Sunday, January 30, 2011

How I ngrammed an historic occasion

Or how one usage slowly dies out while another is born.

While watching a rather good documentary on Al Jazeera's YouTube channel about the historical background to the current events in Egypt, I twice heard the reporter use the expression 'an historic moment'. Or it might have been 'an historic day' or 'an historic occasion', or some such. But the reporter, who I think had an Australian accent, definitely said 'an' and I'm pretty sure he fully pronounced the 'h' both times.
  • When to use a and when to use an - quiz
  • Is it an historic occasion or a historic occasion - discussion
  • In at the birth - to ngram as a verb

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Confusing words - care for, care about, take care of

Students of English can get a little confused with expressions based on the word care such as:
care for, care about and take care of.

Do these exercises / quizzes to help you sort out the differences. (If you get really stuck the answers are at the end.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making sense of negative inversion. Hopefully!

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.
Winston Churchill, in tribute to the fighter-pilots of the Battle of Britain
This is one of the best-known examples of negative inversion in the English Language. And if you're into effective speaking, you'll also notice an example of tripling.
Certificate exams often have a question concerning inversion with negative adverbials, often simply referred to as negative inversion. Students can have problems with these constructions, and for this reason at least one teacher (see link at the end) has publicly wondered if it's worth all the bother, especially as you can speak perfect English without ever using a negative inversion.
But we all like a challenge, don't we? Both you as a student and me as a teacher, so let's have a shot at mastering the little bugger, by taking it nice and slowly. It's only a technique after all; there's no interpretation involved, it's not like choosing verb tenses for example. If you can ask a question, you can do negative inversion. Well, more or less.
There's quite a lot to get through, so get yourself a nice cup of coffee, and when you're sitting comfortably, we'll begin.
If you just want some practice without a lesson, you can try these practice exercises.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The do’s and don'ts of apostrophe use

No area of punctuation seems to give native speakers more problems than the apostrophe; a 2008 survey found that nearly half of the UK adults polled were unable to use it correctly. And no area of punctuation seems to cause people to get so hot under the collar at what they see as its ‘abuse’. There are even societies and websites devoted to to protecting it, and exposing the dastardly attacks on this fine and noble (but rather unimportant) little punctuation mark.

Some shops, such as Tescos, have just given up completely and consigned the apostrophe to the dustbin.

Yet the rules for using it are remarkably simple and (mainly) uncontroversial.

Nearly everything you want to know, and some things you probably don't want to hear, about apostrophes
  • Contractions quiz
  • Possessives quiz
  • Possessive determiners and pronouns quiz
  • Confusing words quiz
  • Apostrophes quiz
  • Annotated rant
  • 2 Vocabulary quizzes
  • Lots of links

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Maybe if we sang a song, we'd learn conditionals quicker

You can find tutorials on just about everything on YouTube, including English grammar. Some of the best are videos illustrating English grammar with extracts from popular songs. But sometimes you have to be a little careful.

Revise and practise your conditionals with these quizzes using song lyrics.

It's a boy!

Transatlantic pronoun problems

I was writing some example sentences for my post on lay and lie, when I wrote this sentence:

She wrapped the baby up and laid it in its cot.

Then I remembered a post I'd read recently on the excellent language blog Separated by a common language. The blogger is an American linguist, who is currently working at a British university and writes about the differences between British and American English. And the penny has just dropped that Lynne Guist is not in fact her real name. What an idiot I am!

Anyway apparently it's quite normal for Brits to call very young babies it, as I had done there without even thinking, and Americans find this somewhat shocking. So, not wanting to offend anyone's sensibilities, I changed it to him and its to his.

Then for some light relief from 'lay and lie', which was involving quite a lot of work, I 'popped over' to 'Newsroom 101' to do a quiz or two, as you do. Newsroom 101 is not run by Associated Press, but has lots of quizzes based on Associated Press rules. I don't take them too seriously, but it's quite fun trying to guess how their minds work. Well, I came across these sentences:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Confusing verbs - lie, lay, lie

Two intransitive, one transitive
One regular, one slightly irregular, one very irregular
But which is which?

Even native speakers have problems with this one. But you can master these tricky little verbs, and at the same time practise your prepositions and phrasal verbs, by doing these quizzes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's behind you: the very British tradition of pantomime

Do a panto quiz

At Christmas time, theatres all over Britain put on pantomime, a uniquely British form of theatrical entertaiment, aimed at children and adults alike, and commonly referred to as panto. After a bit of a bad patch, panto is again as popular as ever, if not even more so.
Panto is based on traditional fairy stories, such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin, Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington, and generally uses a standard set of conventions.
Learn about these conventions by doing a gapfill quiz; read a little about the revival of panto; find links to the best panto on YouTube, so you can get a bit of the flavour of it for yourself.