Using ‘Actually’ to Soften Statements of Disagreement

The adverb actually doesn’t get enough attention. Many Americans treat it as if it were a Britishism—in jokingly putting on a British accent, they might say actually—but that’s a mistake. Actually is very common in U.S. speech as well. Just for fun, count how many times you hear it (or less often, see it) during […]

Grammar Books, Information Technology, and Other Noun Modifiers

A very common way to modify a noun is with another noun. These noun + noun structures are tricky because students are often unsure whether to choose a noun or adjective as a modifier. Consider the underlined words in these sentences: That’s a grammar book. That’s a grammatical sentence. In the first sentence, grammar classifies […]

Modifying Indefinite Pronouns

Students study indefinite pronouns (e.g. someone, nothing, anywhere) early in their coursework – usually soon after they learn the quantifiers/pronouns some, no/none, and any. This makes sense. They become familiar with the pattern in English that   some goes in an affirmative statement any goes in a negative statement with a negative verb any or […]

Quantifier Quandaries: ‘Much, Many’, and ‘A Lot Of’

Changes in Use of Much In its use as a quantifier, much has had a bad century or so.  A sentence that is (strictly speaking) grammatical, like “We have much food; help yourself,” sounds like something from an Edwardian novel or an “ethnic” character in a movie.. To make the statement in acceptably modern, unmarked […]

Whose Error is it Anyway: Error Correction as Improvisational Game

I’ve always found oral error correction to be much more difficult and less likely to stick than corrective written feedback. The attention to form in a spoken correction or recast is often fleeting and can be missed, ignored, or forgotten more easily than a red mark or error code. However, the research shows that timely […]

From Everyday to Academic Writing Style: Part (2) From Verbs to Nouns

Last month, I showed the first of two techniques for turning less formal writing into a more academic style. This article looks at another very common feature of academic writing: nominalization. This means that a verb or clause (or, in fact, any word) is turned into a noun phrase. This has two effects: First, it […]

Teaching Block Language for Understanding Signs

When a student encounters an unknown sign or posting—for example, If Elevator Out / Use Front Stairs—how can he or she make sense of it? The more common signs like Exit, Curve Ahead, or No Parking may have been dealt with in class as whole messages (see the Grammar Teaching Newsletter, January 2015). Now the […]

Teaching the Similarities and Differences Between Habitual Used To and Would

Used to and would are both valuable in writing or speaking about repeated or habitual past experiences, which is why many grammar textbooks teach the two in the same chapter. While they are similar in that they can both express that an experience from the past happened on a regular basis, the similarity ends there. […]

From Everyday to Academic Writing Style: Part (1) From Conjunctions to Relative Clauses

Research has found several common features of academic writing which distinguish it from everyday and informal writing. In this two-part series, I’ll show you how your students can practice writing in a more academic style using grammar that they already know. The first strategy is to use relative clauses rather than conjunctions. Although subordinating conjunctions […]