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Better Writing Study Guide
©2004 Michael Krigline, M.A. (revised November 2004)
I see the following
mistakes OVER AND OVER on student papers. Many students can dramatically improve
their English level by just learning the things on these few
pages! The sooner you learn to avoid these common problems, the sooner you
can concentrate on “higher” language concerns!
Some of the links
to and from this page no longer work, but it still has lots of valuable
information. Use a "find" command [ctrl+f] to search for what you need. This resource
was extensively revised and edited before being put into my 2008
Writing for the Real World. There, you'll also find exercises,
corrections, charts, and much more information. Of course, English
grammar has plenty of "exceptions", so if
your English teacher tells you something different, listen to him/her!) (Teachers:
click to see our Website Standards and Use Policy)
CONNECTIVES (AND/ BUT/
SO/ BECAUSE/ BESIDES/ FINALLY…)
joins phrases, clauses and sentences. The most common connectives are
various conjunctions. The question is: Which connective will keep the
reader moving forward, while communicating the right impression?
■ Coordinating conjunctions (and, but,
for, or, nor, yet and so) are often misused when forming
compound sentences. A compound sentence has a subject and verb both
before and after the conjunction, but the sentence still needs a single
focus. When you find that using “and” creates a compound sentence, ask
yourself: “What is the MAIN idea of this sentence?” If you have to use the
word “and” in your answer, then rewrite it as two sentences!
■ Another hint is that your sentences
should be able to be read aloud in one breath. If you create a complex
compound sentence by combining two medium-length sentences, that can
become hard to do! Try to rewrite it, or
at least put a comma before the conjunction to help the reader.
My father was strict at
home, and students said he was tough and stern in the classroom. (Main
idea: “He was demanding”—so it’s a good compound sentence.)
My uncle was a pilot, and
my brother was fun to be around. (Main idea: you can’t say it without
“and” so it should be rewritten!)
Sue tells me stories about
herself and her sister Sally also likes to talk about her. (This is
OK—idea: I hear a lot about Sue—but if the clauses get much longer, the
reader can run out of breath or get lost!) BETTER: Sue tells me stories
about herself, and her sister Sally also likes to talk about her.
Traditional teachers say “Don’t start a written sentence with And,”
but many English publications now ignore this rule. Normally, you should
try to rewrite “And” sentences with “…also…” (this sounds much better).
However, if you MUST start with “And” be sure the sentence does one of two
things: (1) adds special emphasis (e.g., He said to get out. And he
meant it!), or (2) introduces a new aspect of the discussion (e.g.,
Dogs are dangerous. They can bite people or spread disease. And dogs are
expensive. In Wahala there is a $300 tax if you own a dog.)
Sentences starting with “Because” are also usually wrong (though “Because
of” is acceptable). In addition, try not to start sentences with “But”
very often (use it as a clause after whatever you are contrasting, and
start contrastive sentences with “However, …”). RIGHT: There were many
dogs but they were quiet. NOT: There were many dogs.
But they were
quiet. RIGHT: They eat a lot because they like eating. or Because of
their eating habits, they eat a lot. NOT: They eat a lot. Because they
like eating. or
Because of they like eating, they eat a
■ Avoid “So”
when starting sentences, unless you are informally describing a
consequence (“So” is followed by a comma and thus a pause). When you
write, don’t use “so + adj” when you mean “very + adj.” e.g., I am
sorry (this is fine when you are speaking to a friend!). It is OK to use
“so + adj. + THAT” if you offer an explanation (e.g., “…so tall
that he must bend to enter the room”). Don’t write: “ So I love her”
Write: “She is a wonderful mother so I love her.” (OR) “…mother.
Because of this, I will love her forever.” At the end of an informal
paragraph you can write: “…we had waited for hours. So, they all
went away angry.”
using but, because and so:
There were many dogs but
they were quiet.
NOT: There were many dogs.
But they were quiet.
They eat a lot because they
like eating. or Because of their eating habits, they eat a lot.
they like eating, they eat a lot. (Put the subject first unless you are
stressing the reason.)
NOT: They eat a lot.
Because they like eating.
So I love her” Write: “She is so very wonderful so
I love her.” (OR) “She is a great mother. Because of this, I will
love her forever.”
(informal, at the end of a paragraph):
“…we had waited for hours. So, they all went away angry.”
His girlfriend is VERY
pretty. NOT: She is
My girlfriend is so pretty
that the flowers feel inferior!
■ Use IN ADDITION or
FURTHERMORE to indicate that you are adding a new point.
BESIDES means more of the same, or indicates
that what is about to be said ties logically into what has already been
said. In addition and besides are NOT
interchangeable, even though they sometimes can be used in the same
way! Besides and what’s more are interchangeable,
though what’s more is particularly informal (I advise students to
avoid it when writing). (Also
note that "beside" does not have an "s" when it is used as a preposition
meaning “next to”; e.g., beside the bed.)
of Besides/In addition:
He likes to study.
Besides/In addition, he does well on tests when he studies hard.
He likes to study. In
addition, he likes to play football.
NOT: He likes to study.
Besides, he likes to play football.
■ “Finally” ≠ “at last” ≠ “in
conclusion.” In conclusion concludes, finally gives the
final step or point, at last means “after a long time or delay.”
(“At last” usually ends a sentence, the others begin.) These terms are
Similarly, “in short” is more informal than “in conclusion” or
“finally,” and “in a word” is extremely informal; you might find
them in a casual review or product description aimed at young people, but
not in academic or journalistic writing.
of In conclusion/Finally/at last/In short:
In conclusion, students
will find use of connectives easier if they remember the subtle
differences between terms that sound the same.
students will find use of connectives…
Finally, after completing
all the other steps, you close the casing with the special screw provided.
after completing all the other steps…
At last, after
completing all the other steps…
After three months of
delays, the project was completed at last! (or …delays, at last the
project was completed! In either case, you are emphasizes the long delay
After three months of
delays, the project was finally completed. (NOT: …the project was
In short, this is their
best rock CD in years! (Depending on the context, this sentence might be
too informal to start with in conclusion.)
ARTICLES: THE/ A/ AN (NOTE:
Articles give English learners A LOT of trouble, even after YEARS
of study. Hopefully these complicated but general guidelines will help,
even though there are exceptions!)
■ Articles give your readers information about nouns.
Three questions will help you to know which article to use, if any: (1)
What kind of noun is it: proper, collective, or regular? (2) Does the noun
refer to something specific or general? (3) Is the noun countable
(singular or plural) or uncountable? “The” tells me that a noun is
specific in some way, but it is not a singular proper noun. “A/an” tells
me you are thinking of one thing, but not one specific thing. The absence
of an article tells me it is a plural, uncountable or proper noun (but not
a collective). FOR A SIMPLIFIED CHART,
■ Terminology: “The” is the only definite
article in English; it comes before a specific noun (or something acting
as a noun)—something the reader knows about. “A” and “an” are
indefinite articles; they refer to things in a less specific way, but
still tell readers that there is only one.
(1) What kind of noun
is it: collective, proper or something else?
■ 1.1. Collective nouns (in their singular form) need an
article or possessive pronoun. Collective nouns represent a group of
related people or things that is thought of as a single unit (e.g., a
family is, the leadership is, the United States is, the rich are—these are
respectively common, generic, proper and adjectival collective nouns).
COMMON collective nouns can be used with definite or indefinite articles,
and they can also be used as countable nouns (a family is, the family is,
my family is, three families are). All other collective nouns require
■ 1.2. Proper singular and plural nouns DO NOT need an
article when used in the general sense. This includes proper nouns
that take a singular verb tense (including the following—which you
may not have thought of as being “singular”): languages, continents,
one-day holidays*, universities and their initials, less expensive public
places (vs. expensive ones considered as collective nouns), lakes,
harbors, magazines, and a few collective nouns (or their abbreviations)
that have become proper names through extensive use (these are
mostly governing bodies that issue news announcements, and the initials of
media companies). (*The use of
articles and verb tenses will change, depending on whether you consider
holidays as one-day proper nouns or as multiple-day festivals.)
Nikes, Cokes, Senators Bill and Sam Lee, the Alps
Mount Tai, Central Park, Michael, Lin Tao, China, Shanghai, Germany,
German (e.g., she speaks German and Chinese—see below for “people
groups”), Asia, Christmas, National Day, Beijing University, NPU, UCLA,
McDonalds, Days Inn, West Lake, Boston Harbor, Newsweek (Magazine),
Congress, Parliament, City Council, CNN, NBC, NASA, UNESCO
People groups that end in “s” DO NOT need a
groups (that end in “s”):
Asians, Australians, Brazilians, Chinese-Americans, Filipinos, Germans,
Indians, Kazaks, Koreans, Mexicans, Russians, Swedes (or the
Swedish), Republicans, Communists, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, etc.
groups (that don’t end in “s”, and therefore need “the”):
the Chinese, the British, the French, the Japanese, the
Spanish, the Vietnamese, the Hui (Minority), etc.
(2) Does the noun
refer to something specific?
■ 2.1. Use “a” or “an” if the
noun is singular but NOT specific.
“An” comes before nouns that start with a vowel sound; “a” is for all
other nouns. Remember that almost all proper nouns or proper
collective nouns can be used to mean “one of many”—see the example
below—but such usage is relatively rare. If used
correctly, you can substitute “one/any + noun + of many” for an
indefinite article (“a” or “an”).
A student can
learn to give a speech (any one of many unspecified students or
An ant is
strong for its size. (i.e., any one unspecified ant of many)
a Christmas years ago, when, according to a Times article,
a Santa at a nearby mall bit a child! (i.e., on one
of many Christmases, one of many articles in the Times said one of many
“Santas” at one of many malls bit an unspecified child!)
A father or
a mother (either unspecified parent) can meet a child after
school (any child of the many there).
■ 2.2. Use “the” if you are specifying ALL members of a
set. Such sentences use a singular verb form (“the+ noun+ is”) to
indicate the entire species, social entity, institutions, and so forth.
A father or
a mother can be the head of the family. (i.e., Any
individual/unspecified father or mother can be the one and only
entity serving as “head” of the general institution—or
its size, the ant is a strong animal. (i.e., The ant species
is one of many strong kinds of animals.)
should care for the poor, and the strong should protect
the weak. (i.e., the social entities of all rich, poor, strong and
weak people, considered collectively)
Use “the” if you are talking about something
specific that your reader knows about.
Readers may understand what you are talking about because of the
context, contrast, culture or setting, but the point is that readers
DO KNOW which specific thing you are talking about! If used correctly, you
can often substitute “the only + noun” for a definite articles (“the”).
already mentioned something, or the
reader/listener can see it)
My glass is
red. The glass is new. (The only glass I previously mentioned
glass on the table is red. (i.e., the only glass on the only
table--reader knows there is only one glass and one table, because you
have told them elsewhere, or because they can see a picture)
(you are speaking of one specific thing
in contrast to something similar or “one of many” in the general
sense—including a contrast indicated by the emphatic
phrase “the ___ of + noun,” which is commonly used to
describe something abstract in a poetic or emotional way)
the president of our English Club, not just a leader. (i.e., he
is the only president—not just “one of many” leaders).
water in my glass is dirty. (i.e., the only water in my glass, in
contrast to water somewhere or everywhere else—notice that “water” is
uncountable, but when you are being specific, it still need
often suffer the pain of war along the path to peace. (i.e.,
pain and path in contrast to other uncountable pain and other
2.3c. Culture or setting
(everyone in the reader’s culture
or setting knows what this specific thing is, or shares it in some
way—such as seasons, decades, or the local Metro system or football team)
team wins today, there is hope for the season, and that will make
the university proud. (i.e., the only team and university that
readers in this setting are expecting you to write about, and the only
sports season underway)
moon is full and the night is young. (i.e., the only moon and night
shared by this culture at this moment, as opposed to other moons
around other planets and other nights of the year)
(3) Is the noun
countable (singular or plural) or uncountable?
■ Singular countable nouns and
collective nouns need an article.
Whether you use a definite or indefinite article depends on specificity
(see above). Uncountable nouns and plural countable nouns DO NOT need
an article (when used in a general sense). However, specificity
rules are stronger, so uncountable and plural nouns DO use “the” when used
in a specific sense. (Also be careful because many nouns can be both
countable and uncountable!)
Conductors are not happy without an orchestra and an
audience. (conductors is unspecified and plural; orchestra
and audience are unspecified collectives)
Pilots feel lost without the luggage and a crew. (The
luggage contains their uniforms!) (pilots is unspecified and
plural; luggage is uncountable; crew is an unspecified
collective; luggage in the second sentence is previously
mentioned, i.e., specific)
Glasses break easily when they fall from the tables. (The reader
doesn’t know how many glasses or tables, and an English reader won’t know
if you mean 眼镜
Water is precious and so is the time. The Glass and the
plastic are cheap, but the oil can be expensive. (uncountable
Tea is a popular drink in China, which is famous for the green teas
it produces. The tea from Hangzhou is popular worldwide. (Here
“tea” is first uncountable, then countable, then contrasted with tea made
(4) Special cases and
You can omit
articles when talking about home, school, work, church or
campus, even though these are
specific places that your reader knows about.
The British add
hospital to this list.)
five nouns are often used in collocation with certain prepositions, so the
best thing to do is just memorize them as exceptions to the “normal”
article rules. Special collocation notes: To emphasize that you mean one
(specific or “one of many”) campus, school or church, you can write things
like “on the campus” or “at a school.”
However, native speakers say “at the office” not “
at the work.”
“The + work” refers to an action or activity. Similarly, “a/the + home”
does not refer to the place you live, it refers to an institution for
orphans, senior citizens, or some other special group.
to the home after being at/in the school all day.
to his dorm after studying on
She will be
the work until 5 P.M., and then she will stop by the
campus to see a friend.
at a school and Mom works on the same campus. (Here, your
reader does not know which school, but learns that both parents work at a
at a home and says the work is rewarding. (i.e., the
activities related to his job at an institution/home for orphans,
handicapped people, etc.)
■ 4.2. DO NOT use articles with
BY + a form of transportation or communication.
(With on or in, follow rule 3 above. See appendix E for
to the home by the bus, not by the car.
He came to
the campus in/on a bus, not in a car.
the phone that she would soon be at the home.
acceptance letter to
the Harvard came by the fax.
■ 4.3. DO NOT use articles with
the NAMES OF SPORTS or ACADEMIC SUBJECTS.
the ping-pong on the ping-pong team. (Sometimes
Ping-pong is used as a proper noun for the table tennis; the +
adj. + team is correct—see 2.3 b & c.)
Jin Lei is
the English, the math, and the engineering.
His major is the Engineering. He is an engineering major.
(i.e., “one of many” students with this major; notice
the capitalization for school subjects, the proper names of classes, and
■ 4.4. Possessive pronouns and the number
one can take the place of an article (e.g., his paper,
Don’t forget articles in front of your adjectives (including
company names); e.g., The Legend Corporation is a
putting a prepositional phrase at the start of a sentence unless it
is a time phrase. “On the left is a bed” is not as standard as “A bed is
on the left,” but these are fine: “After the game, we went out” and “We
went out after the game.” It is OK to use a prepositional phrase before
the verb if it modifies the subject or is crucial to understanding the
sentence. e.g., The photo on the left was taken in Shanghai.
see the note
above about "beside.")
stacking prepositional phrases next to each other.
NOT: …opened BY the
authorities ON campus ON May 10 FOR students… (Find a way to re-write
■ Instead of
using a prepositional phrase, use nouns as adjectives and use
possessives when you can. e.g., “China’s flag” is better than “the
flag of China.” Instead of
“my friends at NWPU” and “examination of postgraduate
studies,” write “my NWPU friends” and “postgraduate examination.” (“They
met my friends of NWPU” is wrong. “They met my friends at
NPU” is correct, but means something different from “They met my friends
from NPU”; if you use these constructions be sure you know the
■ For the sake of the
reader, avoid putting prepositional phrases between a verb and the adverb
that modifies it (esp. if you are using more than one prep phrase). “He
walked slowly down the street” is better than “He walked down
the street slowly,” for the same reason that you do NOT want to
“He walked to the south with his best friend along
Hickory Street slowly.” However, a noun should come
between a verb and the adverb that modifies it! Write: “He walked
the bike slowly,” not “ He walked slowly the bike.”
■ Here is how Americans use prepositions related to school and
I study in NWPU. I am a student on / of NWPU. I
graduated from the English Department.
study/ This happened/ Students did this/ I am a student…
…ON campus/ AT NWPU/ AT the
university/ IN the English Department
Seniors will graduate/ I graduated… …FROM NWPU/ FROM the university
this/ Find this/ This is located… …ON our website/ AT our website/
/Come… …TO our website/ TO
www.krigline.com.cn/ INTO our website
MISCELLANEOUS POINTS (1)
CAPITALIZATION is not optional! All proper
nouns are capitalized: e.g., Chinese, New Year’s Eve, Spring Festival and
Zhang Lin. Sentences and questions always begin with a capital letter,
too. A.M. and P.M. are capitalized. Many writers think “the Internet”
should also be capitalized. For “province”: Li-li was from Jiang-su
Province, not the province of Hu-nan. (Jiangsu and Hunan are also OK, but
I think the hyphen helps those who do not understand Chinese.)
TITLES, capitalize the first and last words, important words,
and prepositions bigger than four letters. Titles of books, works of art,
operas, movies, TV shows and magazines are underlined or typed in
italics, while songs, articles and poems are set in
“quotes.” Course titles are simply capitalized. e.g., Our Western Movies
class watched Ben Hur, which won 11 Oscars® in 1959. Sue’s favorite
song is “Country Roads.”
PARAGRAPH is made up of at least two sentences that are logically
connected. (Exception: in newspaper writing, a paragraph is often a single
sentence.) Separate your paragraphs with a space between them or by
INDENTING (starting the first sentence 1.3 cm or 0.5 inches from the
Don’t mix present and past tense verbs in a sentence or question (although
these can be mixed with –ing verbs or infinitives). Nouns must agree with
the verbs in a sentence (be careful if you use “and”!). Your pronouns
must also agree with the subject (and each other) unless it is clear why
they don’t. e.g., After they lost, Al and Bill sat thinking and watching.
After he loses, Al and Bill sat thinking and watched. He was a
handsome man and loving dad, and he spoke Thai. (NOT:
He was a handsome man, loving dad, and
–WAS must agree with man, dad and spoke—but it doesn’t!) I sat at
the table and looked at a book. (OR) I sat at the table to look at
a book. (NOT:
I sit and
looked at the book.)
Tom sat at the table by his bed. (NOT:
Tom sat at
the table by her bed—unless
the reader knows who Tom is with!) Tom sat at the table by our window.
(only OK if reader knows the window is yours or “yours and Tom’s”)
“our” is plural, the noun after it should usually be plural unless
it is shared by the people “our” refers to. e.g., Not “
but “our lives;” “our home” means that the essay is about you and the
others who live there—otherwise use “our homes.” Note: many contemporary
writers ignore this rule.
Pronoun refers to what was just before it (whether before a comma,
colon, semi-colon or period). e.g., I had a party. It was fun.
There was a table; it had a cake. It was not big. THIS MEANS
that the party was fun, the table had a cake, and the
cake was not big; but your reader may wonder if you meant that the
party or the table was not big, so avoid too many pronouns!
THE FUTURE AND PAST
■ LATER means “after the time clearly
stated,” not simply “in the future.” Fred graduates this June and I
will graduate two years later (i.e., two year after Fred). My
friend is in college now. I will go two years later (i.e., I will go
two years from now).
Two years later I will go to graduate school.
This sentence can NOT start an essay since the present perspective is not
stated. Instead, write “I will go… two years from now” or “I will go… in
WISH and HOPE. In general, we
WISH (+ past tense verb—often COULD) for things that we really
do NOT expect to get/do. e.g., I WISH I could go to Beijing
University (but that is not likely). I WISH you were smarter (this
is an insult, implying that the listener is stupid). I WISH I had
more money (but I don’t). We wish others (without a verb)
something good. e.g., I WISH
hope you the good luck (s).
Lucky money is given by parents to WISH their children a good New Year and
good health all the year long. We HOPE (+ present tense
verb—often CAN) for good things that may come true. e.g., I HOPE
I can pass the entrance examination (and I am studying hard so I
can do my best). She HOPES her son can come home for Spring
Festival (and he says he will try). Parents HOPE their children remain
healthy all year. I HOPE you have good luck at your new job.
■ Using WILL
can make the reader think you are ONLY talking about the future.
Use the present tense for annual, continuous or automatic things in
the present AND future. e.g., This website will offer you free greeting
cards. (This can mean they DO NOT offer these NOW.) This website
offers you free greeting cards (i.e., cards are offered now AND in the
will receive a red envelope every New Year’s Eve.
■ CAN/ COULD. Can
& Could are sometimes interchangeable as modals (to indicate a degree of
certainty). (e.g., We COULD go to the beach—maybe; We MIGHT go to the
beach—probably; We CAN go to the beach—certainly possible). But COULD
also serves as the PAST tense of CAN. Last year they COULD make
a profit selling shoes, but this year they CAN not because the market is
flooded. I COULD play the trumpet in high school (but then I quit playing
when I got to college). (Also see WISH/HOPE above!)
LEARN/ STUDY/ KNOW are often confused and misused. Each has a different (and
difficult to explain!) focus. Maybe this will help. (Chinese uses for
these terms can differ from the English usage, so be careful!)
■ “To learn” is to acquire knowledge or information (the
stress is on getting information, not on the effort needed
to do so). Note that we don’t “learn” knowledge; we gain or
acquire it. e.g., I watch TV to
study learn some
useful things. (Just by casually watching I can pick up information.) I
can know learn about the world on the Internet. (I gain
information, but do not “know” the world in a complete sense—see below.)
By reading I can know learn about people’s thoughts. (I
cannot read minds, so I do not “know” people’s thoughts, but by gaining
information I can guess well.) This booklet helped me learn what to
do in an emergency. (implies that the booklet taught you something useful)
■ In general, “learned” (past tense) implies
completeness or mastery, and “learning” refers to gaining a large degree
of understanding (mastery through considerable time and effort). e.g., I
learned basic Math in elementary school. (This implies that you
mastered it.) I am learning English this
(You can’t acquire much English in ONE afternoon, so “studying” would be
better for such a specific time; but you CAN acquire a lot of English
knowledge in a semester.) I am learning how to drive a car. (You
cannot do this in one day!) I am learning how to write in English.
(This stresses the process of gaining competence.)
■ To “study” means to put effort into becoming better
at using something or to gain a deeper understanding of a subject. e.g., I
learned studied English in High School. (This implies that
you worked on your English ability; you can’t use “learned” unless you are
now fluent.) I study the piano. (This implies that you are working
to learn how to play the piano.) I am learning studying
English this afternoon. He learns studies football every
weekend. (He is not just playing or getting information about it!) Do
not say: “I learned English during the break.” (Say you
“studied English” because you put in effort but you are still not
completely FLUENT in the English language!) ALSO NOTE that STUDIES
(as a noun in an academic sense) is usually plural (“He works at his
■ “To know” something implies an intimate or complete
knowledge, or implies certainty. e.g., I would know my father’s
yell from a block away! We have known each other for years! By
reading all his books I came to know how the author felt about
violence. You think you understand but I know I understand!
This booklet helped me know what to do in an emergency. (This
implies that you deeply understand the information.)
■ If you include a time phrase (to show that considerable time went
in), you can sometimes bend these “rules.” e.g. (both options are ok), I
studied/learned English for two years in America. I have been
learning/studying English for three years. (Frankly, “studied” is still
preferred in the first sentence, and “studying English” sounds better than
■ Similarly, TOLD and TAUGHT
are often confused. Your Dad told you to avoid strangers (implies a
spoken instruction or advice). Your Dad taught you to be honest and
to study hard (implies habits or characteristics he encouraged, probably
by example as much as words). In the previous two sentences,
told/taught can be exchanged, but the implication changes. However, in the
following you can NOT interchange the words (unless Dad helped you to
memorize stories and explained the meanings to you). He taught
you honesty (a characteristic). He told you stories (something he
FOR EXAMPLE/FOR INSTANCE/SUCH AS/ETC.,
and AND SO ON.
example/for instance” is a conjunctive adverbial (which makes its position
rather flexible). When it is used to introduce an explanation (i.e., an
independent clause), it can even begin a sentence (in which case a comma
follows it). When “for example/for instance” introduces a list (i.e., an
explanatory dependent clause) it cannot begin a sentence (and a
colon or long dash must separate the dependent clause from the main
as” is really a complex preposition, and it can only be used
to introduce a list (a comma does not automatically precede it—it depends
on its placement as a preposition in the sentence—and no punctuation comes
between “such as” and the nouns); “such as” cannot start a sentence.
“for example” and “such as” introduce incomplete lists, using “and so on”
or “etc.” at the end of the sentence is redundant.
(Note that “etc.”
needs only one period at the end of a sentence.)
how the punctuation is different in the following examples.
ice cream a lot. For example, when we left school we always bought some.
ice cream a lot; for example, when we left school we always bought some.
ice cream a lot. When we left school, for example, we always bought some.
ice cream a lot. When we left school we always bought some, for example.
weakest way to use conjunctive adverbials is at the end of a
contains many ingredients: for example, wheat, oats and oil.
contains many ingredients—wheat, oats and oil, for example.
contains many ingredients, such as wheat, oats and oil. Ingredients such
as wheat…are essential.
contains many ingredients: wheat, oats, oil, etc.
oats, oil, etc., are all main ingredients.
contains many important ingredients, such as: wheat, oats, oil and so on.
MANY/ MUCH/ ANY/ A LOT OF:
MANY can be used with countable nouns in
positive and negative statements or questions. ANY can be used: (1)
with countable and non-countable nouns in negative
statements, and (2) with countable and non-countable nouns
in positive or negative questions. MUCH can be used:
(1) with non-countable nouns in negative sentences,
(2) with non-countable nouns in positive or negative questions, (3)
as “too much” or “much of the” with a non-countable noun (also positive
or negative), (4) “as much as” or in front of a comparative for
emphasis, (5) with certain words (often an infinitive verb or a
non-countable emotion, era, etc.) in certain formal positive sentences.
(Note: unless you have seen MUCH used with a certain word,
don’t assume it is acceptable! If in doubt, use “a lot/a lot of”!)
NOTICE that you can substitute “A LOT OF” for MUCH,
ANY, or MANY in most sentences (EXCEPT for “many” in positive
statements and questions, or “much” in #3 and rarely #5). However, some
teachers say “a lot” is too informal for academic writing. Often, the best
solution is to rewrite the sentence without being so vague! Instead of
“Articles give students much/a lot of trouble,” write: “Students
often have trouble using articles.”
Examples of much/many/a
lot: (every word in the parentheses is acceptable; if a choice is not in
the parentheses, don’t use it!)
(a lot of, many) people in your hometown?
not (a lot of, any, much ) electricity when my Grandpa went to school.
not eat (many, any, a lot of) hamburgers.
(many, a lot of ) students here.
kids play (much, a lot of ) of the time.
(a lot of, many ) old cars in Detroit.
there (any, many ) cookies left?
music is (much, a lot ) better than rock-n-roll.
(much, a lot ) to present before I finish.
(any, much ) food?
have (a lot of ) power after the election.
(any, much ) water left?
too (much ) poverty in the world.
There is (a
lot of ) cool air in this room.
members were officials during (much ) of the Qing Dynasty.
They run as
(much ) as 40 kilometers per day.
(much, a lot ) more intelligent than Bill.
not be (much, any, a lot of ) music in our room this term.
I would not
have (much, a lot ) to worry about if I were rich.
be (much, a lot of ) discussion after they watch this movie.
(many, any, a lot of ) tall buildings in Xi’an?
MISCELLANEOUS POINTS (2)
NUMBERS above ten can be written as numbers (23; 2,343), but numbers
under 11 (except time—4 A.M.) should be spelled out (two, ten). ALWAYS use
a spelled-out number to start a sentence. e.g., Nineteen people (14 are
female) will arrive in two vans at 3 P.M. (Yes, A.M. and P.M. are
ITALICS (words written like this: gaijiao) should be used for
foreign words or pinyin Romanization unless the word is a formal
noun (e.g., Sichuan, Meili Xu, Ms. Xu, Hebao eggs, Shaanxi Province)
■ AVOID OVERGENERALIZATIONS: “Americans love basketball and
Chinese people love ping pong.” Not really—modify Americans and
Chinese with “some,” “most,” etc., to make this true.
■ AVOID “FLUFF” in your writing: i.e.,
words and phrases that really do not tell the reader ANYTHING! Instead of
“What is more, I think my mother is a very special person in my life;” or
“I would like to say something about my mother;” write: “My mother is
beautiful, intelligent and compassionate” (then tell the reader about her
beauty, intelligence and compassion in the essay!). “Fluff” to avoid
includes: In my opinion, I would like to write/say something about, …to
me, …in (all) my life/lifetime, …as far as I am concerned…, …I think,
What’s more. (NOTE: “In my opinion/ I think” are OK if you are expressing
several opinions, but avoid these in essays that simply express your own
point of view!)
ADDRESSES: For America: 766 N Maple Rd British:
No. 766 North Maple Road
use; neither uses “#”) Canton, OH 44777, USA Earlsdon,
Coventry CV7 1GT, U.K.
use "aux" as an abbreviation for "auxiliary verbs";
the most common are do, have, can, is, and will.)
To transform sentences
into questions, first, decide which part of the sentence
(subject/verb/object) you are asking a question about. Unless you
are asking about the subject, put an auxiliary verb (aux)
before your original subject to make the statement a question. If a
question has an aux, the aux
(not the main verb)
always shows the question’s verb tense .
To inquire about the
object, change the object into a question word, add an aux (if there
was not one already), and then change the grammatical order from
original subject/[aux]/verb/object to wh?/aux/original
subject/verb. “She can play the piano.” becomes “What
can she play?”
To inquire about the
verb in a sentence, replace the verb with what and a form of
do, add an aux, and change the grammatical order from
subject/[aux]/verb/object to what/aux/original
“She plays the piano.”
becomes “What does she do (on the piano)?”
becomes “What do teachers do?”
To inquire about the
subject, simply replace the subject with a question word. Auxiliary
verbs are optional (for emphasis). Don’t change the original
grammatical order (subject/[aux]/verb/object).
“He lives there.” becomes
“Who lives there?”
“They will arrive at noon.” becomes “Who
will arrive at noon?”
■ “Yes/no” questions start with an aux. e.g.,
Did you like the holiday? (X:
Do you liked…)
(Such questions get “yes/no” answers, so they don’t start conversations!)
To make questions more polite,
we can add phrases like “can you tell/show me,” “do you know” or “will you
explain” to the front. If you are asking “polite questions” about a whole
sentence, add if between the added phrase and the original
sentence. Otherwise, a question word comes after the phrase. After
if or the question word, notice that the grammatical
order is the same as in a statement (which also means an aux is not
In “polite questions,” sometimes an infinitive can replace
I/we+verb or I/we+aux+verb. You can not do this with regular
questions. For example: “You can find this in a book.”
becomes “Can you tell me where I can find this?”
or “Can you tell me where to find this?
LIKE/ AS/ SINCE.
LIKE compares things without saying how. AS…AS tells us how they compare.
e.g., She looks LIKE a model. She looks as pretty as a model. Your
hands are like ice! This rock is as cold as ice.
■ “AS FOR ME” can tell us
your (singular or plural) opinion or condition, though we do not usually
use “AS” to give others’ opinions or conditions, unless they come
immediately after “as for me.” e.g., As for me and my family, we
As for young people , they like action
movies. (BETTER: However, many young people like action movies.)
■ LIKE and AS can introduce
a clause, but the meaning is different. LIKE means “in the same way as”
(you need a comma after the phrase). AS means “acting in this role” (no
comma needed). e.g., As a businesswoman she was
successful. (She was successful in the role of businesswoman.)
LIKE a lawyer, Molly was always on time. (Lawyers are
always on time, and Molly was like a lawyer in this way.)
■ Avoid using “as” when you
mean “since” or “because.” e.g.,
As I am a student, I
have to study. BETTER: Since I am a student, I have to study. As
a student I have to study. I have to study because I am a student.
■ LIKE/ AS can also be used to introduce idioms (see
EXPRESSING HOW WE FEEL
■ A few special verbs
(like, love, hate, despise, etc.) often tell how we feel. These verbs come
before a noun when they talk about a thing, and a gerund (-ing word) or an
infinitive when they talk about an activity. e.g., He hates reading/to
read. She likes lemons. They despise bananas. We love English. Some
hobbies or activities can use all three forms: She likes debating/to
debate/debates. He loves skating/to skate/skates.
■ Similarly, expressing
emotions can be tricky, so watch how you match verbs and
prepositions. e.g., People don’t “
HAVE unhappiness WITH others” nor
do they “ FEEL unhappiness.” They “ARE unhappy WITH others,” or they
“FEEL happy (happiness?) when they are AROUND others,” or “HAVE problems
WITH others.” Their lives can be “FILLED with unhappiness,” or they may
have “KNOWN a lot of unhappiness in their youth.”
MISCELLANEOUS POINTS (3)
■ CHINA/ CHINESE (place vs. people): CHINA
is a noun (a place); CHINESE is an adjective and so it must be followed by
a noun (Chinese food, Chinese clothes, Chinese music, Chinese people…).
The only exception is “the Chinese” which is short for “the Chinese
people” (you only need “the Chinese”—“people” is optional—if you mean “the
Chinese people”). THIS DOES NOT WORK WITH EVERY COUNTRY! For example: we
say “Koreans” not “the Korean” to mean “the Korean people.” e.g. (pardon
my overgeneralizations!), 1) Americans are overweight. NOT:
Americans are fat. 2) The Chinese are thin. NOT: Chinese are thin.
3) The Japanese are rich. NOT: Japanese are rich. 4) Africans are
dark. NOT: The Africans are dark.
If you use a COMPARATIVE, be sure your reader knows what you
are comparing. NOT: “The boss says he is a better worker.” Instead: “The
boss says he is a better worker than the others on his shift.” Also try to
keep the things being compared close together, instead of separating them
with other clauses.
Americans generally put verbs before
adverbs (and adverbs before adjectives). Technically,
“He ran slowly” is better than “He slowly ran.” Similarly, “He is surely
bright” is more standard than “He surely is bright,” just as “He is very
tall” is correct and “
He very is tall” is wrong.
■ IDIOMS or sayings are useful as direct quotations, but
since many are hard to translate I say to avoid them! Nonetheless, here is
how to use them: (Notes: ‘for’ could become ‘but’ and ‘the Chinese’ could
be ‘we Chinese’ if the context calls for it;
capitalize the idiom if it is a
complete sentence, in which case it should come after a colon.) Examples:
Like the Russians say: “Trust but verify.” My father often said, “live it
up.” That company believed the proverb that says: “If you want lemonade
grow lemons.” The Chinese like to say: “If it catches mice it is a good
cat.” They say that if it catches mice, it’s a good cat. …for as the
French say: “Like father like son.”
COMMONLY MISUSED OR
■ Welcome (by
itself) is an invitation to enter or visit someplace you are not currently
in, so “Welcome to China” makes no sense to someone living in the country,
and “Welcome to my hometown” can only be used when a guest FIRST steps
foot in that place. “You are always welcome in China” and “I welcome you
to visit my hometown” is probably what you mean. The Chinese
can mean “welcome,” “thanks for coming,” “come again,” and other things,
and appears in MUCH simpler sentences than you can create in English.
■ You don’t
chance. Instead, you take hold of an opportunity, chance, or
■ Benefit (
and impact. In general, it is safer for non-native speakers to use
benefit [countable] and impact [non-countable] as nouns rather than verbs.
Both are used in idiomatic ways that non-native speakers might not know.
For example, expressions like “the impact of,” “made a big impact,” “many
benefits,” “the benefit of the doubt” and “[some group of people +]
benefit from [+ noun]” are common, but native speakers rarely say “I
benefit,” “that benefits me” or “you will benefit a lot from.” Likewise,
whenever I hear someone say they were “impacted” by something, it makes me
think of an impacted tooth. Examples: This company offers
good benefits. Students have benefitted from this course in many ways. NOT: I benefit a lot from it.
This course benefits me a lot. They made an impact
on people. The impact of immigrants has been widespread. NOT: They impacted people.
■ Vocation means
job; vacation means holiday. e.g., Her vocation was to help people
■ Quiet means a lack
of noise, while quite means “rather a lot.” e.g., He is not quiet;
he is quite loud!
■ Commonly misspelled words: write
favorite or favourite (UK) not
written not writen.
■ Air conditioning (A/C)
refers to machines that make rooms/buildings cooler; the Chinese word (空调)
can refer to machines that heat AND/OR cool. Heaters make rooms
warmer. You can also use “air condition” as a verb. e.g., This heat pump
heats the room in winter and air conditions in the summer.
■ The Chinese word mén (门)
has several translations, depending on the context. A gate is
something that opens in an outdoor wall, fence, or hedge. Gate is
frequently used in Chinese names (e.g.,
the Gate of Heavenly Peace). Gateway is often used figuratively to
mean entrance (as in “the gateway to better trade”). A door
physically opens/closes to allow someone in or out of a building. A
building’s doorway is an entrance near a door. (Native speakers
often say “meet me at the door at 5 PM” when they mean “doorway.”) An
entrance is an opening that allows access (with or without a door,
inside or outside).
interesting: “Tom is interested (in something)” means that Tom wants
to know more; “Tom is interesting” means that the speaker likes to hear
Tom speak or perform. No one says “I am interesting” (since that sounds
like a proud statement).
■ Abbreviations for
formal names use all CAPS and are normally spelled out the first time they
are used, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. Many writers omit
the periods in common abbreviations. Yao Ming stars in America’s National
Basketball Association (NBA). The NBA is popular in the USA and China. (RE
"the NBA" see the section on articles!)
Contractions are common in speech, but only
use contractions in informal writing (though it
is generally OK to use the negative contraction [n’t] and the contraction
for “it is.”) Many students misuse contractions because they don't know
(for example) when “it’d” means “it would” or “it had.” Never use a
contraction if the sentence becomes one word (e.g., “I would.” NEVER:
“I’d.”). Never write colloquial expressions like "wanna" or "gonna" for
"want to" or "going to."
■ Abbreviations for
months can be written two ways. (1) traditional, with a period: Jan.,
Feb., March, April, May, June, July, Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., Dec. (2)
computer, all are three letters with no period: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May,
Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec. DO NOT call the second LUNAR month
“February” (i.e., of a Chinese, Jewish, or other calendar); call it the
“second lunar month.”
■ UNUSUAL WORDS: food, studies, entertainment,
trouble, hair, authorities, etc.: When you learn a word, notice if it
is countable, non-countable, and/or has other uses. For example, “food”
is usually a non-countable plural noun (“They had a lot of food at the
party”), but if you are talking about different types of food, “food”
can be a countable noun (“They had 12 different foods at the party”).
Studies (as a noun in an academic sense) is plural (“He works at his
STUDIES”). Entertainment can be a non-countable noun or an
adjective (“The entertainment committee provides a lot of entertainment”).
Trouble is usually non-countable, as is hair (“His HAIR is
gray,” not “hairs are”). “The authorities” (i.e., leaders) is
normally plural. e.g., The authorities decided that adding weekend
entertainment was too much trouble.
always come at the END of a line of type (not at the beginning of the next
line), and (in America!) they generally come
inside the closing quotation mark. e.g., He said, “That will be
all.” “That will be all,” he said. Jack called every woman
“lady.” (British: Jack called every woman “lady”. Sue’s favorite
song is “Country Roads”. see “titles”)
■ Exclamation and question marks ONLY go
inside the closing quotation mark if they are part of the quote.
e.g., His sister screamed, “Turn that off!” Judy asked, “Why didn’t you
call?” How many times do you have to say “not me”! Did she ask for his “blankie”?
(Do not overuse quotes to set off colloquial words.)
■ Colons (which usually introduce a list
or explanation) and semi-colons (which can separate clauses in a
compound sentence or clauses that contain commas) come outside the closing
quotation mark. e.g., My aunt snapped, “You should be more
careful”; then she left the room. You have two choices: green or blue.
■ Commas should not be used to replace the
word AND. NOT:
She got food, he got water. INSTEAD: She got
food; he got water. She got food and he got water. (This could also be
written as two sentences.)
■ A long dash is supposed to make the
reader pause (don’t overuse this tool). It is ONLY TWO hyphens (not
one, three, or four…). To set off explanations, long dashes come in pairs.
His hobby--chess--took a lot of time. OR He spent a lot of time
with his hobby--chess.
Hyphens can be used at the end of a line to
break a word (if you run out of space), but they MUST break the
word in specific places (NEVER break off a single letter and avoid
breaking off two-letter endings; the other rules are even too complicated
for word processing software, so it is better to NEVER break a word!)
space follows any punctuation mark except the long dash, internal
abbreviations or time indicators (e.g., He left the U.S.A. at 3:23 P.M.,
with three friends: Bill, Sue and Tim. NOT:
the U. S. A. at 3: 23 p. m.
,with…) New paragraphs should be indented (i.e., start the
first sentence about 1.3 cm or 0.5 inches from the left margin),
especially if you double space your writing (which I require on all
*Section 1 is chapter five, section 2 is chapter 10,
and section 3 is mostly chapter 20 in my
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