Countable and uncountable nouns

Most nouns in English -as in many other languages- are countable. So, we can have one, two, three of them and so on:

flowers

However, there are some nouns which are uncountable. Many kinds of food, materials or abstract concepts tend to be uncountable:

uncountnouns

There are some nouns that can be both countable and uncountable, depending on their meaning:

countuncount

Can we use the same articles with both kinds of nouns? Well, let’s see:

articles

There are other determiners that we can use with nouns:

determiners

As usual, you can find the post in pdf format here.

Dealing with phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are among the worst nightmares for English students, especially those who are thinking about sitting the FCE.

What I usually recommend my students when dealing with phrasal verbs is to try to memorise them by classifying them.

Most of my students write lists of phrasal verbs classifying them by their verb. Something like this:

Phrasal verb

Meaning

look after someone take care of someone
look down on someone consider someone as inferior
look for something search for something
look forward to something await or anticipate something with pleasure
look up to someone admire someone

However, there are better methods. As I said elsewhere, using mindmaps is a very useful method to classify and memorise vocabulary. You can organise these mindmaps by verb; like this:give-phrasal-verbs

or by particle, like this:

phrasal-verbs-with-up

Another interesting classifcation is to organise phrasal verbs by meaning, rather than form. For instance, you can make a group of phrasal verbs that can be used to talk about human relationships, like this:

relationships-phrasal-verbs

Another useful tip when trying to memorise phrasal verbs -maybe the best so far, is to make up sentences where these phrasal verbs are used in context. For instance:

Phrasal verb Meaning Example
find out discover When I found out that my camera had been stolen I went to the police immediately.
check in register into a hotel or airport Before we can got up to our rooms, we have to check in at the reception.
drop out leave school John is thinking about dropping out after his bad marks last term.
call off cancel The meeting has been called off because some people could not attend.
count on rely on You know you can always count on your family when you are in trouble.

All in all, I think the best way to learn phrasal verbs is to combine all these methods above and work with the new verbs in an active way (by listing, classifying and using them in context).

As usual, you can find this entry in pdf form here.

Adjectives from participles and gerunds (II)

Participle adjectives

Some months ago I published a post about adjectives that come from participles and gerunds. It is time to practice what we learnt there a little bit. You will find a couple of exercises below. The solutions -and a printable version of the exercises- can be downloaded at the end of the text.

Fill in the gaps in these sentences with the adjectives in the list below.

disappointed, confusing, frightened, surprising, embarrassing, frightening, exhausting, exciting, excited, charming, tired

  1. I found the film really _________ . I had to sleep with a light on!
  2. I was so _________ by my exam results. I had studied for weeks but, then, I got so nervous during the exam that I forgot everything.
  3.  The situation was really _________ . Imagine, the day you meet you in-laws; you are having dinner at a posh restaurant the waiter drops all the soup onto you!!!
  4. The children were really _________ about the theme park. They couldn’t stop talking about it.
  5.  I don’t like watching horror films because I feel so _________ afterwards that I can’t sleep.
  6. The book I am reading is so _________ that I have read ten chapters already!
  7. Her story was really _________. I would have never dreamt of such an ending.
  8. The baby is so _________. Look at his rosy cheeks.
  9. Running the London Marathon is _________ . I have never been so _________ before.
  10. The instructions for the task are really _________. I don’t understand what we have to do.

Now choose the correct adjective for each sentence.

  1. I feel really bored/boring today. I don’t know what to do.
  2. The documentary about modern technology was fascinated/fascinating.
  3. Jane was so annoyed/annoying by her argument with Pete that she didn’t come to the party.
  4. After his break-up with Judy, Mark was depressed/depressing for a while, but eventually he started going out again and met his current girlfriend.
  5. I have some amazed/amazing news!
  6. This is a stimulated/stimulating exercise. You should try it!
  7. I found the exhibition really interested/interesting.
  8. The clown’s performance was very entertained/entertaining.
  9. His words are always flattered/flattering but I wouldn’t trust him much.
  10. I’d be so moved/moving by a such a show of affection.

You can download the exercises and their solutions.

Frequency adverbs

  • I sometimes write posts about grammar.
  • I always write them in English.
  • I never joke about learning languages.

Today we are going to learn how to use frequency adverbs. To start with, let see some of them:

frequencyadverbs

In the chart above, you can find the most comonly used frequency adverbs ordered from the most to the least frequent. When three of them appear in a column, it means that they have a similar meaning.

Now it’s time to learn to use them in a sentence. First of all, you have to distiguish between frequency and other kinds of adverbs. The former (frequency) follow their special rule about word order in the sentence. In general, word order is very strict in English. The general rule is that the order in a sentence has to be:

Subject + Verb + Objects (Direct and Indirect) + Complements (time, place, manner ….).

Examples:

  • I went to the shop quickly.
  • Jane was sitting on the sofa lazily.

We can make some exceptions to this rule by placing the adverb at the very beginning, but the idea is that the less important complements do not interfere with the Subject+Verb+Object rule.

  • Luckily, we could find the keys.

Frequency adverbs work in a different way. They have to appear just before the main verb. If the main verb is the verb TO BE, they have to be placed after it.

  • Sue never reads the newspaper.
  • We sometimes play computer games.
  • Children hardly ever listen to their parents.
  • Jack does not always come to class.
  • Do they often work on Saturdays?
  • I’m always very happy at Christmas.
  • She isn’t usually here in the mornings.

Again, there might be exceptions to this rule and. Sometimes, adverbs might be placed at the beginning of a sentence, followed by a comma.

  • Sometimes, I feel like having a break from work an travelling all over the world.

There are other adverbs that follow the same rule that frequency adverbs. Some of these are already, also, ever, just…..But we will deal with them in another post!

Finally, there’s only one thing left to say about frequency adverbs. Have a look at the chart at the beginning of the post again, please. Did you notice that some adverbs are positive, while others are negative?

This is because those called “negative” make the sentence negative. In other words, if we use use “hardly ever, seldom, rarely or never”, the sentence becomes negative, which means that we cannot use a negative adverb.

  • Mary never uses the phone when she is having lunch.
  • Mary doesn’t never use the phone when she is having lunch.

I hope you always use frequency adverbs correctly from now on!

Possessive ‘s / Saxon Genitive

Today’s blog is going to deal with how we express possession in English. We are going to focus on one structure; Possessive ‘s or Saxon Genitive.

To start with, let’s see some examples:

  • I like Mary’s jacket.
  • John’s new car is very fast.
  • My father’s dog is very big.

As you can see we use “’s” after a noun or a name to show that an object belongs to someone. So, the jacket belongs to Mary, the car belongs to John and the dog belongs to my father.

When we have a noun with a final -s (because it is plural, or not), we may only add the apostrophe (‘).

  • My friends’ house is very near.
  • Charles’ sister is coming to the party.

If you try to translate these sentences into Spanish or Catalan, you will see that we use a completely different structure:

  • English: possessor + ‘s + object
  • Spanish or Catalan: object + de + possessor

If we used these sentences following the structure in our language, we would be making a mistake:

  • I like the jacket of Mary. (No!!!!!!)
  • The new car of John is very fast. (No!!!!!!)
  • The dog of my father is very big. (No!!!!!!)

However, in English, we sometimes use the structure of + object. Check these
examples:

  • The end of the street is very crowded.
  • The employees of the new supermarket are doing training week.
  • The leg of the table is broken.

In these cases, we can use of + object, because we are talking about a part of a thing, so the relation is not that of possession.

Did you notice that the name my blog contains an example of the possessive ‘s?

Contrast linking words

Although using connectors to link our ideas is necessary to make our text richer and more coherent, it is necessary to know them well to be able to use them properly. That’s the reason why today I am going to focus on a group of connectors; those used to show contrast.

Connectors to show contrast are quite similar in meaning so they can be confusing.  In general terms, the most important difference is grammatical.

I would divide them into four meaning groups:

1

2

3

although

even though

though

in spite of

despite

even if

but

yet

however

nevertheless

while

whereas

Let’s imagine that we have to real facts:

  • It was raining heavily.
  • The concert was not cancelled.

We can link them using connectors from the groups above, but the meaning and form of the sentence will change:

  1. Although it was raining hard, the concert was not cancelled.5180651937_4f81640fc7_b.jpg
  2. Even though it was raining hard, the concert was not cancelled.
  3. Though it was raining hard, the concert was not cancelled.
  4. It was raining hard. The concert was not cancelled, though.
  5. Even if it was raining hard, the concert was not cancelled.
  6. In spite of the heavy rain, the concert was not cancelled.
  7. Despite the heavy rain, the concert was not cancelled.

Although, even though, though and even if can appear at the beginning of a sentence to to introduce a fact that seems to disagree with the main clause. They can be all translated as “aunque”.

Though can also appear at the end of a sentence to show contrast between the previous two statements. This use is informal.

In spite of and despite are used to introduce a noun phrase that contrasts with the main statement. Notice that both connectors must be followed by a noun, a gerund or a clause introduced by “the fact that ….”. They can be translated as “a pesar de”.

 

  1. It was raining heavily but the concert was not cancelled.
  2. It was raining heavily yet the concert was not cancelled.
  3. It was raining heavily; however, the concert was not cancelled.
  4. It was raining heavily; nevertheless, the concert was not cancelled.images

But and yet are used between two contrasting facts. In general, we do not use any punctuation marks, although a comma can sometimes preceded the connector. Yet is more formal than but. They can be translated as “pero”.

 

However and nevertheless are used between two contrasting facts. We usually use them after a comma, semi-colon or stop. Nevertheless is more formal than however. They can be translated as “no obstante”.

  1. While it was raining heavily, it was not too cold.
  2. Whereas it was raining heavily, it was not too cold.

While and whereas introduce two seemingly opposite facts that are true at the same time. They can be translated as “mientras que”.

Even though this explanation could have had more examples, I hope the meaning and usage of these connectors are clearer now.

Learning vocabulary

Increasing our vocabulary range is paramount to improving in our process of language learning. This is why it is so important to develop useful and effective ways of acquiring new words.

It is obvious that learning a list of words by heart is a useless waste of time as we will forget them as fast as we learnt them.

So, how can we add new words to our repertoire?

A very productive strategy is associating new words to those we already know. To do so, we can use what we call mind maps. A mind map is a visual network of concepts that originates from a central node. We add words to the network whose meaning is somehow related to the original source. Let me give you an example:

foodmind-map

As you can see the central node is “food” and I have added new words that are semantically related.

We can also have more complex mind maps. For instance, and to continue with “food”:

foodcomplexmind-map

In this case, from the central node different subcategories originate: “cereal, fruit, dairy products”. From these, I have added words that belong to such groups.

Mind maps can be done on paper, cartboard or by computer, depending on what makes us feel more comfortable and inspired. If you prefer the latter, there are different free online resources that will help you create and save your mind maps.

I have used https://bubbl.us/ for the example in this post, but you can also try https://www.mindmup.com/#m:new or http://mindmapfree.com/, which also look quite cool!