A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 3)

 

In part 2 of this series, we spoke of some situations when the definite article the is generally used.

 

Comparatively speaking, there are more rules for using the definite article than the indefinite variety, a or an. Another thing to remember is that the can appear before singular as well as plural nouns.

 

Here are some more rules to help you.

When to use the

6. Referring to an entire group of people

Examples:

The aged are generally reluctant to use any form of technology.  

[aged = a collective reference to people who are very old]

 

The Swiss are known for their ability to manufacture world-class watches.

[Swiss = a collective reference to citizens of Switzerland]  

 

7. Before the names of countries which have a common noun such as ‘republic’, ‘united’, ‘states’, or which sound plural

Examples:

Dubai is arguably the most popular city in the United Arab Emirates.

My cousin works in the Philippines.

 

8. Before the names of newspapers

Examples:

I met a journalist who works for the Independent at yesterday’s party.

The Sun is one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK.

 

9. Before the names of most hotels and restaurants

Examples:

I’ve booked us a table at the Canopy, owned by the famous chef Marcus.

Let’s meet at the Swan, the pub near Graeme’s house.

 

Remember, this rule does not apply if the hotel or restaurant is named after a person.

 

10. Before the names of families

Examples:

We’re having dinner with the Watsons tonight.

The Kanes are an amazingly talented bunch.

 

11. Before the names of rivers, seas, mountain groups, island groups, and deserts

Examples:

Debbie’s new apartment overlooks the Thames.

My uncle and aunt are holidaying in the West Indies.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world.

 

12. Before the names of most museums, art galleries, monuments, and famous buildings

Examples:

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is a spectacular structure.

Have you ever been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra?

 

And here’s something interesting to end with: the definite article is pronounced differently depending on what word follows it. If it appears before a word beginning with a consonant sound, we pronounce it like ‘thuh’; if it is before a word beginning with a vowel sound, we pronounce it like ‘thee’.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 2)

 

 

 

In a previous post, we looked at the indefinite article, a or an, and when to use it. In this one, we’ll talk about the use of the definite article the.

 

When to use the

Unlike the indefinite variety, the definite article is used to talk about a noun that is specific. Its presence in a sentence suggests that the speaker and listener, or the writer and reader, both clearly understand which noun is being referred to.

 

Here are some situations when the indefinite article the is commonly used.

  1. Referring to something that has already been mentioned

Examples:

I had some pizza and a glass of lemonade. The pizza was so tasty!  

Did you know that a couple met with an accident right here yesterday? The woman is still in a coma.  

 

  1. Referring to something which the listener is already familiar with

Examples:

I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like something?

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific store, where they usually buy things]

 

Where is the cookery book? I can’t find it in the kitchen.

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific book which they usually keep in the kitchen]

 

  1. Before superlative forms (e.g. tallest, shortest, fastest, most beautiful), as there is generally just one in a group which can be the tallest, fastest, most beautiful, etc.

Examples:

My dad’s office is located in the tallest building in our city.

She is the most beautiful girl in my town.

 

  1. Assuming there is only one thing of a kind somewhere

Examples:

Excuse me, can you please direct me to the cafeteria?

[The speaker assumes that there is only one cafeteria in the area]

 

Let’s go to that new mall on Orchard Street. I’ll meet you in the car park at around 11.

[The speaker assumes that the mall has just on car park]

 

  1. Referring to unique people or things

Examples:

The principal has called for an emergency meeting.

[There is usually just one principal in a college/university]

 

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

[There is only one star by the name sun in the solar system]

 

The definite article is the most frequently used word in English, so we’ll be back soon with more on its use.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 1)


When learning a new language, the size of words doesn’t always matter. Sometimes using really small words accurately can be a real nightmare. Many English learners, for instance, find the use of articles confusing.

Articles – a, an, and the – are little words that go before nouns (i.e. person, place, thing, or idea). They help us identify if the noun we are referring to is definite or indefinite. A noun is definite when the speaker and the listener both know what is being spoken about. If not, it becomes an indefinite one.

 

Example 1: “Shall we watch a film tonight? How about an action flick?”

 

Example 2: “After a week, I watched the film again with my family at the local cinema.”

 

By choosing to use the indefinite article, a or an, we are referring to films in general: any film, or any action film. On the other hand, use of the definite article the indicates that we are referring to a specific film: the one the speaker saw a week ago.

As there are tons of rules stating when to use which type of article, and when to omit articles, learners commonly struggle with this area of language use. Here are some basic rules to help you better understand articles.

 

When to use a or an

Before getting to rules, it’s important to know the difference between the two indefinite articles, a and an. We use a before a word that begins with a consonant sound (e.g. nurse), while we use an before a word that begins with a vowel sound (e.g. engineer).

 

Now here are some situations when we generally use the indefinite article.

  1. Classifying people based on what job they do

Examples:

Katie’s sister is a nurse.

My daughter is studying to be an engineer.

 

  1. Referring to a singular countable noun which is not specific

Examples:

Can I have a pen, please?

[Any pen should do]

 

We should get ourselves a car.

[Any car, not one in particular]

 

Remember, we don’t use the indefinite article before plural (e.g. a nurses) or uncountable (e.g. an information) nouns. More about articles in later posts, so do watch this space.

 

British vs American English (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Secabtien Wiertz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how Britons and Americans tend to spell and pronounce a lot of words differently. Here are some other ways in which UK and US English differ.

3. Vocabulary

This is arguably the most striking difference between the versions of English spoken on either side of the pond. Let’s do a quick comparison: in British English ‘you take the lift from a friend’s flat to the ground floor of the building’, while in American English ‘you take the elevator from a friend’s apartment to the first floor of the building’.

 

There are hundreds of such everyday things that are described using different terms. That said, Britons and Americans are generally able to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words from the context. On rare occasions, though, it could cause confusion. For example, the phrase ‘first floor’ can be found in both versions, but it carries a different meaning in each.

 

Here are some common examples of different words describing the same things:

 

British English American English
biscuit cookie
flat apartment
petrol gas
trousers pants
chips French fries
crisps potato chips
aubergine eggplant
mobile phone cell phone
torch flashlight
football soccer
the cinema the movies

 

4. Grammar

Like spelling, the way speakers of UK and US English use grammar can also be slightly different at times. For starters, Britons use question tags (a phrase added to the end of a sentence to turn it into a question; e.g. You don’t eat meat, do you?) a lot more than speakers of American English.

 

Here are some more grammatical differences:

 

British English American English
Preposition Are you in my team or his?

 

I’ll see you at the weekend.

Are you on my team or his?

 

I’ll see you on the weekend.

Tense Use of the present perfect to describe something that has happened recently

 

I’ve just had dinner.

Use of the past simple to describe something that has happened recently

 

I just had dinner.

Verb forms Some verbs are considered irregular

 

dream, dreamt, dreamt

learn, learnt, learnt

The same verbs are made regular

 

dream, dreamed, dreamed

learn, learned, learned

Collective nouns Collective nouns can be singular or plural

 

My team is / are in the lead.

Collective nouns are always singular

 

My team is in the lead.

 

 

All in all, these two versions of English have a lot more similarities than differences, so if you can understand one, the chances are that you’ll be able to understand the other too.

 

GLOSSARY

 

the pond
Form : noun
Meaning : an informal term for the Atlantic Ocean, which lies in between Britain and America
Example : This rock band is huge in Britain but relatively unknown on the other side of the pond. 

 

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz via Flickr (cc 2.0)

 

In the first part, we spoke of how it is good practice to use a pointer while speed reading, and how to retain information. Here are a couple more tips you should try…

 

Practise regularly

As clichéd as it sounds, there is no doubt that practice makes perfect. Speed reading may appear to be challenging at first, but regular practice should help you master this skill. And once you get to that point, you’ll realise that it is quite possible to glace through entire sections of a document or book in a matter of minutes and get the gist of it.

Think about how much time speed reading can save you, and you’ll need no further motivation to put in the hard yards.

 

Don’t read every single word

When we first start learning to read as children, we are often told how it is important to read every single word to ensure complete understanding. Guess what? You can’t do this when you speed-read. Your focus should be on gaining a general understanding of the content, so trying to do anything more can slow you down.

So, which words should you focus on? Well, if not reading a word won’t affect your comprehension, feel confident to skip it. Allow your eyes to fix on the important words. Over time, your brain will pick these out and gloss over the less important ones.

Before you know it you’ll be reading super fast!

 

We’ll be back with some more advice in the next part.

 

One Easy Way to Improve Your English Vocabulary

Image courtesy of Thad Zajdowicz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Anxious to expand your vocabulary but frustrated that you’re not able to memorise words? Mnemonics could be the answer to your problem.

A mnemonic, in brief, is something that helps recall information accurately. It could be a rhyme, sentence, abbreviation, or mental image that helps us remember something, especially information which is complicated.

 

Here are some ways in which mnemonics can help you with spelling.

1. Not sure whether it’s an ‘a’ or ‘e’ that appears in the middle of the word separate?

Here’s a trick to remember the spelling: There’s a rat in the word separate.

 

2. Confused whether the correct spelling of the fuel similar to petrol is deisel or diesel?

Remember this fact: When organisms died millions of years ago and decomposed, it led to the formation of fossil fuels such as diesel.

 

3. Don’t know how to spell the word that means a beauty contest for young women?

Here’s an easy way to remember it: page + ant = pageant

 

Mnemonics can also help to jog your memory when you are trying to recollect a difficult word that you don’t often use. After all, English is a language that is still evolving, so newer words are getting added all the time.

With well over a hundred thousand words already, remembering vocabulary can be a right struggle for learners.

Here is an example of how mnemonics can come to your rescue in such a situation.

The word melange, which comes from French, is used to describe a mixture of different things. As you can see, it may not be easy to quickly summon up such a word if it isn’t something you use regularly.

Here’s an easy way to remember it: Think of two specific fruit – melon + orange = melange

Remember, the only thing that limits the use of mnemonics is your ability to create pictures in your mind, so let your imagination run wild!

 

Glossary

 

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 3)

Image courtesy of Jamelle Bouie via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

So far in the series, we’ve spoken about four pronunciation features that a learner should try to improve – individual sounds, word stress, sentence stress, and weak forms. Let’s now explore two more such features.

 

5. Chunking

Ever heard of the word chunk? In a very general sense, it means a piece of something larger.

While speaking, it’s important that we package what we say for the listener so that they are not overwhelmed by too much information. And chunking helps you do just that! Breaking up long sentences into smaller chunks helps the listener understand better.

For instance, if someone were to ask you for your phone number, how would you like to give it to them?

Method 1

9876543210

Method 2

98 (pause)

765 (pause)

432 (pause)

10

Obviously, any listener is likely to find the second method easier, because the pauses in between help them take in information more easily. Now, let’s take this approach and apply it to a sentence.

Text

Did you know that London is the capital of the United Kingdom and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

Text with chunking

Did you know (pause)

that London is the capital of the United Kingdom (pause)

and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

 

6. Intonation 

In simple terms, intonation can be described as the music of a language when spoken. The rise and fall of the speaker’s voice changes the meaning of what is being said.

As you can see, in the first example, use of a rising intonation signals that speaker B is excited, whereas the falling intonation in the second example indicates displeasure or disappointment.

Use of appropriate intonation patterns does matter a lot, especially when asking questions, ending a sentence, using question tags, expressing feelings, or contrasting two things.

Without it, you run the risk of giving listeners the impression that you are not confident or not in control of what you are saying.

Remember, read up on these pronunciation features, introduce them while speaking, and you’ll start sounding better and better.

Improving reading Comprehension (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Sam Greenhalgh via Flickr (cc 2.0)

 

In the previous part, we spoke of how speed reading and deducing meaning can lead to better comprehension. Here are some more techniques for you to try:

 

  1. Improve concentration

Your powers of concentration perhaps affect your ability to understand a piece of text more than anything else, so train yourself to concentrate well over long periods. Are you wondering how? Well, take one small step at a time. To begin with, see if you are able to focus on what you are reading for about 10 to 15 minutes, increasing the reading time as you go along. The ultimate goal should be to form an ability to concentrate on a task for as long as an hour.

 

  1. Widen vocabulary

Unfamiliar vocabulary is often a stumbling block to reading comprehension, so the more words you are able to recognise, the better you understand a text. One way to learn new vocabulary is by maintaining a running list of words you don’t understand; later, you can look them up in a dictionary. Of course, you need to make it a point to use the words too, while speaking or writing, so that they become a part of your active vocabulary.

 

  1. Expand background knowledge

Background knowledge and vocabulary sort of go hand in hand: an individual who doesn’t know much about factories may not understand words such as supply chain, reverse engineering, or lay-off.  Do not panic though, as there are several ways to acquire background knowledge about something – watching TV programmes, reading articles, talking to people with experience, making visits, etc.

 

  1. Read for pleasure

We commonly turn academic activities into a right struggle, not realising that it doesn’t have to be that way! Turn reading into a fun activity by reading for pleasure: read about your favourite movie star or an exotic holiday destination, or read a novel by your favourite author. This will help you truly engage with the text, because you are reading content that you find interesting.

 

Remember, there are no shortcuts to improving your reading ability. Keep at it, and your comprehension will get better with time.

 

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

stumbling block (to something)
Form : noun
Meaning : something that stops you from achieving something
Example : Lack of funding is the major stumbling block to completing this project.

 

running
Form : adjective
Meaning : continuous
Example : Stanley has had a running battle with the council over his new garage.

 

make it a point (to do something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make sure something happens
Example : Cindy makes it a point to avoid heavy meals while travelling.

 

go hand in hand
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be closely related
Example : It’s a fact that poverty and crime usually go hand in hand.

 

engage (with something)
Form : verb
Meaning : to be fully involved and try to understand something
Example : Young children engage with content that is full of colourful images.

 

keep at (something)
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to continue to work on something
Example : He kept at it and finally learnt how to take a free kick.

 

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Emily Mathews via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the first part, we looked at two of the most widely used punctuation marks: full stops and commas.

This week’s post explores some less common ones, starting with the exclamation mark (!)

 

Exclamation

Originally known as the note of admiration, an exclamation mark (also known as an exclamation point) is used to show strong forms of emotion: excitement, surprise, pleasure, anger, etc. It can also accompany words that represent sounds, or appear at the end of short commands.

Used Example
at the end of a short word or phrase that expresses an emotion: Look out!
Ow! That really hurt!
after a word that represents a sound: Bang!
at the end of a command: Stop!

 

Question mark

As the name suggests, question marks go at the end of direct questions. Another use is in question tags, where a short question phrase is added at the end of a sentence to check if it is correct. Question marks are also sometimes added within brackets to signal that the writer is doubtful about what has just been said.

Used Example
at the end of direct questions: Where were you born?
at the end of a question tag: You eat red meat, don’t you?
to express doubt: They say operating the new machine is quite easy (?).

Remember, you should not add a question mark after an indirect question. For example:
He asked me where I was going. ✔ (He asked me where I was going?)

 

Hyphen

The most important function of the hyphen is to link words or parts of words. Though its use has become less common over time, a hyphen is almost unavoidable when there are certain types of compounds (having two or more parts) in use.

Used Example
in compound adjectives: a custom-made car
when two nouns (e.g. court martial) are turned into a compound verb: to court-martial someone
when a phrasal verb (e.g. to break up) is turned into a noun: The break-up left him shattered.

Despite being one of the most important features of written English, punctuation is often taken lightly by most people; but skilled use of punctuation can help take your written English to the next level.

Improve Your Reading Comprehension (Part 1)

Image courtesy of Matthias Uhlig via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Let’s face it, among all the language skills, reading is perhaps what most people least enjoy, especially if it happens to be an academic text. The reason for this can vary – a wandering mind, narrow vocabulary, or just impatience.

 

However, there are situations where this skill is a must; an exam perhaps being the best example. Almost all popular language tests have a reading component. IELTS, for instance, has a reading module designed to test a wide range of reading skills.

 

So, how do you improve your comprehension if you are not the reading kind? Here are some ways:

 

  1. Use speed reading

Speed reading is the technique of reading a text quickly with the aim of understanding its overall idea. In a reading comprehension test, this skill is priceless, as test takers find themselves in a race against the clock to answer all the questions. When dealing with long passages, the reader often focuses on content words – i.e. words that carry the message, such as nouns, main verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This way, they save time, allowing them to better focus understanding and answering those questions.

 

  1. Learn to deduce meaning

One thing that slows readers down is unfamiliar vocabulary. Each time they come across a word they don’t recognise, it hinders their reading speed, thereby affecting comprehension too. One way to overcome this problem is to develop the ability to deduce meaning. In other words, form an ability to guess the meaning of a word you don’t know by looking at words surrounding it. Let’s put this technique to test with the help of an example:

 

We drove past hyacinth fields in full bloom, the air filled with their sweet, lingering fragrance.

 

If you don’t recognise the word ‘hyacinth’, focus on words surrounding it – fields, in full bloom, sweet, lingering, and fragrance. From the context, it is clear that hyacinth is something that grows in fields, develops over time, and has a pleasant smell that is long-lasting. If your guess at this point is that it’s a flower, then you are dead right!

 

So, the next time you come across an unfamiliar word, try to deduce its meaning; then look it up in a dictionary to confirm you guessed right.

 

GLOSSARY

 

let’s face it
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to indicate what you are about to say is unpleasant but true
Example : Let’s face it, we both know you shouldn’t be marrying a guy like Jake.

 

wandering
Form : adjective
Meaning : moving aimless from one place to another
Example : Sally fares poorly in studies because of her wandering mind.

 

comprehension
Form : noun
Meaning : an individual’s ability to understand things
Example : Miguel had no comprehension of how difficult it was to raise a child.

 

a race against the clock
Form : phrase
Meaning : a situation when someone has to do something quickly, as they only have a limited amount of time
Example : Rescuing people during floods is always a race against the clock.

 

hinder
Form : verb
Meaning : to make it difficult for someone or something to make progress
Example : A leg injury hindered Roger from playing his best tennis.

 

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