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

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

Why simplicity is important for improved writing skills

keep it simple writingAs I continue work on my upcoming book on writing skills, I’d like to start sharing some of the lessons I’m preparing for the books. The first, and perhaps the most important, is such a general concept it works like an introduction – the idea of keeping writing simple for more effective, accurate English. There is one rule that is taught in almost all settings of writing skills, which can help whatever the purpose for your writing: Keep It Simple. Continue reading

4 Tips for Writing Cover Letters in English

english cover letters tipsWhether applying for schools or jobs or simply asking for information, at some point everyone communicating in English must write cover letters. There are templates you can use to get started, as long as you make them personal, but the basic principles for effective cover letters are worth knowing. I have prepared some common tips below, with a consideration for foreign learners. I will be expanding on some of these tips later, including examples and more detailed breakdowns of general business writing principles. Continue reading

What do you want to learn?

To make my site and the articles I post as helpful as possible, I am running a survey to find out what you, the student, are most interested in learning. And, just as important, how do you like to learn?

Please take my quick survey by clicking HERE – it’s just 9 short questions, all you need is a few minutes for a few clicks. All the results are anonymous, and will greatly help me improve the content I offer. If you have any thoughts that aren’t covered by the survey, do get in touch by contacting me directly or leaving a comment below.

Bird of prey and other “noun of noun” constructions

bird of prey noun phrasesSubjects formed with multiple nouns connected by of can mean consisting of, or taken from, for example ‘piece of cake’, but can also mean belonging to, or with the purpose of, such as ‘father of the bride’. ‘Bird of prey’ can be confusing, though, because it seems to have the opposite meaning – bird of prey may sound like it belongs to prey, but actually it is a predator. So how do these different examples work? Continue reading

What’s the correct date format for business letters?

correct date format business lettersIn my article on the different formats for dates in UK and US English, there are plenty of rules and variations – some covered very briefly. Across business letters and other correspondence you may find uses that you do not recognise (or did not notice) in that list. For example if someone uses November 22nd, 2016 – a less common form. The question is what is the correct form to use in writing? Continue reading

Seasons Greetings and Christmas Language from ELB!

merry christmas seasonal englishChristmas is just around the corner, which leaves it to me to say seasons greetings, Merry Christmas and best wishes for a Happy New Year! I’ve covered some interesting topics for the season on this site in the past, so here’s a breakdown of different ways you can develop your English this holiday – whether you celebrate it or not: Continue reading

What’s the difference between deception and deceit?

difference between deception and deceitHere’s another confusing pair of words. Deceit and deception are both nouns, both loosely used to describe the act of deceiving. The act of deceiving being the act of concealing the truth or otherwise being misleading or false. In many situations the words can be used interchangeably – grammatically speaking it is rare that you will find a sentence where both words do not fit in the same sentence without the same general meaning. However, the sentences may offer different connotations. Continue reading

How do you answer a negative question? (Grammatically speaking)

how to answer a negative questionWith negative questions that require a yes or no, there can sometimes be confusion in the correct way to answer. Grammatically, you may assume that a negative question answered in the affirmative should be a negative statement (i.e. “Doesn’t it look good?” – “Yes it doesn’
t.”). A friend of mine teaching in Vietnam was told that this was given as a rule by one of her fellow teachers, as taught in a reference book. Theoretically this may make sense, but in practice this is NOT how negative questions work. In fact, the answer to a negative question will often be very similar to the answer to a positive question. Here’s why: Continue reading