About Phil Williams

English tutor and freelance writer based in Brighton, UK.

The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth (Book Review)

Here’s something for anyone who really wants to go beyond the basics of English. Having recently released Advanced Writing Skills for Students of English, I’ve had a few readers share comments that while they see the value in a clear and simple writing approach they also love long sentences and creative use of English. Once you’re able to write flawless advanced English, what structures and styles can be used to really stand out? How do turns of phrase and idiomatic or poetic language that doesn’t fit the rules work? The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth is an excellent introduction to such ideas.

Forsyth aims to revive a study of rhetoric, the many rules (or, rather, recorded patterns) for very specific, very advanced language techniques. His starting point is the suggestion that Shakespeare was not merely a very talented writer, but a diligent student of the language. Shakespeare used rhetorical devices very deliberately and would have studied them as strategic rules, much as foreign learners have to study the basic rules of English.

Some of the ideas The Elements of Eloquence expand on concepts found in my ELB books, referring to the flexibility of rules and matters of style. Rhetoric puts names to these ideas, such as hyperbaton, the practice of creating sentences that do not fit the usual word order expectations. Some are structural, others more poetic, such as synaesthesia, the cross-application of senses  (e.g. Hanslick’s quote, criticising Tchaikovsky, “this music stinks to the ear”). There are some 39 such rhetorical devices covered in the book.

This book is lightly written, making the subject accessible and giving an easy summary of the ideas. It goes beyond the ordinary in English writing (and general usage) to explain why many supposed errors may actually be deliberate (particularly consider enallage, a deliberate grammatical mistake), and how very unusual sentences work. It won’t necessarily tell you exactly when you can get away with using these devices, as they are very nuanced, but it will raise your awareness of them.

Such incredibly specific techniques in English are ideas I would like to explore myself, as a future instructive guide for foreign learners, but it makes me happy that a book like this already exists, providing a window into a fascinating and rarely discussed area. If you’d like to give it a read, check out The Elements of Eloquence here.

“There is a lot of” vs “There are a lot of”

there is are a lot ofDo we say “There is a lot…” or “There are a lot of…”? This question was put to me recently by a student who noted that “lot” is the first noun after a verb. In theory, the verb should be singular with “a lot of”, because it is a singular “lot”. Comparing “There are a lot of apples.” and “There is a lot of apples.”, this sounds incorrect, however. Why? Continue reading

Advanced Writing Skills is available now, with a limited time offer

writing skills bookIt’s finally here – Advanced Writing Skills for Students of English has hit the (electronic) shelves! After an intense month of final updates, with massive thanks due to my excellent beta reading team, the final book is now available in eBook and paperback format from Amazon. (The paperback should also be available to order from local bookshops.)

And for the first week of its release, because I want to give more people on my list a chance to get it, I’m offering the eBook at half price, and the paperback at a discount. Until June 13th only, it’s $3.49 on Kindle and $12.99 in paperback (and respective prices worldwide).

So without further ado – the book! Here’s the cover and blurb: Continue reading

Simple States or Passive Voice?

simple passive verb formsI recently had a question through this website but the return email didn’t work, so I’ve posted my answer in the hope that the reader sees it! It relates to spotting the difference between the past simple and the passive voice – specifically, how we can use different verb forms to follow the verb to be. Here we go: Continue reading

A new look for ELB Books

Spring has finally arrived in the UK (sort of), and it seems like high-time I had a spring clean for the English Lessons Brighton books and website. As the time’s come for me to edit the final version of my upcoming book, Advanced Writing Skills for Students of English, I’m taking this opportunity to consider the overall design of my books and website. In the next few months I hope to give the site itself a redesign, but in the meantime I’m looking at updating some imagery and greatly improving the branding of my study guides. Here’s the direction I’m going in: Continue reading

How to use hyphens in English

how to use hyphens

A hyphen is this short punctuation mark: . Not to be confused with longer dashes, which have different uses. Hyphens are used in English for two specific purposes – hard hyphens join words together, while soft hyphens divide words. The uses of hyphens can depend on certain styles, but generally they are used in the patterns laid out below. Continue reading

How to start a sentence with “only after / when / if”

only after when ifSentences that start with an “only” adverbial, usually referring a particular time or condition, have a curious structure as they typically require an auxiliary verb and an inversion. These sentences can come in many tenses, and are usually emphatic. Here’s few examples:

  • Only after the sun went down, did the bats come out.
  • Only if you finish your homework can you go to the park.
  • Only when we had eaten the pie did we realise that it was out of date.

So how do we use this structure?

Continue reading

Recognising verb constructions following “to be”

to be verb formsThe verb “to be” can be used in descriptive clauses or as an auxiliary verb to create certain grammatical structures, such as the continuous tenses and the passive voice. This can lead to confusion when a verb or verb form follows the verb “to be” – how do you recognise which structure is being used? Consider this example: “The museum is supposed to be _______ in the morning.” (open) Opening would form the continuous tense, open would be an adjective form, opened would form a passive sentence. Each of these could be arguably correct – so how do we know the difference? Continue reading

Different Genres of Fiction to Read

different genres of fiction listWhen I’m not writing about the English language, I’m busy writing creative fiction (if you’d like to see my books, check here). Reading fiction is a great way to learn English, if you can find an area that engages and entertains you. And it’s possible to find examples of English writing at all levels in different genres. The starting point, though, is to identify the genres available to you, so you can find something that you personally enjoy. I’ve prepared a vocabulary list to help introduce the different genres of fiction, demonstrated below with examples of popular books in the genre. (Personally, I write in dystopian and contemporary fantasy genres – which are sub-genres of sci-fi and fantasy.) Continue reading

Seasons Greetings from ELB – including what’s coming for 2018

Advent is always a fun time here in the UK, and I like to celebrate it in a small way on this website with some Christmas learning. We have a whole culture of books, films and traditions that can make English more fun – some of which I’ve covered here before. With the holiday just around the corner now, I want to take a chance to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas, to let you know what’s planned in 2018 and to share with you, again, some of the learning material that I’ve put up for the season in the past. Continue reading