I used to not be able to find the subject of a sentence and I could never remember if the "I" came before an "E" or the other way around.

When I was in grade school, I would always choose the wrong noun as the subject of the sentence. I had this problem all the way through high school. I did not do very well in English in school. I really hated English. All the rules that never made any sense at all, just were not important to me. It was not until I had to take college English that I developed a love for my language. I had one professor who really knew how to teach it so you could really learn it. At the beginning of the term, we of course started with a review of very basis grammar. We were talking one day about how many of us (I was not the only one, I was glad to know that) could not find the subject of the sentence. Our argument was there are sometimes so many nouns in a sentence, it was hard to know which one was the subject.

She looked at us like we were crazy. And also like someone should have straighten this out for us a long time ago. I remember she laughed and said, "It is really very easy". "The subject of the sentence is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever contained inside a prepositional phrase." Now I am thinking, "Ok, what in the heck is a prepositional phrase?" Remember, I hated English, so I never really learned how to use it. I think many other students must have been looking at her the way I was looking at her. "What's a prepositional phrase?" She started laughing so hard, she had to step out of the room. Here we are freshmen in college and we knew so little about English. When I think back on it, I find that pretty amazing.

When she came back into the room she asked one simple question. "How many of you hate English?" Very nearly everyone in the class raised their hand. She said, "Ok, let's start from the beginning." I learned more about English during that term than I had all my life. I came to love the language very much and as many of you know, have now become an English teacher myself.

Here is an example: The key is in the living room, over the fireplace, on the mantel, by the book. In this sentence, key, living room, fireplace, mantel and book are all nouns. BUT...only one is not inside a prepositional phrase. When you "remove" all the prepositional phrases: in the living room, over the fireplace, on the mantel, by the book; all you have left is "The key is."  So the only noun that can be the subject is the word "key". See, it really is easy!

The second one, the i and e one, I finally mastered by the 6th grade I think. 

The rule is: "I" before "E" except after the letter "C".  Examples: Receive, pie, and piece.

There, now you know even native English speakers have had trouble with English too.

BTW: She was a very good English teacher and to this day I can't remember her name.


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  • Dear EC Friends, I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comments. The school is very busy preparing for our Children' Day event which is coming up this week (finally). Thank you for all of your wonderful comments. I am glad my blog has helped some of you. Please remember, that while you are learning English as an adult, we had to learn English while we were growing up. But the same mistakes you are making now, we made as kids. So it is really just a learning curve that should bring you hope that one day you will also be good at speaking, reading, and writing in English. Just think about what I would have to do to learn your language. What you learned as a child, I would now be learning as an adult, and the mistakes I would make now are the ones you probably made as a kid. It is the same, no matter what language you are learning. Stay encouraged! It will all work out just fine.

  • It's a strange feeling to me when reading your blog, Vanessa. You said that you have felt confused how to write some words in English and hated English before. Those blogs like this are really useful to English learners and help to remember English rules deeper and longer. Thanks for sharing!

  • Amazing tips! Thanks a bundle for sharing the story with us, Vanessa! I've learned a lot from you.

  • Hello Vanessa,
    I think your blog was helpful for us, hearing such mistakes from teachers encourage learners and make them feel confident. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Thanks for giving an useful blog Vanessa...

    Now I can make it easier...

  • Thanks for joining this month's writing challenge, Vanessa! I think it's really helpful for English learners to hear these stories about teachers. We didn't learn grammar in school in Canada. I learned grammar when I went to school to become an English teacher!

    Here is a helpful page on EC that shows the exceptions for the "i before e" rule

  • "I" before "E" except after the letter "C".  Examples: Receive, pie, and piece.

    Wow, I tend to make this kind mistake too! Now I got it, easy!

    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • Noted your effective example.. madam... thank you so much...

  • Hello S.Selvakumar, A prepositional phrase is made up of a preposition, an article and a noun. When I say "inside a prepositional phrase" I mean the words that make up the prepositional phrase. For instance: in the living room, over the fireplace, on the mantel, by the book are all prepositional phrases. They are made up of a preposition in, over, on, and by. These prepositional phrases have the article "the". The final word in the phrase is a noun; living room, fireplace, mantel, and book. Because these nouns are a part of the prepositional phrase or "inside" the prepositional phrase, they can not be the subject of the sentence. I hope this helps.

  • Thanks Dear teacher i though that i am the only one who was in the collage and sill hated English :)" NOW i fell in love with English :)"

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