English grammar tricks that work (part 2)

English grammar tricks (part 2)

There are some English grammar points that can drive learners crazy.

But the problem isn’t the grammar. Or the learner.

You need to change the way you look at the “problem.”

Here are some common “problems” my students used to have that can be fixed in a few minutes.

English Grammar Trick #1 — in / on / at — location

You’ve heard people say, “I’m in the street.” But you’ve also heard people say, “I’m on the street.”

You’ve heard people say, “Let’s meet at the sports hall.” But you’ve also heard people say, “Let’s meet in the sports hall.”

So which one’s correct?

Well, the answer is they’re all correct. How?

There’s a logic to this system. But first, let’s look at an example.

I’m meeting my friend at a cafe, but I’m running a bit late, and he calls me.

“Are you at the cafe yet?” I ask.

“Yes, I’m in the cafe now,” he answers.

Why did he use “in” when I used “at” for the same place?

Here’s the rule:

In   –   3-dimensional (3D) spaces
On   –   places that are like lines (on Oxford street, on the beach)
At   –   ‘X’ marks the spot (points on a “map”)

This is an “80-percenter,” meaning that it will work about 80% of the time.

So it depends on how you’re thinking. Let’s look at the sentences from the beginning of this blog post:

I'm on the street.

I'm in the street.

English Grammar Trick #2 — Everything is blue, red, blue (and black).

There are some mistakes I hear a lot from students from all over the world.

Here are some examples of the kinds of mistakes they make. Can you see what’s wrong with these sentences?

X    “They will on Saturday visit us.”

X    “In my city is a big fountain.”

X    “We have been only 10 minutes here.”

OK. We’ll check these later — but first, the rule!

English grammar tricks (part 2)

OK… So, how does this work?

Imagine each part of a sentence as a different colour.

The subject and object are blue, and the verb is red:

This is an example.

So English looks like this:

blue / red / blue

When we add extra information (black), it’s usually at the end or at the beginning:

This is an example of “blue red blue.”

In this example, the extra information is at the beginning.

So English can look like this:

blue / red / blue / black

And for more complex sentences, the black is a “connector.”

This is another example that I’d like to show you.

So English can look like this:

blue / red / blue / black / blue / red / blue

As you can see, the “blue red blue” part stays together (almost) all the time.

In fact, one of the only times we can break this “blue red blue” system is with what I call “VIP words.” They are usually adverbs.

Wait! What’s an adverb? Click here for some examples.


Adverbs can go right in the middle of the red. I call them “VIP words” because they’re the only words that can break the “blue red blue.”

This rabbit has always been terrifying.

The weather will suddenly get cold next week.

If you keep the “blue red blue” together (except for “VIP words”), you can take more risks with your sentences and make them more interesting.

So let’s check those original sentences again:

X    They will on Saturday visit us.

Now, let’s add the “blue red blue” system:

X    They will on Saturday visit us.

The problem? The extra information, “on Saturday,” is in the wrong place. Here’s how it should look:

They will visit us on Saturday.


On Saturday they will visit us.

Can you fix the other two? Write your answers in the comments below!

  1. X    In my city is a big fountain.
  2. X    We have been only 10 minutes here.

Good luck!

Action plan!

Open a book or a website and choose one sentence. Identify the “blue red blue” pattern.

Click here for part 1 of English grammar tricks that work.

12 thoughts on “English grammar tricks that work (part 2)

  1. 1. A big fountain is in my city. (but I guess it should look better: In my city there is a big fountain)
    2. We have been here only 10 minutes.

    1. Yes, yes and Yes!

      I totally agree that “there is…” sounds better than “A fountain is…”

      Also spot on (totally correct) about question 2. In fact you could also say “for 10 minutes”, especially in a more formal situation.

      1. And yet again.
        ‘better’ is nothing to do with it.
        “A big fountain is in my city” — it’s an answer on WHERE something is and with ‘there is’ on WHAT exists in somewhere.

  2. I love the way you explain the grammar. You have an interesting blog for people who try to learn English. Please, go on with it with my congratulations. Thanks a lot.

    1. Thanks Esther,

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying it and learning from it.

      If there’s anything you’d like us to write about, please let us know and we’ll try to include it in future blog posts.


    1. Good work Vesna. You solved most of the problems here.

      1. “A big fountain is in my city.” This is correct, but I would also recommend using “there is” to make this sentence a little more natural: “There’s a big fountain in my city.”
      2. “We have only been 10 minutes here.” Good work with moving “only” to its proper place. But think about the extra information in this sentence. Is the extra information “10 minutes” or is the extra information “here?”

      Good luck with fixing the second sentence!

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