Monday, May 30, 2016

Using "For", "Since", and "Ago" in the English Language

If you're talking about time, "for", "since", and "ago" can be some of the most painful and awkward words to try to wrap your head around. To make things clearer, today we thought we'd have a go at explaining how each of these words works.


When talking about time, "for" is used to denote a measurement of time. It can be used with pretty much any tense to explain the length of an activity. When you use the word "for", it must be followed by a measurement of time or an expression that refers to a measurement of time. For example...

On Saturday I played football for an hour.
He has lived there for ten years.
We're going on holiday for two weeks.

You can also use expressions like "for ages" and "for a long time".

The Mona Lisa was painted 500 years ago.

The word "since" tells us when an event started in the past. Unlike "for", you can't use measurements of time, just points in the past. The word "since" can be used with any date or time, as well as with clauses using the past simple. For example...

He's lived there since 2006.
I've played football since I was a child.
We haven't seen him since yesterday.


We use the word "ago" to count backwards from the present. You can use "ago" with the past simple to explain when events started in reference to the present. When you use it, you must make a reference to the past.

He lived there 5 years ago.
65 million years ago dinosaurs roamed the earth.
I was having breakfast an hour ago.

We hope this has cleared up any confusion you may have concerning "for", "since", and "ago"!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

How to Properly Capitalize Titles by Amy Cowen

When writing any kind of document, it can be difficult to know how to properly capitalize the title. There are many styles of title capitalization that each depend upon the type of writing being titled. Add to this the fact that the publication could be written in Associated Press style, Chicago style, or MLA style; it gets very confusing as each style has its own titling rules. The first step is to look at what type of written work you are creating.

Title Case

If your publication is an article or web content, it will often be titled differently than a book. The standard rule of thumb for titling this type of content is to use what is known as title case. Simply put, this means you will capitalize the first word of the title, the last word of the title, and all important words in between. The Wizard of Oz is a good example of a title that uses title case.

In addition to this rule, there is a standard regarding which words are important and which are not. You should always capitalize any nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and adverbs that are in your title. Conversely, you should not capitalize the articles and conjunctions in your title.

Sentence Case

With this being said, some essay writers actually prefer to use sentence case when titling their articles. Sentence case titles require that the first letter of the first word be capitalized, and then only proper nouns. In this scenario, a title would be capitalized thus, “My trip to Rome”. Generally, this is really a matter of personal preference for the author. For more information about correctly titling an article, visit for a thorough explanation of capitalization rules.

Figuring out which words to capitalize in the title of a book is much easier. When titling a book, such as Memoirs of a Geisha, the rules are quite simple. In book titles, the first and last words are always capitalized. Secondly, all nouns, verbs, and adjectives within the title are capitalized as well. The only words that do not get capitalized in book titles are articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. However, there is an exception to this rule. If the title of the book begins with an article (a, an, or the), a conjunction (such as and, for, or so), or a preposition (like down or below), that word is always capitalized. WikiHow will give you a more in-depth look at the process of titling a book.

MLA Style

The most commonly used style of writing (unless you are a journalist by trade) is MLA style. This style is what is expected of not only students, but also many different businesses. The MLA style guide has incredibly strict rules in regards to titling. Similar to book titling, you should always capitalize the first and last words of a title. Also, you should always capitalize adjectives, verbs, nouns, adverbs, pronouns, and subordinating conjunctions. You shouldn’t capitalize any articles, prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, or “to” infinitives unless they are the first or last word of the title. Two examples that meet this criteria are “How to Play Football” and “Down and Out”.

The MLA style guide also contains strict rules for the use of capitalization in regards to hyphenated words and the use of colons. If using a colon or a hyphenated phrase, the word immediately following the punctuation should always be capitalized. For example, “America the Beautiful: Why Americans Strive for Beauty”. To learn more about the many rules when using the MLA style guide, look at Armed with this information, you should always be able to title your document correctly.

Amy Cowen writes about all things related to education and student life, but her main passion is technology and different tools. You can find her providing assignment help at Aussiewriter or giving career advice to students.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Going Crazy? Using "Go" in the English Language

Aside from the verbs to be and to have, I reckon the verb to go is one of the most useful in the English language. However, it can be a little tricky to use sometimes because you need to know whether it needs a preposition or not, and if it does, which preposition.

Go + -ing

If you want to talk about your hobbies, to go will probably become your favourite verb. When we talk about most hobbies and activities that end in -ing, we don't need to use a preposition with go. For example:

"I like to go running"
"I went kayaking yesterday"
"I think I will go swimming tomorrow".

Of course, English wouldn't be English without exceptions. Don't forget that "boxing" doesn't use to go but rather to do.

When you need a preposition to use with go, there are four main ones we use in English: to, for, on, and with. Let's look at how we use them:

Would you like to go to Easter Island?
Go + to

We use go to when we talk about places and events. The word to is used as a preposition of movement in this case, which means that you leave where you are and travel to a place or event. For example:

"John went to the beach last week."
"Have you ever been to France?"
"We are going to a concert tomorrow."

Go + for

You mainly use go for when the activity you're talking about is a noun. For example, drinks, meals, walks, runs, etc, will all use go for like this:

"Would you like to go for a drink?"
"When was the last time you went for a meal?"
"I'm going to go for a walk."

Go + on

When we use go on, it's usually with travel words that are nouns. Words such as trip, journey, voyage, tour, holiday, vacation, etc. Here are some examples:

"He often goes on business trips."
"We're going on holiday to Spain this summer."
"Did you go on many sightseeing tours last year?"

Go + with

I reckon our last preposition is the easiest. We use go with when talking about the people who accompany us. For example:

"John often goes with Jane."
"Who do you go with?"
"I think I'd rather go with my family."

We hope you've found this rundown of go useful. Remember to keep practicing, and sooner rather than later, you won't even need to think about it! Good luck!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Same Difference: Using "So", "Neither", and "Nor" in the English Language

No matter what conversation you're having, there are always things mentioned that are the same or different for you. Think about the following conversation:

A: "I play the piano."
B: "So do I."

Then imagine this conversation:

A: "I don't play the piano."
B: "Neither/Nor do I."

In the first conversation, both person A and person B play the piano. In the second, nobody plays the piano. Person B is telling person A that the first sentence is also true for them. So how do you know how to say things are the same for you in English?

First, you need to know if the sentence is positive or negative. If A uses a positive sentence, B uses the word "so". If A uses a negative sentence, B uses the word "neither" or "nor".

Second, you need to know which auxiliary is being used in the sentence. Most tenses and verbs use a variation of "do" as their auxiliary, so you will hear this a lot.

However, don't forget the other auxiliaries and modals we have in the English language! If you use the modal "can", the conversations from before will be a little different:

A: "I can play the piano."
B: "So can I."

And the negative version:

A: "I can't play the piano."
B: "Neither/Nor can I."

In our examples so far, A and B have just been talking about themselves. However, you can also change the subjects of these sentences. Now look at these examples:

A: "I play the piano."
B: "So can John."

And in the negative:

A: "I don't play the piano."
B: "Neither/Nor does John."

In this case, remember that you always need to alter your verb to correctly conjugate with the subject you are using.

Finally, here are our three golden rules summed up:

Positive = "So" + auxiliary + subject.
Negative = "Neither"/"Nor" + auxiliary + subject.

We hope you've found this look at "so", "neither", and "nor" useful. Next time you find something in common with someone, you'll be able to express yourself elegantly in English.

Monday, May 9, 2016

More Conditionals in the English Language

On Friday, we looked at three different conditionals we use in the English language: the zero, first, and second conditional. Today we'll continue with two slightly more complicated conditionals we can use in the English language, the third conditional and mixed conditional. So let's get started!

You better start studying for that art history exam!
Third Conditional

The third conditional is used in English to explain situations and conditions in the past which cannot be changed. The most common way we can make this version is by using the present perfect and a conditional perfect clause, like this:

"If" + past perfect, conditional perfect.

E.g.: "If I had studied, I would have passed the exam." / "I would have passed the exam if I had studied."

Mixed Conditional

Our last conditional to look at is what we call the mixed conditional. Imagine it as a mix between the second and third conditionals. We use it when we want to talk about a condition that is in the past but whose result is not just in the past (like in the third conditional). The mixed conditional is usually formed like this:

"If" + past perfect, conditional progressive.

E.g.: "If I had studied, I wouldn't be taking this exam again." / "I wouldn't be taking this exam again if I had studied."

You can also form it like this:

"If" + past perfect, simple conditional.

E.g.: "If I had studied, I would be a doctor." / "I would be a doctor if I had studied".

We hope these explanations of the conditionals in English have been helpful!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Conditionals in the English Language

I think English is a really fun language, and the nuanced ways you can use it are one of the reasons I think it's so enjoyable. The conditionals in English are incredibly versatile, so today I'd like to look at just three of them, the zero conditional, first conditional, and second conditional.

Zero Conditional

The zero conditional is used when we are talking about things that are almost always true or factual. In its simplest form, we can use the word "if" and two present simple clauses.

"If" + present simple, present simple.

E.g.: "If your heart stops, you die." / "You die if your heart stops."

First Conditional

We use the first conditional when we talk about things that we think are probable and are predicting will happen in the future. While there are several ways to create the first conditional, we usually do it in the following way:

"If" + present simple, "will" + infinitive (without "to").

E.g.: "If you win the league, I will buy you some pizza." / "I will buy you some pizza if you win the league."

Second Conditional

The last of the conditionals we are going to look at today is the second conditional. We can use this when we think of hypothetical or imaginative situations and results that take place in the present or the future (there's another conditional for things in the past). Here is one of the most common and easiest ways to form the second conditional:

"If" + past simple, "would" + infinitive (without "to").

E.g.: "If I won the lottery, I would buy a yacht." / "I would buy a yacht if I won the lottery."

As you can see from these examples, you can put the conditional clause (the part with the word "if") either before or after the main clause (the result of the condition). However, when the main clause is before the conditional clause, you don't need a comma between the two clauses.

We hope you found these examples and explanations useful, and that you have fun using English conditionals to express yourself in this wonderful and fascinating language.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

10 Tips to Improve Academic Writing Skills in English by Antonio Tooley

It is challenging enough to learn to speak, write, and think in English, but when non-native students go abroad to study and pursue their academic careers, things become even more complicated. Why? Because they will be, among other things, required to write academic papers, such as essays or even dissertations, depending on the level they are at.

Such tasks require thorough understanding of the language, grammar, and a pretty decent vocabulary, in addition to extensive knowledge on the actual subject matter. Academic writing is rather hard on native speakers, and it’s even worse on those who use English as their second language. Needless to say, they have their work cut out for them.

However, if you belong in that group, you should not despair, because there are some guidelines you can follow to make your academic writing just as good as that of any native speaker. In this article, you will find 10 tips that will help you improve your academic writing in English, even if you are a foreign student. Keep on reading.

1. Read Academic Writing by Other People
Of course, it goes without saying that you will be required to read many, many academic papers, but instead of just using them to extract information for your own writing, try and look at them from a writer’s point of view. Pay attention to how the author is using the language to make an impact and guide the reader through their paper. Also, you can find plenty of help online, such as this guide on how to write a dissertation.

2. Don't Make the Same Mistakes Other Non-Native Students Do
Most foreign students don’t notice the literary mistakes they make, such as punctuation, using the wrong prepositions, a or an instead of the, or vice versa, or they simply translate a phrase from their own language into English, which doesn’t sound terribly good or is something a native speakers would ever use. According to the Berkeley Student Learning Center, fixing all of these is fairly simple. Check out their list of the most problematic writing clichés students use.

3. Read Anything You Can Get Your Hands On
Even though reading academic papers will help you with your current assignment, reading other things like books, novels, magazines, articles, short stories, or even blogs, will greatly improve your knowledge of the English language and expand your vocabulary. Every now and then, you will run into a phrase or word that you will like and memorize, and use later in one of your papers. Try to make it as varied as possible, because that’s how you can enhance your vocabulary.

4. Write
Again, there will be no shortage of writing assignments for you in college, but in order to work out those small writing kinks which usually tell whether or not you’re a native speaker, you should write as much as you can, because some of those mistakes tend to diminish as you develop a feel for what sounds right. If you want proof, look no further than the reputable writers online who are also ESL speakers, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from their writing.

5. Have Native Speakers Review Your Work
Most people tend to consider the way they write to be something very personal, which is why it can be very hard to listen to someone pick it apart and point out all the mistakes that you’ve made in your academic paper. However, sometimes, it is necessary to set your own ego aside, because such criticism will serve you well in the long run. You can bet that you won’t make those same mistakes again after receiving honest criticism from a person you trust.

6. Try Your Hand at Translating
One of the most effective exercises you can do is translate a piece of writing from English into your own native language, or the other way around, because that’s how you can really gain a better understanding of the language. And if you are struggling, that only means you will be reaching for the dictionary more often, which is a good thing, because that’s one of the ways to learn new words, phrases, and idioms.

7. If Your College Has a Writing Center, Make Yourself a Regular
A writing center will often provide you with a tutor that will help you hone your literary and verbal skills. While you are not supposed to use them as a means of editing your essays each and every time, they can help you out by pointing out some of the most common mistakes you are making when writing academic papers, and by providing more elegant alternatives.

8. Provide Examples Instead of Explanations
Sometimes, even native speakers will find it impossible to find the right words and phrases in order to be able to explain complex concepts properly, and for non-native speakers, it can become a nightmare. However, one way of working around this issue until you master the language well enough is to provide examples instead of explanations. Just make sure that they are pertinent to the topic and you will be fine.

9. Edit Your Work
Once you have completed an essay or your dissertation, you should feel good about yourself, but not so good that you avoid going over it a few times and figuring out what can be done to improve it. We are not just talking about grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but also things like clichés, wordiness, overly complicated or unreadable sentences, and so on. Tighten up your writing every chance you get.

10. Avoid Plagiarism
Even though you may come across a paragraph or a sentence written by someone else that you really like, resist the temptation to use it in your own writing, unless you are quoting the author, or have thoroughly paraphrased the literary construction in question. Plagiarism is one of the worst academic offenses, and you want to stay as far away from it as possible.

You may notice that nearly all of these tips are anything but quick fixes. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts if you want to take your academic writing to the next level. But, now you can focus on the methods that really work, and before you know it, you will be able to write just as well as any native speaker out there. Good luck!

Antonio is a hopeless optimist who enjoys basking in the world's brightest colors. He loves biking to distant places and occasionally he gets lost. When not doing that he's blogging and teaching ESL. He will be happy to meet you on Facebook and Twitter.