Tag Archives: english grammar

Introducing the Grammar of Word Order and Sentence Structure

sentence structure guideEver wanted to brush up on all the basics of how a sentence fits together? My grammar guide, Word Order in English Sentences, can help. I’ve been spending less time publishing things online recently as I’ve been working on improving this as one of my earlier works, and preparing it for publication in print. It was originally designed as a brief guide for foreign students of English, but has a practical application for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of how sentences fit together.  Continue reading

What makes grammar boring?

what makes grammar boringOne of my earliest memories of being aware of the concept of grammar is an ill-fated English lesson in secondary school, where my teacher opened the class by saying “Now I’m sorry, but we have to cover some grammar today.” Having had the subject introduced like that, it felt perfectly natural to oblige him with a loud groan of disappointment, inspiring a few cheap chuckles from around the class. He quickly countered, though, “Fine, Phil, if it’s so boring then how about you tell the class what a preposition is.”

No one had ever taught me what a preposition was, so of course I looked like a fool for mocking the noble virtues of a grammar class. To this day I feel I was unjustly chastised; sure, I didn’t know what a preposition was, but to be honest I wasn’t too sure what grammar was either. I had groaned because the way he’d brought it up made it sound like it warranted a groan. And that’s a fundamental problem in the way we understand grammar. It’s presented as a dull set of tools, so we grow up believing it’s boring. Continue reading

Writing in the present tense

writing, copywriting, freelance, just workingDuring a recent English lesson, my student read from a Time Out article written in the present tense. This confused him: as a learner of English as a second language he was taught that the present tense is used for general or repeated actions, or states. Why would anyone write a report in the present tense, as the events had already happened? I explained that writing in the present tense is a common device in journalism, especially with interviews (as this was), to bring about a sense of immediacy and familiarity. As a literary device, this isn’t easy (or generally necessary) to teach, but in the present tense is more useful than just labelling habits and states. Here’s a short list of potential uses of writing in the present tense in copywriting:

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