Perfecting Use of the Past Perfect

The truth about most grammar lessons is that one lesson is never enough. One lesson may be enough for a language learner to start trying out a new structure, but accuracy only comes with time…and feedback. Advanced students in particular might have reached a level of fluency where very few situations challenge their ability to communicate,…

If We Could Turn Back Time

Oops! Look at all those broken eggs! …Well, if they hadn’t stacked the cartons so high, this wouldn’t have happened. Right? And if shoppers didn’t have to open each carton to check for broken eggs, they could just take a carton from the top. A good photo can prompt a number of conditional sentences, especially…

As If We Had Covered Everything!

Perhaps you thought that after Student Stumper 46, I’d have nothing else to say about as if and as though. On the contrary, I’m still thinking about this grammar structure! First of all, some of you might appreciate a short worksheet to review the grammar with students. Check out the as-if-as-though_handout. It’s formatted to work in…

Student Stumper 46: “As if” and “As though” Revisited

I initially addressed this topic a few years ago in Student Stumper 35. However, some recent questions opened the can back up, and out came some worms  that I couldn’t ignore. Not having clear answers to grammar questions makes me squirm in my seat! QUESTION: Can I use the present tense after as if and…

The Verb Tense Dilemma: Is There Any Future?

It’s much simpler to introduce three verb tenses (past, present, and future) than two (past and present). If you acknowledge only two, then you need to explain that will is not a tense, but a modal verb. That opens up a whole new can of worms. I’m not saying we should avoid the more complex path — after…

Using Quantifiers Correctly Most of the Time

Quantifiers can cause confusion for a few reasons. 1. First, students have to recall which expressions go with which nouns – countable or uncountable. We say a good number of students but a great deal of difficulty. 2. Second, there’s the matter of register. Many is more suitable for formal English than a bunch of. 3. Third, meanings overlap and can…

What You Can Count On: Countable and Uncountable Nouns

Countable and uncountable nouns seem even trickier at the more advanced levels. That’s when students encounter a good number of words that have both meanings. Take truth, for example. We often use it abstractly, but it’s possible to talk about the truths that are self-evident, right? The best thing to hold on to is a set of guidelines….

Using Grammar: Putting the Pieces Together

I’ve been stumped by some pretty good questions over the years. The inquiries in my Student Stumper category usually target some aspect of the language that I need to consider further before responding. But lately the questions I’ve been asked by learners aren’t specific. In fact, they’re extremely broad. These questions challenge me in a different way….

Too Much Terminology?

I love grammar, so I obviously fall into the camp of those teachers who take the time to give direct attention to grammar structures. I believe in a balanced approach: A certain amount of language can be picked up through regular exposure, but there are times when explicit instruction clarifies doubts. In other words, communication…

The Benefits of Talking about Art

  You may be teaching working professionals in the business world or even a group of teens with more interest in this summer’s blockbusters than what’s on exhibit at a local art gallery. You might be teaching undergrads, but there isn’t a single art major among them. So why talk about art in the ESL…

Too Passive about the Passive Voice?

So I know I need to be concise when I write, and they say it’s better to use dynamic language. Does that mean I should avoid the passive?  What about in spoken English? Students’ questions about the passive voice reveal common confusion over when to use it. The easy way out is not to use it….

How Could I Do That?

Some months ago I was asked to distinguish between How could I have missed that? and How could I miss that? Reading over my explanation, I’m not completely satisfied with the answer I gave. So, can I express my regret by saying, “How could I have been so unclear?” I initially wrote that the perfect form…