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Showing posts with label WRITING. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WRITING. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GRAMMAR PILLS: How to use articles - A/AN, THE and ZERO article

How do we use articles in English?

💡 Quick answer:

In general
(indefinite / non-specific)
In particular
(definite / specific)
Countable Plural
(1) Zero article
(3) the (el, la, los, las)
Countable Singular
(2) a / an (un, uno, una)


(1) When we talk about an uncountable noun or a countable plural noun in general (i.e. we talk about all the items in a group, or there is no need to specify an item in particular), we do NOT use an article:
Cuando hablamos de un sustantivo (=nombre) incontable o contable plural en general (es decir, hablamos de todos los elementos de un conjunto o no hay necesidad de especificar uno en particular), NO usamos artículo:

in technology (❌The advances) have made it easier for us to keep in touch with our loved ones.
Modern technology (❌The modern technology) is essential to our lives, both at home and at work.
Students (❌The students) should hand in their assignments on time.
People (❌The people) are the same everywhere.
👉In these examples, we are talking about 'technology', 'students', and 'people' in general.

2) When we talk about a countable singular noun in general (i.e. we talk about one non-specific item in a group), we use a / an (the indefinite article):
Cuando hablamos de un sustantivo contable singular en general (es decir, hablamos de un elemento no especificado en un conjunto), usamos 'a' / 'an' (un, uno, una = el artículo indefinido):

⟶ I went to a pub last night. (Fui a un bar anoche.)
⟶ I’ve got a car. (Tengo un coche.)
⟶ He gave me an apple. (Él me dio una manzana.)

🔺 ‘A’ or ‘an’?

Use ‘a’ before words that start with a consonant SOUND:
Usamos ‘a’ antes de palabras que comienzan con un SONIDO consonante:
A university degree ⇒ ‘u’ is pronounced /juː/ here, and /j/ is a consonant sound
a one-hour class ⇒ ‘one’ is pronounced /wʌn/, and /w/ is a consonant sound
⟶ a uniform / a house, etc.

Use ‘an’ before words that start with a vowel SOUND:
Usamos ‘a’ antes de palabras que comienzan con un SONIDO vocal:
An honest man ⇒ ‘h’ is silent here, and the first sound is a vowel: /ˈɒnɪst/
an hour ⇒ ‘h’ is silent here, and the first sound is a vowel: /aʊə/
an MBA degree, etc.

3) When we talk about an uncountable, a countable plural or a countable singular noun in particular (i.e. we talk about a specific item, or there is only one item in the group, and it is therefore clear which item we are talking about – e.g.: ‘the sun’), we use ‘the’ (the definite article):
Cuando hablamos de un sustantivo incontable, contable plural o contable singular en particular (es decir, hablamos un elemento específico, o hay un solo elemento en el conjunto, por ejemplo: the sun’, el sol’), usamos ‘the’ (el, la, los, las = el artículo definido):

⟶ A look at the advances in technology during the 1960s (los avances en tecnología durante la década de los 60), from washing machines to computers. (BBC Four) (a specific set of advances)
The students who failed the exam (Los alumnos que reprobaron el examen) should study hard for the resit. (a specific group of students)
The people who migrate (La gente que migra) are called migrants. (a specific group of people)

👉The rules above apply to almost all cases; however, there are some special uses that should also be taken into account. Read more:
Using zero articles - BBC English Class (2:10 minutes)
The definite article - BBC English Class (2:22 minutes)
Learn about indefinite articles with singular countable nouns - BBC English Class (2:40 minutes)
GRAMMAR: How to use the definite article with abstract uncountable nouns (6:04 minutes)

📌 Practice:

Saturday, October 06, 2018

How many is a billion? (From Oxford Dictionary – Explore)

💡 In British English, a billion used to be equivalent to a million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000), while in American English it has always equated to a thousand million (i.e. 1,000,000,000). British English has now adopted the American figure, though, so that a billion equals a thousand million in both varieties of English.
The same sort of change has taken place with the meaning of trillion. In British English, a trillion used to mean a million million million (i.e. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000). Nowadays, it's generally held to be equivalent to a million million (1,000,000,000,000), as it is in American English.

The same evolution can be seen with quadrillion and quintillion. In British English, a quadrillion used to mean a thousand raised to the power of eight (1024), and is now understood to be a thousand raised to the power of five (1015). A quintillion, in British English, used to mean a million raised to the power of five (1030), and is now most commonly held to be a thousand raised to the power of six (1018).

Even higher are sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, and decillion, some of which are not common enough to be included in yet.

Other terms follow the same linguistic pattern (ending with -illion) but do not refer to precise numbers. These include jillion, zillion, squillion, gazillion, kazillion, bajillion, and bazillion. All of these words are used informally to refer to an extremely or indefinitely large number.

How many is a billion? (2:02 minutes)

Thursday, September 06, 2018

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SINGULAR 'THEY' (From Oxford English Dictionary Blog)

👉 An excerpt from "A brief history of singular they", by Dennis Baron

Singular ‘they’ has become the pronoun of choice to replace ‘he and she’ in cases where the gender of the antecedent – the word the pronoun refers to – is unknown, irrelevant, or nonbinary, or where gender needs to be concealed. It’s the word we use for sentences like ‘Everyone loves his mother’.
Since forms may exist in speech long before they’re written down, it’s likely that singular 'they' was common even before the late fourteenth century. That makes an old form even older.

In the eighteenth century, grammarians began warning that singular 'they' was an error because a plural pronoun can’t take a singular antecedent. They clearly forgot that singular 'you' was a plural pronoun that had become singular as well. You functioned as a polite singular for centuries, but in the seventeenth century singular 'you' replaced 'thou', 'thee', and 'thy', except for some dialect use. That change met with some resistance. […]

Singular 'you' has become normal and unremarkable. […] And singular 'they' is well on its way to being normal and unremarkable as well. Toward the end of the twentieth century, language authorities began to approve the form. The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) not only accepts singular they, they also use the form in their definitions. And the New Oxford American Dictionary (Third Edition, 2010), calls singular 'they' ‘generally accepted’ with indefinites, and ‘now common but less widely accepted’ with definite nouns, especially in formal contexts.

Not everyone is down with singular 'they'. The well-respected Chicago Manual of Style still rejects singular 'they' for formal writing, and just the other day a teacher told me that he still corrects students who use ‘everyone … their’ in their papers, though he probably uses singular 'they' when his students aren’t looking. […]

👉 Dennis Baron – Professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Read Dennis’s blog, The Web of Language, and follow him on Twitter as @DrGrammar.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018


A book released in 2017 claims that Americanisms will have completely absorbed the English language by 2120 - Hephzibah Anderson takes a look.
From: BBC Capital
So, it turns out I can no longer speak English. This was the alarming realisation foisted upon me by Matthew Engel’s witty, cantankerous yet nonetheless persuasive polemic That’s the Way it Crumbles: The American Conquest of EnglishBecause by English, I mean British English.

Despite having been born, raised and educated on British shores, it seems my mother tongue has been irreparably corrupted by the linguistic equivalent of the grey squirrel. And I’m not alone. Whether you’re a lover or a loather of phrases like “Can I get a decaf soy latte to go?”, chances are your vocabulary has been similarly colonised.

Speaking on the wireless in 1935, Alistair Cooke declared that “Every Englishman listening to me now unconsciously uses 30 or 40 Americanisms a day”. In 2017, that number is likely closer to three or four hundred, Engel hazards – more for a teenager, “if they use that many words in a day”.

But how did this happen and why should we care? After all, as a nation we’ve been both invaded and invader, and our language is all the richer for it. Words like bungalow, bazaar, even Blighty, have their roots elsewhere. Heck, go far enough back and isn’t it pretty much all just distorted Latin, French or German?

The first American words to make it across the pond were largely utilitarian – signifiers for flora and fauna that didn’t exist back in Merrie England. Moose, maize and tobacco were among them. But there were others, too, that in retrospect might seem laden with significance – words like plentifulness, monstrosity and conflagration.

With no means of swift communication or easeful passage between the two countries, American English merely trickled back into its source to begin with. But as the balance of power between Britain and her former colonies shifted, as America ascended to military, economic, cultural and technological dominance, that trickle swelled to a torrent, washing away any kind of quality control.


Throughout the 19th Century, Engel contends, “the Americanisms that permeated the British language did so largely on merit, because they were more expressive, more euphonious, sharper and cleverer than their British counterparts”. What word-lover could resist the likes of ‘ornery’, ‘boondoggle’ or ‘scuttlebutt’? That long ago ceased to be the case, leaving us with words and phrases that reek of euphemism – ‘passing’ instead of dying – or that mock their user with meaninglessness, like the non-existent Rose Garden that political reporters decided No 10 had to have, just because the White House has one (it doesn’t exactly have one either, not in the strictest sense, but that’s a whole other story).

Call me a snob, but there’s also the fact that some American neologisms are just plain ungainly. I recently picked up a promising new American thriller to find ‘elevator’ used as a verb in the opening chapter. As in, Ahmed was ‘elevatoring’ towards the top of his profession in Manhattan.

Nowadays, no sphere of expression remains untouched. Students talk of campus and semesters. Magistrates, brainwashed by endless CSI reruns, ask barristers “Will counsel please approach the bench?” We uncheck boxes in a vain effort to avoid being inundated with junk mail that, when it arrives regardless, we move to trash.

It’s understandable, of course. Sometimes, American words just seem more glamorous. Who wants to live in a flat, a word redolent of damp problems and unidentifiable carpet stains, a word that just sounds – well, flat – when they could make their home in an apartment instead? Sometimes that glamour is overlain with bracing egalitarianism – it’s a glamour untainted by our perennial national hang-up, class.

Take ‘movie’. The word has all the glitz of Hollywood and none of the intellectual pretensions (or so it might be argued) of the word ‘film’, which increasingly suggests subtitles (‘foreign-language film’ is one of the few instances in which the f-word doesn’t seem interchangeable with its American counterpart – ‘foreign-language movie’ just sounds odd). Other times they fill a gap, naming something that British English speakers have been unable to decide on, as is increasingly the case with ATM, a boring but brief alternative to cash point, cash machine, hole in the wall. Also to be factored in is what Engel dubs “Britain’s cultural cringe”, which predisposes us to embrace the foreign.

It’s often pointed out that plenty of these Americanisms were British English to begin with – we exported them, then imported them back. A commonly made case in point is ‘I guess’, which crops up in Chaucer. When Dr Johnson compiled his seminal 1755 dictionary, ‘gotten’ was still in use as a past participle of ‘get’. But as Engel points out, good old English is not good new English. Moreover, his beef isn’t really to do with authenticity; it’s more to do with our unthinking complicity. Because it’s not just the cookies and the closets, or even the garbage, it’s the insidiousness of it all. We’ve already reached the point where most of us can no longer tell whether a word is an Americanism or not. By 2120, he suggests, American English will have absorbed the British version entirely. As he puts it, “The child will have eaten its mother, but only because the mother insisted”. (Continue reading)

Sunday, September 02, 2018


This is a weekly selection of reading articles, free online exercises, YouTube videos, games, quizzes and resources for you to further improve your English language skills while having fun ENJOY!

📜READING PICKS – Articles, blog posts, quizzes and more:

From BBC SPORTS: Everyday exercise: How to work out at home (without equipment) Cardio (or cardiovascular) exercise is movement that gets your heart rate up and increase blood circulation throughout the body.
Whether you are looking to improve the condition of your heart (remember it's a muscle), lose weight, clear your mind or just generally improve your health, cardio exercise will help you.
The NHS has a 10-minute home cardio workout to get you started until you are ready to move for longer.
Walking is a great way to get more active and you can literally do it anywhere, and in any way that suits you. If you are ready to take on the next step, the Couch to 5K programme can take you from walking to running or jogging for 30 minutes confidently within nine weeks. (Continue reading)

From OXFORD Living Dictionaries: Top tips for better business writingThis guide will show you the things to look out for when writing for business, to make sure you're always clear, and that you always leave a good impression.
All good writing communicates with readers in a personal way. Good business writing, whether it is a report written for an employer or an email to a client, does that quickly and effectively. You do not need to use overly formal language; it is better to use a neutral style that is akin to conversation, but rather more organized.
Above all, present your information logically and helpfully, so that readers are in no doubt what your message is—and what, if anything, you want them to do in response. (Continue reading)

🎬 VIDEO PICKS – Short and fun videos:

BBC English Class: How to learn and use phrasal verbs (2:32 minutes)
How to Argue – Philosophical Reasoning: Crash Course Philosophy #2 (9:42 minutes)

What to Eat in Normandy, France - Visit Normandy (10:30 minutes)

Everyday or every day? (5:18 minutes)

💡 GRAMMAR PICKS – Assorted exercises and games:


Thursday, August 23, 2018


At some point in your life, you will probably have to make a speech. There are many kinds of speeches, including those intended to inform, persuade, instruct, motivate, and entertain. They all share the same goal, however: to communicate clearly and effectively to an audience.

💡 Here are some guidelines to make it easier to talk to a room full of people you don’t know.
  1. Know your audience
  2. Narrow your topic
  3. Outline your speech
  4. Get the attention of the room
  5. Organize your speech
  6. Offer examples, statistics, and quotations
  7. Craft a powerful conclusion
  8. Use presentation aids if appropriate
  9. Write for the ear, not for the eye
  10. Time yourself

1. Know your audience

Understand what your listeners care about. Tailor your speech to their knowledge and their interests. If you are an expert speaking to a general audience, be sure to define your terms. If you’re a manager talking to a staff that has recently experienced lay-offs, acknowledge that you understand their concerns.

2. Narrow your topic

A good speech makes a claim. And a good speech is about one thing only. Even if your speech is a wedding toast, your point is that the bride and the groom were meant for each other. Have a specific focus and make sure everything you say supports it.

3. Outline your speech

A conventional organization usually works best. Tell the audience what you’re going to say (introduction), say it (body), and then tell them what you said (conclusion) ⇒ Repetition is a powerful tool, especially in a speech. Audiences tend to absorb only a small portion of what they hear, so it’s good to make your point several times.

4. Get the attention of the room

Your opening should engage listeners immediately. Engage them with a unique personal story that is relevant to your topic. Or try a specific reference to the location. Most people will appreciate a speaker who says she’s glad to be in Australia in January.

Other good ways to begin:
  • ask a question;
  • report a surprising statistic related to your topic;
  • find an apposite quotation.

5. Organize your speech

Structure your speech according to your purpose. If your goal is to inform, try a chronological or alphabetical organization. When your goal is to convince your audience to take a stand, introduce the problem and then propose a solution. Use transitions between your examples, so people can follow your logic.

6. Offer examples, statistics, and quotations

You need evidence to support what you’re saying. Try examples from history, current events, and your own life. Consult government sources for statistics. Use quotations from experts in the field. Don’t overdo quotations, though: most of the words in your speech should be your own. Check your facts—inaccuracies will undermine your credibility.

7. Craft a powerful conclusion

Keep it short, memorable, and to the point. Consider ending with a concrete, vivid image or anecdote that illustrates your topic. Or ask people to take an action, such as promise to write to a decision-maker or to contribute to a cause.

8. Use presentation aids if appropriate

Charts and tables quickly convey data, and photographs can offer compelling support. Incorporate visuals into your speech if they’ll make it more powerful. Know what technology will be available for you to share these visuals. And be prepared to do without them, in case something goes wrong with the equipment.

9. Write for the ear, not for the eye

Once you’ve finished a draft of your speech, practice reading it out loud. You’ll hear anything that sounds awkward. Revise so you are more comfortable giving your speech. You want to sound natural, no matter what the occasion.

10. Time yourself

Have someone else run the stopwatch, so you won’t be distracted. Read slowly and clearly. Include pauses for emphasis or for audience reaction if you’re saying something that might cause listeners to laugh or gasp. If you’re over your time limit, you’ll need to edit to shorten your speech.

💡 Go to Oxford Dictionaries for more Top writing tips.

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