Friday, May 6, 2011


Further to the entry on comma splices and run-on sentences, I've thought about giving some tips on how to improve your writing at Intermediate level.
As I mentioned, I've had more opportunity to read papers written by students at this level.  I'd like to point out some common mistakes, and how they can be avoided.

The most basic mistakes are spelling errors. 
  • the present participle -ing (studying, listening, skiing, tapping)
  • the past participle -ed (stopped, planned, studied, played)
  • the third person singular form for the present simple (study - studies, play - plays)
Keep in mind that a one-syllable verb like stop, which ends with a stressed vowel followed by a consonant, will change for the -ing form and the past participle with -ed.  The final consonant doubles : stóp, but stopping, and stopped.

Past participle forms with -ed, and third person singular forms for the present simple for a verb ending with a consonant followed by y also change. The y becomes ie : study - studies, and studied.  This doesn't apply for verbs which end with a vowel and the consonant y: play - plays, and played.
  • plural forms (watch - watches, tomato - tomatoes, company - companies, holiday - holidays, loaf - loaves)
Similarly if a singular noun ends with a consonant followed by the consonant y the y also becomes ie: company - companies. For nouns ending with a vowel and y, as for most other nouns just add -s: holiday - holidays, piano - pianos.

For nouns ending in ch, sh, s, x, or z, and certain nouns ending in a consonant and o add -es: watch - watches, tomato - tomatoes

For most nouns that end in f and ef the f /ef becomes ves: loaf - loaves.

Don't forget there are also irregular plural forms: child - children, mouse - mice, etc.
  • adverbs formed from adjectives (usually, really)
Adverbs formed with the suffix -ly from an adjective ending in l will also double: real (adjective), but really (adverb)
  • adjective comparative and superlative forms (fit, fitter than, the fittest)
Again we have a short one-syllable adjective which ends with a stressed vowel í and a consonant.  The comparative and superlative forms of short adjectives, as you know, are formed with a suffix (-er and -est), therefore the final consonant doubles: fít - fitter - fittest.
  • easily confused words (quiet - quite, hour - our)
Consider the meaning of these words, and choose the one that best fits the context.
quiet: an adjective we use to modify a noun when we want to say that it isn't noisy
A quiet town.

quite: a word we use to modify an adjective to make it stronger
This task is quite easy.

hour: is a noun we use to speak about time
The exam lasted an hour and a half.

our: is a possessive adjective for the first person plural (we)
This is our car. (It belongs to us.)

And, so on. Click here for more examples.
  • capitalisation (I, Friday, August, English, Dear Mr. Smith)
There is a lot we can say about capitalisation in English.  Some basic rules are:
  • always capitalise the first word of a new sentence.
  • always capitalise the first person singular personal pronoun I, regardless of where it stands in a sentence. 
  • capitalise days of the week, holidays, and months of the year. Do not capitalise seasons.
  • capitalise countries, languages, and nationalities (adjective form of a specific country).
  • capitalise letter salutations (openings) and closings.  
    • Examples: Dear Mr. Smith,
      Best regards,
Of course these rules apply for all levels from Beginner to Proficiency. I have been teaching mostly at Intermediate level, and that is why I am taking it as a point of reference.

In a next entry we'll discuss common grammar mistakes that we make when writing.

Below are some useful sites with further examples. Bookmark these.  They are excellent reference tools.

Plural Nouns
Confusing Spelling
The plural of mouse

Adverbs Spelling -ly
Basic Adverbs Spelling

Easily Confused Words
Common Errors in English
Homophone List for ESL Learners

Capitalization Rules

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