Archive for the ‘Grammar’ category

From Day to Day: Learning Prepositions of Time

October 7, 2015

As I slowly build my playlist of videos on prepositions, I continue to reflect on use and meaning. What points cause confusion? Very often simple grammar structures turn out to be not so simple because the nature of language always allows for variations and exceptions. From…to… is a good example. It’s such a simple structure that we use to define a range, and yet we also use from…till, from…until, and from…through. We also have the phrases from day to day and from time to time, and those aren’t really marking any specific period of time, are they? I decided to discuss these kinds of prepositional phrases in my most recent lesson.

To add to my other post on prepositions of time, I’d like to offer this activity: From time to time_handout. You may choose to use it as is, or perhaps it will inspire your own activities for review and practice. I also have an interactive quiz on my website to review the use of from, to, till, until, and through.

How Are You? How Ya Doin’? How Does One Understand Verb Tense Consistency?

September 2, 2015

A student sent a series of questions to me regarding verb tense consistency. She had heard an exchange in a TV series where one character apologized for his strange behavior recently. The listener responded by saying, “I didn’t notice.” In similar situations, this attentive language learner had heard other verb forms used. Wouldn’t it also be possible to say, “I haven’t noticed” or even “I hadn’t noticed”? Indeed, sometimes more than one answer is possible because it depends on the speaker’s perspective:

  • I didn’t notice. = Nothing strange caught my attention in your past behavior.
  • I haven’t noticed. = Up to this point, there has been nothing strange about your behavior.
  • I hadn’t noticed. = I hadn’t even thought about this until you mentioned it.

We teach general rules of thumb about verb tense consistency. One is to respond with the same verb form used in a question. For example, the short answers to Did you notice? are Yes, I did and No, I didn’t. But there are exceptions, especially once we go beyond yes-no questions. Just how many responses can you think of to How are you? That question itself can become How are you doing? In either case, one can say I’m fine or I’m doing just fine.

16666579868_76a5b2cb26_mIf you’d like to have a productive discussion about verb tense consistency and give your upper level students practice using different verb forms in the same situation, please consider my Verb Tense Consistency_handout. Hopefully, the topic of fairy tales will amuse your learners. Enjoy!

Photo credit:

Cinderella’s Castle by Luis Brizzante. Retrieved from the Creative Commons on Flickr.

Pondering the Placement of Prepositions

August 12, 2015

In my discussion of prepositions on YouTube, I’ve given a lot of attention to the choice of prepositions. Very often learners question whether we are surprised by something or at something. They ask if we can be happy about or with something.

Another point of confusion is the placement of a preposition or a prepositional phrase within a sentence. Students may not be familiar with the term stranded preposition, but they probably have asked questions like Who are you talking about? or voiced complaints such as I have no one to talk with. It might be helpful to tell them these structures are completely acceptable in everyday English and follow up with practice.

Please consider my Placement of Prepositions_handout. It invites upper level students to examine the position of prepositions and consider when it’s okay to separate a preposition from its object. There’s the extra challenge of identifying these small function words in context and deciding where a whole prepositional phrase is best placed.

Source on stranded prepositions:

Greenbaum S. and Quirk R. (1995). A student’s grammar of the English language. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited.

Couldn’t Be Better: Understanding the Modal Verb ‘Could’

July 28, 2015

After exploring the forms and uses of could in my previous post, I feel it’s a good time to offer an activity for upper level students who need to strengthen their mastery of this particular modal verb. Please consider my Couldn’t Be Better_handout. The activity tests students’ ability to understand the different meanings of could. Students are not only exposed to this modal verb in meaningful contexts, but they are prompted to respond in a variety of ways to demonstrate their comprehension. Enjoy.

Spotlight on the Little Guys: Prepositions

June 9, 2015

Prepositions may not get as much attention as verb tenses or modal verbs, but they sure raise a lot of questions. Every so often I think we can take some time and provide some answers.

My goal for this month is to continue building my video playlist on prepositions. As I continue to work my way through points of confusion, I recognize both the divisions and the overlap in usage. How challenging it is for a language learner! On the other hand, the overlap raises the odds that a guess will prove to be right.

Of course, those should be educated guesses, so as teachers we can serve our students by helping them understand the meanings of prepositions. For example, both during and throughout can refer to a period of time, but throughout really emphasizes the whole period, so it’s a good choice when you wish to emphasize that an action or condition is constant: My parents have supported me throughout my academic career. / There have been conflicts among humans throughout history.

If you’d like to test the accuracy of upper level students with prepositions of time, namely at, in, on, during, throughout, and over, then please consider my At Any Time_handout.

Chances Are: Practice with “That” Clauses

June 5, 2015

I’m taking on the topic of noun clauses with a private student. I plan to cover embedded questions, but first I want to work with that clauses. Those are the first kind of noun clauses students likely understand and produce. Even high beginners can start making statements with “I think (that)….” By the time learners reach the intermediate level, they easily understand many more that clauses in context, especially with reported speech (She said that…), direct objects (I know that…), and even adjectives (I’m happy that…).

Context is always key, so in my Chances Are_handout I focus on the topic of life dreams. It’s an easy topic to use for speaking or writing activities should you wish to connect my exercises to other activities of yours. I had upper level students in mind for this handout. Enjoy!

The Answer to Everything: Practice with the Prepositions For, To, and With

May 29, 2015

Prepositions are problematic for many English language learners. Presenting some collocations to students can certainly help them understand what a particular preposition expresses and what kinds of nouns, verbs, or adjectives that preposition combines with. For example, talk with someone, argue with someone, and speak with someone all refer to communication involving two or more people. “With” expresses the idea of being together or being involved in some activity. That’s why we can also say bored with something or fascinated with something.

There are a lot of collocations, so the key is to limit exposure and make time for meaningful practice. If you’d like to give your students some practice with for, to, and with, please consider my discussion activity: The Answer to Everything_handout. I’ll tackle more collocations in my next video lesson on prepositions.


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