How to Add Emphasis in Writing

how to add emphasis in writingEmphasis is when a particular stress or importance is given to something. Many exceptions to grammatical rules in English relate to emphasising particular words or ideas, making it a very important and also very broad topic. Structure, word order, vocabulary choice, formatting and punctuation can all be used to add emphasis. Continue reading

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.

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

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

What’s in the upcoming ELB writing skills book

book guide to writingIf you’re a member of the ELB mailing list you may have seen that I’m working on a new guide to improved writing skills. The idea is to present advanced writing tips for learners of English as a foreign language – a guide based on how the language functions, as opposed to as a creative art (which may have value for native speakers, too!). To introduce the book, I want to share the chapter topics that I currently have planned, and I welcome feedback on any additional topics you’re interested in – or ideas/hopes for how these will be discussed! Continue reading

When can we use the past simple for timeless rules?

past simple timeless rules

When we write a rule in a past tense narrative, should it still be in the present simple tense? This was an excellent question raised by a reader, from a fairly unexpected source – this Christmas reading exercise. It contains the phrase “everyone knew how magical Santa was”. The issue is that saying “was” in the past tense suggests Santa is either no longer magical (or perhaps has died?!). So, how can past simple still be correct here? Like much in English, it depends on our context. 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

2 Quick Exercises to Practice Rewriting Sentences

rewriting sentences exercisesHere are 2 new exercises to help practice some of the lessons given in my article on the various methods that can be used to rewrite English sentences. These exercises involve rewriting given sentences based on a specific component or rule – and it combines a large number of different methods. I have written these as a part of the upcoming, expanded version of Word Order in English Sentences, to help further develop understanding of sentence structure. There are many ways to do this, with suggested answers at the bottom of the page. Enjoy, and let me know if you have any questions! Continue reading

Ready, willing and able – different uses of “to be willing to do”

ready willing able to doWhen we talk about future plans in English, the construction “to be willing to do” can be used with a few different adjectives (in place of willing), such as ready, prepared and able. In some contexts these can be used interchangeably with almost no difference in meaning, roughly meaning to be prepared to do something. The idiomatic expression ready, willing and able to … means to be incredibly eager / prepared to do something. It makes use of these multiple words reinforcing the idea of readiness/eagerness by repeating adjectives that with almost the same meaning (similar to a construction such as I am well and good). However the use of such a phrase does demonstrate there is some difference between these words, and in certain contexts the different forms of to be willing to do can have distinct meanings. Continue reading

How to rewrite English sentences using word order

how to rewrite sentences word orderWhen you have a good understanding of the fundamentals of English word order, English sentences can become very flexible. Longer sentences may be arranged in a large number of ways, and many of the rules can be bent. This is useful if you want to add variety or emphasis to your writing (and it can also be useful if you simply want to restate something in a different way – which is always important to students writing essays!). In this article, I will use an example to break down some of the ways in which you can rearrange a sentence in English. Continue reading