Students who have not reached a good level of English before the high-intermediate stage are subject to making developmental mistakes, of which the following is an example:

‘Do you can help me?’

Students love relying on generalization, because this gives them a sense of security. When they learn that they need to use ‘do’ to ask questions, they will try to apply this rule as often as possible:

‘Do you are a teacher?’, instead of ‘Are you a teacher?’
            ‘Do I can leave now?’, instead of ‘Can I leave now?’
            ‘Where do you going?, instead of ‘Where are you going?’
            ‘What do you doing?’, instead of ‘What are you doing’?


Funnily enough, these are not naive mistakes. They actually show instances of real learning. The student is overgeneralizing a rule and applying it where it is not appropriate. Dealing with these mistakes demands caution on the teacher’s part, as they show students are actually making progress, rather than failing.

Some teachers preach they do not teach grammar, as if this were possible at all. How do the “teachers who do not teach grammar”, let’s call them ‘the no-grammar teachers’ (if they exist in the first place), explain to their students that

‘Do you can help me?’

should be rephrased as:
‘Can you help me?’

The ‘no-grammar teachers’ may simply tell their students:
Do not use ‘do’ and ‘can’ in a question.

That would be enough, but then the student might come up with a ‘why not?’ Do you really assume you would always be able to deal with grammar in that way in classroom, that is to say, not using grammar concepts? When you use the word ‘sentence’, you are resorting to grammar terminology, however simple it may seem at first (the distinction between ‘sentences’, ‘phrases’ and ‘clauses’ is not that simple, though).

When teachers say they do not teach grammar, they want to convey the idea that their classes are a lot of fun, and that grammar is a seven-headed monster that takes away from the pleasure of learning. But even when teachers think they do not teach grammar, they are teaching it. When teachers say “Do not use ‘do’ and ‘can’ in a question”, they are teaching implicit grammar. But what do you say to your students when their books and learner’s dictionaries rely heavily on such terms as ‘noun’, ‘verbs’, ‘subject’, ‘object’, ‘sentences’, ‘phrase’, ‘clauses’, etc? These are all grammar terms. Would you tell them just to blithely ignore them? Either teachers make believe their students already know these terms, or they may assume students will learn them by themselves, but not in classroom. Let’s sweep the problem under the rug. It’s easier.

It is perfectly acceptable for teachers to follow the guidelines the school they work for expects them to. Some schools promise a no-grammar approach to learning English, assuming students will understand this as ‘studying English in that school is all about having fun, no rules, no explanations’, but the reality is entirely different from what really happens in classroom. Teachers draw heavily on grammar terms they do not explain overtly, in the hope they are implementing the so called ‘communicative approach’. This is what some mean by not teaching grammar: not explaining it at all, or rushing through it so students won’t notice grammar. There is no point in teaching a lot of vocabulary if you do not teach students how to bring words together to produce meaning.

There is an enormous difference between scientific grammars, whether they have a linguistics or a traditional grammar basis, and pedagogical grammars. The latter are designed to be used in classrooms. There is nothing wrong with them. They translate philosophical or linguistics grammars into accessible language that is more conducive to learning, in other words: they are didactic grammars. And a grammar designed for nonnative speakers is even more challenging for writers. Native grammar books will often prove useless for foreign students.

Let’s take Raymond Murphy’s hugely successful grammar, which has been a success for more than thirty years worldwide. This author addresses language in a clear, straightforward fashion. The illustrations help students understand the language in context, instead of example sentences unconnected with reality. And as much as it tries to avoid grammar terminology, it does make use of the most essential terms everyone that can be considered intelligent should be capable of dealing with. Of course you do not need to be nitpicky over tiny grammar details, but why would that mean not teaching grammar at all?

We teachers are lead to believe we have to be prepared to meet the needs of a vast possibility of students’ learning styles in classroom. We know some students absolutely loathe grammar, in much the same way others hate maths, which is completely normal. But as teachers, we should be aware that grammar is one of the tools we have to handle in classroom. If we have to consider students’ different styles, then we should bear in mind that there is a likelihood of us encountering students in classroom who are capable of understanding grammar language. If a student who master grammar asks you something in a way that clearly reveals he understands grammar, the teacher would be well advised to answer in plain grammar language too. And as for the other students, teachers should adapt as appropriate. In other words: teachers should study grammar, even if they do not need to teach it explicitly. But as you uncover grammar, I am sure you will have a good time learning and teaching it.


The first two books are example of scientific grammars. They are aimed at raising teachers’ awareness of grammar. They are not handy to use with, say, young teenage learners.


The Grammar BookGrammar for English Language Teachers


These are pedagogical grammars, whose aim is to approach language in a way that is meaningful for all kind of learners, even those who are not exactly keen on grammar.



Essential Grammar in Use            |         English Grammar in Use        |          Advanced Grammar in Use




Refresher Vocabulary & Grammar Tests For Advanced Proficiency Exams with Answers by Ricardo Madureira, Disal Editora.

For supplementary exercises (free of charge) (units 26 – 30), from my book “Refresher Vocabulary and Grammar tests…”, please go to: , click on ARTIGOS and then download the file.