You use the two present tenses when you are using them.
In English, there are two main ways of referring to events that happen in the
present. You may say, for example, either "it is raining," or "it rains."
What is the difference? In general, the "-ing" form refers to things that are happening
immediately, and which are specific to the present time and place, while the other form
is less specific, and refers to events or processes that are general, or continual.
(Of course, there are exceptions to this rule.) If I say "it is raining" I am probably
reporting today's weather. If I say "it rains" I may be making a more general point
about the climate in this part of the world.
For example: "Al is drinking too much tonight - he'll have a bad hangover tomorrow." vs.
"Al drinks too much - I think it must be bad for his health."
The word 'that', including 'that' vs. 'which'
The word 'that' has many meaning. You will need to be able understand them all without
needing to think about it. This confuses many people, including some
'That' can be used:
- To refer to a particular item. E.g., "Get me that pipe, Bob."
- To indicate a degree ar amount. E.g., "I don't want to turn on the air conditioner; it's not that hot in here." Here, "that hot" means "hot enough to turn on the air conditioner."
- To indicate the object to which you are pointing, or something else that you have specified.
E.g., "Hand me that, Bob." or "I don't know what to think about that."
Finally, a special (and often confusing) case is the use of 'that' to introduce
restrictive clauses. 'Which' is used to introduce non-restrictive
clauses. Help! What does all this mean? It's actually simpler
than it sounds. If there are many cars in the parking lot, and I want to specify the car
I am talking about, I will add
some information, which will restrict the discussion to a more specific kind
of car. So I would use a restrictive clause like this: "I am looking for the car
that dented my bumper." Once I know the specific car I am looking for, I
might still say something more about it, but I am no longer trying to narrow things
down, so I can use a non-restrictive clause like this: "I am looking for the car
that dented my bumper, which I can see from here."
Finally, here's one last example of restrictive vs. non-restrictive clauses:
"I'm late for my psychometrics class."
"Which psychometrics class?"
"The psychometrics class that Professor Makhno teaches. And this is a class which I am failing!"
Singulars and plurals
English makes a strict distinction between singular and plural forms of words. This is
called the 'number' of the noun or noun phrase. Because many non-European languages do not
have such a distinction, this can be confusing. In fact, errors involving number are among
the most common errors seen in international students' papers, and among the last to be
The basic idea is fairly simple: you should use different forms of words when you are talking
about a single item than you do when you are talking about a group of items. For example,
'item' was just used to refer to a single item, but 'items' was used to refer to several items.
It is very important that the verb you use matches the number of the noun. A single duck
sits and quacks, but two ducks sit together and quack.
Please look again at these two cases: A duck quacks, but ducks quack. Notice that the
definite article ('A') is only used with the singular form. What craziness! Crazy or not,
you will need to get used to this nonsense.
But wait - it's worse than that! American English is derived from several unrelated
languages, each of which handled the singular/plural distinction differently, so there are
many special cases to learn. The plural of 'cat' is 'cats', but the plural of 'wolf' is
'wolves', and the plural of 'deer' is 'deer'!
The best thing you can do for yourself is this: Every time you learn a new
English noun, you should also learn its plural form immediately. You may be
surprised at how different it is. (For example, the plural of 'woman' is 'women', but the plural
of 'person' is 'people'!) In fact, until you know the
correct plural form of a noun, you don't really know the word at all.
Adverbs versus adjectives
Adjectives are used with nouns, and adverbs are used with verbs. Be sure you know which
words are adverbs, and which words are adjectives! Often, adverbs are formed by addding the
letters 'ly' to the end of an adjective. For example, a stylish dancer is one who
dances stylishly. But not every adverb is formed in this way.
One very important example of this is the case of 'good' and 'well'. 'Good' is an adjective, used
with nouns and noun phrases, but 'well' is an adverb, and so it is used with verbs. So, if
things are going well at school, you might be doing well, so people might say that
you are a good student who does good work.
careful! 'Well' is also used to mean that one is in good health. So, a person who is
kind might be a good person, but if they are sick and weak, they are probably not
well - they may even be unwell.