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You are in: Learning English > Virtual English Masterclass
Learning English -
Martin ParrottMartin Parrott, English Language expert

Martin Parrott worked for many years as a teacher and teacher trainer at International House, London, where he was also the Director of Teacher Training. In addition to Grammar for English Language Teachers (winner of the English-Speaking Union Duke of Edinburgh's English Language Award 2000), he is the author of Tasks for Language Teachers (Cambridge University Press 1993) and wrote and produced Teaching Matters, a series of 14 radio programmes for BBC English.

Martin answers your questions about the English grammar:

- Verb agreement and collective nouns
- Subjunctive?
- Tenses
- Conjunctions
- Prepositions
- Hanging participles
- Test yourself!
- Live Chat transcript

Verb agreement and collective nouns

Verbs have to agree with their subject: a plural subject requires a plural verb ('people are ...') and a singular subject requires a singular verb ('the woman is ...').

However, collective nouns like group, government or staff are generally followed by plural verbs ('the Government fail'), except in formal written English where some people still prefer to use a singular verb ('the Government fails').


In many European languages, verbs have special pronunciation and spelling when they express an element of doubt. This form of the verb is called subjunctive. There is nothing similar in English. For example, it makes more sense to think of the use of were in 'If I were you...' as idiomatic, part of a fixed expression.


- Past tenses:

"People don't always use the past perfect when they should. For example, I read, 'She left home before she was 16.' Shouldn't that be 'She had left home before she was 16.'?"

People are often confused because English has so many past tenses and they don't know which to choose. In fact we choose past tenses in order to make the time and order in which things happened clear. If the context or some other words or expressions already make this clear, we often stick to the simple past tense.

- Future tenses

"I have heard people mixing tenses - for example, saying, 'I will be going to see him'. Isn't that just the same as, 'I'll be seeing him.'?"

We choose between a wide range of future tenses and sometimes combine these tenses. Each possibility expresses a different attitude towards the event.

'I will be going to see him' has a different meaning from either 'I'll be seeing him.' or 'I'm going to see him.' It suggests that at a particular moment in the future I will be preparing to see him...

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Check the transcript