Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Confusing words - matching exercises based on two top ten lists

Among the growing number of 'Top 10 lists' at Merriam-Webster online dictionary are two sets on confusing words. Here are a couple of exercises based on them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pronouns and determiners - some, any, no, none, somebody, anybody, nobody etc

Practise using some, any, somebody, anybody etc, with these gapfull exercises. And also check out some related idioms and expressions.

Friday, December 23, 2011

More Christmas cracker jokes - Matching quizzes

Image from Wikipedia
Christmas cracker jokes are written almost to a formula, and make great use of corny puns. We like to groan at how awful they are, but they are a quintessential part of a British Christmas. Some are on Christmas themes, many are not. I found most of the jokes here in several places on the Internet, so I don't think I'm treading on anybody's copyright toes.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Confusing words - Relations, relatives and relationships

These three nouns often have very similar meanings, but are sometimes used in slightly different ways. Judging by the number of questions asked about them on forums, learners can find them quite confusing. In fact I think it's even difficult for a native speaker to explain the difference; we just trust our instincts. So let's try to work them out.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Passive Christmas Day

A short gapfill exercise to practise the passive

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Exploring grammar - verb types

A recent discussion at GrammarGirl (link below) about the active voice talked a lot about unaccusative verbs and semantic patients in its explanation. I'm not convinced of the wisdom of using these specialist linguistic terms on a website read by a general audience of native speakers and learners. I have a slight suspicion that more than a few will have been more confused at the end than they were at the beginning.
But in the interests of understanding, I've tried to put these terms into some sort of scheme, while at the same time looking at different terms used for types of verbs, both by linguists and by more general grammar books. I hope this will be interesting, but I'm not suggesting that there is any need for the general reader or learner to learn these specialist terms.
Disclaimer - Please don't take this as any kind of gospel. As usual, I make no claims to be either a grammarian or a linguist. This is simply my way of trying to work it all out. Any linguists who might happen to stumble on this are welcome to let me know if I've gone wrong.
We'll be looking briefly at the following:
  • Main (lexical) verbs and auxiliary (helping) verbs
  • Transitive, intransitive verbs and linking verbs
  • Subjects and objects, agents and targets (patients)
  • Ambitransitive and ergative verbs
  • Unaccusative verbs and unergative verbs
  • Empty verbs and inchoative verbs
  • Dynamic and stative verbs
  • Finite and non finite verbs forms

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Exploring gerunds and gerund phrases

This is a rather detailed exploration of various aspects of gerunds (all the ones I can think of), illustrated with exercises. It includes:
  • A look at finite and non-finite verb forms
  • What exactly is a gerund?
  • Gerund phrases and their functions
  • Gerund phrase or participle clause?
  • Why do I say gerund phrase, but participle clause?
  • Verb patterns - gerund or infinitive after verbs?
  • Possessives with gerunds
  • Object complements
It is a companion piece to my post on participles and participle clauses.
Some of it, especially the section on possessives, can get a bit nerdy, not to mention (for me) a bit hairy - I'm on the edge of my comfort zone with some of this stuff. If grammar's not really your thing, skip those bits.
For interest's sake and the sake of completion, I also mention one or two terms you won't usually come across in EFL/ESL materials; there's no real need to learn these.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Subjunctive were revisited (again)

First Joan Osborne and now Ed Miliband.

What, you might ask, have the singer Joan Osborne and the leader of the British Labour Party, Ed Miliband, in common? The answer is that they've both been criticised for using was instead of were in unreal (aka counterfactual, non-factual) if statements:
  • If God was one of us - Joan Osborne
  • If I was prime minister - Ed Miliband
I've already written about Joan Osborne here. This discussion is mainly aimed at native speaker grammar fans, but as usual I've annotated more difficult words so that advanced learners can also follow along, if they feel so inclined

Friday, November 11, 2011

On (mis)identifying the passive and passive wars

Autumn Leaves
Autumn Leaves by geraldbrazell, on Flickr - some rights reserved
Here in Warsaw we are well into what is known here as the Polish Golden Autumn; everywhere you look 'there are a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground'.
That sentence about dead leaves is taken from a section on 'Use the active voice' in The Elements of Style, a book on English style by William Strunk, Jr first published in 1918, and revised by EB White in 1959, and universally known in the US as Strunk and White.
It is one of the key elements in what could be called the 'Passive wars'. For as we shall see, the passive has had somewhat of a 'bad press', especially in American writing schools.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Confusing words - between and among

You will sometimes be told that between is for two people or things, and among is for more than two people or things. But it is not quite as simple as that.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The which-hunting season is upon us again.

A minor spat about the use of which and that in relative clauses

Which-hunting, a play on words on witch-hunting (see link below), is a term used by linguists to refer to the criticism by some of the use of which for things, in defining (aka restrictive or identifying) relative clauses.
To follow this discussion you need to know the difference between defining and non-defining relative clauses. If you need reminding, see my post here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Confusing words - Comparison with as and like

The uses of as and like are often confused.
Try and sort them out by doing these quizzes.

  1. Matching quiz - sentences with as and like
  2. Complete the rules
  3. Different uses of as - multiple choice quiz
  4. Choose between as and like, gapfill quiz
  5. Verbs of sensation with like and as if
  6. Complete the rules
  7. Idioms with as ... as ... - quiz
  8. Idioms with like ... - quiz

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bits and pieces - some exercises on partitive nouns

We use several words to talk about one bit or part or a large amount of something when using uncountable nouns. These are sometimes called partitive nouns and many of them collocate with certain nouns. test your knowledge with these exercises. (One or two of the examples here are used with countable nouns).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tag questions and short answers - exercises

Sometimes they're called question tags, sometimes tag questions. It's all the same. I'm sure you know the basic principles, so use your instinct to complete the exercises. The first exercise looks at some standard tags, the others at some more advanced points. There's also a video exercise at the end.
If you have any problems you can consult one of the websites linked to at the bottom. The BBC one is probably the clearest. But try the exercises first. And don't forget the video exercise; it's from a TV comedy series.

A British perspective on further or farther

The question of further vs farther is a popular topic on grammar websites and has been discussed often enough on sites like GrammarGirl, so why should it need anything more said about it?
Because firstly, nearly all these websites are American, and the British 'take' on this question is somewhat different. And secondly, they nearly all put forward a so-called 'rule' which is by no means universally accepted.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Q & A   When do we use that instead of who or which?

Basic answer

The who, which and that the question refers to are all relative pronouns.
We can use that instead of who or which in defining (restrictive) relative clauses:
  • For people:
  • - The boy who is climbing the tree is my son.
  • or The boy that is climbing the tree is my son.
  • For things:
  • - The car which is coming up the hill is my father's.
  • or The car that is coming up the hill is my father's.
Note that I said can; you don't have to use that. If you are happier using who and which (which many learners are), by all means do. Just be aware that many native speakers will often use that.

Personal pronouns - subject or object? - A discussion.

In few areas can the divide between traditional grammar and actual usage be as wide as in the 'case' of personal pronouns. Here we take a look at why.
EFL course books and websites usually steer clear of language controversies, no doubt so as not to confuse students. But for me this is part of what makes grammar such a lively subject, and as you are advanced students, I think you can 'take it', so here goes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pronouns and determiners - an overview

Some words can be both pronouns and determiners, and in some other cases pronouns and determiners are closely related, so it seems to make sense to look at them together.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Assorted gap fill exercises

Instant access to 100 gap fill exercises from the first year of the blog. These can be done in several different ways, and can even be edited.

Interactive formats (all also printable)

Note - Not every option will be suitable for every exercise
  • Multiple choice - showing up to 4 options for each question
  • Show the gapped words in a box at the top
  • Show the missing words as anagrams
  • Text entry - fill in the gaps without any clues
  • In line - shows the base word after the gap - good for transformations

Printable non-interactive formats

Note - These are only suitable when the base word and the answer are the same
  • Show first letter of missing words
  • Show a dash for each letter of the missing word
  • Combo - first letter and dashes
  • Show consonants only
  • Show vowels only