At some point every ESL learner has to face them – the Perfect Tenses. I say “face” because to some, a PERFECT tense can be a completely new concept.
So what’s so perfect about them? Do they describe perfectly done actions? The truth is that “perfect” in this case does not mean “100%” or “without mistakes”. It simply means the action is complete, finished. “Perfect” comes from the Latin word perficere, which means “make completely, finish”.
We use this tense when we want to describe actions which are already complete.
A verb in the Present Perfect tense shows that the action was complete before the present. For example, the sentence “I have eaten already” shows the action of eating is already complete in the present. I am no longer eating, I finished.
A verb in the Past Perfect tense shows that the action was complete before some point in the past. For example, the sentence “I had eaten already when she offered me an apple” shows the action of eating was already complete when later on somebody offered me an apple.
A verb in the Future Perfect tense shows that the action will be complete before some point in the future. For example, the sentence “I will have eaten by the time you get home” shows the action of eating will be already complete when the other person gets home.
Now, when you understand that basic principle and meaning of the Perfect tenses, you can really use them wisely.
Ola Zur is the editor of Really Learn English with Illustrations, an illustrated guide to English.
Count and non-count nouns are difficult for ESL learners because in their native languages, they probably don’t have such things. For example, in Chinese, a noun is a noun; there’s no distinction between a countable noun and an uncountable noun. There’s no plural forms, and there are no definite articles “the” and indefinite articles “a/an.”
In English, you must be very careful, because the descriptive words or phrases that we use before a countable noun or an uncountable noun are sometimes different. We use “many” before a countable noun, but we must use “much” if the noun is uncountable. Also if it is uncountable, you cannot add “s” or “es” to the end of the word.
However, it is not always easy to tell if the word is countable or uncountable. Here are a few non-count nouns which ESL students often think are count nouns:
advice; equipment; mail; news; luggage; rice; cabbage; corn
There are five vowel letters: a, e, i, o, u among 26 English letters. When we talk about the differences between “a” and “an”, we say that “a” is used before a consonant and “an” is used before a vowel. But ESL students often make the following mistakes in their writing:
- an university (X)
- a hour (X)
- a SUV (X)
- an one-time password (X)
- an unit (X)
- an European (X)
- a honor (X)
Why do students make these mistakes? Because they misunderstand their teachers. “An” is used before a vowel sound, not just a vowel letter. “U” is a vowel letter, but it has two pronunciations. When it is pronounced as a vowel sound, we use “an,” such as “an uncle,” “an umbrella,” but “a uniform,” “a university” because “u” in these two words is pronounced as a consonant.
“H” is sometimes not pronounced in an English word, such as “hour,” and “honor.” Since “h” is not pronounced, both words start with vowel sounds. So we should say “an hour” and “an honor.” In the words “hotel” and “half,” “h” is pronounced, so we say “a hotel” and “a half.”
“European” starts with a vowel letter “e,” but it is not pronounced as a vowel sound. So you need to say “a European.” It’s the same reason for “one-time.” It starts with the vowel letter “o,” but the letter is not pronounced as a vowel sound. So we should say “a one-time password.” We say “an SUV” because it starts with a vowel sound, although “S” is a consonant letter – Ron Lee