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When these words refer to LOCATION:

"on" = "on top of", "on the front surface of" or "traveling for"

Ex. 1: "The cat is on the chair."


Ex. 2: "I watched the movie on TV."
Ex. 3: "He is on a business trip to Mexico."

"in" = "inside of" or "attending"

Ex. 1: "The dirty dishes are in the dishwasher."


Ex. 2: "Mr. Jones is in a meeting right now."

"at" = "near", "visiting", or it is used for events / entertainment (indoors or outdoors), or for locations where the
purpose is more important than the building

Ex. 1: "The horses were at the trough, eating."


Ex. 2: "We had dinner at my friend's house."
Ex. 3: "John is at the movies right now."
Ex. 4: "I saw Mary at the post office."

With locations that have a specific purpose, you use "at" when you are talking about the purpose and "inside"
when you need to talk about the building itself:

Ex. 1: "The children are at school right now." (purpose, i.e., education)
Ex. 2: "There was a fire inside the school today." (the building structure)

In English, there are always exceptions to the rule. But these are good, general guidelines that should help with
many of your problems of usage.

“Fill up”, “Fill in” and “Fill out”

These expressions are very commonly confused by Malaysians. I’ve even seen a sign in a bank with this mistake.

I’ll provide the definitions of each of these terms (from Wiktionary):

Fill in – (transitive) to complete a form or questionnaire with requested information.

Fill out – (transitive) to complete a form or questionnaire with requested information.

Fill up– 1. (chiefly of a fuel tank) to make full. 2. to become full

So we see that “fill in” and “fill out” mean to complete a questionnaire, survey or form with the necessary
information. “Fill up” means to make something full, generally with a liquid. As mentioned by the dictionary, it is
often used to refer to a car’s fuel tank. For example “I need to fill up my car”.

“Fill up” CANNOT be used to mean “complete a form”. This is wrong. Can a form hold liquid? (Well, possibly if you
rolled it into a cone it could, but then it would be ruined). Since it cannot hold liquid, it is not appropriate to use
“fill up”. The appropriate expression to use with a form is “fill in” or “fill out” (even though “in” and “out” are
opposites, “fill in” and “fill out” both have the same meaning).

So please don’t ask anyone to “fill up a form” because they will not be able to do it. Ask them to “fill in” a form or
“fill out” a form.

ENGLISH GRAMMAR for ESL learners

MODAL VERBS in English

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb which express the mood of another verb.
They are used to express ideas such as: possibility, prediction, speculation, deduction and necessity.

Modal verbs have the following characteristics:

1) They do not have participle or infinitive forms


2) They do not take the ending -(e)s in the third-person singular.
3) They do not have a past form: He/she canted. He/she musted.
4) The negative is formed by the addition of not/n’t: He cannot/ He can’t. NOT He don’t can.
5) Questions are formed by inversion with the subject: Can you? NOT Do you can?

MODAL CONCEPT EXAMPLE

Can Ability: Julie can swim.

Permission: Can I come with you? ('May' is also used.)

Offers: Can I help you?

Could Possibility: That story could be true - who knows!

Past ability: Charlie could swim when he was four years old.

Permission: Could I use your phone please?

Requests: Could you tell me the way to the station please?

May Possibility: The President may come to our offices if the


meeting finishes before 5 pm.
Permission: May I borrow your dictionary?

Might Slight possibility : We might win a prize but I doubt it.

Past form of 'may' The President said he might come.


in reported speech:

Must Obligation: Dogs must be kept on a lead.

Logical deduction: You must be tired after your long journey.

Mustn't Prohibition: You mustn't tell Alex. It's a surprise!

Should Advice: You should take an umbrella in case it rains.

Logical deduction: I've revised so I should be ready for the test.

Ought to Advice: You ought to write to your grandmother.

Logical deduction: 30 € ought to be enough for the taxi.

Shall Future tense auxiliary: I shall be in London on Monday (or I'll be ...).

Offers/suggestions Shall I order a taxi?


with ''I' and 'we': Shall we begin the meeting now?

Will Future tense auxiliary: The ticket will cost about 50€.

Invitations/offers: Will you join us for coffee? Won't you come in?