Posts by speakspokehavespoken

My name is Sarah and I'm an English teacher. I love helping my students improve their skills and understand how English works. I started this blog to share some tips on learning strategies, resources and tricky grammar points. I'm always happy to hear your ideas or suggestions for the blog!

How to master conditional sentences

Conditional sentences are part of most English books and courses. There are different types with different names and different rules. The name can sound scary, but there are just a few tips and tricks to use to become a conditional sentences expert. Below, I’ve broken these types of sentences down into categories to make it easier to decide which to use.

Things that are always true

When something is always true, we use the present simple in both halves of the sentence. For example:

  • If I’m tired, I go to bed early.
  • If it’s cold outside, I wear a coat.
  • If he’s bored, he plays on his phone.
  • If we get lost, we ask for directions.

In these sentences, we could also use when instead of if and the meaning is the same. Here are more tips on using if and when.

We can also swap all of these sentences round and the meaning stays the same. For example:

  • I go to bed early if I’m tired.

Things that are possible and likely

When something could really happen in the future, we use the present simple in the if half of the sentence and will (or might or may) in the other half. For example:

  • If it rains tomorrow, I’ll stay at home.
  • If I miss the bus, I’ll walk.
  • I’ll give her the book if I see her.
  • They’ll reserve a table if they see a good restaurant.

We can’t use when in these sentences. In most cases, we can’t use if and will in the same half of the sentence. If and will don’t like each other!

Things that are unreal or unlikely

If something is not realistic or not likely to happen, we use the past simple in the if half of the sentence and would or could in the other half. Here are some examples:

  • If I had a car like that, my friends would be jealous!
  • We would be very angry if they lost the key.
  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a boat.
  • I would change the world if I were President.

Again, it’s not possible to use when in these sentences. We should keep if and would in separate sentence halves.

Were or was?

Very often when we talk about unreal or unlikely sentences, we use were instead of was, e.g.:

  • If I were rich, I would buy this house.
  • If I were you, I would forget about it.
  • We would give him the job if he were qualified.
  • I would go out if the weather were better.

When we speak, we sometimes also use was in these sentences.

How do I know what’s possible or likely?

Sometimes it’s not clear if I’m talking about something realistic or unrealistic. In the sentence I would change the world if I were President, it’s clear that this is an unlikely sentence – for most of us! The only option is to use the past simple and would to show that I don’t think this will happen.

But what about this sentence: If it rains tomorrow, I’ll stay at home? In this example, the speaker thinks it’s possible that it could rain tomorrow. But if they thought this was impossible (maybe they’ve checked the weather forecast), they could say: If it rained tomorrow, I would stay at home.

Things in the past

If we’re talking about an unreal situation past, something that didn’t happen and we’re speculating about the possible consequences, we use the past perfect in the if part of the sentence and would/could have + past participle (third form) in the other half.

  • If you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known.
  • If they hadn’t been late, we would have finished on time.
  • I would have gone on holiday if my flight hadn’t been cancelled.
  • He would have bought the phone if it hadn’t been so expensive.

Here again we can only use if and not when. None of the actions in these sentences can be changed because everything is in the past.

Things in the past affecting now

It’s also possible to combine different types of if sentences to show the effect of the past on now, e.g.:

  • If I had studied more, I would be better prepared.
  • If you had gone to bed earlier, you wouldn’t be so tired now.
  • They’d be fitter if they had done sport more often.
  • He could go home early if he’d worked harder yesterday.

In the if half of the sentence we use the past perfect; in the other half we use would or could and the base form of the main verb.


Do you have more tips for using these sentences? Or do you have any questions about this topic? I’d love to read them!

How to improve your reading skills

Reading is an excellent way to learn new words, learn how native speakers write and improve your language level. Reading regularly can help develop a ‘feeling’ for English. However, reading is also a skill we can learn and there are some techniques that can make it easier. Here are a few tips I give to my students to help them with reading practice.

  1. Look for clues before you read.

Before you read a text, look for clues about what the writer will say. Look at any pictures with the text. What is the title? Will the writer give information or their opinion? Or is it a story? What do you know about this topic already? What words do you think you will see in the text? Maybe not all our ideas will be correct, but thinking about the topic before you read the text helps us to understand more.

2. Read the text more than once.

If you’re reading a short text or news article, read it more than once. The first time, just read quickly for the main points in the text. Then the second time, you can read more slowly and look at the details in the text.

3. You don’t need to understand every word.

It’s natural to want to understand every word when you read a text in your new language, but this isn’t necessary to understand the text. In our native languages there are words we don’t understand, but we still understand the sentence or text as a whole. It’s also a lot of work to look up every new word in the dictionary. Only look up a new word if it’s repeated a lot or if it’s important for the meaning of part of the text.

4. Use what you know.

If you don’t know a word, use what you know. Does it look like another word you know in English? Or does it look like a word in your own language or in Latin? Does the word have a prefix or suffix (groups of letters at the beginning or end) you know?

Use your knowledge of the topic. What would fit in the sentence? For example, in the sentence ‘At school the —— help the students learn’ I can use my knowledge to guess that the word is teachers.

5. Look at the whole sentence.

If we look at the whole sentence, we can often see what kind of word a new word is. For example, in the sentence ‘At school the —— help the students learn‘ the unknown word is after an article and before a verb, so I can guess that it’s a noun and the subject of a sentence. In the sentence ‘In the evening I —– TV’ there is no other verb in the sentence, so we know this word must be a verb.

6. Look back and ahead.

If we don’t understand a word or part of a sentence, we can often find clues in the sentences before or afterwards. For example, the unknown word in this sentence is not clear: ‘This city is known for its ——-.’ Lots of words could fit this sentence! But if we read the next sentence, we understand the meaning: ‘These small bears look for food in rubbish bins.’

7. Test your ideas.

When we have some ideas what a word could mean, we can test them. Put your idea into the sentence and continue reading. If the idea still fits, it could be correct!

8. Have fun!

My last tip is to choose a text you are interested in. Learning a language should be fun and it’s more motivating to read about topics you want to learn about. Here are some good websites written for people learning English, but there are also so many websites, news sites and blogs out there. There really is something for everyone.


What are your favourite things to read in English? Do you have more tips for improving reading skills?

Four websites to practise reading in English

Reading is a great way to improve your vocabulary, see how structures are used and develop a feeling for a language and how native speakers write. Reading is also very easy to practise online by yourself; there are thousands of texts out there to read!

If you don’t feel confident enough to read news stories and other websites, you could try some texts for people learning English. Ideally, you should be able to understand the main points of a text without a dictionary.

My students often ask what they can read to practise, so I have made a short list of some of the sites I would recommend. (I don’t have any connections with these sites; they’re just my preferences.)

Breaking News English

Levels: beginner – advanced

Text length: short

I often ask my students to read texts from Breaking News English. Every two or three days there is a new story written at a number of different levels. Sometimes they are stories you read in the newspaper; sometimes they are funny or interesting stories from around the world. The great thing about this website is the texts are very short, so it doesn’t take long to read a story. Because each text is available at different levels, you can read the right level for you. For example, if a text at Level 4 is too easy, you can just switch to Level 5. (Level 0 is easiest and Level 6 is most difficult.)

News in Levels

Levels: lower intermediate – advanced

Text length: short – medium

News in Levels also has lots of short news stories. Each story is written at three levels. (Level 1 is the easiest and Level 3 is the most difficult.) The best thing about this site is that they describe the most difficult words at the end of the text, so you don’t need to look in a dictionary. There are also short videos that go with the texts. You can use these as listening practice or to practise pronunciation.

British Council

Levels: beginner – advanced

Text length: medium – long

The British Council has so many great resources for practising English. Their reading section is divided into levels. In each level, you can choose a text that interests you. The texts are about everyday life and general interest topics. What I really like about this site are the exercises for each text. You can do them interactively online, or you can download all the activities and the text as a PDF. You can also check the answers yourself, so it’s like a mini English lesson.

Cambridge English

Levels: beginner – advanced

Text length: short – medium

Cambridge English, who write lots of exams for people learning English, also have some nice reading activities. You can filter the activities by level and how long they last. Most of the activities are on everyday topics. In each activity, you read a text and then do a multiple choice quiz to check what you’ve learnt. It’s a great way to check what you understand.


These are just a few of the many websites out there. I’d love to hear about the websites you use to practise reading! 🙂

Telling the time in English

In the last few posts, I’ve written about using prepositions to talk about times and places, and about dates in English. Something else my students find difficult is telling the time in English. How many ways are there to say each time? When do we use am and pm? When do we say o’clock? Do English speakers use the twenty-four hour clock? Read on for answers to these questions and more.

How many different ways are there to tell the time?

There are at least two ways to say each time: the analogue and the digital time. If you feel unsure about the times, the digital times might be easier to start with. You just say what you see, and you can be sure everyone understands the time you want to say. Here are examples of digital times:

  • 11:00 eleven (am)
  • 11:05 eleven oh five
  • 11:10 eleven ten
  • 11:15 eleven fifteen
  • 11:30 eleven thirty
  • 11:40 eleven forty
  • 11:45 eleven forty-five
  • 11:55 eleven fifty-five

And here are the analogue ones:

  • 11:00 eleven (o’clock) (in the morning)
  • 11:05 five past eleven
  • 11:10 ten past eleven
  • 11:15 quarter past eleven
  • 11:30 half (past) eleven
  • 11:40 twenty to twelve
  • 11:45 quarter to twelve
  • 11:55 five to twelve

When do we use the twenty-four clock?

Generally, we only use the twenty-four hour clock (e.g. 16:00 or 21:30) when we’re talking about travel arrangements like flight or train times, or when we want to be very specific. You can sometimes see it written, particularly on timetables, but we rarely use the twenty-four hour clock when we speak.

When do we use am / pm?

As we don’t often use the twenty-four clock when we speak, we normally go back to one when we reach twelve at midday. To make it clear whether we’re talking about the morning or the evening, we can use am or pm. Am is for 00:00 – 11:59 and pm for 12:00 – 23:59. For example:

I’m meeting a friend at 2pm.

My appointment is at 11am.

Similary, we can also say in the morning or in the afternoon/evening:

I’m meeting a friend at two in the afternoon.

My appointment is at eleven in the morning.

However, if it is already clear from the context whether we’re talking about the morning or evening, there’s no need to say am/pm or in the morning/afternoon/evening. For example:

I’m meeting a friend at two. (It’s not likely that we’re meeting at two in the morning.)

My appointment is at eleven. (I probably don’t have an appointment with the doctor, mechanic, etc. late in the evening.)

When do we say o’clock?

We say o’clock for full hours, for example, three o’clock or ten o’clock. We can’t say o’clock with times like half past, ten to, etc. or with the twenty-four clock. We also can’t use it with am and pm, but we can say it before in the morning/afternoon/evening.

It’s three o’clock.

It’s ten o’clock in the morning.

Its ten past four o’clock.

It’s fifteen o’clock.

It’s nine o’clock am.

Common mistakes when telling the time

  • I start work at 8 o’clock am in the morning.–> We can just choose one from o’clock, am and in the morning, or we leave out all of those words as it’s clear from the context it’s probably the morning.
  • We’re meeting at five hours.–> Unlike in some other languages, English doesn’t use the word hour to tell the time. We can leave out the word hours or replace it with o’clock/pm/in the evening.
  • 09:30 “half (past) ten–> In English, we also use half to say it’s thirty minutes past the hour. For example, 09:30 is half past nine and 14:30 is half past two. Particularly British English speakers often say half nine for 09:30 half two for 14:30.
  • 09:45 quarter for ten –> The minutes on the right side of the clock are past (e.g. ten past, twenty past), and the minutes of the left are to (e.g. twenty to, ten to). For 09:45 we say quarter to ten.
  • The train leaves at ten past fifteen. –> If we we use the twenty-four hour clock, then it’s always in digital form, e.g. fifteen ten.

Do you have any tips for telling the time? Is it very different from the times in your language? I’d love to read your comments below. 🙂

In, at or on to describe places

Last week I wrote about using in, at or on to describe times. This week, I’ve got some advice on how to use these words to talk about places. Is it in the cinema or at the cinema? In Paris or at Paris? In the train or on the train? Read on for answers to these questions and more.

In

We use in to talk about:

  • closed spaces
    • The laptop is in my office.
    • The car is in the garage.
    • They are in the kitchen.
  • cities, regions, countries
    • They live in Norway.
    • The concert is in Glasgow.
    • She works in the Midlands.

At

We say at when we describe:

  • specific points and locations
    • Let’s meet at the front door.
    • I’m at the station.
    • He’s at the cinema.
  • addresses
    • I live at 14 Long Lane.
    • The company is at 17 Regent Street.
    • Is the restaurant at 8 Market Square?

On

On is used to talk about:

  • floors in buildings
    • I live on the second floor.
    • Our hotel room was on the ground floor.
    • The office is on the top floor.
  • a surface
    • The picture is on the wall.
    • The book is on the table.
    • My bag is on the floor.
  • roads
    • The office is on Station Road.
    • The school is on the ring road.
    • There is a traffic jam on the A47.
  • other ‘long’ places
    • There is a bench on the path.
    • We sat on the riverbank.
    • We walked on the beach.

Exceptions and extra trips

  • on the train or in the train?
    • Both! British English speakers say on the train and American English speakers say in the train, so both are possible.
      • I was on the train when you called me.
      • I was in the train when you called me.
  • in the cinema or at the weekend?
    • If we talk about generally being at a location, we use at.
      • My son’s at the cinema.
      • I’m at the office.
      • We’re at the hotel.
    • If we want to stress that we are inside that place, we can use in.
      • My son’s in the cinema, but I’m waiting outside.
      • I’m in the office; I’m not in the car park.
      • We’re in the hotel, so the rain isn’t a problem.

Do you have any other questions about using in, at and on? Or do you have some more tips? Leave them in the comments below!

In, at or on to describe times

Is it on Tuesday or at Tuesday? In winter or on winter? At the weekend or on the weekend? These little words like in, at or on can be difficult to remember because often they are different in every language. Here are some tips to remember how to use them to talk about times.

In

We use in to talk about:

  • months
    • My birthday is in October.
    • We’re going on holiday in July.
    • She started her new job in February.
  • years
    • They started the company in 2011.
    • The next elections will be in 2023.
    • The protests took place in the year 1968.
  • seasons
    • We always go on holiday in summer.
    • It sometimes snows in the winter.
    • The days get longer in spring.
  • times of day
    • He always drinks coffee in the mornings.
    • In the afternoon I’m meeting a friend.
    • The restaurant was very full in the evening.

At

We say at when we describe:

  • specific times
    • The show starts at 6pm.
    • My train leaves at midday.
    • They’re meeting at half past four.
  • festivals
    • We visit our family at Christmas.
    • They will be away at Diwali.
    • What food do you eat at Easter?

On

On is used to talk about:

  • days of the week
    • Our next appointment is on Tuesday.
    • Do you have time on Thursday?
    • I didn’t go the party on Saturday.
  • dates
    • The conference is on 12th March.
    • My flight is on 20th November.
    • On 5th September we’re visiting customers.
  • special days
    • I’m having a big party on my birthday.
    • We always eat a roast dinner on Christmas Day.
    • Are seeing friends on New Year’s Eve?

Exceptions and extra trips

  • at night or in the night?
    • We say at night to talk generally about things that happen during the night.
      • The stars come out at night.
      • At night my cat is very active.
    • We say in the night to talk about one particular night.
      • I heard a strange sound in the night.
      • We’re flying home in the night.
  • at the weekend or on the weekend?
    • Both! British English speakers say at the weekend and American English speakers say on the weekend, so either is possible.
      • The weather was great on the weekend.
      • The weather was great at the weekend.
  • On Sunday morning or at Sunday morning?
    • Here, we say on Sunday morning because the day comes first.
      • I always go running on Tuesday afternoons.
      • We often go out on Friday evenings.
      • He already has plans on Wednesday morning.
  • At Christmas or on Christmas?
    • We say at Christmas to describe the whole festive period.
      • Our company has a party at Christmas.
      • I like to give my friends gifts at Christmas.
      • At Christmas the shops are always busy.
    • On Christmas Day describes that one day.
      • I visited my grandparents on Christmas Day.
      • Lots of people watch films on TV on Christmas Day.
      • Children get up early on Christmas Day.

Do you have any other questions about using in, at and on? Or do you have some more tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

If or when?

When I see my friend or if I see my friend? When I visited my brother or if I visited my brother? Is there always a difference between if and when, and if so, how do I know which to use? This is one of the most common question my students ask. In many languages, there is just one word for both, so it can be confusing. Here are some tips to help you remember when to use if or when.

Is it always true?

If you are describing something that is always true, you can use if or when and the meaning is the same. Both parts of the sentence should use the present simple. For example:

  • When I’m tired, I go to bed. / If I’m tired, I go to bed.
  • When they win, they’re happy. / If they win, they’re happy.
  • When the price increases, we sell less. / If the price increases, we sell less.

Is it certain?

If something is definitely going to happen in the future, we use when. In these sentences, we’re sure that these things will happen and we’re describing what will happen in that situation.For example,

  • When I see my friend, I’ll give her the information.
  • When I give the presentation, I’ll speak loudly.
  • When he goes to France, he’ll visit the Eiffel Tower.

If I’m not sure something will happen, we use if. All of these sentences talk about things that may or may not happen. For example:

  • If I see my friend, I’ll ask her about her new job. (Maybe I will see her; maybe I won’t.)
  • If I give the presentation, I’ll prepare well. (I don’t know if I will give the presentation yet.)
  • If he goes to France, he’ll visit Nice. (He hasn’t decided yet if he’s going to France.)

If we swap if and will, the meaning changes:

  • If I see my manager, I’ll ask her. (I don’t know if I’ll see her.)
  • When I see my manager, I’ll ask her. (I know I’ll see her.)

Is it the past or just an idea?

If we are talking about something that really happened in the past, we use when.

  • When I was at school, I liked art classes.
  • When I lived in Scotland, we often went to the beach.
  • When I visited my friend, we went to a great restaurant.

However, if we’re talking about unreal actions (in the past, present or future), we need if. These sentences describes ideas that didn’t or probably won’t happen. Here are some examples:

  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a house.
  • If I took a plane, I would get there quicker.
  • If I had read the email, I wouldn’t have made the mistake.
  • If I hadn’t been late, my boss would be angry.

Summary

So, to summarise, we use when to talk about something real in the past or certain in the future. We use if to talk about about things that are not certain or not real. We can use either if or when to talk about things that are always true.


Do you have any more tips to help you remember when to use if or when? Do you have other questions about if sentences? Leave them in the comments below!

The most important sound in English

Want to take your English pronunciation to the next level? You’ve masted vocabulary and grammar, but you’d like to sound more like a native speaker? Or maybe you still find it hard to understand native speakers? There’s one trick that can help to understand and make pronunciation more natural. It all comes down to one sound: the schwa sound.

Though it’s the most common sound in the English language, most people never learn about the schwa sound in their English classes. It is written /ə/ and is pronounced ‘uh’. This video shows you how to make the sound.

The schwa sound is used to say some vowels. In every sentence and some words, there are sounds that are stressed and some which are not stressed. Some unstressed sounds are a schwa sound. Here are some examples of words with this sound:

  • computer /kəmˈpjuːtə/
  • teacher /ˈtiːʧə/
  • under /ʌndə/
  • future /ˈfjuːʧə/
  • yesterday /ˈjɛstədeɪ/
  • company /ˈkʌmpəni/
  • around /əˈraʊnd/
  • about /əˈbaʊt/
  • Australia /ɒˈstreɪliːə/

In addition, in sentences there are some words which are stressed and some which are not stressed. Normally, we stress nouns and verbs because these are most important to understand the meaning.

In these sentences, we could stress the following words or sounds:

Would you like a cup of coffee?

Do you have a laptop?

This is for you.

I’m going to work.

He’s from Malaysia.

Sometimes, we say words that are not stressed as a schwa sound when they are in a sentence. These are some common examples:

  • a /ə/
  • the /ðə/
  • of /əv/
  • to /tə/
  • for /fə/
  • at /ət/
  • from /frəm/
  • are /ə/
  • am /əm/
  • an /ən/

So if I just say the word for I would say: /fɔː/ “four”

But in the sentence ‘This is for you‘ I would say: /fə/ “fuh”

To in the sentence ‘I’m going to work‘ would be: /tə/ “tuh”

And from in the sentence ‘He’s from Malaysia‘ would be: /frəm/ “frum”

It can take some time to get used to this new sound, but once you master it, it will be a lot easier to understand native speakers – and to sound like one too!

Extra practice
- Download a short podcast and listen out for the schwa sounds. 
If you can, download a script and mark the schwa sounds you hear.
- Find a short text and mark where the schwa sounds should be. 
Practise reading the text aloud with schwa sounds. If you are 
not sure, you can use a dictionary to check.
- The BBC Pronunciation Workshop has a great video with more
examples.

Can you think of any more words with a schwa sound? Are there any other sounds you find difficult to pronounce?

10 common mistakes made by German speakers learning English

When we learn a language, the way we speak the new language is influenced by our native language. One way to reduce this problem is to learn to think in the new language, so we no longer translate from our mother tongue. Despite this, we may still make some mistakes because we have structures and vocabulary from our first language in our mind. Here are some of the most common errors made by German-speaking learners of English.

10. to remind/to remember

These two similar verbs are very often mixed up by learners of English. To remember means to think about something from the past; to remind, on the other hand, means to make someone remember something. It is a transitive verb, which means it is always used with an object. Here are some examples:

I remember my first day at school. 

I will remember to buy bread.

I reminded to buy bread. –> I reminded him to buy bread. 

9. to make/to do

German uses the verb machen a lot, so German-speakers often use the verb to make in English. As a general rule, we use to make  when we are talking about creating or forming something, e.g. to make a plan, to make dinner, to make a confession, to make a cake. However, if we are focussing on a process itself, we use to do, e.g. to do a course, to do homework, to do the cleaning, to do someone a favour. This rule doesn’t work in all cases, but it’s a good start.

8. I drive with the bus.

English has several verbs to describe travelling, depending on the distance, the means of transport and whether we are the driver or passenger. Whilst German uses the verb fahren in lots of situations, in English we only use the verb to drive when we are the driver of a car, bus, train or boat. If we use a bike, we say we ride our bikes or we cycle. If we are a passenger, we have several options:

  • I took the bus/the train/a taxi.
  • I got the bus/the train/a taxi.
  • I went by car/boat/bus.
  • My friend gave me a lift. / My friend drove me. (as a passenger in a car)
  • I flew. (also as a passenger on a plane)

7. Is there the possibility to …?

This is another example of English having lots of translations for one word in German. The German Möglichkeit is most often translated as possibility, but in many cases there may be a better English word to use:

  • possibility: something that may happen, e.g. There is the possibility that we may lose the game.
  • option: something that can be chosen, e.g. Consider all your options before you make a decision.
  • opportunity/chance: a situation that makes something possible, e.g. I have the opportunity/chance to learn a new language.
  • way: a method, e.g. There must be another way to solve this problem.
  • can: to be able or possible, e.g. Can I book a table for this evening?

6. I didn’t went.

When using the simple past, we need a helping verb (did) when we form questions and negative sentences. However, only the helping verb needs to be in past form to show the time we’re talking about, so we use did/didn’t followed by the base form of the main verb.

I went. / I didn’t go. / Did you go? I didn’t went. / Did you went?

I saw it. / I didn’t see it. / Did you see it? I didn’t saw it. / Did you saw it?

In the same way, in the simple present, only the helping verb needs an  added with the third person.

He goes. / He doesn’t go. / Does he go? He doesn’t goes. Does he goes?

She tries. She doesn’t try. / Does she try? She doesn’t tries. / Does she tries?

Here are more tips about using negative sentences.

5. Have you time?

The verb to have has two main functions. It can be used as the main verb of a sentence to mean to own/possess; it can also be a helping verb, often in the present perfect.

The general rule is that if we use to have as the main verb, the negative form is usually don’t/doesn’t have and the question form is ‘Do you have …?’

I have enough time. –> I don’t have enough time. –> Do you have enough time? (main verb)

When it is used as the helping verb, the negative form is haven’t/hasn’t and we can make questions such as ‘Have you seen …?’

I have seen the film. –> I haven’t seen the film. –> Have you seen the film? (helping verb)

4. Yesterday I have been …

One of the hardest things about learning English is mastering the tenses. It can be confusing to decide which tense to use, and the structure of present perfect looks like the most commonly used past tense in German. However, signal words like yesterdaylast weeklast year and on Wednesday that show that an action is completed and not relevant for now are clues that we need to use the simple past.

Yesterday I have been to work. –> Yesterday I went to work.

Follow this link for more tips on the present perfect and past simple.

3. Two persons

There are a few special cases when English speakers use persons instead of people, but these are only in legal or very formal texts, or signs in lifts or buses (e.g. ‘maximum 10 persons’). In all other cases, we use people as the plural form of person.

There are five persons in my office. –> There are five people in my office.

2. If I would have …

In if sentences in English, would and will do not normally belong in the same half of the sentence as if. Instead, we use the present simple, past simple or past perfect forms to show a condition:

If I see her, I’ll tell her. (First conditional: If + present simple , will + base form. These situations are possible and likely.)

If I saw her, I would tell her. (Second conditional: If + past simple , would + base form. These situations are possible but unlikely.)

If I had seen her, I would have told her. (Third conditional: If + past perfect , would have + past participle. These situations are not possible because they’re in the past.)

  1. Informations

Unlike in many other languages, information in English is uncountable and therefore it is not possible to talk about ‘one information’ or ‘informations’. It’s always simply ‘information’. The same goes for advice.


Can you think of any other typical mistakes? Which tips do you find most useful?

Four apps for learning vocabulary

We have our smartphones with us all the time, so what better to learn new words than with vocabulary apps. When we learn new words, it’s important to be active and to review them regularly. Apps are perfect for practising for short periods of time wherever you are – and having fun at the same time! Some apps have sets of vocabulary to learn; others let you add your own. There are so many out there, it can be hard to choose one. I’ve made a list of my favourite apps for learning new vocabulary on the go. (I don’t have links to these apps; they’re just my preferences.)

Quizlet

I love using this app with my students. You can create your own sets of vocabulary or use sets made by other people. I would recommend organising the sets by theme, such as restaurants or shopping, and writing a description for each new word in English instead of translating the word into your native language. This will help you to think in English. You can also add pictures from the Quizlet library to help.

Once you’ve created sets of vocabulary, you can test yourself by looking at the ‘cards’, playing games or testing yourself with a quiz. It’s possible to share sets of vocabulary too – perfect for learning with friends and classmates.

Johnny Grammar’s Word Challenge (British Council)

This app is excellent for reviewing vocabulary for certain situations. There are three modes: grammar, words and spelling. In the words section, you can choose from different categories, such as restaurants, hobbies, shopping, idioms, etc. There are three levels for each category (but ‘easy’ is not suitable for beginners). You then play multiple-choice quizzes against the clock. When time is up, you can review the vocabulary from that round.

The spelling mode is also a good way to check you know how to write words. Here, there are no categories; you are given a random selection of words. You choose the correct word from two options.

In addition, the grammar mode provides multiple-choice questions on grammar topics such as prepositions, irregular verbs, modal verbs, and many more.

English Essential Vocabulary Builder

The Essential Vocabulary Builder helps lower level learners practise the most important words needed to communicate in English. First, you work through a selection of words and mark which ones you know and which ones are new. You can then complete multiple-choice activities to check you know the meaning and spelling of new words. The apps gives simple definitions and examples in context, and it’s easy to track progress over time.

WordUp Vocabulary

When you start using WordUp, you take a test to check your level. You can then decide how many words you would like to learn each day and whether you would like to see translations of words you’re learning (I would recommend English definitions).

The app then suggests words to learn. You can learn by reading the definition and example sentences. What I really like about the app is that it shows famous quotations and lines from films and songs that include this word. This is great for remembering new vocabulary!

When you think you know a word, you can test yourself with multiple-choice question or simply say you already know the word. The app will then show the word a few days later so you can review it.


What are your favourite apps for learning vocabulary? I’d love to hear about your experiences with these or other apps!