Good grammar pays. No, I’m not making a sentimental statement about the importance
of a job well done or the satisfaction of learning for learning’s sake, though I believe in
both of those values. I’m talking about cold, hard cash, the kind you fold and put into your wallet. Don’t believe me? Fine. Try this little test: The next time you go to the movies, tear yourself away from the story for a moment and concentrate on the dialogue. Chances are the characters who have fancy jobs or piles of dough sound different from those who don’t.
I’m not making a value judgment here; I’m just describing reality. Proper English, either written or spoken, tends to be associated with the upper social or economic classes. Tuning up your grammar muscles doesn’t guarantee your entry into the Bill Gates income tax bracket, but poor grammar may make it much harder to fight your way in.
Another payoff of good grammar is better grades and an edge in college admissions. Teachers have always looked more favorably on nicely written sentences, and grammar has recently become an additional hurdle that applicants must jump over or stumble through when they sit for the SAT or the ACT, the two most important standardized tests for the college bound.
The good news is that you don’t have to spend a lifetime improving your English. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there, and before you know it, your grammar muscles will be toned to fighting strength. This book is the equivalent of a health-club membership for your writing and speaking skills. Like a good health club, it doesn’t waste your time with lectures on the physiology of flat abs. Instead, it sends you right to the mat and sets you up with the exercises that actually do the job.

Robert Orben – “To err is human – and to blame it on a computer is even more so.”

—– Hope to read your opinions, either here or on!


{July 6, 2009}   Teens and English

Now that I started talking about my private students, one of the things that surprises me most is the progress made by teen students when activities fit their interests.

I have 2 teen students, coming to private classes twice a week. Each of them has particular interests and hobbies, and their interest in learning English is different, too. One of them is finishing her high school studies, the other one, started university this year. Their 2 years’ difference make them really different students.

The first one, loves working orally, specially on topics she chooses (fashion, make up, nightlife, etc). She finds really difficult to concentrate on written activities and she gets distracted every 5 minutes. The second one is the exact opposite. She loves written activities and does them with no effort, but finds really difficult to produce oral pieces of discourse.

They both like working on their computers, so I selected a few links they – and you too –  may find useful:


HowJSay -> a very useful tool when you don’t know how to pronounce a certain word.

The Visual Dictionary -> a picture dictionary for everyone!

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

One Look Reverse Dictionary -> provide the definition… it will give you the word!


English Club

English the Easy Way

OM Grammar



Are texting and instant messaging destroying our language?

This is the most common question I never answer. People ask me this all the time, and I’m never quite sure what to say. I’m not a linguist. Evolution of language is not my expertise. Yet many think that because I study grammar, surely I must have a front-row seat for its demise.But if you stop and think about what it means to deteriorate, you’ll see why I’ve always found the question a little unsettling. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where the streets were falling apart. Everyone knows that if you don’t change your car’s oil and rotate its tires regularly and do other maintenance, it will fall apart. I’m quite sure that if you put milk instead of water into your coffee maker, you won’t have your coffee maker very long.

But these things all have one thing in common: They’re manufactured. They’re artificial constructs. They start out shiny and new then they begin to fall apart — slowly or quickly depending on how they’re treated.

But language was never shiny and new and perfect — fresh off the assembly line, so to speak. Grammar was not manufactured. It evolved quite naturally, on its own, probably first with club-wielding people grunting stuff even less intelligible than “LOL” and “BFF.” And they’ve never — despite what your nostalgic, sentence-diagramming mom might tell you — achieved a state of perfection.

Yes, technology is accelerating change. It’s introducing an unnatural element into an otherwise natural process. But is it unnatural enough to mess up the whole system?

As I said, I’ve always dodged the question. I point out that, if modern communications are indeed messing up our language standards, then the first finger pointed should not be aimed at some poor kid ROFLing.

It should be aimed squarely at advertisers. They tell us to “drive thru” and offer values “everyday.” Their abuses date back to the days of cigarette ads when they told us a certain brand tastes good “like a cigarette should” (properly, that “like” should have been “as.”)

In other words, my message is: “Put down the mallet and step away from your kid’s Blackberry. Let’s all just remain calm.”

Of course, that was in lieu of any real knowledge on my part. But now, after years of dancing around the question, I found a real answer — a qualified answer from the most pioneering linguist of our age. Though many know him better for his controversial politics, he is first and foremost a language expert and the guy credited with the revolutionary concept of a universal grammar. Noam Chomsky.

I found my answer, ironically, on YouTube, in a recording of an author talk Chomsky gave this spring. Asked whether texting, etc., are messing up our language, he had some interesting stuff to say.

Chomsky is deeply disturbed by technology’s effect on kids’ minds. “They have to be stimulated constantly by noise and by visual imagery,” Chomsky told the audience. “I’m sure that’s having an effect on children growing up, and I don’t think a good effect.”

But what about grammar and syntax? Is technology harming them? In a word: No. “It’s not doing anything to the language. I think that’s a mistake. The language is robust enough so it’s not going to be affected by that.”

Yes, teenagers today are creating their own “speak,” so to speak. But according to Chomsky, they always have. It’s part of language’s evolution, he said. It never damaged the syntax before, and it won’t do so now.

So, if you find this surprising, it’s OK to express that with an emphatic “OMG”!

JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer and author of “Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies” and “Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs — Even If You’re Right.” She may be reached at


P.S.: I’m actually re-reading Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, because I loved it! 😉

{October 12, 2008}   Do you like grammar?

After two subjects on English Grammar at university, I’ve definitely learned a great lesson: Never in my life would I re do those subjects. However, almost seven years later,  I’ve been reading “Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies” by June Casagrande.

Do you remember those long hours reading essays and papers on grammar? Are you fed up of listening to those grammarians that emphasize the “correct” use of grammar?

Asking “dumb questions,” as she states, the author of this great book went through her university studies, defying grammar snobs – those who, in her opinion, are the “know-it-alls” of grammar.

I simply love this book so much I’m reading it again 😛

Personal Rating: 5/5 stars =)

More about this book

{October 6, 2008}   English Spelling Rules

I promise I’ll update this in some days with lots of worth visiting sites for teachers! Meanwhile, I want to share with you something I’ve found quite useful for my intermediate level students (teens and adults). This short summary of English Spelling Rules has been emailed from YahooGroups (Group: English4All, user: Laila). Hope it’s useful for you too!


Short and Long Vowels

1. To spell a short vowel sound, only one letter is needed:

at red it hot up

2. To spell a long sound you must add a second vowel. The second may be next to the first, in the VVC pattern (boat, maid, cue, etc.) or it may be separated from the first one by a consonant in the VCV pattern (made, ride, tide, etc.). If the second vowel is separated from the first by two spaces, it does not affect the first one. This is the VCCV pattern in which the first vowel remains short. Thus, doubling a consonant can be called “protecting” a short vowel because it prevents an incoming vowel from getting close enough to the first one to change its sound from short to long:

maid, made, but madder; dine, diner, but dinner.

Spelling the Sound /k/

This sound can be spelled in any one of four ways:

1. c 2. cc 3. k 4. ck

1. The single letter, c , is the most common spelling. It may be used anywhere in a word:

cat corn actor victim direct mica
scat bacon public cactus inflict pecan

2. Sometimes the letter c must be doubled to cc to protect the sound of a short vowel:

stucco baccalaureate hiccups
Mecca tobacco buccaneer
occupy raccoon succulent

3. The letter k is substituted for c if /k/ is followed by an e, i, or y.

kin make sketch poker kind risky
skin token skill keep liking flaky

(Boring examples? How about kyphosis, kylix, keratosis, and dyskinesia?)

4. Similarly, the spelling ck, is substituted for cc if the following letter is an e, i, or y:

lucky picking rocking finicky
blackest mackintosh frolicked ducking
Kentucky picnicking stocking Quebecker

5. The letters, k and ck are more than substitutes for c and cc. They are used to spell /k/ at the end of a monosyllable. The digraph, ck, ALWAYS follows a short vowel:

sack duck lick stick wreck clock

(Forget about yak. Your student will never need it.)

The letter, k, follows any other sound:

milk soak make bark
tank peek bike cork
tusk hawk duke perk

The Sound, /j/
The sound, /j/ is spelled in three ways: j ge and dge.

1. The letter j is usually used if the sound if followed by an a, o, or u.

just jam jungle injure major adjacent
jog jar Japan jury job Benjamin
adjust jacket jolly jaguar jump jalousie

2. Since the letter g has the soft sound of /j/ when it is followed by an e, i, or y, it is usually used in this situation:

gentle ginger aging algebra
Egyptologist gem origin gym

2. If /j/ follows a short vowel sound, it is usually spelled with dge. This is because the letter j, is never doubled in English.

badge ridge dodge partridge gadget
judge edge smudge judgement budget

The Sound, /ch/

The sound /ch/ has two spellings: tch after a short vowel, ch anywhere else:

witch sketch botch satchel
catch hatchet kitchen escutcheon

Which, rich, much, such, touch, bachelor, attach, sandwich, and ostrich.

The Sound, /kw/
This sound is ALWAYS spelled with the letters, qu, never anything else.

Using -le

Words ending in –le, such as little, require care. If the vowel sound is short, there must be two consonants between the vowel and the -le. Otherwise, one consonant is enough.

li tt le ha nd le ti ck le a mp le
bo tt le pu zz le cru mb le a ng le
bugle able poodle dawdle needle idle people

Odds and Ends

1. The consonants, v, j, k, w, and x are never doubled.
2. No normal English words ends with the letter v. A final /v/ is always spelled with ve, no matter what the preceding vowel sound may be:

have give sleeve cove
receive love connive brave

Adding Endings

There are two kinds of suffixes, those that begin with a vowel and those that begin with a consonant. As usual, the spelling problems occur with the vowels:

Vowel Suffixes Consonant Suffixes
– – – age – – -ist – – – ness – – – cess
– – – ant – – – ish – – -less – – -ment
– – -ance – – -ing – – -ly – – -ty
– – – al – – -ar – – -ful – – -ry
– – -ism – – -o – – -hood – – -ward
– – -able – – -on – – -wise
– – -an – – -ous
– – – a – – -or
– – -es – – -ual
– – -ed – – -unt
– – -er – – -um
– – -est – – -us
– – -y – – -ive

1. Words that end in the letter y must have the y changed to i before adding any suffix:

body – bodily marry – marriage
many – manifold family – familiar
happy – happiness puppy – puppies
beauty – beautiful vary – various
company – companion fury – furious
plenty – plentiful merry – merriment

2. In words that end in a silent e you must drop it before you add a vowel suffix. The silent e is no longer needed to make the preceding vowel long as the incoming vowel will do the trick:

ride – riding cure – curable use – usual age – aging
fame – famous force – forcing refuse – refusal slice – slicing
pure – purity ice – icicle nose – nosy convince – convincing
globe – global race – racist pole – polar offense – offensive

3. Words that end in an accented short or modified vowel sound must have the final consonant doubled to protect that sound when you add a vowel suffix:

Quebec – Quebecker remit – remittance confer – conferring refer – referred
upset – upsetting shellac – shellacking occur – occurred concur- concurrent

Note that this doubling is not done if the accent is not on the last syllable. If the word ends in a schwa, there is no need to “protect” it.

open – opening organ – organize
focus – focused refer – referee

4. Normally you drop a silent e before adding a vowel suffix. However, if the word ends in -ce or -ge and the incoming vowel is an a, o, or u, you cannot cavalierly toss out that silent e. It is not useless: it is keeping its left-hand letter soft, and your a, o, or u will not do that. Thus:

manage – manageable peace – peaceable
courage – courageous revenge – vengeance
surge – surgeon change – changeable
notice – noticeable outrage – outrageous

Gorgeous George bludgeoned a pigeon noticeably! Tsk.

5. Adding consonant suffixes is easy. You just add them. (Of course you must change a final y to i before you add any suffix.)

peace – peaceful harm – harmless age – ageless
pity – pitiful child – childhood rifle – riflery


When this sound occurs before a vowel suffix, it is spelled ti, si, or ci.

partial cautious patient vacation
special deficient suspicion suction
inertia delicious ratio pension
musician physician optician quotient
electrician nutrition statistician expulsion

/ee/ before a vowel suffix

When /ee/ precedes a vowel suffix, it is usually spelled with the letter i:

Indian obvious medium
ingredient zodiac material

Spelling Determined by Word Meaning

1. Mist and missed sound alike, as do band and banned. To determine the spelling, remember that -ed is a past-tense tending.

  1. The mist drifted into the harbor.
  2. I nearly missed my bus.
  3. The movie was banned in Boston.
  4. The band played on.

2. The endings of dentist and finest sound alike. Deciding which one to use can be tricky. One rule helps but doesn’t cover all cases:

  1. ist is a suffix meaning someone who does something:
    artist – machinist – druggist
  2. est is the ending used on superlative adjectives:
    finest – sweetest – longest

3. The sounds at the end of musician and condition sound alike. but….

  1. cian always means a person, where…
  2. tion or sion are never used for people.

4. How do you tell whether to use tion or sion?

  1. If the root word ends in /t/, use -tion: complete, completion
  2. If the root word ends in /s/ or /d/, use sion: extend, extension
    suppress, suppression
  3. If the sound of the last syllable is the “heavy” sound of /zhun/ rather than the light sound, /shun/, use s: confusion, vision, adhesion

Exception: The ending, –mit becomes -mission:

permit – permission omit – omission
submit – submission commit – commission

The Hiss

1. The letter s between vowels sounds like a z:

nose result noise
present partisan tease
preside resound reserve

2. The light “hissy” sound is spelled with either ss or ce. Predictably, ss, like any proper doubled consonant, follows accented short vowels. Soft c is used anywhere else. (A soft c is one that is followed by e, i, or y).

notice reticent massive bicycle
recent gossip russet rejoice
essence vessel discuss pass

3. The plural ending is always spelled with a single letter s unless you can hear a new syllable on the plural word. In that case, use –es:

loss, losses bank, banks twitch, twitches tree, trees
box, boxes list, lists judge, judges

No compendium of spelling rules would be complete with the most important rule of all:
WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK (or look it up)

But ask first – it’s quicker.


Even though most of us either flunked out or fell asleep during English grammar class in school, it is an integral part of writing whether you are a professional writer or just want to write a note to your son’s teacher. Using good grammar helps get your point across effectively and focuses the attention on what you have to say instead of how you choose to say it. While there are hundreds of rules of grammar that are laid out in several style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style, there are some that are absolute essentials to good writing that everyone should master.

1. Agreement – Agreement in a sentence refers to all of the parts of the sentence corroborating with each other. For example, you wouldn’t say “John have two pieces of toast and I has three.” You would instead say, “John has two pieces of toast and I have three.” The subjects and verbs need to be in agreement. Without sentence agreement you have all-out civil war in your sentence and no one knows what is going on. If your sentence parts don’t agree with each other you will have to jump in and mediate, causing hard feelings all around.

2. Tense – Tense refers to time. What time is it in your sentence? Whatever time it is it should remain consistent throughout your whole piece of writing. If it was last week you are talking about, stay there. There are three tenses in writing, past tense, present tense and future tense. Here is an example of writing with mixed tenses: “Carrie wondered how she is going to finish in time, but Joe will help her.” This sentence contains all three tenses, past in “wondered”, present in “is” and future in “will”. Pick a tense and stick to it! The sentence could read “Carry wonders how she will finish in time, but Joe will help.”

3. Spelling – One of the most important things, and without it, you can kiss your credibility goodbye. Spell checkers are poor substitutes for knowing how to spell and can leave behind more errors than you realize. There are many different forms of words and your spell checker does not know which form you wanted to use. For example, “When Mark washed they’re care, he forgot too putt on the wax.”

4. Run-On Sentences – A run-on sentence is one that is just too darned long! Not only is it too long, it is incorrect. Usually, a run-on sentence can be made into two or more sentences with a little punctuation and style. An example of a run-on sentence might be: “We walked over to the commissary to get something to eat but it was closed so we didn’t know what to do so we kept walking until we saw a restaurant and decided to go in and get something to eat but Andrew didn’t want to eat there so we kept going for another mile.” This sentence could have gone on for another mile too! Break up the sentence into smaller, more coherent parts.

5. Punctuation – It is very important to know your punctuation, even if you never plan on using a semicolon for the rest of your life. The most important thing to learn is where to put your commas, a common mistake among writers. Commas are used to separate parts of sentences that stand alone, such as those that are parenthetical. For example “There were too many flowers, not that I minded, but they took up most of the room.” Avoid using commas after conjunctions like “but” and “and.” Semi-colons and colons take up an entire chapter, read about them in your style book!

6. Usage – If you are going to use a word, you really ought to know how to use it. Some writers think big words look impressive but actually the reverse is true if the word is used incorrectly. Words don’t have to be big to be misused, consider its vs. it’s.

7. Capitalization – Words at the beginning of sentences aren’t the only ones worthy of capital letters. Always capitalize proper names such as people and places. Titles of all kinds deserve capital letters and so do acronyms.

8. Point of View – The point of view refers to whoever is telling the story or “speaking.” When you write a letter you are writing in “first person” which includes I, me, my, we and our. Second person writing occurs when we talk about you and yours and third person includes he, she, they and theirs. In third person writing, the author does not interject himself into the story.

9. Sentence Fragments – A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence that does not include both noun and verb. An example of a sentence fragment might be, “Really dumb.” Make sure your sentences reflect a complete thought unless you are writing dialog.

10. Wasted Words – A big no-no. Sometimes we throw in words just to round out our sentences, or we over-describe something, like, “The really ugly puke-green dress was hanging on the wall.” Do we really need to point out that a puke-green dress was really ugly? Economize your words and you will have fewer chances for grammatical errors.


Much More

{September 15, 2008}   Did you say Grammar?

English Grammar for the Utterly Confused” by Laurie Rosakis is an excellent book designed to help all students master the basics of English grammar that they need to succeed in their studies. Best of all, when students understand the underpinnings of our language, learning will be fun—as it should be.

Personal Rating: 5/5 stars =)

{September 10, 2008}   The Funny English Language

No wonder the English language is so very difficult to learn.

I sometimes wonder how we manage to communicate at all!

We’ll begin with a box and the plural is boxes.

But the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes.

The one fowl is a goose but two are called geese,

Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.

You may found a lone mouse or a whole set of mice,

Yet the plural of house is houses not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,

Why shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?

If I speak of a foot and you show me your feet,

And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?

If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,

Why should not the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that and three would be those,

Yet hat in the plural wouldn’t be hose.

And the plural of cat is cats and not cose.

We speak of a brother and also of brethren,

But though we say Mother, we never say Methren,

Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,

But imagine the feminine she, shis and shim,

So English, I fancy you will all agree,

Is the funniest language you ever did see.

{September 4, 2008}   Useful Material on the Web

I always try to provide my students with resources for their own work at home. This is the selection of websites I’ve made for a group of adult learners of English. Hope you can profit from this! —> a basic dictionary in several language. Language is accompanied by a drawing or picture that represents its meaning –> an excellent online dictionary —> online translator (multilanguage). –> same as the previous one, a great online translator —> a great dictionary for intermediate and advanced students. It provides not only definitions but also whole language practice! —> jokes and texts to read in the language your students are learning! —> In the “Resourses” section there are great grammatical summaries and lots of vocabulary lists. –> Activities and games for beginers. There is some help for hispanic students in some activities. —> slang dictionary (great for teens!) —> Here your students can find lots of reading activities with reading comprehension exercises. The best of this site? Readings come from best sellers! —> More on reading comprehension –> Reading comprehension y actividades de vocabulario –> English Grammar Online for you is a very complete website where you will find everything you are looking for: grammar, vocabulary, readings and writings. —> A very exhaustive irregular verbs list.

Podcast Section:
Here, you will find links to sites where you can download audio or video podcasts in English. These are semi authentic and authentic material (that is, material adapted for students and material from daily life). To download the different podcasts, follow instructions on each site. Generally, you have to right click on the links and then choose “save target as” (this one provides audio material and the transcriptions too!)

As I always say, “Provide your students with tools to improve their own language alone. Then, you will see how far they can go in a really short time”

et cetera