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12 Key Concepts

There are a number of important key concepts in English grammar which you need to understand.

1. Here and Now

We always see things from here and now.

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2. Marked and Unmarked

Do verbs are unmarked: live, eat, sleep, think

Did verbs are marked for distance (time, reality, formality): lived, ate, slept, thought

Done verbs are marked for completion of an event or process: lived, eaten, slept, thought

Do-ing verbs are marked for an on-going process: living, eating, sleeping, thinking

3. Pointing.

There is an important system of pointing at things which are close and distant in English. The words 'the', 'this' and 'that' are examples of the system.

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4. Shared and new

People already share information (information they both know). They ask for and give each other new information.

Shared information usually goes at the beginning of the sentence. New information usually goes at the end of the sentence.

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5. The Closeness of Words

When words are close together they have a strong connection.

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6. Sentence and tone unit

There are many differences between spoken and written English.

One important difference is that we write in sentences in written English but speak in tone units.

A sentence has a captial letter eg 'A' at the beginning and a fullstop (or 'period' in American English) at the end.

I like you.

A tone unit is one section of speech with a pause (/) at the beginning and at the end.

/well/ as I was saying/ I think/ I think we should go there and/ and/ er/ talk to him/

A tone unit can be one word or a whole phrase, even a 'sentence'. Each tone unit has one word with most stress: this is often the last word.

7. Processes, events and conditions

Processes are seen as having a beginning and an ending.

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Events are seen as one complete thing.

One complete event: I went to work.

Conditions are things which are.

A condition: I am a woman.

8. Them and Us

People and things are marked for distance; Them - distant; us close

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9. Default

The 'default' is the one we use unless there is a special reason not to.

The default verb form for 'here and now' is a do form: I live here.

The default verb form for the past is a did form: I lived there.

10. Prospective and Retrospective

Prospective = looking forward - into the future

Retrospective = looking backwards - into the past

11. Objective and Subjective

Objective ideas are factual; subjective ideas are our personal view.

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12. Distance

There are four important 'distances' in English.

The first is the normal physical distance from here to there.

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The second is distance in time.

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The third is formal distance.

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The fourth reality distance.

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These form a distance system. The grammar is more complex the further an idea is in time, or reality, or formality, or possibility, from here and now. This presentation shows you the system but it does not include physical distance.

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copyright Robert A. Buckmaster 2008