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English grammar is full of surprises. Despite learning the language in school, non-native and even native speakers still tend to get surprised and confused with the rules. As speakers, sometimes we unconsciously apply correct grammar rules as we speak. A common example is using the specific rule of adjectives.

Adjectives have a specific order when describing a noun. And the order goes:

Quantity or numberQuality or opinionSizeAgeShapeColourOrigin/MaterialPurpose


That’s a long rule; but, we unconsciously apply it to our daily conversations. Aside from surprises, the English language is full of rules that we’ll keep us asking ourselves or our English professors this:” how did that happen?” What are those uncanny rules, you ask? Read further to more as Explore English explains some examples.


Phrasal verbs

When there are phrases that are composed of the main verb and an adverb or a preposition, or both, in a sentence, then you’ve found yourself a phrasal verb. Usually, phrasal verbs have a different meaning when combined and separated from each other.


Here’s a common example: “Sheila always looked down on you.”

When “looked down on” is used in a sentence, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Shiela is literally looking down on the floor. This phrasal verb means that Shiela always thought she was better on whoever the person she compared herself to in the sentence above.

There are two types of phrasal verbs, the separable and the inseparable.


Separable phrasal verbs — as the word “separable’ means, these phrasal verbs can be separated from each other. Since it’s separable, you can insert words in the separable phrasal verb.


Common Examples:

The boss called off the meeting / The boss called the meeting off

I’m going to ask out a friend to dinner / I’m going to ask Leslie out tonight


Inseparable Phrasal Verbs — on the other hand, inseparable phrasal verbs cannot be separated from each other and the prepositions that come with it

Common Examples:

The teacher called on Tom yesterday

I ran across Johanna at the mall the other night


Animacy Hierarchy

Also known as Nominal Hierarchy, Animacy Hierarchy is a rule that will help you identify which noun is more lifelike than the other. Basically, Animacy Hierarchy dictates on what noun has the capability to function as the agent of a sentence. The order is listed from human to animal to non-moving objects.

The order goes like this:

  • first person, second person
  • third person
  • personal name/kin term
  • human
  • animate
  • inanimate

In relation to the order, you also apply the Animacy Hierarchy to the rule of possession. There are two ways of expressing possession in the English language: it can be either an apostrophe with “s”, or without the “s”, which apply to certain nouns, or with the use of “of”. However, there are situations when reading or writing is worse when written in the “of” phrase. Actually, as an English Learner, remember to go back to the Animacy Hierarchy. The “of” phrase when the possessor is higher on the list of animacy.


Here are examples:

“My classmate’s examination paper” is better than “the examination paper of my classmate”

“My dog’s leash” sounds better than “the leash of the dog”

“My car’s headlights” sounds the same as “the headlights of my car”

Despite having different slangs and pronunciations depending on the location, the English language is a universal language that is full of uncanny rules and quirks. Aside from the rules above, there are more that will give you a headache and, at the same time, make you laugh at how uncanny it is.

If you want to understand grammar and how important it is in the English language, Explore English, a diverse English learning Institution, offers general english course in melbourne to prepare students in communicating with native speakers and help them adjust to living within an English speaking country.

For enquiries, contact Explore English today: Call: +61 3 9655 0600 or Email: info@exploreenglish.edu.au or visit the Contact Us Page: https://exploreenglish.edu.au/contact/