Grammar: Our Best Enemy

Grammar: Our Best Enemy

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This week, the VocApp team will explore with you the little things that make us love and hate grammar, in this blog “Grammar: Our Best Enemy”, and all the difficult rules that drive us nuts!

Grammar Best Enemy

Let’s be realistic, even if learning a new language is mostly fun, polyglots all agree that it can sometimes be a difficult task and grammar often doesn’t help.

In this article “Grammar: Our Best Enemy” we will talk about 5 languages and the little bits and bobs that make up the grammar of each of those languages. We will talk about why grammar is our best enemy in Portuguese, French, Italian, German and Spanish!

And do not forget! If you are interested in any of those languages you can check out our website at VocApp and download our App to study and improve your skills! Let’s begin!

Portuguese Grammar and its nuances along the native countries

The thing with the Portuguese language is that grammar rules are different whether you speak Brazilian Portuguese or European Portuguese. The grammar rules are more formal when speaking in Portugal that in Brazil. We could compare that to British English and American English, for example.

Undoubtedly, the most complicated difference is the position of clitic pronounsa word or part of a word that is structurally dependent on a neighboring word (its host) and cannot stand on its own. In European Portuguese the clitic is connected to the verb like a suffix, unless there is a particle – for example a negation. This particle brings the clitic pronouns forward, which make the hyphen no longer necessary.

Some examples are:

  • I love you” is “Amo-te” in European Portuguese and “I don’t love you” is “Não te amo”. You can already notice that “te” (you) has been placed in the front.
  • In Brazilian Portuguese the clitic pronoun is generally placed before the verb even if there is a particle : “Eu te amo” (I love you), “Eu não te amo” (I don’t love you).

The clitics after the verb form is only used in formal or written language, which makes the European declaration of love sound very pompous in Brazil.

In case you want to continue your study of the Portuguese language, why not look at our course on Portuguese Words: Top 500 Verbs!

French Grammar and its diabolical grammar rules

French is beautiful but French is complicated. Yes, learning the language of Molière may be overwhelming sometimes, especially when you start studying its – enormous amount of – grammar rules. Here are few explanations and examples of one of the most “diaboliques” ones.

The choice between the preposition “à” and the preposition “de” may seem easy. The preposition “à” means “at” and the preposition “de” means “from”, quite simple right? Well, the entire concept falls apart when you learn that a verb like “acheter à” means “to buy from”… But the difficulty doesn’t stop here. Some situations don’t have a direct translation of the “à” or of the “de” into English.

We made a little exercise to help you understand:

Choose the right preposition in the following examples :

            “Tu arretes _ manger”                                DE                             Why ? Well just because

            “Nous jouons _ la marelle”                           À                               Why ? Well just because

           “Je continue _ faire la vaisselle”            DE or À                        Why ? Again, just because…

Sadly, there is no logic to help you remember which preposition to use and when. You simply have to learn them… 

Now that you know some tips to learn grammar in French, go and continue your study with our course of Everyday phrases in French!

Italian Grammar and its noun gender rules

Italian is to be said the language of romance, but just like love, speaking Italian isn’t always the simplest thing, especially when it comes to noun gender.

In Italian all nouns have a gender – people, things, abstract ideas, etc. They are either masculine or feminine. The choice of gender  is very important as it determines the choice of the article, the adjective terminations, etc.

The rule is nouns ending in “o” are masculine, in “a” feminine and these ending in “e” can be either masculine or feminine. But there are few exceptions.

Such exceptions are:

  • LA foto  (the picture) is feminine but ends in “o” (“la” is the article that precedes feminine nouns).
  • IL dentista (the dentist) is masculine but ends in “a” (“il” is the article that precedes masculine words)

But don’t worry, English and Italian have many similarities and the exceptions lists are quite short. Here some flashcards to help you learn them : Feminine Italian nouns ending in -o and Italian masculin nouns ending in -a!

German Grammar and its four cases

As is the case with many Slavic languages, in German each noun, pronoun, article and adjective has four cases, which means that each word has four different variations based on its gender, depending on where it stands in a sentence.

How a given word is used in a sentence – if it’s a subject, a possessive, an indirect or a direct object – changes the spelling of the word, and so do the preceding article and adjective.

The four German cases are the nominative (the subject), accusative (the direct object), dative (the indirect object) and genitive (the possessive).

We advise you to learn the following charts by heart.

Definite Articles (the)

Fall

Case

Männlich

Masculine

Sächlich

Neuter

Weiblich

Feminine

Mehrzahl

Plural

Nom

der das die die

Akk

den das die die
Dat dem dem der

den

Gen des des der

der

Indefinite Articles (a/an)

Fall

Case

Männlich

Masculine

Sächlich

Neuter

Weiblich

Feminine

Mehrzahl

Plural

Nom

ein ein eine keine

Akk

einen ein eine keine
Dat einem einem einer

keinen

Gen eines eines einer

keiner

Another piece of advice, because we love you very much, the following prepositions are rules for accusative, dative or both (in that case use accusative when the sentence describes a motion and dative when it’s about a localisation), learn them by heart as well. Your German skills will make a giant leap forward.

And while improving your German language skills, be sure to check out our course of German Words: Top 1000 Nouns!

Spanish Grammar and its confusing verbs

One of the most difficult things to learn in Spanish is the difference between “ser” and “estar”, even though, after all, they both mean “to be”

It could be helpful to see “ser” as the form that tells you what something is – the nature of its being – while “estar” describes what something does.Therefore you would use “soy” (the first person present of “ser” meaning “I am”) to tell what or who you are and you would use “estoy” (the first person present of “estar”, also meaning “I am”) to explain what you are being or doing.

See this example:

  • Soy profesora de español.              I am a Spanish teacher.
  • Mi bisabuelo está cansado.            – My great-grandfather is tired.

Unfortunately the misuse of both of those verbs can sometimes lead to embarrassing situation for example if you say:

  • Soy bueno.                                           I am a good person by nature.
  • Estoy bueno.                                       – I am handsome.

However “estoy bueno” can be considered bad Spanish and might even get you in trouble. Indeed Spanish has a lot of dialects and subcultures and you may find yourself  saying something like “ I am hot to trot”…. Better be careful!

As for continuing you classes of the Spanish language, make sure to discover our course called Spanish Verb Phrases, made to help you distinguish the verbs and know of their use!


So now you know a little bit more about the Portuguese, French, Italian, German and Spanish languages with “Grammar: Our Best Enemy!”

With VocApp you can discover much more and conquer new languages and skills! Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to read our daily posts on language and be sure to check out our Website at VocApp to discover more courses and lessons made just for you!

Written by Marjorie Muet

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