4 Ways to Learn from Headlines

A learner asked me about the grammar in news headlines. Indeed, it can be confusing when words are omitted: Prison Escape Fails — Did it already happen? Why is the verb in the present tense? Mayor in Hot Water — Is this happening now? Where’s the verb? Local Team Gets New Coach — Can they write…

Even Though vs. Even If

She’s determined to search every inch of that machine (even if/even though) it’s dangerous. Which words complete the sentence? Both choices work, right? So then what’s the difference? I recently discovered just how tricky it can be to distinguish between even though and even if. I’ve always seen the even though as a way to express…

A Getting-to-Know-You Activity to Practice Gerunds and Infinitives

Mastering combinations with gerunds and infinitives comes with practice. Here’s a straightforward activity for upper level students: gerunds-and-infinitives_handout.  A sorting task quickly moves into a production task that prompts writing and speaking. Students can learn more about one another by sharing their answers. Enjoy! Here are some related activities I shared in years past: Story…

The Whys and Wherefores: Using the Relative Pronouns WHY, WHERE, WHEN

As follow-up to my discussion about wh- clauses looking like relative clauses, I’ve decided to create a handout that targets combinations of head nouns with why, where, and when. If you have upper level students who’d benefit from practice with these relative pronouns, please check out my whys-and-wherefores_handout. After a quick sorting task, students are encouraged to create…

Getting a Firmer Handle on Word Order

In an effort to help an advanced student avoid awkward wording, I’ve been reviewing standard word order in our lessons. Some rules have been easy to state and reinforce, like putting the subject before the verb in statements and embedded questions. Other patterns are easier to recall only in the process of correcting a student’s writing. If…

A Clue as to Why Wh- Clauses Are So Tricky

Here’s the thing. Wh- clauses can be complements in noun phrases, and in this position they can look quite a lot like identifying adjective clauses with the relative pronouns where, when, and why. …Is that too much terminology in one sentence? Did you follow my line of thinking? Well, that’s part of the problem. We…

When Differences in Aspect Aren’t So Simple

It’s usually easy to explain why we need a verb in a certain time frame: We use the past tense for past actions (I studied law) and the present tense for present actions (I study law). A future time frame allows for more choices, but with sufficient practice students pick up on how to use…

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…