This is the second half of a two-part article on contrastive grammar: Part 1 | Part 2

ESL and FL instructors need to be aware of some of the fundamental differences between the home language and the language that is taught.

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at phrase structure grammar and language contrast, as well as deep and surface structure. Here in Part 2, we will examine more similarities and differences in grammar structure among languages.


Embedding, or subordination, involves using one or more sentences to qualify or modify the kernel or matrix sentence or an element in it:

  • Jane likes peaches that have a smooth skin.

This sentence is derived from: Jane likes peaches. The peaches have a smooth skin.

The embedded sentence cited above functions as an adjective. The "relative" constructions cited below are derived from deep structure sentences having an equivalent noun phrase (NP) as subject or object of the verb.

Look at the following. What purpose does the underlined portion of each sentence serve?

  • What you see is important.
  • That you didn’t study is clear.
  • Where you live is important.
  • I like what I see.
  • I saw what you did.

These all are subject or object NPs represented by embedded statements.

  • John is the man. The man saw the dog. = John is the man who saw the dog.

The noun phrase "the man" in the embedded sentence is deleted and replaced with by a relative pronoun.


Underlying subject: Look at the following examples:

  • I keep a cool head on my shoulders.
  • You keep a cool head on your shoulders.
  • They keep a cool head on their shoulders.

Note the agreement between the subject pronoun and the possessive form.

Now, observe the following incorrect examples:

  • Keep a cool head on my shoulders.
  • Keep a cool head on their shoulders.
  • Keep a cool head on your shoulders.


The following possessive and reflexive forms indicate the underlying deep structure of an imperative sentence:

  • Do the job yourselves. (subject: You plural)
  • Help yourself. (subject: You singular)
  • Help themselves. (incorrect)

These examples show how linguists investigate languages and formulate rules by observing language structures in use. The rule is the following: In an imperative sentence, delete the second-person subject NP.

Grammar and meaning

Syntactic forms are vitally important for meaning. Read the following example:

"In order to speak any language, you have to pay attention to the meanings that are grammatically marked in that language. For example, in English it is necessary to mark the verb to indicate the time of occurrence of an event you are speaking about: It's raining; it rained; and so forth.

"In Turkish, however, it is impossible to simply say, 'It rained last night.' This language, like many American Indian languages, has more than one past tense, depending on one's source of knowledge of the event. In Turkish, there are two past tenses — one to report direct experience and the other to report events you know about only by inference or hearsay.

Thus, if you were out in the rain last night, you would say, 'It rained last night' using the past-tense form that indicates you were a witness to the rain; but if you wake up in the morning and see the wet street and garden, you are obliged to use the other past-tense form — the one that indicates you were not a witness to the rain itself." (Slobin, 2006).

Turkish uses the affix "mish" (written mis with a mark under the s) to indicate indirect experience: "

  • Geldi = He came.
  • Gelmis = Perhaps or so I think he came.

Particles and prepositions

One may travel down a river (preposition) as well as write down an assignment (particle). English has many "two-word verbs" that contain a particle that may be mistaken for a preposition. One may say, The river down which I traveled (preposition), but not The assignment down which I wrote (particle).

These two-word verbs are common in English, but may cause problems for ESOL learners because the meanings are not related to the individual parts. You may run up a big bill, but the expression has nothing to do with running or ascending.

Another complication is that L1 expressions with similar meanings use different particles and or prepositions. For example, you are married to your wife in English, but in Spanish you are married with your wife. In English, you are afraid of something, but in Arabic you are afraid from something.

Yes and No. These are more complicated than you may think. Read the following:

Yes, it is and No, it isn't are acceptable answers to the question Is the door open or not? but not to Is the door open or closed? Furthermore, the intonation used when pronouncing a sentence can affect whether yes or no are appropriate responses to it.

The distribution of these particles, it turns out, is also affected by the polarity of the sentence they respond to. For example, both No, he hasn't and Yes, he hasn't are acceptable as agreeing responses to Ben has not called today, but in an agreeing response to Ben has called today, Yes, he has is acceptable but No, he has is not.