He decided, he was deciding, he’s decided: choosing the correct past tense

Emilija Manevska/Moment/GettyImages

by Liz Walter

English has several ways of talking about the past, and it can often be difficult to decide which one to use. In this post, I am going to look at three very common past forms: the past simple (he decided), the past continuous (he was deciding), and the present perfect (he’s/he has decided) and try to give some simple advice on which form to use. Continue reading “He decided, he was deciding, he’s decided: choosing the correct past tense”

Still, already and yet: Which do I use where?

by Liz Walter

yetThis post looks at the words still, already and yet – three common words that often cause problems for students.

We use still to talk about situations that continue to exist at the present time or at the time you are talking about:

He still hasn’t said sorry.

Note that (like words such as often and sometimes) still comes before the verb (unless it is be, when it comes after) or between the auxiliary and the main verb:

She still lives with her mother.

She lives still with her mother.

They were still living in London.

They were living still in London.

It is possible, but much less common, to put still at the end of the sentence:

She lives with her mother still.

We use yet in negative sentences to talk about things that have not happened up to the present time or the time you are talking about. With yet, Brits are most likely to use the present perfect, while Americans often use the past simple:

I haven’t read the document yet. (UK)

I didn’t read the document yet. (US)

We also use yet in simple, present tense questions, but not in positive statements:

Are you hungry yet?

Is the doctor here yet?

I am hungry yet.

We often use yet to ask whether something has been done. Again, Brits are most likely to use the present perfect, where Americans usually use the past simple:

Have you done your homework yet? (UK)

Did you do your homework yet? (US)

Note that we almost always put yet at the end of the sentence. It is possible to put it before the verb in negative sentences, but this is rather formal:

He hasn’t yet received the document.

Make sure you don’t use yet when you should use already. We use already to talk about things that have happened or been done before, or that have happened or been done before the expected time. Again, Brits often use the present perfect where Americans use the past simple:

I’ve already seen that movie. (UK)

I already saw that movie. (US)

Have you finished your work already?  (UK)

Did you finish your work already? (US)

Be careful with the spelling of already too – remember that it only has one ‘l’!

So, did you know all this information already? Perhaps you haven’t learned it in your English lessons yet? Or maybe you learned it in class but you still didn’t understand it completely? Anyway, I hope it is clearer now!

If you’d like some more information on still, already and yet, you can find it here.

A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)

by Liz Walter

lotsWe often need to talk about amounts and numbers of things, but it is easy to make mistakes with some of the words we need to use. This post will give some useful ways of talking about large amounts or numbers of things and explain how to avoid some common errors.

The first words many students learn for large amounts are much and many. Much is used with uncountable/mass nouns and many with countable nouns:

We don’t have much water.

How many cups are there?

You can read more about countable and uncountable nouns here.

Continue reading “A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)”

Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)

by Liz Walter​
say and tell
Most of us spend a lot of time talking – in fact a recent study showed that the average Brit spends 6 months of their life talking about weather alone! It’s no wonder therefore that we often need to describe that activity.

Unfortunately, simple verbs such as speak, say, talk and tell cause a lot of problems for learners of English. This post looks at two of the most common ‘talking’ verbs – say and tell –  and gives advice on how to use them correctly.

We often use say to report what someone else has said, using a that-clause. You can usually leave out ‘that’:

She said (that) she was thirsty.

He says (that) he’s a friend of yours. Continue reading “Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)”

In London but at the station: prepositions for talking about travel

by Liz Walter​
prepositions_travel
Several readers have asked for information on prepositions, so I will start with a blog post that looks at an area where they are really important: travel.

The first thing to remember is that we use to (and not ‘in’) after the verb go:

We are going to London.

I went to the supermarket.

With the verb arrive, it’s a bit more complicated. We arrive in a village, town, city, country or continent, but we arrive at a building or other specific place:

They arrived in Paris this morning.

Call me when you arrive at the airport.

Do not use ‘to’ after ‘arrive’. However, we do use get to with the same meaning as ‘arrive in/at’:

We got to Germany that day.

When you get to the church, turn left. Continue reading “In London but at the station: prepositions for talking about travel”

A, an, and the: how to use articles in English

by Liz Walter​
articles_in_English
Many learners of English have problems with articles (the words a, an and the), especially when they don’t exist in their own language. This blog looks at some of the basic rules.

The number one rule is this: if a word is countable (e.g. one book, two books), you must always use an article (or my, his, etc.):

 

I read a book.

I read book.

This is true even if there are adjectives before the noun:

He drives an old car.

He drives old car. Continue reading “A, an, and the: how to use articles in English”

How to use apostrophes (’)

by Liz Walter​
apostrophes
Using apostrophes in the wrong way is one of the most common punctuation errors for native speakers of English as well as for learners.

If you remember these three simple rules, you will avoid mistakes:

1) We use apostrophes to show who something belongs to, e.g. This is Tom’s hat.

2) We also use them for contracted forms, to show that something is missing, e.g. It’s raining.

3) We do not use them for plurals!! If you are in an English-speaking country, you will see many signs in shops and cafés advertising ‘tomato’s’, ‘pizza’s’, ‘sandwich’s’, etc. This is incorrect, and you will lose marks if you do this in an English exam! Continue reading “How to use apostrophes (’)”

The cake was made by my sister: how to use the passive in English.

by Liz Walter​
passive_cake
Look at these two sentences:

My sister made the cake.

The cake was made by my sister.

Both these sentences mean the same. The first is an active sentence: it tells you what the sister did. The second is a passive sentence: it tells you what happened to the cake.

Here are some more passive sentences. Note that we use by before the person or thing that does something, and with before the thing that is used to do it:

‘Hamlet’ was written by Shakespeare.

The pieces of wood were cut by a machine.

The rope was cut with a sharp knife. Continue reading “The cake was made by my sister: how to use the passive in English.”

They sometimes go here and they never go there: using adverbs of frequency

by Liz Walter​
frequency
Sometimes, always, often, never: these are some of the most common words in English.  Unfortunately, they are also some of the words that cause the most problems for students.

Many of my students put them in the wrong place, often because that’s where they go in their own languages. They say things like, ‘I watch always TV in the evening’, when they should say, ‘I always watch TV in the evening’.

There are some basic rules about where to put adverbs of frequency, and if you only remember the first two, you will get them right most of the time!

Here is rule number one: They come after the verb ‘to be’:

  • Alex is never at home.
  • The children were sometimes rather noisy.

Rule number two: They come before all other verbs:

The woman who gave me the flowers: how to construct relative clauses.

by Liz Walter​
relative clauses
There are two main types of relative clause. One is for making it clear who or what we are talking about. Teachers call this type ‘defining relative clauses’, and they don’t have commas around them:

The woman who gave me the flowers is my neighbour.

This is the chair that I bought yesterday.

For these relative clauses, we use who for people, which for things, and (especially in speech) that for either people or things.

The other type is for giving extra information. These are called ‘non-defining relative clauses’, and they do have commas:

The woman, who was a friend of mine, gave me some flowers.

The furniture, which was very old, belonged to my father. Continue reading “The woman who gave me the flowers: how to construct relative clauses.”