Monday, November 14, 2016

Noun Clauses

What are noun clauses?

A noun clause is a DEPENDENT CLAUSE (with its own subject, verb, and idea)
It  "is used as a subject of an object. In other words, a noun clause is used in the same ways as a noun."
(source: Azar (1989), Understanding and Using English Grammar, 2nd ed., Prentice Hall Regents, pg 263)

For practice finding noun clauses in sentences, try these practice exercises:

How are noun clauses used in sentences?

As the subject, they might look like this: How she answered the question surprised me.
As a direct object of a verb, they might look like this: I wonder whose house that is.
Or as the object of an adjective expression: It is obvious that they are tired.
As an object of a preposition, they might look like this: I do not agree with what they said.
As a predicate noun, they might look like this: His difficulty is that he cannot read.

For practice identifying how a noun clause is being used, try these exercises:
Practice 3
Practice 4 (printable- find AND identify its function)

In what kinds of situations do we use noun clauses?

In addition to the examples above, we might use noun clauses in...

Indirect reported speech:
  • I told him that we needed a new car.
  • For more information about and practice with indirect reported speech, please visit this earlier blog post.

After certain verbs: (such as ask, advise, beg, demand, forbid, insist, order, prefer, propose, require, recommend, request, suggest, urge)
  • She advised that we prepare a bit more extensively for our exams.
  • We need a special verb form when we do this! Check out this

(Verb list from source: Lane & Lange (1993), Writing Clearly, 3rd ed., Heinle Cengage Learning, p 141)

To talk about "mental activity" (with such verbs as believe, decide, know, learn, realize, remember, think, understand)
  • I believe that she has difficulty with noun clauses in her writing.

With "embedded questions":
  • Could you please tell me what you are doing?
  • For practice with embedded questions, try this:

How many kinds of noun clauses are there, and what do they begin with?

They might begin with a question word: (what, when, where, who, why, how, whom, whose, which)
  • I don't know why you are so stubborn.
They can begin with whether or if:
  • I don't know if she will join us.
  • I wonder whether we should wait for him.
They can begin with that:
  • I know that she is late for class.
  • It is obvious that she is tired. She is sleeping at her desk.

Where can I find more practice activities about noun clauses?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Modal Verbs (Part One)

What are modal verbs?

How are they different from other verbs?

  • They are helping verbs (or "auxiliary verbs") that carry special meaning.

There are a few things to remember about modal verbs:
  1. They are always accompanied by a main verb (never alone)
  2. They do not change in the third person singular form (no "s")
  3. Many can't be used in the past tenses or future tenses
  4. We add "not" to make one negative
  5. We do not use "do/does/did" with these to make a question

How should we use them and what do they all mean?

CAN/COULD: to show ability (or lack of it)

    I can ski, but my sister could ski when she was only three.

CAN/COULD: to show option/ indicate a choice

   You can either play hockey or ski this winter, if you are looking for a fun winter sport.

CAN/COULD/MAY: to show permission/ make a request

  Can I borrow your pencil? (Informal)
  Could I open the window? (More formal)
  May I open the window? (Most formal)

CAN: to show opportunity

  We can get some great apples in Maine at this time of year.

SHOULD/OUGHT TO (and HAD BETTER): to show advisability/ advice

   You should stop smoking.
   You ought to study more.

  •    Find more information here, here, or by watching this video. (animated and very simple)
  •    To get some practice, try this: Practice 5

SHOULD/OUGHT TO: to show expectation

   The bus should arrive soon. The schedule indicates that it will be here in 10 minutes.

  •    For practice (and to get familiar with this use), try these: Practice 6 (easy), Practice 7 (easy)


   Shouldn't we close the window? It's getting cold.
   You might want to study more.
   Shall we go out to dinner tonight?

WOULD LIKE: to show desire

   I would like to go to Florida this winter.
   Would you like to have some iced tea with your lunch?

MUST: to show an assumption/inference

   It must be cold outside today. There is frost on my window.

MUST (and HAVE TO): to show necessity/obligation/prohibition

  We must complete the bonus exercises before the test in order to earn the points.
  You mustn't be late for class.
  We have to study for the test.

WILL: to show a general truth, promise, or prediction (see "FUTURE FORMS" post for more information)

MAY/MIGHT/COULD: to show possibility
   She might visit us tomorrow, if she has time.
   You could finish your homework if you hurry and stay focused.
   We may have pizza for dinner. We haven't decided, yet.


Where can I practice more with all of these?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

3 Types of Sentences

Writers use three main types of correct sentences: Simple, Compound and Complex.

What are these?

For more information and examples, see this clear explanation.
You could also watch this clear, helpful video that explains them.



Compound Sentences are...

Two independent clauses joined by a FANBOY (or "Coordinating Conjunction")
For a whole list of examples, visit this page.

Complex Sentences are...

Two clauses joined by a subordinate conjunction, AKA one dependent and one independent clause joined together. (Check out this earlier blog post for more information on Complex sentences with subordinate conjunctions)

Are you ready to practice?

Practice One: Compound or Complex
Practice Two: Three types
Practice Three: Three types quiz
Practice Four: Three types, quiz 2

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sentence Errors: Fragments, Run ons and Comma-splice errors

What are these tricky types of errors that are so common in written English?

1) A fragment is an incomplete sentence- it is missing either its subject or its verb, or does not express a complete idea.

EXAMPLES: Is beautiful today. Because the temperature has risen slightly. (Both fragments! Can you see what is missing in each?)

For more information about fragment errors (and how to avoid them)  from Chomp Chomp, click here.

For practice finding and fixing fragments errors, try these, from the Purdue Owl, Chomp Chomp, and other popular grammar/writing sites:

2) A run-on is when two or more sentences (or "independent clauses" are put together without proper division (no conjunction, period, or semicolon).

EXAMPLE: It is a beautiful today because the temperature has risen slightly finally it isn't snowing and icy outside. (This is a run on- can you find where there should be a period?)

For more information about run on errors (and how to avoid them) from Chomp Chomp, click here.

For practice finding and fixing run-on errors, try these, from the Purdue Owl, Bristol University, and other popular grammar/writing sites:


3) A comma-splice error is like a run on...except here, a comma is "trying to do the job of a period" and divide the independent clauses all by itself. (NOTE: it can't!)

EXAMPLE: It is a beautiful today, the temperature has risen slightly finally, it isn't snowing and icy outside. (This contains two comma splice errors! YIKES!)

For more information about comma-splice errors (and how to avoid them)  from the Purdue Owl, click here.

For practice finding and fixing comma-splice errors, try these, from the Purdue Owl, Bristol University, and other popular grammar/writing sites:

If you are now ready to try to practice with all three types of sentence errors... try these:

Practice One
Practice Two (basic- a good one to start with)
Practice Three (challenging!)


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Past Perfect

The good news: the past perfect is not as commonly used as the present perfect in English.

More good news: the past perfect is not *quite* as complicated as the present perfect.

Of course, I wouldn't call it "easy,' either!

What does it look like?

  • HAD+ past participle
  • Example: He had studied English before he came to the US.
  • Example: He had left the house before Bob.
For a helpful chart of forms and a few examples, visit this edufind page.

I've forgotten the past participle forms. Where can I find a list?

  • For regular verbs, the past participle is the same as the past simple: just add "ED"

What are the rules for using past perfect?

  • Typically, past perfect is used to refer to an action or event that happened before another past action or event.
  • Example: I had studied English before I came to the US. (I studied first; then, I came.)

  • It can also be used to talk about something that happened for a period of time, but ended at a specific past time.
  • Example: I had lived in Germany until 1999.

For one helpful, clear explanation and more examples, visit English  here.
For another (longer) explanation, you may also visit this British Council page here

I understand now (I think). Where can I get some practice?

Here are some exercises to try!

  • Practice 1 (past simple and past perfect- English Pages)
  • Practice 2 (from perfect English Grammar)
  • Practice 3 (from Really Learn English)
  • Practice 4 (past simple,, past perfect, and present perfect- English pages)
  • Practice 5 (from Really Learn English)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Are you feeling under the weather?

Are you a night owl?

Do you have a bucket list?

Those are examples of idioms.

(Idioms are one of our favorite aspects of English!)

But they can be challenging to master. They are not a piece of cake!

What is an idiom?

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, it is:
  • "an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but that has a separate meaning of its own"
  • "a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations"

The more sophisticated Oxford dictionary definition is:
  • "a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., rain cats and dogs, see the light)."

What are some other examples of American English idioms?


Where can you find the meaning of idioms that you hear?

Are you ready to practice?


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Making Writing More Academic

The language we speak with friends and the language we use in academic/formal writing are quite different. Knowing this one of the first key steps in college success.

 How do we learn how to make our writing more academic? 

A few easy tips are:

1) Avoid contractions
2) Avoid the informal "YOU" pronoun (use WE or a specific noun to indicate whom you are referring to)
3) Avoid informal expressions such as "guy," "kid," and "stuff."
4) Don't start sentences with FANBOYS such as BUT, AND, SO. Instead, use clear transition words to link ideas (however, thus, therefore, in addition)

For more suggestions, visit these helpful sites:

The DC IELTS page
English Grammar page
University of Surrey (a helpful printable reference page!)
CPALMS Writing Tips
UMC Writing Center (information on word choices)
Purdue Owl Word Choice Tips

For practice with this skills, try these:

Practice 1
Practice 2 (word choice)
Practice 3 (word choice)
Practice 4 (word choice)

Looking for more? Check out these more advanced articles on how to become a better writer!

Article 1
Article 2
Article 3 (very advanced- more tips from the Purdue Owl)
Article 4 (Tips for ESL writers- advanced article)