Basic English Grammar: Certain Techniques Used by an Indian Teacher Presented to Share the Pleasure


Indians have great love and admiration for English language. This is, in spite of the onslaught by various Governments in Independent India, giving importance to native languages. English teachers are one of the most respected lots among the society. Each teacher has his technique in teaching English. The author of this article, as a freelance teacher to adults has some methods to teach Grammar. Nine of them are listed in the following paragraphs.

I. Parts of Speech compared to Parts of Human Body:

The author used to compare the 8 parts of speech to a gorgeously dressed woman as follows:

1. Nouns and Pronouns: Head.

2 adjectives and adverbs: Garments and ornaments.

3. Prepositions and conjunctions: Various joints of the body.

4. Interjections: Footwear.

5. Verbs: The LIFE in the human body…

Head is the most important part of the physical body. Likewise nouns (and pronouns) form the subject and object of a sentence and lead the sentences in active and passive voices respectively. The subject noun is the Karta (doer, owner) of the sentence which it leads. & it determines the nature of the verb depending on numbers (singular or plural),

Adjectives and adverbs are like ornaments and garments adding lustre and beauty to a sentence. A garment is not a part of the physical body but required to glorify a sentence. A person who knows the best use of adjectives stands unique in writing and speaking English. The problem with Indians lies mainly with usage of adjectives. They wish to speak impressive English and most of the time they fail because of lack of vocabulary in adjectives and adverbs.

Prepositions and conjunctions are like internal joints, joining various parts and positioning them. The body cannot function properly without these joints. A sentence will be complete only when conjunctions and prepositions are properly formed. Otherwise one has to depend upon sign language only.

Thus, we have briefly seen a comparison of parts of speech to parts of human body leaving discussions about VERBS to the following paragraphs.

II. Verbs Play the Vital Role in Forming the Sentences:

This article mainly considers the role of verbs in English language. The verb formulates a complete sentence. Sometimes, it may be hidden. But without a verb there is no sentence. So, let us consider some interesting aspects of verbs in this brief article.

Hidden Verbs:

There are three helping verbs which are hidden in most of the times, occasionally coming out. They are ‘do’, ‘does’ and ‘did’.

Examples using the helping verb ‘do’:

‘I take my daily food in hotels’ implies that ‘I do take my daily food in hotel. Here the word ‘do’ is hidden. Rarely it comes out in the open like ‘I do take my food in hotels’ only when I wish to stress that I take food in hotels emphasizing the fact.

The following sentences may be stressed by separating ‘do’:

They (do) assist poor students.

I (do) complete my homework in time.

You (do) watch sky every night.

Another place where ‘do’ comes to open is when making it a question.

Do they assist poor students?

Do (not) I complete my homework in time?

Do you watch sky every night?

Examples’ using the hidden verb ‘does’:

The verb does is used only for third person singular subjects,

My son (does) go to school by 9 A.M.

She (does) sing very well.

He (does) like hot coffee.

Here also the word ‘does’ is separated from the main verb for emphasising and for asking questions.

In the same way the helping verb ‘did’ is used in past tense in all the nouns. Readers may try a few sentences using this past tense helping verb.

These simple examples were given to drive home the point that in simple present tense and simple past tense the helping verbs ‘do’, ‘does’ and ‘did’ are hidden and in all other tenses, the helping verbs precede the main verbs. This implies the fact that in English language all verbs are accompanied by helping verbs. Examples of other helping verbs are ‘may, can, will’ etc. Readers may refer to any text book and note that action verbs are always preceded by a helping verb or by a hidden verb as explained above.

This aspect of English language is very much recognised by English teachers in India.

III. Use of ‘An’, Striking Resemblance in English and Tamil Pronunciations:

Indian students are very much aware that the article ‘an’ is to be used before any singular noun starting with a vowel. They promptly answer that a,e,i,o,u are the five vowels in English equivalent to 12 vowels in Tamil language. Some teachers explain that there is another alphabet which does the work of vowel and that letter is ‘y’. This is because, combined with alphabets the letter ‘y’ forms consonants (like my, why, gym, rhyme etc).

What interests us more is use of the article ‘an’. The rule is that, a singular noun starting with a vowel is preceded by ‘an’. That is true in the cases of a, e, i, o. But not so in ‘u’, because it has two ways of pronunciation: first like ‘yu’ (United Nations) and the second as ‘a’ (American) in umbrella. When it is true that an umbrella is right, the phrase ‘an useful idea’ is wrong. (It is a useful idea)

It leads us to the conclusion that pronunciation is the criterion to select between ‘a’ and ‘an’ and not the syllable and that is why it is pronounced ‘an hour, an honest man’ etc (because ‘h’ is silent)

In other words, whenever a singular noun starts with the sound of a Tamil vowel. We should use ‘an’. This is because all the 12 vowels of Tamil language can be contained in the pronunciation of 4 vowels a, e, i, o of English language.

This fact is very much appreciated by English teachers who speak Tamil and Tamil students who learn English are pleasantly surprised over this striking similarity.

IV: Genders: Similarity between Tamil and English

There is another striking similarity between Tamil and English in formation of nouns representing genders. In Tamil there are two broad categories. The first is ‘higher’ category and the second is ‘lower’ category. The higher category is further divided into two as masculine and feminine genders. There is no gender for the lower category. The same formula is followed in English also. There are masculine, feminine and neuter genders (neither masculine nor feminine). In other words, in both the languages, gender is fixed only for living beings depending on the sex and inanimate beings are only neuter genders (save exceptional circumstances like Motherland etc). It is not so in the case of most of the languages like French, Sanskrit, Urdu, Hindi etc.wherein Gender is fixed for inanimate objects also depending upon the pronunciation. This is a one reason why Indians prefer learning English to other languages.

V. Silent letters:

There are several interesting aspects in English teaching admired by native Indian, especially Tamil speaking teachers. Normally an Indian student starts learning English from the tender age of three. Hence the grammar rules are very deeply inscribed in them. One such rule students learn from the beginning of school days is ‘Silent letters’ in some English words. Both the teachers and the students derive lot of pleasure in locating the silent letters as the case may be.

Some examples of words with silent letters are: Apostle, coup, corps, Wednesday, handkerchief, listen, castle, and whistle.

Readers may collect any number of words with silent letters as a hobby.

VI. Subject, predicate, object compared to an electric locomotive train:

The subject of any sentence is compared to the ENGINE of a locomotive and the entire predicate forms the carriages attached to the engine. The object is compared to the guard van which is the last compartment of the train.

This example is used to explain active and passive voices. In active voice the subject (engine) carries the entire train whereas in passive voice, the guard van becomes the engine and carries the wagon (like a local train which reverses its sides in the terminus). Conversion of object into subject is explained using various examples. In passive voice the object of the active is converted as the subject and the subject is converted as adjective phrase

E.g.: The newspapers flashed the news: Active

The news was flashed by the newspapers: Passive)

‘The news’ is the object in active form and it becomes the engine in passive form and ‘flashed by the newspapers’ is an adjective phrase in passive forms. Dozens of sentences of this type are explained to the students to impress upon them how passive voice is an important technique in English language to form more emphatic and impressive sentences than active voice.

The term ‘adjective phrase’ requires further explanation. The word ‘flashed’ is not past tense but it is a past participle. Past Participles are used in all perfect tenses and passive voice sentences. Sometimes they form the sentences independently (subject and verbs hidden) like: killed, passed, liberated etc. These forms of sentences are used in Newspaper headings, telegrams, sports etc. “Bowled’, ‘caught’ are the two very famous slogans in cricket, meaning that somebody is caught or bowled out.

VII. Uses of Participles:

The concept that past participles are adjectives leads us to another important conclusion. In fact there are three participles: Present, past and perfect. Present participles are derived by adding ‘ing’ to a verb. Added with an auxiliary verb it does the work of forming a continuous tense. & secondly it does the work of adjectives like: drinking water, writing table, swimming pool, dancing girl etc. The third work is that they do the work of nouns which are named as ‘gerunds’. Examples are: Smoking is injurious to health, Swimming is good for health, seeing is believing etc.

Perfect participle is adding, ‘having’ with the past participle.

Having come to India, I wish to see Tajmahal. Having seen the film once, I do not wish to see it again.

VIII. ‘Frozen’ VERBS and ‘Melted’ NOUNS:

The author is glad to submit these two concepts which may be new for some of the readers. We know that the main function of a verb is to convey the tense in which an action takes place which no other part of speech does. That is why verbs are defined as the ‘life’ of a sentence in the sense that verbs keep the time of action felt. School students learn present and past tenses of a verb and normally another form known as past participle is given. (E.g.: do-did-done). The third form does not represent any tense but they are adjectives. In the above paragraph, it was explained how they perform the function of adjectives and how do they form the sentences independently.

Another use of past participle is that the verbs become NOUNS in the form of past participles. That is what the author describes as ‘frozen’ verbs because they no longer represent tenses. Let a few examples be given as follows:

dig, drink, set, shake, slit, stand, strike, hit, leave, aim, act, clash, lift, permit, report, comb,

award, help, pay, answer, ban, cheat, deposit, digest, control, curse etc.

These verbs show various tenses when used with appropriate helping verbs, function as adjectives and in addition, they act as nouns also. It may be noted that the above are nouns though their root form are verbs. In other words they are frozen to become nouns.

When verbs are frozen to make nouns as above, some nouns are ‘melted’ to make verbs. Please note the following sentences:

The murder convict was ‘sentenced’ to life imprisonment. (Sentence)

The gangster was knifed to death. (Knife)

He penned a letter to his girlfriend. (Pen)

Several heads were guillotined. (Guillotine)

It is a doctored report. (Doctor)

He engineered a master plan to usurp the wealth. (Engineer)

The extra cautious father policed his daughter’s movement. (Police)

Readers can identify hundreds of nouns formed out of verbs known as perfect nouns and also verbs made up of nouns as above. Usage of such nouns and verbs will add lustre to the beauty of the language used.

IX. Origin and root of words:

Another most useful exercise for English learners is to go deep into origin of any word including its root, spellings etc along with equivalent words. For this purpose, a learner should always possess a dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopaedia. The student should always refer the above till he is fully confirmed about a word’s usage.

It is a very useful and interesting exercise to find out the origin of English word, sometimes from other languages too. A very few examples are given here below:

addenda, agenda, alma mater, de facto, errata,ibidem, ipso facto, prima facie are some of the words borrowed from Latin and Greek,

Adieu, chauffeur, coup, elite, octroi are from French.

There are some Sanskrit and Tamil words also converted as perfect English. It will be a fruitful exercise to go through a dictionary to find out such words.

Likewise, English has mixed in India to such an extent that even the most illiterate people use pure English words totally forgetting original native equivalent words. In Indian bus stands, it will be a common sight to see rustic ladies selling, ‘distilled water, seedless fruits, sugarless tea’ shouting the same phrases. For most of the English words, they do not know vernacular equivalents.

Other useful exercises suggested by this author are to go through the newspapers regularly and also watch English channels. It should be followed by noting unknown words and consulting dictionary to know the meanings. Only this exercise will improve the vocabulary and it is a permanent asset for a learner.


This article is a condensation of an Indian teacher who teaches English as adult education. Certain essential aspects of grammar with special reference to various parts of speech were explained. It was insisted to refer to the dictionary on all the occasions. No doubt, the article deals with basic grammar only, but a strong base is required to construct a strong building. We may be able to see more advanced topics in days to come.

It is sincerely hoped that readers will surely share the pleasure which the teacher enjoyed in teaching Basic English grammar.

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