Mnemonics help you to learn English

Mnemonics can help you to learn English more effectively – but be careful! Some of them are only 'valid' for special grammatical structures.

1. he, she, it – Add -s

Mnemonic Explanation Examples
valid for: main verbs in Simple Present
Add -s to the infinitive of the verb. (Mind the spelling.) I read – he reads
I try – he tries
I go – he goes
In negative sentences and in uestions use does and the infinitive. I don't sleep – he doesn't sleep
Do I shout? – Does he shout?
Use the infintive +s in subject questions. Who draws comics?
not valid for: modals e.g. can, may, must   I can – he can
wrong: he cans

2. S – V – O

Mnemonic valid for Explanation Examples
statements and part of complex sentences SubjectVerbObject We play computer games.
He reads books.
I clean the table and you wash the dishes.

3. since or for

Mnemonic valid for  
since and for starting time (i is in starting and time.)
for - how long sth lasts (o is in how and long)

4. did in the Simple Past

Mnemonic valid for Explanation Examples
Simple Past If you find did in the sentence always use the infinitive - do not use the verb in its Simple Past form. He did not sing.
Did they watch a film?
wrong: He did not sang.
wrong: Did they watched a film?

5. -ought or -aught?

Mnemonic valid for Explanation Examples
irregular verbs If -a is in the infinitive of the verb it is also used in Simple Past and the past participle. teach - taught
catch - caught
buy - bought

6. much or many

much is used with uncountable nouns

many is used with countable nouns

7. The alphabet helps

7.1. am or pm?

Mnemonic valid for Explanation Examples
Time (12 hour system) A comes before P in the alphabet 8 am = 8 Uhr morgens
8 pm = 8 Uhr abends

7.2. How to spell necessary, bicycle?

Mnemonic valid for Explanation
necessary C comes before S in the alphabet
bicycle I comes before Y in the alphabet

7.3. Place before Time

Mnemonic valid for Explanation Examples
end of sentences Place before Time They watched the film in the cinema yesterday.
P comes before Z. What did Fred and Sue do at school last Friday?

7.4. -i before -e

There are mnemonics that have a lots of exceptions. Here is one:

Put -i before -e, but it is often vice versa.

If you pronounce -i, you write -ie (but not after -c - or seize).

These words follow this rule:

  • believe
  • convenient
  • experience
  • mischievous
  • piece
  • relieve
  • sufficient
  • yield

These words do not follow the rules:

  • deceive
  • either
  • foreign
  • height
  • leisure
  • neighbo(u)r
  • receipt
  • receive
  • seize
  • their
  • weigh
  • weird

Is it worth the effort?

8. few and a few

Few has fewer letters (3 letters) so it is less then a few (4 letters), in other words:

few < a few

little < a little

9. so and such a

so beautiful - with adjective (one word for one word)

such a beautiful day - with adjective and noun (two words for two words)

If you know more mnemonics, send them by e-mail, please. We will add them to this list.

Thanks to Monika and Nina.