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'Is that always true?'

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

As an English teacher I provide lots of tips about English grammar and vocabulary. Here are a few examples:

  • The pronoun I is written as a capital letter

  • Go back a tense in reported speech

  • Use the past simple with past time words and phrases such as 'yesterday' and 'last week'

  • The word ‘overwhelm’ can have a positive or negative meaning

The reason that I give 'rules' like these is not to be prescriptive (telling people what to do) but rather to help learners notice how grammar and vocabulary work. The more that learners notice language patterns, the faster they will learn. Although I don't tend to use the word 'rule' it's possible that my students interpret my tips and recommendations as rules. Not only that, but they may also assume that the rules provided are always true.

I have one student in particular who likes to ask me if the advice I’ve given is always true. This is such a great question but generally very easy to answer. With the English language rules are very rarely ‘always true’.

Many students would love to have rules that are fixed, without any exceptions, because this would keep things simple. In reality though, many rules provide guidelines about how language typically works. Always is a tricky word to use when teaching English and is generally best avoided. Better to use words such as generally or usually to convey the conventional nature of language use.

Occasionally though it is possible to use the word always when talking about English grammar as long as a rule is carefully formulated. Can you think of any rules that are always true?

Read this post to find out.


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