Student Stumper 52: “Earlier” vs. “Before”

QUESTION: What’s the difference between “earlier” and “before”? Is there any difference between “I saw him before” and “I saw him earlier”? ANSWER: There can be overlap in meaning, but first let’s find the more obvious differences. First, we can use “before” as a conjunction to form an adverb clause of time. It’s in direct…

Student Stumper 51: “Kind of” vs. “Kinds of”

QUESTION: Can I use “kind of” with a plural noun or do I have to use “kinds of”? ANSWER: Yes, you can use “kind of” with a plural noun, but first consider the difference in meaning between “kind of” and “kinds of.” “Kind” refers to a type. If you’re referring to one type, then use…

Student Stumper 50: “Last” vs. “Past”

QUESTION: What’s the difference between “last” and “past”?  Can I say “the last year” and “the past year”? Do they mean the same thing? ANSWER: We can use both of those phrases, but they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Anytime there are similarities, we must figure out where exactly there’s overlap. Structurally, the phrases…

Student Stumper 49: “Another” vs. “Other”

QUESTION: What’s the difference between “another” and “other”?  They’re very similar. ANSWER: Indeed, they’re similar, so the challenge is to find and remember the differences. A learner’s dictionary can help us identify rules and patterns. Then comes the hard part: we need to commit all that information to memory. Parts of Speech First, let’s look…

Student Stumper 48: Does the house need painting or need being painted?

QUESTION: I know I can say a house needs painting, but why can’t I say the house needs being painted? ANSWER: It’s not always easy to give a satisfactory answer to grammar questions. Sometimes a standard pattern simply must be followed, no exceptions. You learn the acceptable pattern, and like a dutiful soldier you follow…

Student Stumper 47: Can’t Have and Couldn’t Have

How could I have thought there wouldn’t be another tricky question about perfect modal verbs? Modals and their many meanings stump us teachers from time to time. It’s easy enough to explain the basics, but part of the challenge is understanding where there’s overlap and where there isn’t. I addressed one question regarding perfect modals…

Student Stumper 46: “As if” and “As though” Revisited

I initially addressed this topic a few years ago in Student Stumper 35. However, some recent questions opened the can back up, and out came some worms  that I couldn’t ignore. Not having clear answers to grammar questions makes me squirm in my seat! QUESTION: Can I use the present tense after as if and…

Student Stumper 44: How can an adjective follow THAN in “later than usual”?

QUESTION: I read a sentence with the phrase “later than usual.” I thought only nouns could follow the preposition than, and usual is an adjective. Is “later than usual” grammatically correct? ANSWER: Dictionaries list than as a preposition and a conjunction. To be honest, I sometimes find it tricky to make the distinction, especially with comparisons. I see it as a…

Student Stumper 42: Could do vs. Could have done

QUESTION: Which question is correct? “How could I have missed that?” or “How could I miss that?” ANSWER: If only I could easily and confidently answer that! Could we first look at other uses of this modal verb? We could look at a few examples together if you’d like. That wasn’t actually my initial reply to the…