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A) the DEFINITE ARTICLE =                      the

B) the INDEFINITE ARTICLE          =         a  or an

Some languages have lots of different words for 'the'.   This can depend on:

a) the gender (see page 5) of the noun it is accompanying: e.g. the table

If the word for 'table' happens to be feminine, then the word for 'the' may also have a feminine form.

b) the number (see page 5) of the accompanying noun, that is, whether the noun is singular or plural.

c) the case (see page 5) of the accompanying noun, that is, the function of the noun within the sentence, whether it is the subject, direct object or indirect object.

This is true of German, for example.

d) the first letters of the accompanying noun.  If that noun begins with a vowel, for example, the form of the article is often modified.  Italian, for example, has a more complex system and a larger number of articles than French. Not all languages require the use of articles.  Some languages require them where English does not and some do not require them where English does.


Conjunctions are the words we use to join two or more sentences together:

e.g.  and, but, if, because.

John is an engineer.  He works in Coventry.

John is an engineer and works in Coventry.

I like learning Italian.  It is easy.

I like learning Italian because it is easy.


In English the consonants are the letters such as B, C, D, F, G,  etc.  In short, all the letters other than the vowels: A  E  I  O  U. 

They may differ in other languages.  There may be fewer; there may be more.


An idiom is a particular turn of phrase which cannot be translated literally into another language.  There are thousands of weird and wonderful examples in English:

e.g. this is a pretty kettle of fish, a sticky wicket, a red herring! 

It can be quite fun spotting these in another language and trying to find an equivalent in English that captures the original idea.


Imperatives are commands:

e.g. "Type this up for me, please!", "Let's go!", "Listen, all of you!"


The infinitive is the form of the verb that you normally find in the dictionary.

In English it is often written as the 'to' form:

 e.g. to study, to play, to eat.

In Greek, they choose to put the 'I' form: e.g. 'I study' in the dictionary rather than the 'to' form.


The noun is the name we give to people, things, places, concepts and ideas:

e.g. Mary, friend, person, secretary, book, office, Rome, pleasure, friendship, happiness.


In many languages, nouns are divided into genders.  Depending on the language, they can be masculine, feminine or neuter.  They are labelled in this way because of the way the language has evolved historically.  The things named by nouns may not in themselves contain any intrinsic properties which make them masculine or feminine or neuter.  It is more often than not the actual sound of the noun that makes it masculine, feminine or neuter:

 e.g. Das Mädchen = 'girl' in German is not feminine but neuter!

In certain languages, for example  Spanish and Italian, the endings of the nouns in the majority of cases make them recognisable as masculine or feminine.


Nouns can be singular or plural.  In English we usually add an 's' to indicate a plural noun:

e.g. one friend but two friends.  

Other languages have different conventions for indicating singular and plural and may have more than one form.


Some nouns change their form according to the function they have within a sentence.  As the subject of a sentence, they may have one form but as the object they may have a different form and so on. 

Case systems exist, for example, in German and Russian.


Prepositions show the relationship between things, usually in terms of space, distance, time, etc.

Here are some examples: on;  in;  under;  over;  above; from;  to .

The paper is on the shelf.

The preposition 'on' shows the relationship between 'paper' and 'shelf'.


Pronouns are words we use when we do not wish or need to repeat the noun.

Sandra is a friend of mine.                            "She (Sandra) is a very nice person."

"Whose book is this?"                                                            "It's mine ." (my book)

"Which plan do you prefer?"                        "That one (plan) or this one (plan)?"


Subject pronouns

I, you, he, she, it, we, they

These are the subject pronouns in English.  They are so called because they are the subject of verbs and indicate who or what is doing the action of the verb.

In some languages, the subject pronouns are not always included because it is the ending of the verb which signals who or what is doing the action.

In many languages, there are several ways of saying 'you'.  Which form to use may depend on whether you are addressing one person or more than one.  It may also depend on the relationship between people, for example, whether you are speaking to a friend or merely an acquaintance.

Direct object pronouns

Me, you, him, her, it, us, them.  

In English it is not easy to distinguish between direct object and indirect object pronouns but in many other languages it is very important to do so.  The direct object pronoun indicates the person or thing which directly 'suffers' or 'is affected by' the action of the verb.

Indirect object pronouns

to me, to you, to him, to her, to it, to us, to them.


me, you, him. her, it, us, them

As you can see, in English the difference between direct and indirect object pronouns is not always obvious because the same idea can be expressed in two different ways:  'me' could be either a direct object or an indirect object.

For example, we can say either:

"He gave the letter to me. ."               or:

"He gave me the letter."

In these last two  sentences, it is clearly 'the letter' which is given; 

'the letter' is the direct object but 'me' or 'to me' is also involved as the indirect object of the sentence.

An object pronoun is said to be indirect when it 'suffers' or 'receives' indirectly the action of the verb.

In many languages it is important to recognise whether a pronoun is direct or indirect because often (though not always) the direct object pronoun looks quite different from the indirect object pronoun:

e.g. in French and Italian, the word for 'him' is different from the word for 'to him'.  Equally, the words for 'her' and 'to her', 'them' and 'to them' have quite distinct forms.

Reflexive pronouns

myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, themselves.

In many languages other than English, certain verbs are always accompanied by a reflexive pronoun.  In French, German, Italian and Spanish, for example, you do not say 'I dress' but 'I dress myself',  'you dress yourself', etc.

Possessive pronouns

The possessive pronouns are:

mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, theirs.

Here is an example of a possessive pronoun in use:

"Whose book is this?"                        "It's mine.."

Here the word mine clearly stands for 'my book'.

Demonstrative pronouns

In English, the demonstrative pronouns are:

this (one), that (one), these (ones), those (ones).

These are called demonstrative because you actually have to indicate which one you are referring to.

"Which design do you prefer?   This one (design) or that one (design)?


A syllable is a set of sounds into which you can break up a word.   For example:

cor - res - pond.  A syllable always includes a vowel sound.  It may be important for you to notice on which syllable the stress falls in certain languages so that you can underline it for future reference.  This is always a great help when you come to read over things you have studied and ensures that your intonation is correct.


A verb denotes an action or a state of being:

e.g. work, learn, be, think, live, eat, play hope, try.



Conjugation is the way verbs change in form according to who or what is 'doing' the action of the verb e.g. the verb to work

I                                        work

you                                    work

he, she or it                       works

we                                      work

they                                    work


Notice above that very often there is little change in the verb in English - only the addition of an 's' to the verb endings for 'he', ' she' or 'it'.

In other languages, however, verbs have many different endings which indicate who or what is doing the action. 

For example, in French:

'I work' is         je travaille                    but

'we work' is     nous travaillons           and

'they work' is   ils travaillent

So we have to learn all the forms of the verb (the conjugation) in every tense. 

Fortunately there are patterns which make this easier.  Whenever you see a verb conjugated, it will normally be written out in the following order:

                                                              singular                                            plural

First person:                I           ............                                                         we .............

Second person:           you     ............                                                           you ...........

Third person:              he, she, it, ............                                                     they ..........

So if teachers refer to "the first person singular of the verb to understand", they are referring to the 'I' form, that is, 'I understand'

Regular and irregular verbs

Verbs which follow a regular pattern are called regular verbs:

e.g.        I work                          I have worked                         I worked

Those which do not follow a pattern are called irregular verbs and there:

e.g.        I buy                            I have bought                         I bought


We talk about the tense of a verb when referring to the time at which the action takes place.

A. Broad time spans:

I am learning     refers to the present and is in a present tense.

I learnt              refers to the past and is in a past tense.

I will learn         refers to the future and is in a future tense.

B. Fine tuning:

Generally, there is more than one type of tense within each broad time span because we have to be more specific about the kind of action. 

For example, there is an important difference between these two sentences:

1            I have finished my homework.

2            I was finishing my homework when Jim rang.

Sentence 1 describes a completed action in the past.

Sentence 2 describes an incomplete action in the past

Most languages have two distinct tenses to distinguish between these two kinds of past action.

Active and passive

Verbs can be active or passive.  They are said to be active when the subject does the action of the verb:

e.g. 'The secretary       opened                   the letter.'

              subject            active verb

A verb is said to be passive when the subject suffers the action of the verb.

e.g. 'The letter                     has been opened            by the secretary.'

              subject                         passive verb


The vowels in English are A E I O U.   They are sounds made without closing the mouth.  These do not usually correspond exactly to vowel sounds in other languages.  There are often more vowel sounds in other languages.




The verb is arguably the most important part of the sentence because it indicates the kind of action that is taking place or the state that is being described. 

It also sets the action or state in time:

e.g. 'bought' is set in the past whereas 'will buy' is obviously referring to the future.



The subject of a sentence is the person or thing which performs the action of the verb.  In certain languages, e.g. German, the subject is referred to as the Nominative case:

e.g.        Robert                         studies                       Italian.

              (subject)                     (verb)                          (object)


The subject pronouns - I,  you,  he,  she,  it,  we,  you,  they - are the words which replace the named subject of a sentence:

e.g.        He                                                                                studies                       Italian.

              (subject pronoun)     (verb)                          (object)

Remember, however, that in some languages, their use is not always necessary as there are lots of different endings to the verb and it is these verb endings that indicate who or what is performing the action of the verb.


The object of a sentence is the person or thing which suffers the action of the verb. A          THE DIRECT OBJECT

The direct object is the person or thing which suffers DIRECTLY the action of the verb.  In certain languages e.g. German, the direct object is referred to as the Accusative case and has a form all of its own to distinguish it from the subject (the Nominative case) and indirect object (the Dative case):

e.g.        John                            ate                               the cake.

              (subject)                     (verb)              (direct object)

The direct object pronouns - me,  you,  him,  her,  it,  us,  you,  them  - are the pronouns which replace the direct object of a sentence:

e.g.        John                            ate                               it

              (subject)                     (verb)              (direct object pronoun)


The indirect object is the person or thing which suffers INDIRECTLY the action of the verb and is often (but not always) introduced by a preposition:

For example: to,  at,  for,  with,  by,  etc.  In certain languages, e.g. German, the indirect object is referred to as the Dative case and has a form all of its own to distinguish it from the subject (the Nominative case) and the direct object (the Accusative case).


e.g.        Jill                   gave                the book                      to Sandra.

              (subject)         (verb)              (direct object)            (indirect object)

The indirect object pronouns:

to me, to you, to him, to her, to it, to us, to you, to them   

are the pronouns which replace the indirect object in a sentence:

e.g.        Jill                      gave                the book                to her.

              (subject)         (verb)              (direct object)            (indirect object)


Not all languages have the same way of building sentences as English.  In fact, in many languages words, and the ideas they convey, may be put together in quite a different order. 

For example, in German, you would not say:

'I have sent the fax to the sales manager this afternoon.'

but the equivalent of:

'This afternoon, have I the fax to the sales manager sent'.

Another example, this time from Italian.  To emphasis a point, the subject is often placed at the end of the sentence:

'Maria did it!'              would be the equivalent of:                       'It did, Maria!'

The fact that in many languages, nouns are either masculine or feminine seems a curious notion to native speakers of English and they seek some rationale behind the concept.  In fact, it is often the endings of the nouns which indicate the gender e.g. bureau (desk) is masculine in French because the eau ending is generally masculine, but: scrivania (desk) in Italian is feminine because the ending is generally feminine.