A Little English Reference Guide

by Brett Jocelyn Epstein

This is just a short review of some of the major topics in English grammar, along with a couple of other items. It is not complete and it does not include all the details.


Singular and Plural, Possessive


Infinitives, Present Simple, Present Continuous, Past Tense, Past Continuous, Present Perfect, Present Perfect Continuous, Past Perfect, Past Perfect Continuous, Future, Passive, Helping Verbs, Contractions


Comparison, Superlative



Personal Pronouns, Possessive Pronouns, Reflexive Pronouns


Cardinal Numbers, Ordinal Numbers, How Many Times







Singular and Plural

A noun is a living being, place, or thing.

Examples: person, Paula, boy, dog, table, living room, and notebook.

To make plural nouns, usually you just add an “s” to the word.


one girl – two girls

one cat – two cats

one computer – two computers

There are some exceptions, though.

Nouns that ended in “s” become plural by adding “es.”


one bus – two buses

one kiss – two kisses

Nouns that end in “y” become plural by taking away the “y” and adding “ies.” If there is a vowel before the “y,” you just add “s.”


one family – two families

one penny – two pennies

one boy – two boys

Some nouns that end in “o” become plural by adding “es.”


one tomato – two tomatoes

one echo – two echoes

Some nouns that end in “f” become plural by taking away the “f” and adding “ves,” while others become plural in the usual way.


one shelf – two shelves

one wolf – two wolves

one roof – two roofs

Some nouns change their spelling.


one man – two men

one child – two children

one foot – two feet

one mouse – two mice


To make the possessive of a singular noun, you usually just add an apostrophe (') and an “s.”


Barry's book

the woman's car

the student's backpack

If a noun is plural and ends in an “s” or if there is a name or a singular noun that ends in “s,” you just add an apostrophe.


the brothers' fish

the wolves' paws

Thomas' cup

the children's teacher


A verb shows action or a state of being. Verbs change form depending on the meaning of the sentence and what time period is being referred to.


The infinitive is the base form of a verb. It often follows the word “to” and can be used as a secondary verb in a sentence.

Examples: to be, say, do, to eat

Do you like to swim?

She wanted to call you.

Present Simple

The present simple form refers to the current time and to habits or conditions. In general, the third-person singular form has an “s” after it. The verb “be” changes forms in both the first-person and third-person singular form, so we say: I am, you are, he is, she is, it is, we are, they are.

Examples: grow, likes, have, plays

The boy throws the ball.

You are nice.

We go for walks every evening.

She gets up at seven-thirty every morning.

Present Continuous

The continuous form is used for actions that occur for a certain period of time or that are still going on, or for things that are only true for the moment. The continuous form is built by adding “ing” after the base form, and has to be used with the correct present tense form of the verb “to be.”

Examples: am/are/is speaking, am/are/is running, am/are/is reading, am/are/is playing, am/are/is being

Are you talking to your father on the phone now?

She is learning how to speak Finnish.

What are you doing?

We are drinking coffee, chatting, and having a good time.

The present continuous form can also be used to show annoyance or to imply that something is irritating. The word “always” is often included in the sentence, to exaggerate how often something occurs and how annoying it is.


I am always losing my keys!

He is teasing me again!

Past Tense

The past tense is used to show that actions have occurred and are now finished. It is often formed by adding “ed” to the base form of the verb, but there are some irregular verbs as well.

Examples: was, went, hopped, called

She read the newspaper last night.

We saw a good movie two weeks ago.

They walked along the beach.

I listened to an interesting lecture.

Past Continuous

The past continuous form is frequently used to describe one thing that was taking place while another occurred. It is built by adding “ing” after the base form, and has to be used with the correct past tense form of the verb “to be.” Usually it is in a sentence with a past tense verb as well.

Examples: was/were arguing, was/were moving, was/were brushing, was/were growing

I was watching tv when someone rang the doorbell.

They were driving home when it started raining.

My brother's pencil broke while he was taking a test.

While we were eating dinner, Francine told us a funny story.

Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is used for actions that have been completed in the present, or recent, time, or to refer to unfinished actions or conditions, or to speak about life experiences. It is built by using “have” or “has” with the past participle of the verb.

Examples: have traveled, has finished, has spoken, have gone

Have you ever been to India?

I've forgotten what you told me.

We have worked here for seven years now.

She has never eaten salmon.

Present Perfect Continuous

The present perfect continuous tense is used for actions that have recently been completed or for actions that are repeated for a certain period of time. It is built by using “have” or “has,” plus “been,” and the verb in the “ing” form.

Examples: has been singing, have been waiting, has been raining, have been building

I am tired because I have not been sleeping well lately.

They have been spending their vacations in Wisconsin for the past three years.

She has been working really hard this week.

How long have you been playing the clarinet?

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense is used to talk about something that happened in the past, usually in regard to something else. It is formed by using “had” with the past participle of the verb.

Examples: had left, had called, had admitted, had opened

We hurried to the store, but by the time we got there, it had already closed.

Albert wanted to go to the theater, but his wife had seen the play before, so they stayed home.

Vivian didn't want to drink coffee. She said she didn't like it, though she had never tried it.

I thought it was strange they had never met before.

Past Perfect Continuous

The present perfect continuous tense is used for actions that had taken place before something else happened or became true. It is built by using “had,” plus “been,” and the verb in the “ing” form.

Examples: had been sleeping, had been complaining, had been climbing, had been dancing

I looked out the window and saw that it had been snowing.

She had been waiting for half an hour by the time the bus finally came.

When his boss arrived at the office at eight, he had already been working for two hours.

It was obvious from the way they exchanged a glance that they had been talking about me before I got there.


Verbs in the future tense tells what is expected to happen in the future. This tense is simple and usually consists of “will” or “going to” in combination with the infinitive form of another verb. British English, and very rarely American English, also uses the word “shall” for the future.

Examples: will learn, going to ask, will try, shall remember

Tomorrow he is going to buy a new bicycle.

I shall never forget your kindness!

My grandmother will teach you how to knit.

We're going to travel to New Zealand next year.


The passive tense is used when an action happens to subject, rather than the subject performing the action. To make a verb passive, use participle with the appropriate form of the verb “to be.”

Examples: was seen, is being sent, were brought, has been built

The ball was thrown so hard it flew out of the park.

The plates have been broken.

She is being driven to the museum right now.

Those candies are being eaten by the dog!

Helping Verbs

English uses helping verbs sometimes, most often when asking questions or in negative statements. A common helping verb is “do.” A helping verb must be in the correct tense and when one is used, the verb that follows it is in the infinitive form.

Examples: do not want, does work, did paint, did not care

He said that he doesn't like tea.

Do you want to go see a movie?

Did he really say that?

I didn't know that.


A contraction is a way of shortening a pair of words by leaving out some letters and putting the words together. When speaking English, it is very common to use contractions, but it is usually only used in informal writing.


I am – I'm

you are – you're

he is – he's

she is – she's

it is – it's

we are – we're

they are – they're

I am not – I'm not

we are not – we're not or we aren't

I can not – I can't

I would – I'd

you would – you'd

he would – he'd

I would not – I wouldn't

I did not – I didn't

I could not - I couldn't

I should not – I shouldn't

I will – I'll

I will not – I won't

I have – I've

I have not – I haven't

Note: It is a common mistake to pronounce the contractions the way the non-contracted forms are. “I'm” is actually pronounced differently than “I am.”


An adjective describes how a noun is; it gives more information or details about something.

Examples: loud, small, friendly, pretty, wooden, new

a soft noise

a mean person

the old car

the red building


The comparison form of the adjective is used to compare two nouns and it usually shows that one noun is more something than another noun. To build the comparative form, you generally just add “er” to the adjective, but for longer words, such as beautiful, intelligent, or expensive, you add the word “more” in front of them. Sometimes the spelling changes, such as when “big” becomes “bigger” or “healthy” becomes “healthier.”


Her apartment is cheaper than his.

My bag is larger than yours.

The brown dog is friendlier than the gray one.

This painting is more beautiful than that one.


The superlative form of the adjective is used to compare three or more nouns and it usually shows that one noun is more something than the others. To build the superlative form, you generally just add “est” to the adjective, but for longer words, such as beautiful, intelligent, or expensive, you add the word “most” in front of them. Sometimes the spelling changes, such as when “big” becomes “biggest” or “healthy” becomes “healthiest.”


His apartment is cheap, hers is cheaper, and mine is cheapest.

Which of these bags is largest?

The brown dog is friendlier than the gray one, but the black dog is friendliest of them all.

This painting is the most beautiful one in the museum.


An adverb describes how, where, or when an action is done; it gives more information or details about a verb. Usually adverbs are made by adding “ly” to an adjective, but some adverbs have a different form altogether.

Examples: quickly, softly, generously, well

She laughed loudly.

The boy walks slowly.

You speak English well.


A pronoun is used in place of a noun, but only when it is understood who or what the pronoun refers to.

Personal Pronouns

Personal pronouns come in both subject forms and object forms.

Subject forms: I, you, he, she, it, we, they

Object forms: me, you, him, her, it, us, them


He likes her.

I had dinner with them at a restaurant.

We study English.

Possessive Pronouns

Possessive pronouns show that a noun owns something. There are two different forms, depending on whether the object owned is named or not.

Forms for when the object is named: my, your, his, her, its, our, their

Forms for when the object is not named: mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs


This is my pen.

That is yours.

Which house is hers and which is his?

Reflexive Pronouns

Reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject.

Reflexive pronouns: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves


I can fix it myself.

He saw it himself.

We looked in the mirror at ourselves.


Cardinal Numbers

Cardinal numbers are the basic numbers. Using this list, you can figure out the pattern for how numbers are written in English.

0 – zero

1 – one

2 – two

3 – three

4 – four

5 – five

6 – six

7 – seven

8 – eight

9 – nine

10 – ten

11 – eleven

12 – twelve

13 – thirteen

14 – fourteen

15 – fifteen

16 – sixteen

17 – seventeen

18 – eighteen

19 – nineteen

20 – twenty

21 – twenty-one

22 – twenty-two

30 – thirty

40 – forty

50 – fifty

60 – sixty

70 – seventy

80 – eighty

90 – ninety

100 – one hundred

101 – one hundred and one

200 – two hundred

500 – five hundred

1000 – one thousand

1,000,000 – one million

1,000,000,000 – one billion

Ordinal Numbers

Ordinal numbers show something's place. Usually they are formed by taking the regular number and adding “th,” but there are some exceptions.


1st – first

2nd – second

3rd – third

4th – fourth

5th – fifth

6th – sixth

7th – seventh

8th – eighth

9th – ninth

10th – tenth

11th – eleventh

12th – twelfth

13th – thirteenth

20th – twentieth

21st – twenty-first

22nd – twenty-second

100th – hundredth

How Many Times

Usually, you just add the word “times” after a number to show how many times something was done. But there are a few exceptions. “Once” means that something was done one time, “twice” means two times, and either “thrice” or “three times” can be used, though thrice is not so common.


Often, there are a couple of possible ways to refer to the time in English.


1 – one o'clock

1:05 – one oh five, five past one, five after one

1:10 – one ten, ten past one, ten after one

1:15 – one fifteen, quarter past one, quarter after one

1:20 – one twenty, twenty past one, twenty after one

1:25 – one twenty-five, twenty-five past one, twenty-five after one

1:30 – one thirty, half past one

1:35 – one thirty-five, twenty-five to two

1:40 – one forty, twenty to two

1:45 – one forty-five, quarter to two

1:50 – one fifty, ten to two

1:55 – one fifty-five, five to two

Many English-speaking countries use “a.m” and “p.m” instead of, or in addition to, the 24-hour system. The abbreviation “a.m.” comes from the Latin phrase “ante meridiem” and means “before noon,” so “a.m.” is used for times between midnight until noon. Similarly, “p.m.” means “post meridiem” and means “after noon,” and is used for times between noon and midnight. Midnight is 12 a.m and until noon, it is a.m Noon is 12 p.m. and it remains p.m. through midnight.


English uses capital letters for, among other things, the word “I,” names, days, months, periods of time, holidays, languages, countries, nationalities, and religions.


She is Russian, but she lives in England. She speaks Russian, English, and Japanese.

Christians celebrate Easter on a Sunday.

This church was built in the Middle Ages.

I was born on a Monday in October.