Many grammar errors occur with words that do not follow the same rule as words like them in meaning
EXPECTED AND UNEXPECTED WORD GRAMMAR
When we come to use a new word, our expectations about its grammar can be influenced by the grammar of words it resembles. At one level, these words are all those in the same general word class (the same “part of speech”) – verb, noun, adjective etc. The kind of grammar rules that they indicate are general ones for the whole class. Verb rules, for example, involve such things as the use of a “subject” or the choice of a tense. Rules of this kind are what I call “broad” grammar”.
At another level, the words that influence grammar expectations follow rules that are much more specific to them. Similar to what is sometimes called “usage”, these rules tend to be found more in dictionaries than grammar books. As an example, interested is typically followed by in, whereas bored has with; and while after prices you can change increased into were increased, you cannot change rose into were risen (see 113. Verbs that cannot be Passive). Rules of this kind are what I call “narrow” grammar. A fuller discussion of it is in the introduction to my grammar book.
When a narrow grammar choice has to be made, the similarity of the words that might influence it is often of meaning within the same word class. Consider the verb DIVIDE. What preposition should be used after it in the following sentence?
(a) Biology can be divided … three main branches: Botany, Zoology and Medicine.
The correct preposition is into (see 123. Prepositional Verbs Containing a Noun). This is not very predictable: there is nothing in the meaning of either divided or into that helps. However, a clue can be obtained from the use of various synonyms of DIVIDE: CATEGORISE, CLASSIFY, GROUP, SEPARATE, SORT and SPLIT, all of which take into (see 162. The Language of Classification). If you already know that one of them does, then you can guess that DIVIDE does too, and the chances are that you will be right.
This parallelism between words of similar meaning provides very useful help with the mammoth task of learning narrow grammar. The problem, however, is that there are many exceptions – more than in broad grammar. It is this problem that I wish to focus on. It is what I mean by words not being used as expected, and it causes numerous common grammar errors by advanced learners of English. My hope is that knowing about the problem and some of the more common errors that it causes might assist a significant improvement in grammatical accuracy. Half of the errors are analysed here, half in the post 140. Words with Unexpected Grammar 2.
For similar analyses of English spelling and pronunciation, see 29. Illogical Vowel Spellings, 41. Unexpected Vowels in Derived Words and 97. Verb Form Confusions. For additional narrow grammar trends with notable exceptions, see 58. Optional Apostrophe Endings and 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE.
IDENTIFICATION EXERCISE: WORDS THAT BREAK NARROW GRAMMAR EXPECTATIONS
In order to appreciate important narrow grammar trends and their exceptions, readers are invited to try the following “odd-one-out” exercise. The challenge is to identify one word in each list that would be grammatically wrong if it replaced the underlined word in the neighbouring sentence (for an explanation of “grammatically wrong” – which is not necessarily shown by an unlikely meaning – see 100. What is a Grammar Error?). Answers are given and explained later.
(a) High prices cause demand to fall.
Which one of the following cannot grammatically replace cause?
ALLOW, ASSIST, COMPEL, ENABLE, ENCOURAGE, FORCE, HELP, IMPEL, INDUCE, INSTIGATE, LEAD, MAKE, PERMIT, REQUIRE, STIMULATE.
(b) Children like to learn through playing.
AGREE, CHOOSE, DESIRE, ENJOY, LONG, LOVE, NEED, PREFER, WANT, WISH.
(c) High prices have an effect on demand.
A BEARING, A CONSEQUENCE, AN IMPACT, AN INFLUENCE.
(d) Skills can develop in a suitable task.
ACTIVITY, ASSIGNMENT, BRIEF, EXERCISE, FOLLOW-UP, HOMEWORK.
(e) Seminars are for talking about issues raised in lectures.
ARGUING, ASKING, DISCUSSING, ENQUIRING, FINDING OUT, SPEAKING, THINKING, WONDERING, WRANGLING.
(f) Water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen.
COMPRISED, CONSISTED, CONSTITUTED, MADE.
(g) Opponents of nuclear power claim that the cost is too high.
ARGUE, ASSESS, BELIEVE, COMPLAIN, CONSIDER, CRITICISE, FEEL, MAINTAIN, REGRET, STATE.
(h) Poor hygiene can cause an outbreak of disease.
A CONTINUATION, GROWTH, AN INCREASE, A MANIFESTATION, AN OCCURRENCE, A SPREAD, SURVIVAL.
ANSWERS AND EXPLANATIONS
Here are the above sentences with the incorrect words inserted:
(a) *High prices make demand to fall.
Like all of the other verbs in the list, MAKE can be followed by an object (demand) and an “infinitive” verb (to fall). Unlike them, however, it cannot have to with its infinitive; the to above has to be removed (see 141. Ways of Using MAKE). A further cause of this very common error is surely the fact that passive uses of MAKE do need to (Demand is made to fall …).
Two other verbs besides MAKE that need to to be dropped from any following infinitive are LET and HAVE (see 148. Infinitive verbs without “to”). Also worth mentioning is FACILITATE, which, despite the similarity of its meaning to CAUSE etc., cannot have any kind of following infinitive at all – added verbs need -ing (see 65. Verbs that Mean “must” or “can” and 81. Tricky Word Contrasts 2, #7).
(b) *Children enjoy to learn through playing.
The correction here is to change the infinitive to learn into the gerund learning. Infinitives are never correct after ENJOY. There is no logical reason why this is so – you just have to remember that ENJOY is different from the other listed verbs. For more on -ing after verbs, see 70. Gerunds.
ENJOY is a particularly problematic verb; another pitfall is considered in the post 8. Object-Dropping Errors. One other verb like ENJOY is APPRECIATE.
(c) *High prices have a consequence on demand.
On is the wrong preposition before something suffering a consequence. Instead you have to say for. In fact, for and on are almost equally probable after words meaning “consequence”. Other for words are an implication, repercussions and ramifications. For details of how to specify particular consequences, see 32. Expressing Consequences.
(d) *Skills can develop in a suitable homework.
The presence of a here requires a countable noun (see 110. Nouns without “the” or “a”), but homework is uncountable. To include it, you must either combine it with a countable noun (a piece of homework, a homework task – see 180. Nouns that Count the Uncountable) or drop a. Otherwise, a countable synonym must be used.
The meaning similarity between homework and task etc. shows how unreliable meaning is as a guide to a noun’s countability (though for some areas of greater reliability, see the posts on Noun Countability Clues). For more examples of this particular type of error, see 138. Test Your Command of Grammar.
(e) *Seminars are for discussing about issues raised in lectures.
After DISCUSS, about cannot be used. DISCUSS is one of those verbs that many learners of English wrongly think is “prepositional” – always used with the preposition about – when in fact it is an ordinary transitive verb that needs to be followed directly by its object noun (or noun equivalent). It and verbs like it are the topic of the post 42. Unnecessary Prepositions. The suggestion is made there that the error with DISCUSS results not just from the use of about after verbs like DISCUSS, but also from its use after the noun discussion.
(f) *Water is consisted of hydrogen and oxygen.
This passive form is incorrect because CONSIST is “intransitive” – unable to be used in the passive voice (see 113. Verbs that cannot be Passive). This grammatical feature of CONSIST cannot be deduced from its meaning – the other verbs listed for (f) all mean roughly the same but are passive. The active form needed here is consists (without is).
A further possible reason for thinking is consisted is right is that COMPRISE can be either active or passive with the same meaning (see 21. Active Verbs with Non-Active Meanings 1). Note that the active form of COMPRISE, like DISCUSS above, has no following preposition. The common error of adding of probably results from the need for of after both CONSIST and BE COMPRISED.
(g) *Opponents of nuclear power criticise that THE COST IS TOO HIGH.
Criticise here is a “citation” verb – a verb of saying or thinking useful for linking a reported point (capitalised above) with its author (see 76. Tenses of Citation Verbs). Many citation verbs allow that when the reported point has its own verb (here is). However, CRITICISE cannot combine with that in this way: it must have a noun or pronoun after it, and put any following verb into the -ing form after for or as (for more verbs like this, see 79. Grammar Problems in Quotation-Writing). Thus, a correct ending to the above sentence might be …criticise the cost as (being) too high.
(h) *Poor hygiene can cause an increase of disease.
All of the words listed for this sentence are “action” nouns – derived from verbs and similar in meaning. This means that they can all be followed by a noun that, if they had been verbs, would have been their subject. Disease is such a noun here.
The normal means of including a subject-like noun next to an action noun is either by or of. Of is the correct choice with all of the other nouns here – but not with increase, which needs a rather unexpected in instead. For a fuller explanation, see 49. Prepositions after Action Nouns 2.
Various synonyms of increase (and decrease) also need in instead of of or by. For a list see 115. Surveying Numerical Data.