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February 20, 2012 / dlw43

Verb Tense and Aspect Chart – Verb Tense and Aspect Lesson (Part 1 of 13)

The English language has only two tenses, the past tense and the present tense. For the sake of simplicity, the chart below calls the future a tense as well.  The simple, perfect, progressive, and perfect progressive columns are called aspects.  It is important to understand that tense and aspect modify verbs in different ways.  Tense locates a situation in time, in the past, present, or future.  Aspect is concerned with the structure of time, from the speaker’s point of view. Aspect delineates the “fabric” of time.  Is time, from the speaker’s point of view, a single block, a continuous flow, or a repetitive occurrence? Aspect answers those questions for the listener. Don’t worry about it too much if you don’t quite understand aspect yet.  Just know that tense and aspect affect verbs differently, and you will do just fine.

February 19, 2012 / dlw43

A Modal Verb Chart That Explains the Various Functions of Each Modal Verb

Modal verbs are a subset of helping (auxiliary) verbs.  One might wonder what modal verbs help us do. The answer to that is that modal verbs help English speakers to express probability, ability, obligation, advice, permission, and habits.

How do you express these concepts in your native language? Do you use something similar to modal verbs?

The chart below does an excellent job explaining the various functions of each modal verb.

February 6, 2012 / dlw43

The phrase “a lot of” and “lots of”

Which is correct?

A lot of books is on the floor.


A lot of books are on the floor.

The answer depends on how the collective noun “lot” is being used.  Collective nouns are a subset of count nouns and can take both singular and plural verbs.  

Here is a list of collective nouns:

audience     band        class     committee    crowd

dozen           family      flock     group      heap

herd           jury         kind        lot      [the] number

public       staff         team

When the speaker uses a collective noun to indicate the group as a whole, the verb is singular.

Ex:  The team is playing well today.

It is rare, but a collective noun is sometimes used to indicate a situation in which group members are acting individually.  We can indicate the separate actions of individuals within this group by using a plural verb.

Ex: The team are dining with their loved ones tonight.

Back to “a lot”.  Does the speaker mean the books as a single entity, as in a set, or books as individual items within a group?  The catch is that we don’t know.  The speaker can make a case for using either a plural or singular verb; therefore, it is the listener who needs to know that the speaker means something slightly different when using a collective noun with a plural rather than singular verb.  So, though the combination of collective noun + of + plural count noun  + singular verb sounds awkward and is a rare occurrence, it is not necessarily grammatically incorrect. This is also true for all the other collective nouns besides “lot”.

And what about “lots of”? Well, that’s a bit easier.  A plural verb is always used if the noun that follows of is countable, a singular verb if the noun following of is noncountable.