A Meaning Approach to Learning Verbs
In English, verbs do not only tell you the actions, they also give information in terms of time, number, person and voice. However, Chinese does not mark any of these. Thus, as second language learners of English, many Chinese students find the usage of verbs one of the clumsiest grammatical areas. The seemingly countless rules, particularly in the area of tenses, often cause confusion.
To have a clear picture of verbs, first of all, students need to know that there are actually only 5 verb forms and that they can better understand them with a meaning approach – learn the fundamental meanings of each verb form and interpret the various usages in terms of these meanings. Being attentive to contextual cues such as temporal elements is also crucial for consistent use and appropriate sequence of verb tense.
Common grammatical errors tested in Identifying Sentence Errors
4. Wrong tense/verb form
4a. Confusing to-infinitive and present participle
In secondary school, students are given two long lists of verbs – one of verbs which should be followed by to-infinitives, another which should be followed by present participles. Usually, no explanation is given whatsoever as to why there is such a classification, but only that they are idiomatic usages. In fact, there is a meaningful tendency toward these usages.
- To-infinitives, as suggested by “to”, refer to actions that are yet to happen. The action occurs later than that of the main verb.
Kath wants to travel to Paris.
Alex learns to take black and white photos.
- Present participles, the –ing form we used for continuous actions, refer to actions that have already taken place or facts that are true now. The action occurs earlier or at the same time as that of the main verb.
Kitty enjoys driving.
Robert admitted losing the key.
As a “tendency”, it is not a rule which is always applicable. Students need to be attentive in their daily reading and memorize the exceptions to this tendency when they come along them.
4b. Inconsistent verb tense
In terms of consistency in verb tenses, two types of questions are commonly asked in the SAT – inconsistent use of past tense and conditional sentences. When both actions happen in the same time frame, same tense should be used. Shifting the tense unnecessarily will confuse readers.
4b1. Inconsistent use of past tense
4b2. Conditional sentence
Many students find it very difficult to remember the tenses of the four types of conditional sentences while, in fact, both of the main and conditional clauses for each type of conditional sentences use the same tense. The four types change from simple present to past and past perfect to represent the decrease in probability by alienating the action further and further from the present. This fits with the fundamental meanings of the verb forms. Bear in mind, though, from the second type onward, a modal verb is required in the main clause and it is followed by a bare infinitive.
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(Next Tue: Identifying Sentence Errors – 4.Wrong tense/verb form cont'd)