ESOL Fundamentals


Past Basic notes

watch the Past Basic video

  • Some elementary students will have trouble with forming past simple sentences, even if they are familiar with the past forms of individual verbs.  Maybe they're making the main verb past (e.g. "Does she ran?"), or they're making all the verbs within the same verb phrase past (e.g. "He didn't played football.")  The one blue word rule should help to fix that.
  • The one blue word rule applies to each verb phrase.  If you have multiple phrases or multiple clauses, you'll need to apply the rule to all the verb phrases.
  • If there are multiple helping verbs, change only the first one.
  • The rule applies to all past forms: Past Simple, Past Continuous, Past Perfect, and Past Perfect Continuous


Related Printout

Irregular Verbs for Elementary Learners (letter) (A4)



3rd-Person 'S' notes

watch the 3rd-Person 'S' video

  • The one red 's' rule applies to subjects and verb phrases for simple sentences in the present simple tense.
  • Plenty of elementary students make mistakes in forming simple sentences by including an 's' when they shouldn't or not including one when they should.  This happens even when students know the rules for using an 's'.  The mistakes come when they are producing sentences, so if they have to change writing utensils as they form sentences, they're more likely to recognize the right way to use the 3rd-Person 's'.  That's how the one red 's' rule works.
  • The one red 's' rule applies to clauses with one subject and one verb phrase.  If there are multiple nouns in the subject and they are plural, you'll need more 's'.  Also, if there are multiple verb phrases and one of them needs and 's', the others need an 's' as well.
  • The one red 's' rule does not apply to objects.
  • The one red 's' rule is a rule-of-thumb and therefore is not fool-proof.  The most notable exceptions involve one of the following:
    • I or you
    • irregular plurals
  • If helping verbs are included, and the verb phrase needs an 's', the 's' goes with the helping verb, not the main verb.



Yes/No Questions notes

watch the Yes/No Questions video

  • Another way to identify helping verbs is that they are the only words that can be contracted with nouns or pronouns.
  • When adding do, it should take on the form appropriate for the tense, while the original verb reverts to the base form (eg. "You went home." changes to "Did you go home?").
  • Unlike bedo cannot be both a main verb and a helping verb at the same time.  If you have do as the main verb in the original sentence (eg. "She does gymnastics,") and don't have a separate helping verb, then you need to add another do so that you now have a helping verb ("Does she do gymnastics?").  As usual, the new helping verb takes on the form of the original main verb, which in turn reverts to its base form.
  • Modal verbs are included among helping verbs.
  • Moving the helping verb to the front works with any tense, any mood, and any voice.  When there are multiple helping verbs, only move the first to the front ("Have you been listening?" not "Have been you listening?").
  • With multi-word modals
    • that start with to be:  only move the first word to the front ("Charlie is able to life it." turns into "Is Charlie able to life it?").
    • that don't start with to be:  add do to the front, and leave the rest of the helping verb where it was ("Kylie had to babysit." turns into "Did Kylie have to babysit?").  Also, the original auxiliary verb should revert to base form, while do takes on the appropriate tense.
  • If you start with a negative sentence, simple remove 'not' (or 'never') from the sentence when turning it into a question.  Alternately, you can leave 'not' in the sentence to form a negative question
    • If 'not' is contracted with the helping verb, keep them together as you move them to the front.
    • Otherwise, 'not' can come after the subject and before the rest of the verb phrase.
  • I typically prefer to leave pronouns unchanged when changing from a declarative sentence to an interrogative one, just for the sake of limiting what changes to focus on the helping verb.  However, some students prefer to alter pronouns to fit with most contexts (which usually means changing 'I' to 'you' and vice-versa).
  • When expressing negative for time as a whole, you can use 'never' instead of 'not' in your short answer.  In this case, 'never' comes after the subject but before the helping verb.
  • 'have got' (British) equates with 'do have' (American), and the two can be used interchangeably.  In fact, in casual speech it is acceptable to answer "Have you got a pencil?" with "Yes, I do," or "No, I don't."
  • 'not' can be contracted with helping verbs, and helping verbs can be contracted with the subject.  Or you could use no contractions.  Which contractions you use or don't use is up to you.  However, in short answers, there must be at least 2 distinct words (where words contracted together count as 1) after 'yes' or 'no'.
    • "Yes, it's" is not acceptable; you need at least 2 words after 'yes'.  Use "Yes, it is" instead.
    • "No, it's not", "No, it isn't", and "No, it is not" are equal and are all valid short answers.
  • The helping verb at the beginning of a question will never be in -ing form ('being', 'doing', or 'having'), V3 form ('been', 'done', or 'had'), or base form ('be'; except in archaic usage).  Any helping verbs with these forms present in your original sentence will be preceded by another helping verb, and only the first helping verb in the sequence would go to the front.  Modal verbs don't have those forms anyway.
  • The standard inflection is to go up at the end of a yes/no question and to go down at the end of a short answer, although there are different ways to inflect, often depending on what you want to stress or imply.


Next in the ESOL Fundamentals Series


Negative Sentences


ESL basicsErik Arndt