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

21 alternative verbs to describe speaking

alternative verbs to sayThere are many verbs in English that describe speech. If you want to describe a conversation in a more dynamic way, you can choose verbs with more specific meanings than “to say”, which simply means to speak. This is useful if you want to create a varied narrative, in writing, or if you just want to add more variety and depth to your speech. For example, instead of “He said,” we might say “He exclaimed,”, “He noted,” or “He interjected,” – all to describe something that was said, but in a different manner. Here is a quick list of alternatives you can use, with explanations and examples: Continue reading

How to use the past perfect to build narratives

past perfect narrative usesFollowing on from my article about using the past perfect to demonstrate sequences, let’s look at how it can build an effective narrative. The past perfect can help create atmosphere, feeding new information into a narrative at more flexible times. Continue reading

Creating past event sequences with the past perfect

past perfect sequencesTo give a little structure to the different examples of past tenses uses I’ve highlighted in some of my narrative articles, here’s a quick explanation of how the past perfect can be used to create past event sequences (adapted from The English Tenses Practical Grammar Guide). Continue reading

The Past Tenses in Narrative Use – Comparative Examples (1)

past tenses comparative narrativeAs the many uses of the different aspects of English can make choosing between the different tenses confusing, it may help to look at specific narrative texts or sections of English dialogue and analyse why the writer or speaker chooses different tenses. To help demonstrate the different uses of the past tense, the following short paragraph has numbered sentences, and a full explanation of why each clause is in that tense: Continue reading

What are simple, compound and complex sentences?

simple compound and complex sentencesSimple sentences are formed in English containing an independent clause that forms a grammatically complete action, event or idea. A simple sentence should have a complete noun and verb relationship with any necessary additional information. To make writing more interesting, and lively, English speakers do not onlyuse simple sentences, however. Simple sentences on their own can seem immature, or develop a stop-start rhythm.

We also have combinations of clauses, which can form compound or complex sentences – for longer sentences with more than one verb. These can be used to add variety, and flow, to writing. They can also express more complicated, and connected, ideas.  It is important to develop an understanding for these different types of sentence structure, to write in a more complex, varied, and natural manner. Continue reading