Primary English | Grammar: Find your helping words the iDoT way

We always say that grammar should not be about what sounds right but what is right. When answering grammar MCQ, it is a must for my children to highlight the helping words. This comes with some protests at first, especially from pupils who never had the habit of doing so. However, I always explain to the children the rationale for wanting them to do something and in the case of highlighting of helping words, they need to understand that the helping words are there to point them to the answer and most importantly, the highlighted words justify their choice

So, what are these helping words that children need to highlight? Some children who are unaware of what to highlight often end up highlighting words which are entirely irrelevant to the answer or even the entire sentence! That is definitely not how we can find the answer. Different types of grammar questions have different helping words. There are so many parts of grammar that can be tested but you will notice that subject-verb agreement questions are bound to appear in this section in EVERY examination

Hence, we are going back to the basics today and looking at the helping words for subject-verb agreement questions. 

1. Identify subject-verb agreement questions

One way to identify these questions is to look at the options. These are the questions which usually have four options with a verb presented in different tenses or singular/plural forms. Can you identify which of the questions below is testing a pupil on his or her subject-verb agreement knowledge? 

  Questions taken from Rosyth School P5 SA2 2014

Questions taken from Rosyth School P5 SA2 2014

Looking at the options, Q3 has 4 options with verbs in different tenses. Therefore, Q3 is the one which is testing pupils on their subject-verb agreement knowledge.

2. Helping words - iDoT

No, iDot is not the latest Apple product (: it is an acronym that I use with my children to identify the helping words for subject-verb agreement questions. (although I think it is easy for the children to remember because it sounds like the name of some high-tech product haha.)

Jokes aside, iDoT is actually stands for infinitives, Doer and Tenses.

infinitives: Infinitives refer to verbs in their base form which also means the verb should not have -s, -ed, or -ing. There are 5 situations when an infinitive will be used:

1. After 'to': She likes to make noodles for lunch. ("to make" - 'make' is an infinitive)

2. After modal verbs: will, would, shall, should, may, might, can, could, must.
She can make noodles for lunch. ("can make")

3. After Do, Does, Did: She does make noodles for lunch. ("does make")

Why did she make noodles for lunch? ("did... make" not "did...made" or "did... makes")

4. Instruction, command or request: Make noodles for lunch!

Please make noodles for lunch.

5. Verb-noun-verb pattern: I watched(V) her(N) make(V) noodles for lunch. (not "watched her makes" or "watched her made".)

Doer: The subject in each question can be known as the Doer (Lenny ate ice cream.) or the Described (Lenny is hungry.) but for the ease of remembering, I only represented the subject as the Doer in iDoT.

Tenses: Certain words or phrases tell us when the action takes place.


3. How do we use iDoT? 

1. If there are words to bring about an infinitive, there will not be a need to highlight the Doer and Tense.

2. If no word to bring about an infinitive is present, we will need to pick up the Doer and Tenses.

Doer/ Described: Who or what is/are doing this action or is/are being described? The main point is to know whether the answer is singular or plural. One tip is that the subject tends to be near to the verb. 
e.g. Ken sees a mouse and he ___________ in fear.
I will highlight "he" as the Doer instead of Ken since "screams" is an action agreeing with "he" while "sees" agrees with "Ken".

Tenses               : Which word or phrase tells us about whether the sentence is in present or past tense? Look out for verbs (e.g. did, is, kicks) and adverbial phrases (e.g. last year, every day).

  Question taken from Henry Park Primary School P4 SA2 2014

Question taken from Henry Park Primary School P4 SA2 2014

In the question above, the "Verb Noun Verb" pattern which brings about the infinitive verb is found. Hence, there is no need to highlight the Doer and Tenses since they will not affect the answer.

  Question taken from MGS P4 SA2 2014

Question taken from MGS P4 SA2 2014

In the example above, since no words to bring about an infinitive is present, we need to identify the Doer and the Tenses. The action of attending is carried out by "we" which is plural and "last month" tells us that this action should be in past tense. Hence, plural and past tense will point us to the answer 2.

4. Tricky Questions

Knowing iDot helps you to find the answer but there are some questions which are slightly trickier. For instance, if a question is presented in direct speech form, remember to only look at the sentence within the direct speech. What happens outside of the quotation marks should not affect your answer. In the question below, the tenses used within and outside of the quotation marks are different. Children should only focus on the portion where the question is posed.

  Question taken from Henry Park Primary School P4 SA2 2014

Question taken from Henry Park Primary School P4 SA2 2014

Other trickier question types to take note of such as "neither... nor" and "bottles of milk ________" can be found in this previous post on the must-knows of grammar MCQ.


Remember, such helping words for grammar should be highlighted whenever a question related to subject-verb agreement needs to be answered. This means that iDoT should be used even in sections such as editing and comprehension cloze! With the helping words listed out in iDoT form, I hope your children will have a clearer idea of how to go about doing such questions and securing the marks! 

Grammar Grandma Bites Quiz

You never wash your toilets, _________ you?

1)    do
2)    did
3)    don’t
4)    aren’t

Think you know the answer?


Grammar Grandma Bites

1. 30 over bite-size video lessons!

2. Unique strategies to tackle a wide range of grammar topics e.g. subject-verb agreement, neither/either type questions,      collective nouns etc.          

3. Pitched at P5 and P6 levels (Or just anyone who wish to have a good grasp of grammar rules!)

Lily Chew

An English tutor on a mission to educate children; a blogger with a passion to share and grow the love of English with the world.