Emphasis 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
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.
As 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
If 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
Whether 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
When 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
Calendar dates can be written in a wide variety of ways in English, and often depend on formal or informal writing, personal style and whether you are writing British or American English. Whatever the format, in British English, dates are usually written in the order day – month – year , while in American English they are written month – day – year. Here are some common ways to write dates for each: Continue reading
Articles can vary in length, and topic, but all should follow a logical structure. Though they may take many forms, the purpose is usually to inform or to entertain (often both), and this means following a similar pattern. Whether you’re writing an essay arguing two sides of a debate, narrating the history of a topic or reporting an event, the following tips can help students of English plan and write an effective article: Continue reading
Reading newspaper articles is an excellent way for foreign learners to build vocabulary and practice comprehension using real material. It can expose you to different topics, and a variety of language that is rare in spoken English. However, newspaper writing is rarely a representation of common English. Headlines in newspapers, in particular, use different grammar rules to everyday English. This is because they are designed to be short and to attract attention. The following 8 rules are often used to achieve this: Continue reading
Writing emails is now more common than ever, with people sending dozens of emails a day – while in the past people might have sent letters very rarely. With traditional letters, formal greetings and farewells were common in English because writing a letter was generally a formal and sophisticated form of communication. The speed and frequency that we write and receive emails has made email writing less formal than letter writing, however. Emails do not always require the same polite tone, or the same details, as a letter. So how can you introduce and sign off emails effectively in English? Continue reading