Time for a new Youtube video!


I haven’t put anything on Youtube for ages! It’s not actually a video, but slides about writing topic sentences. View it here or go to Youtube where you can comments.

Nouns get lonely in English!


I’ve been reading a lot of student work recently and I’ve seen a lot of sentences like this:

Price of oil has risen steadily since last year.

Quantitative easing stimulates economy but might cause inflation.

Banker in the City of London earn far too much money.

Can you spot the grammar mistake in each sentence? If you’re not sure, then the correct sentences should be:

The price of oil has risen steadily since last year.

Quantitative easing stimulates the economy but might cause inflation.

Bankers in the City of London earn far too much money.

I could try and tell you boring and complex rules about the use of articles and plurals in English but you wouldn’t want to hear them and you would have fallen asleep before you got to the end of the list! But I will try and tell you something about nouns in English: they get lonely!

I like dogs.
I saw a dog this morning.
The dog I saw was black.
I like your dog.

In each case – the basic noun ‘dog’ needs a plural form, or an article, or something!

Hang on! What about the other nouns in the sentences above, like ‘oil’ and ‘inflation’. I’m not talking about uncountable nouns. They don’t get so lonely!

There’s a great page here about article usage from the University of Southampton!

Editing your work


I’ve noticed that when I’m in my office going through a piece of work with a student, as they are sitting there with me they often find lots of mistakes themselves. Even though they wrote the essay, now they are seeing it again more objectively, as if for the first time, and they find the mistakes they didn’t see before. If you can try to see your work objectively like this, you will find errors which you missed when you wrote it. I’ve got two suggestions for helping you check your work to find mistakes.

The first method is to read your piece of work checking only for ONE particular type of mistake each time. You should know what type of mistakes that you most commonly make – for example subject-verb agreement mistakes, mistakes with articles,singular/plural mistakes, mistakes with tenses. Decide which type of mistake to check for first (eg subject-verb agreement) and then read through the essay checking for ONLY this type of mistake. If you are doing subject-verb agreement start with the first sentence and find the subject. Is it singular or plural? Countable or uncountable? Now find the verb that goes with this subject – is it in the right form to go with the subject? Go on to the next sentence and do the same, and so on through the piece of work. When you have done that you choose the next type of mistake, maybe articles, and you go through the piece of work checking just for article mistakes. Then you do it again with the next type of mistake and so on.

Phew. That may take some time but your work will benefit from it. What you are trying to achieve is objectivity when you look at your work. The problem is that you have been so involved in it that you cannot see it with new eyes. So my second method is to suggestion is that you check your work by reading it backwards. Sounds rather odd! What I mean is that you look at the final sentence first. You begin at the start of the final sentence and read it checking for mistakes. Then you move back to the next sentence and check that one, and then the one before that. The reason for doing this is that when you do this you take the meaning out of the sentence and you check it just for its grammatical form. When you read from start to finish you are focused on meaning, and it is really difficult to try and ignore the meaning and focus just on the grammar.

Try putting these two suggestions together!

Short simple sentences will get you through!


This post is for weaker students who are having problems with writing longer texts: write short simple sentences! If your teacher can’t understand what you are saying then your marks will plummet (my students of English for International Finance will know the meaning!). Look at this paragraph from a website about the rise of house prices:

One of the main factors in the UK housing market is the acute shortage of housing, especially in popular areas. This means that even a very small increase in demand has a proportionally bigger increase in price.


Understand the main point? Yes! It’s a great example of clarity in writing. Academic writing is a vehicle for IDEAS. Good academic writing is not noticed at all, because the reader can just focus on the content.

In fact, you don’t need to be very inventive at all. Just use one of a small variety of sentence patterns you can see from the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University here.