Either…or and neither…nor are used to make choices or compare two things. The difference is that the first is affirmative and is used to offer a clear choice between two things, whereas the second is negative and is used to eliminate both options.
- one or the other, but not both
- used with singular verb forms and pronouns
Example: Either you get a job or you go back to school. (One choice to make, you must do one or the other.)
- not the first one and not the second one
- used with singular verb forms and pronouns
Example: Neither Tim nor Julie are very interested going to Paris. (Nobody wants to go to Paris.)
Articles are used along with nouns to form noun phrases. Other languages have additional articles related to gender, number and case, but in English articles are either indefinite or definite. The indefinite articles are a and an, while the is the definite article. Additionally, there are several situations in English in which no article is used. The difference in use between a/an is a simple matter of the sound that follows the article.
- jobs or professions
e.g. I am a teacher.
- the first mention of a noun
e.g. I want to buy a house.
- used when the sound that follows the article is a consonant sound
e.g. The city has decided to build a university.
Note: university starts with a vowel, but the sound is pronounced using the y sound before the u sound: yoo-ni-ver-sity
- jobs or professions
e.g. I am an executive assistant.
- the first mention of a noun
e.g. I’ll have an egg and toast for breakfast this morning, please.
- used when the sound that follows the article is a vowel sound
e.g. While I was out hiking last weekend, I stumbled across an unusual situation.
Note: unusual starts with a vowel, and the sound pronounced is the short sound for u: uhn-yoo-jzoo-uhl
- a specific member of a group
e.g. When a petty argument broke out, the chairperson adjourned the meeting.
- there is only one of a thing, or it is obvious
e.g. I wanted to buy a souvenir, but the shopkeeper was too busy helping other customers.
- something unique in the world
e.g. Tomorrow’s annular eclipse of the sun promises to be an exciting astronomical event.
- specific groups of people
e.g. A recent story in the news proved that the ultra-rich are paying less than the middle class.
- ordinal numbers
e.g. I got in the queue at the technology store at 4 a.m. to be the first to buy the new product.
e.g. The thriftiest shoppers go to second-hand stores to find great bargains year-round.
- after the first mention of a noun
e.g. I think the egg I had for breakfast gave me a stomach ache.
e.g. Mexicans tend to be more warm and friendly than their neighbors to the north.
- names of continents
e.g. There are three nations in North America: Canada, the United States and Canada.
e.g. My favorite flavors of foods come from Latin America and Southeast Asia.
- individual mountains and lakes
e.g. The snow-capped volcano called Nevado de Toluca is located about an hour to the southwest of Mexico City.
e.g. Mexico’s largest lake is Lake Chapala, located on the border between the states of Jalisco and Michoacán.
- most countries
e.g. The United States is located in North America between Canada and Mexico.
Note: There are a handful countries that use “the” as part of their names: The Bahamas, The Maldives, (The) Gambia, The Democratic Republic of The Congo, The United States, The Netherlands.
The passive voice is not a verb tense, but rather a “voice” used in place of active voice verb tenses when what happened is more important than who did it, or when we don’t know who did the action. It is also commonly used for academic and business purposes.
The counterpoint to the passive voice is the active voice, the default voice used for most communication.
- the basic form of the passive voice pairs the verb ‘be’ with a past participle. A ‘by’ statement may also be used to emphasize who did the action, but its use is optional.
e.g. be + past participle ( + by )
- The active subject becomes the agent in the passive, designated using a ‘by’ statement, which is optional.
- The active object becomes the subject in the passive.
- The active verb is converted to its passive form by conjugating the verb ‘be’ to the corresponding verb tense and pairing it with the active verb’s past participle form.
- Prepositional phrases remain unchanged in the passive, but their position may change based on the context.
- Present Simple: is/am/are + past participle
- Active: Most people believe that global warming is humanity’s most pressing issue.
- Passive: It is believed that global warming is humanity’s most pressing issue.
- Past Simple: was/were + past participle
- Active: The crew filmed the movie in Spain.
- Passive: The movie was filmed in Spain.
- Future (will): will + verb + past participle
- Active: The janitorial service will clean the house next week.
- Passive: The house will be cleaned next week.
When referencing the past in English, there are many forms to employ depending on the context, including time references, sequencing, and relevance to the present.
Below are brief explanations of each, including information about how they are conjugated or constructed with relevant examples demonstrating the tense in bold.
- Present perfect: connects the past to the present; used when an action started in the past is unfinished or remains relevant in the present
Form: have/has + past participle
e.g. I have belonged to the association since earning my degree at the university.
e.g. He has returned to his family’s ancestral city to research their history.
- Present perfect continuous: connects the past to the present, used when an action started in the past continues in the present
Form: have/has + been + -ing (gerund/present participle)
e.g. I have been working long days the past month or so in order to buy a car.
e.g. He has been trying so hard to facilitate a family meeting, but his sisters are being belligerent.
- Past simple: Used to discuss past events that are finished
Form: conjugate the infinitive form of the verb, adding -ed to the end; watch out for irregulars
e.g. I cooked tacos for dinner, are you hungry? (cook + -ed ending = past simple of cook)
e.g. I read 3 books a week when I was in grade school. (read is irregular in the past tense)
- Past continuous: One of the narrative tenses, used to set the scene in a story, and to describe continuing actions in the past
Form: was/were + -ing (gerund/present participle)
e.g. I was walking through the park one day in the month of May.
e.g. We were singing around the camp fire when a big, hungry bear appeared out of nowhere.
- Past participles: Used in passive and perfect constructions, may also used as an adjective
Form: identical to the past simple, except for irregulars;
e.g. talk > talked
e.g. read > read (irregular)
e.g. speak > spoken (irregular)
e.g. frost > frosted glass (past participles are also used as adjectives)
- Past perfect: One of the narrative tenses used to sequence events in the past
Form: had + past participle
e.g. I had just finished my dinner when the building began to shake.
- Past perfect continuous: One of the narrative tenses, used to sequence ongoing events in the past
Form: had + been + -ing (gerund/present participle)
e.g. I had been walking along the bay to work for years before the new streetcar line opened.
- Past and Speculative modals: Used to express regret or criticism about the past, discuss past possibilities, and to speculate about past situations
Form: (should/could/would/may/might/must/can’t) + have + past participle
e.g. They should have called mother before making the trip across town for her surprise birthday party.
e.g. If I had known about the problem, I could have done more to help resolve it.
e.g. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to check visa requirements before getting on the plane.
e.g. He may have wanted more information about the promotion before making his purchase.
e.g. I might have rescheduled my vacation had I known the hotel was under construction.
e.g. I must have left my cellular at home this morning.
e.g. I can’t have forgotten my wedding anniversary again!
Additionally, all past tenses may be used in the passive, which is not a tense but a “voice” that emphasizes what happened rather than who did the action.
- Past passive forms: passive forms of each tense are used in situations where what happened is more important than who did it
Form: be + past participle, with the addition of has/have/had for passive perfect forms.
- Infinitive: The UFO was believed to have been spotted near Roswell, New Mexico.
Form: was/were + past participle + infinitive + been + past participle
- Present perfect: A general strike has been called on Tuesday to protest the tax increase recently approved by Congress.
Form: has/have + been + past participle
- Present perfect continuous: Artisan crafts have been being produced in the same houses by the same families for centuries.
Form: has/have + been + gerund + past participle
- Past simple: The package was delivered last Tuesday.
Form: was/were + past participle
- Past continuous: The new floor was being installed when it caught on fire and burned down the house.
Form: was/were + being + past participle
- Past perfect: A nuclear arms agreement had been reached before the war began, easing concern around the world.
Form: had + been + past participle
- Past perfect continuous: The project had been proceeding as expected when suddenly its funding was pulled.
Form: had + been + gerund
- Past and Speculative Modals:
(should/could/would/may/might/must/can’t) + have + + been + past participle
e.g. Mother should have been called before everybody made the trip across town for her surprise birthday party.
e.g. If I had known about the problem, more could have been done to help resolve it.
e.g. Such a stunning swap of a priceless piece of art would have been noticed by a professional art historian.
e.g. More information may have been needed about the promotion before making his purchase.
e.g. My vacation might have been rescheduled if I had known the hotel was under construction.
e.g. My suitcase must have been left on the hotel shuttle van.