Check your verb forms!

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I have been reading (and marking!) a lot of student work recently. Here’s a sentence which I came across:

The number of cars was risen 10% over the last five years….

You are right if you think this looks wrong – it is wrong! I see sentences like this all the time. The general structure of the sentence is sound (word order, use of articles etc) but the student doesn’t know how to build up compound verbs properly. (The correct version is: The number of cars has risen / has been rising over the last five years..) I know that things get pretty difficult with auxiliary verbs and when a sentence is in the passive voice - a new bridge has been built in the city centre – there are even more things to get wrong with building up compound verbs. However, guys, don’t just guess! There are only a few possibilities that you can use.  Take a look again at the sentence:

The number of cars was risen 10% over the last five years….

Once you have decided that the subject of the sentence is singular (the number) and the verb is active then the grammatical possibilities for the verb are:

1. The number of cars rises over the last five years….

2. The number of cars is rising over the last five years….

3. The number of cars has risen over the last five years….

4. The number of cars has been rising over the last five years….

5. The number of cars rose over the last five years….

6. The number of cars was rising over the last five years….

7. The number of cars had risen over the last five years….

8. The number of cars had been rising over the last five years….

Any of these sentences, even the wrong ones, read far better than the original sentence that I gave you. It is also suprising that actually a fair number of them are acceptable and would not upset the reader too much! If you are not sure of the possible verb forms take a look at a verb chart like the one here on Englishpage.com. When you follow the link scroll down the page to the VERB TENSE OVERVIEW table towards the bottom of the page. You can see all the tenses laid out. Use what you think is the most appropriate one and make sure you make your verb agree with the subject of the sentence. Even if you choose the wrong tense your writing will be far more acceptable than if you put something grammatically impossible!

Check your subject-verb agreement!

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: check your subject-verb agreement before you hand your work in! Even good students make silly mistakes which can have a negative effect on their readers. Take a look at this example sentence:

Many immigrants who come to Britain works either in highly-skilled or unskilled jobs.

of course it should be:

Many immigrants who come to Britain work either in highly-skilled or unskilled jobs.

It is difficult to explain the effect that mistakes like this have on the reader. The reader often has to stop, think, try to understand, and then carry on – the whole reading experience is made harder and your mark will go down! When you have finished work you should edit it, that means checking it for mistakes. Don’t just read it through, but check it for a particular type of mistake each time.

How to check for subject-verb agreement:
1. Take your first sentence.
2. Circle the subject. Think: is it singular or plural?
3. Circle the verb which goes with that subject. Does it agree? Correct it if you need to.
4. Do the same with the next sentence or clause.

This technique is also good for checking that you have got a subject and verb in your sentence. If you can’t find the subject and verb then you need to think again about your sentence.

There is a good online exercise to help you raise your awareness of subject-verb agreement here. It is rather nicely designed with feedback provided. (Use the NEXT button at the top right to continue to the next question.) Finally, make sure you edit your work for subject-verb agreement each time you think you have finished your work!

What is the difference between an essay and a report?

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A report  

A report is divided into different parts and sections with headings. There may be numbered parts with headings and subheadings, parts labelled A, B, C and so on.Reports are very common in everyday life. You see them in businesses all the time.

 

There are different types of reports. There are academic reports which are like journal articles. There are laboratory reports that scientists write. There are business reports which don’t have the same parts as an academic report.

 

Reports are often on practical issues. For example: A report into the impact of the tuition fee increase on student applications to university.

 

The aim of a report is often to make recommendations for action or to find out and present facts.

 

Here are a couple of real reports that you can look at to get the feel of reports from the outside world:

 

The impact of universities on the UK economy

 

The economic impact of London’s international students

 

An essay  

Usually there is only the title at the top of the essay and no other headings or subheadings. Just lots of writing with paragraphs breaks.An essay is an academic piece of work and you usually don’t see essays outside college or university.

 

Essays are usually on very academic topics, not practical issues.

 

Essays are more common in Arts and Humanities subjects such as English and History.

 

The aim of an essay is to discuss, explore and show the reader that you can present and evaluate arguments.

 

 

 

 

 

For more help with report writing you check out the excellent Learn Higher site.

Better pronunciation with Audacity

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If you want to have better pronunciation you could try using some free software called Audacity. Audacity is a free open source programme which is perfect for recording your voice, listening to yourself and comparing yourself with a native speaker. Here I am giving details about exactly how to do it!

1. Go and download the Audacity software from their website: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

2. Now you can record and listen to yourself and see your speech patterns. Press on the red circle to RECORD yourself. Say something. Press the yellow square to STOP it. Press the green arrow PLAY button to hear yourself. But of course you can do that with any old sound recorder. What you want is to listen to yourself next to a native speaker. I have made an MP3 file for you to practise with.

3. Download my MP3 file here to your computer: World Poverty (right click on your mouse and save link)

4. Then you have to import my MP3 file into Audacity. In Audacity under the PROJECT menu choose IMPORT AUDIO and choose the MP3 file you downloaded World Poverty.

5. PLAY the MP3 file by hitting the green arrow and listen to my talk. It is the start of a presentation about World Poverty. As you listen, read along with my voice:

Hello and thank you for coming to my presentation. Today I’m going to talk to you about world poverty. Did you know that approximately half the population of the world, and that’s about 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day? And that 1/3 of those people live on less than $1 a day? Yes, less than $1 a day, every day. Research tells us that 25 000 children die every day because of poverty. This ongoing injustice should be a concern to all of us and this is the subject of my presentation today. First of all, I’m going to look at some of the effects of living in poverty and then I’ll move on to examine some possible ways of relieving some of the poverty we see in the world.

6. Now you are ready to record yourself and compare your pronunciation with mine. In Auduacity go to the EDIT menu, choose PREFERENCES at the bottom and make sure that the box Play other tracks wile recording the new one is ticked.

7. Press the red RECORD button. You can hear my talk. Audacity will record your voice too. Read along with me for the first part of the talk. The second time that I read I have left pauses for you to repeat my words. These are the breaks:

Hello and thank you for coming to my presentation.
Today I’m going to talk to you about world poverty.
Did you know that approximately half the population of the world,
and that’s about 3 billion people,
live on less than $2.50 a day?
And that 1/3 of those people
live on less than $1 a day?
Yes, less than $1 a day, every day.
Research tells us that 25 000 children die every day
because of poverty.
This ongoing injustice
should be a concern to all of us
and this is the subject of my presentation today.
First of all,
I’m going to look at some of the effects of living in poverty
and then I’ll move on to examine
some possible ways of relieving some of the poverty we see in the world.

You will get used to how it works quickly. When you have recorded your voice press the yellow STOP square.

8. PLAY the file to listen to my voice and then your voice.

As you get used to Audacity you will see that you can focus in on parts and you can use the visual pattern to help too. My students admitted that they had never listened to themselves speaking English. I think you should!