powered generators to cut costs.

• I love eating sun-dried raisins.

Noun + Present Participle

When we have a noun + present participle, we put a hyphen between the two words to make it a compound adjective.

• I bought some mouth-watering strawberries.

• That was a record-breaking jump.

Noun + Adjective

When we have a noun + adjective, we put a hyphen between the two words to make it a compound adjective.

• She is a world-famous singer.

• This is a smoke-free restaurant.

Adjective + Noun

When we have an adjective + noun, we put a hyphen between the two words to make it a compound adjective.

• It was a last-minute decision.

• We watched the full-length version of the movie.

Adjective + Past Participle

When we have an adjective + past participle, we put a hyphen between the two words to make it a compound adjective.

• That is an old-fashioned dress

• Reptiles are cold-blooded creatures.

Adjective + Present Participle

When we have an adjective + present participle, we put a hyphen between the two words to make it a compound adjective.

• She is a good-looking girl.

• It left a long-lasting taste in my mouth.

Compound Adjectives with Proper Nouns

A proper noun is the name of something or someone (e.g. John, Susan Sanders).

Compound Adjectives made from Proper nouns don't need a hyphen though must have capital letters.

• I bought the James Jackson tickets for us.

James Jackson is a compound adjective describing the tickets (What type of tickets? James Jackson tickets). Since the adjective is a Proper noun, we don't need a hyphen between the two names.

How do we know when to put a hyphen?

If you can use the word "and" between the two adjectives or words, then a hyphen isn't necessary.

• She has a big blue book.

(Big and Blue are adjectives)

Can we say: She has a big and blue book. (Yes, it is possible)

• He is a world famous singer. (Is this correct?)

Can we say: He is a world and famous singer. No, it doesn't sound correct so we need a hyphen to join the words world and famous:

• He is a world-famous singer. (Correct)

Also, look at the following:

• It's an old coal-mining town

Notice how we didn't put a hyphen between the word old and coal. If we had have done that, we would have been referring to old coal, as in coal that is old. We want to emphasis that the town in old and not the coal.

Here we can say it is old and a coal-mining one.

 If I were you...

English Grammar

At school or in grammar books you are normally taught the following rule:

• I / he / she / it - WAS

• We / you / they - WERE

This is correct when we are talking about the PAST TENSE.

BUT there is another situation in which WERE appears that is not the past tense. It also appears in the SUBJUNCTIVE mood.

First, let's look at the following structure and meaning before explaining why it happens...

If I were you

If I were you ... is used when giving ADVICE about what you would do in the same situation as the other person. You imagine yourself in their position or situation and what you would do or how you would react.

• If I were you, I would study more.

• If I were you, I would stop doing that.

• If I were you, I would go to the doctor.

• if I were you, I would subscribe to the Woodward English YouTube channel right now. :)

• If I were you, I wouldn't play with those wires.

Though in informal (and grammatically incorrect) English, you may hear some people say If I was... This usage doesn't sound good, so avoid it.

You can also change the order of the sentence

• I would study more if I were you.

• I would be more careful if I were you.

• I wouldn't do that if I were you.

Notice how the comma is not necessary with this word order.

Why do you use IF I WERE and not IF I WAS?

The reason we use WERE instead of WAS is because the sentence is in the SUBJUNCTIVE mood which is used for hypothetical situations. This is a condition which is contrary to fact or reality (the fact is, I am NOT you).

In the subjunctive mood we use IF + I / HE / SHE / IT + WERE for the verb To Be.

• If I were not in debt, I would quit my job. (But the contrary is true, I AM in debt, so I cannot quit my job)

• If he were taller, he'd be accepted into the team.

• She would be still be correcting my grammar if she were still alive.

In informal English, you will hear some people say If I was... If he was... etc. Again, this usage doesn't sound good though unfortunately it is common, especially on the internet (and social media sites).

Can IF I WAS ever be correct?

Yes, though the sentence is not in the Subjunctive mood but the Indicative instead. Note that it is not common to use the indicative mood with IF. Let's compare:

• If I was sick, she would give me medicine that tasted terrible. (indicative = states facts or asks questions - in this case, IF can be replaced by WHENEVER)

• If I were sick, I wouldn't be here. (subjunctive = hypothetical - I am not sick, but I'm imagining that hypothetical situation)

If I was your boyfriend... NOOO JB!

There is a song on the radio that goes... "If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go..."

Well, sorry Justin Bieber fans but this is grammatically incorrect.

It should be "If I WERE your boyfriend, I'd never let you go."

Why? Because we are talking about a hypothetical situation of me being your boyfriend. It is not real, it is just a situation I am imagining so we need to use the Subjunctive Mood here.

This song is why English teachers don't like JB - well, one of the reasons. :)

But hey, at least Beyoncé got it right with her song "If I were a boy".

 Like vs. As

English Grammar Rules

We generally use LIKE and AS to make comparisons.


LIKE = similar to; the same as.

The structure of the sentence is usually: VERB + LIKE + NOUN / PRONOUN.

• He speaks like a native speaker. (= He speaks similar to a native speaker)

• She looks like a supermodel.

• You look like him.

• Stop behaving like animals!

LIKE is mainly used as a comparison.


AS = the way; in the same way; in the same condition

The structure of the sentence is usually: AS + SUBJECT + VERB.

• Nobody sings as she does. (= Nobody sings in the same way she does)

• They went to the party as they were.

• Please don't use my plate as an ashtray.

• As I said before, we have to get ready.

Notice how you could replace AS with 'the way' or 'in the same way' and maintain the same meaning.

It is common in American English to use LIKE instead of AS. However, it is generally considered informal to use it in this way.

• We play football like champions do.

Another use of AS is to say what the role/position/function of a person/thing is.

• He started work as a carpenter.

• She used the tapestry as decoration in her living room.

• I worked as an English teacher at the school.


Be careful, in similar sentences that use LIKE and AS, the meanings of each sentence are very different. For example:

• As your boss, I must warn you to be careful. (I am your boss - I am in the role of boss - REALITY.)

• Like your boss, I must warn you to be careful. (I am not your boss, but he/she and I have a similar opinion. - COMPARISON)

Another example with different meanings:

• This curry is hot, like all good curries. (Like + Noun Phrase)

= Similar to all good curries

• This curry is hot, as it should be. (As + Clause)

= Comparing to the way a curry should be. Notice how after AS there is a Subject + Verb (= a clause)


In English we also use as if to make comparisons. However it has a few distinct characteristics to its use:

  1. The verb after AS IF is always in the past subjunctive, no matter what tense the sentence is.

  2. If the verb BE directly follows AS IF, we use were for all personal pronouns.

• He looks as if he knew the answer... but he doesn't.

(The verbs LOOKS indicates this sentence is in the present – but the verb after AS IF – knew - is in the past subjuntive).

• She walks as if she were a supermodel.

(The verb after AS IF – be – has been changed to were and not was).

• He boarded the airplane as if he were a seasoned traveller.

• He spends money as if he owned a bank.

Using AS + Adjective + AS

We use this structure to talk about people, animals or things which are equal in some way. This is a form of comparison.

• Chris is as tall as his brother.

 Passive Voice

English Grammar Rules

The Passive Voice is used in English when the person or thing that is receiving the action is more important than the person or thing that is performing the action.

The structure of a sentence in the passive is as follows:

Object + To Be + Past Participle

Look at the structure of the following sentences in the active and the passive voice to understand the difference in structure.

• I sent Christmas cards to all my friends. (Active)

• Christmas cards were sent to all my friends. (Passive)

• The earthquake destroyed the town last night. (Active)

• The town was destroyed last night. (Passive)

In these examples, you can see it is the action / result that is the most important factor in the passive sentences.

When to use the Passive Voice

  1. It is used when the person/thing performing the action is unimportant or unknown.

e.g. Our car was stolen last night.

  1. It is used when it is obvious who/what is performing the action.

e.g. Cameron was sacked last week.

  1. It is used to describe factual information, especially when describing a process.

e.g. The lasagna is baked in an oven for 35 minutes at 250 degrees Celsius.

  1. It is used in news reports and to give instructions.

e.g. Five people were arrested at a nightclub last night.

While it is possible to use this structure in a large variety of tenses in English, it is rare to use the passive in Future Continuous, Present Perfect Continuous, Past Perfect Continuous or Future Perfect Continuous tenses.

Below are examples of the passive in a range of verb tenses.

To Be Past Participle Tense

The butter is kept here. Present Simple

The window was broken. Past Simple

The work will be done soon. Future Simple

The bridge is being repaired. Present Continuous

The cheese was being eaten by mice. Past Continuous

Our work has been finished. Present Perfect

The car hadn't been used much. Past Perfect

The house will have been built by then. Future Perfect

The shelf can't be reached. Modal Verb - Can

The task must be done now. Modal Verb - Must

The lesson may be finished. Modal Verb - May

The car ought to be repaired. Modal Verb

 So - Neither - Either

English Grammar Rules


SO is used to show agreement with positive statements.

SO + Auxiliary/Be + Subject (pronoun)

The Auxiliary (or To Be/Have) needs to agree with the verb tense in the original statement.

It is similar to using TOO at the end of a sentence.

Person A Person B

I am happy. So am I. = I am happy too.

I'm going to Brazil in the summer. So am I. = I am going to Brazil too.

You look nice today. So do you. = You look nice too.

Stephanie has a new boyfriend. So does Mary. = Mary has a new one too.

We went to the concert last night. So did I. = I went to the concert too.

I would love a coffee right now. So would I. = I would love a coffee too.

He will win a prize. So will I. = I will win one too.

They have finished their homework. So have I. = I have finished too.

I can speak two languages. So can I. = I can speak two too.

He should study more. So should I. = I should study more too.

We could see the mountains. So could we. = We could see them too.

My brother had eaten too much. So had I. = I had eaten too much too.

Sometimes you can use So + Auxiliary + Subject as a continuation of the first part of the sentence.

• John can sing well and so can his brother.

(= John can sing will and his brother can sing well too)


Neither is used to show agreement with negative statements.

Neither + Auxiliary + Subject (pronoun)

The Auxiliary needs to agree with the verb tense in the original statement.

It is similar to using either at the end of a sentence, although Neither is more commonly used, especially in spoken English.

A: I don't understand Spanish.

B: Neither do I. (= I don't understand Spanish either.)

A: I cannot swim.

B: Neither can I. (= I can't swim either.)

Sometimes people respond Me Neither instead of Neither + Auxiliary + Subject though this is very informal spoken English.

Person A Person B

I am not hungry. Neither am I. = I'm not hungry either.

I'm not going to quit. Neither am I. = I'm not going to quit either.

They don't speak French. Neither do I. = I don't speak French either.

Stephanie doesn't eat meat. Neither does Mary. = Mary doesn't eat meat either.

Mary didn't go to the party. Neither did I. = I didn't go either.

I wouldn't like to do his job. Neither would I. = I wouldn't like to do it either.

He won't stop talking. Neither will you. = You won't stop either.

You haven't finished your meal. Neither have you. = You haven't finished either.

I can't reach the top shelf. Neither can I. = I can't reach it either.

You shouldn't talk in the movie. Neither should you. = You shouldn't talk either.

We couldn't hear him. Neither could we. = We couldn't hear him either.

I hadn't seen her before. Neither had I. = I hadn't seen her before either.

 Third Conditional

English Grammar

When we are talking about something in the past which cannot be altered now, we use:

If + Past Perfect, would have + past participle

EXAMPLE: If you had studied all of these grammar pages, you would have passed the exam.

You can not alter or change the past. You didn't study in the past (something you cannot change now) so you didn't pass the exam. It is an imaginary situation that didn't happen.

• If you had been more careful, you wouldn't have had an accident.

• If I had seen you, I would have said hello.

• If he had asked me, I would have helped him.

• If you had studied, they would have passed the exam.

• If I had known, I wouldn't have done that.

Notice how this tense can be used to say that you regret doing something or when you are telling someone off (reproaching someone). This type of conditional can also be used when making excuses.

We can also change the word order of the sentence...

Would have + If + past perfect

EXAMPLE: You would have passed the exam if you had studied all of these grammar pages.

• I wouldn't have left my job if I had known how difficult it is to find another one.

• I would have taken a photo if I had brought my camera with me.

• He would have died if the ambulance hadn't arrived quickly.

• She would have gone to your birthday party if she hadn't been sick.

• He wouldn't have become lost if he had taken the map with him.

• The team would have won if the referee hadn't taken the bribe.

• You wouldn't haved needed fillings if you had brushed your teeth more frequently.

 Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

English Grammar

Verbs in English can be divided into two groups:

Transitive verbs and Intransitive verbs.


Transitive verbs require an object to complete their meaning.

Imagine that I say:

• I bought.

This sentence is incomplete. There is information that is missing.

You are probably wondering what I bought. (What did you buy Rob?)

Why is this sentence incomplete?

Because BOUGHT (the past of buy) is a transitive verb and a transitive verb needs an object after it to complete the sentence. The object after a transitive verb can be a noun or a pronoun.

• I bought a car.

Now the sentence is complete and we can understand it. We added the object "a car" after the verb.

Let’s look at some other examples.

If someone says:

• She likes. (incomplete - incorrect)

You probably think … She likes WHAT? (What does she like?)

Like is a transitive verb so we need an object after the verb.

• She likes chocolate.

Now we know what she likes so this sentence is complete and correct.

• I invited Angelica.

You cannot just say I invited because the sentence is incomplete. The person who is listening would probably ask "Whom did you invite?" So we need an object (in this case a person) after the transitive verb invite.

• I cut my finger.

You cannot just say I cut because the sentence is incomplete. The person who is listening would probably ask "Cut what?"

Cut is a transitive verb because you need to cut something (an object, a thing).

• The man stole a bike.

We need to say WHAT the man stole in order to understand the sentence/situation. Steal (stole is the past tense of steal) is a transitive verb. The object in this sentence is the bike.

So we have seen that transitive verbs need an object after them.

This object receives the action of the verb.

Transitive verbs always ask "what?" or "whom?"

• What did you buy? – I bought a car.

• What did you cut? – I cut my finger.

• Whom did she invite? – I invited Angelica.

Subject + transitive verb + object

The same rules apply to phrasal verbs.

If someone says: "I’m looking for"

You would automatically think "Looking for what? Looking for whom?"

We need to add an object to make the sentence complete.

• I am looking for my passport.

My passport is the object (that you are looking for)

More about transitive phrasal verbs here: Transitive and Intransitive Phrasal Verbs

Transitive Verbs – Passive Form

Transitive verbs can have a passive form.

Active: Subject + transitive verb + object

Passive: Object + was/were + transitive verb (+ by subject)

• Thieves stole his car. (active)

• His car was stolen. (passive)

• Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. (active)

• The light bulb was invented by Thomas Edison. (passive)

• They sold some books. (active)

• Some books were sold. (passive)

Learn more about the passive voice.

Example sentences using TRANSITIVE verbs

• We enjoyed the concert.

• I opened the door.

• She kicked the ball.

• He took me to a restaurant.

• I saw an accident.

• He copied my answer.


Intransitive verbs cannot have a direct object after them.

The subject is doing the action of the verb and nothing receives the action. An intransitive verb does not pass the action to an object.

• He arrived.

Here we cannot have an object after the intransitive verb arrive.

You cannot "arrive something" (incorrect).

An intransitive verb expresses an action that is complete in itself and it doesn’t need an object to receive the action.

• The baby smiled.

Here we cannot have an object after the intransitive verb smiled.

You cannot "smile something" (incorrect).

• The apple fell from the tree.

You cannot "fall something" so the verb is intransitive.

"From the tree" is not an object, it is an adverbial phrase ( = it acts like an adverb and tells us where it happened).

The same rules apply to intransitive phrasal verbs. You cannot have an object after an intransitive phrasal verb.

• I get up at 6 every morning.

Example sentences using INTRANSITIVE verbs

• We arrived around midday.

• She sneezed loudly.

• Your baby cries a lot.

• His grandfather died last year.

• The rain fell heavily.

• I was waiting but nothing happened.

• The jokes were not funny and nobody laughed.

• I walk to work every day.

• We sat on the bench.

• He stood in the corner.

• We waited but nobody came.

Verbs that are Transitive and Intransitive

Many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive.

They can be transitive in one sentence and intransitive in another sentence.

(These are called ambitransitive verbs)

• You have grown since I last saw you. (intransitive)

• You have grown a beard since I last saw you. (transitive)

Sometimes the meaning changes depending on whether the verb is transitive or intransitive

• He runs along the beach every morning (intransitive: run – the action/sport)

• He runs a small grocery store (transitive: run = manage)

• The plane will take off in five minutes. (intransitive: take off = to leave the ground and begin to fly)

• Please take off your shoes before entering the house. (transitive: take off = to remove something)

Example sentences of verbs that are both transitive and intransitive

(transitive) - (intransitive)

I stopped the car. – The car stopped.

I broke my coffee mug. – My coffee mug broke.

The summer heat melted my ice cream. – My ice cream melted.

She speaks Arabic. – She speaks very quickly.

Mike is reading a book. – Mike is reading.

New Zealand won the match. – New Zealand won.

A good dictionary will tell you whether a verb is transitive (usually vt. or tr. next to the verb in dictionaries) or intransitive (vi. or intr.)

 Whoever - Whatever - Whenever

English Grammar Rules

We can think about the W-ever words semantically as the 'W' word + the quantifier 'any'. The trick to understanding these terms is to realise that they apply to any single one of the referents, and at the same time refer to all of the referents.

• Whatever - Any thing (This could also be every thing)

• Whenever - Any time (This could also be 'every time')

• Wherever - Any 'where' (Anywhere or everywhere).

• Whoever - Anyone (Any person or every person, or sometimes used to refer to a person unknown to the speaker)

• Whichever - Any 'which' (Choice between a group or set).

• However - Any 'way' (In any manner or way, regardless of how).

Basically each one means:

"It does not matter what / when / where etc." OR

"An unknown thing / time / place etc."

Examples of Whatever

Whatever you do, pay attention to the road when you are driving.

(You can do anything as long as you pay attention to the road)

They say you can buy whatever you desire in Harrods, as long as you have the money.

(You can buy anything in Harrods, if you have enough money)

The student was so intelligent that whatever we taught, she understood.

(She understood everything that she was taught)

The criminal said he would do whatever he could in order to get out of jail.

(He would do everything or anything he could to get out of jail)

Examples of Whenever

Whenever the neighbours flush the toilet, water comes through our ceiling.

(Every time they flush the toilet it happens)

Whenever she calls, the landlord is busy.

(Every time she calls the landlord, he/she is busy)

Call me whenever you need something.

(Call me any time you need something)

Whenever he comes home, he acts like a hungry dog.

(Ever time he comes home, she is like that)

Whenever I go to sleep early, I have extraordinary dreams.

(Every time I go to sleep early, I have these dreams)

Examples of Wherever

Wherever you go in the world, remember where you came from and where you are going.

(Anywhere you go in the world, remember those things)

With a good education in English, wherever you go, you will have a good time.

(If you are taught well, you will have a good time anywhere)

Wherever we put the TV in the room, the reception is bad.

(Anywhere we put the TV the reception is bad)

You can put the present that she gave you wherever you want, just don't let her know if you put it in the trash.

(You can put that present anywhere)

Examples of Whoever

Whoever broke the vase, can you please replace it?

(Any specific person who broke the vase, please replace it)

Whoever goes to the shop, please don't steal anything.

(Any one or more of the people who will go to the shop, don't steal anything)

Whoever it was that knocked on the door last night must have been drunk, because they dropped twenty dollars as they ran away.

(The unknown person who knocked on the door dropped twenty dollars)

Whoever you just spoke to, she must have some special powers, because you look like you fell in love.

(The unknown person who you spoke with must have some special powers)

Examples of Whichever

You can drive whichever of the cars you want.

(You can choose to drive any of the cars)

Whichever dress I wear tonight, I'm worried that my butt will look fat. What do you think?

(Person is worried that the person's butt looks fat in any of the selected dresses)

Whichever road you take to Rome, you will need to drive carefully.

(There are a number of roads to take, and it is necessary to drive carefully on any one that you take)

Whichever pizza you ordered for her, it must have had some very delicious ingredients.

(The pizza that was ordered from those available had some special ingredients)

Examples of However

You can dress however you like for the party, it's not formal.

(You can dress the way that you want for the party)

However much she eats, she never puts on weight.

(It doesn't matter how much she eats, she never gets fat)

You can do it however you like, I don't really care as long as it gets done.

(you can do it any way that you want)

However rich they may be, it still isn't enough for them.

(It doesn't matter how rich they may be)

Esemuede Cyprain received the B.Sc. degree in Computer

engineering from the University of AAU (Ambrose Alli University, in 2006. He

received the M.Sc. degree in Software engineering from the

UNIBEN- Nigeria, in 2012. Currently, Assistance

lecturer in Kings Polytechnic,He grew up in Delta State, Nigeria.

His research interests

include Cloud Computing, Green Computing, Internet of Things and

Wireless Networking.

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