Today is the last day for the Orange Level. Tomorrow you’ll begin the Violet Level. Here’s a dictation exercise which I’m going to put into a new Orange Level dictation section. These are all sentences. Write what you hear.

First…. ear  Then…  write

You can find out what I’m saying by clicking here


I just added a new lesson to the Orange Level. This will show you how to use question words with "have to." Many students make mistakes with this or overlook the possibility of putting words like "what," "where," or "why" with "have to," but it’s a necessary thing to do.


Here’s the video I made from today’s rally in St. Paul:


Just as the people of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and countries in the middle east are tired of being mistreated by their leaders, workers in the United States are tired of being treated unfairly by big corporations and politicial leaders who are slowly chipping away at our rights to bargain for better working conditions and benefits. Power to the people!

Today’s lesson is a list of question words. Read through them and see how many you are familiar with. Some are easy, but others might be new to you.

I’m going to a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol today. It’s in support of the teachers who are staging protests in Madison, Wisconsin. They want to keep their rights to bargain for wages and befits, but the governor of that state wants to take their rights away. I’ll show you the video and the pictures later.


The lesson for today is on embedded questinns. Embedded questions appear inside statements and refer to a question. If someone asks you a question like this….

"What time does the store open?"

You might answer the question like this….

"I’m sorry. I’m not sure what time it opens."

Look carefully at the response. Notice the word order (S + V) and the lack of a helping verb (does). Remember that you are simply referring to what another person asks, but you are not making a question yourself when forming an embedded question.

Here are some more examples of what embedded questions look like:

  • I don’t know what her name is.
  • I know how he solved the problem.
  • Mario can’t remember where he put his keys.
  • We figured out how long it will take to get to Chicago.
  • She knows where we can find the information.

Be sure to go to the lesson for more practice, a video, and a quiz.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Here are the answers from yesterday’s blog post:

  1. You’re a new student, aren’t you?
  2. She likes eggs for breakfast, doesn’t she?
  3. They drove to work, didn’t they?
  4. Robert has been to the dentist recently, hasn’t he?
  5. You can play soccer this weekend, can’t you?


Today’s lesson shows you how to turn a statement into a question. This is called a "tag question" or an "attached question." Here’s an example:

The teacher is here today, isn’t he?

The speaker begins with a statement, "The teacher is here today," and turns it into a question with "isn’t he?" We use tag questions to indicate that we aren’t sure if something is true, or we want to affirm our knowledge of something by asking another person. Here’s another example:

We have a test tomorrow, don’t we?

The person speaking thinks there is a test, but he isn’t sure, so he asks another person. The first part of the question is in the form of a statement which indicates he has some knowledge of a test, and in the second part of the question (the verb-subject word order) forms the question. Notice that the verb "do" is negative, and it matches the verb tense. In this case, the present tense is used.

How would you complete these questions?:

  1. You’re a new student, ________ ________?
  2. She likes eggs for breakfast, ________ ________?
  3. They drove to work, __________ ________?
  4. Robert has been to the dentist recently, ________ ________?
  5. You can play soccer this weekend, _________ ________?

I’ll give you the answers tomorrow.


This is a new video that explains some of the differences between "still" and "anymore."


If you need more practice with this, go to Orange Level Lesson Eighteen.

You can take a quiz on "still" and "anymore" if you click here.



Whenever I teach my students how to use "either" and "neither," they really pay attention because they hear these words in conversation, but they aren’t sure how to use them properly.

“Either” and “neither” are similar to “so” and “too,” but they are used with negative verbs:

  • I don’t like the way these eggs were made, and she doesn’t either.
  • I don’t like the way these eggs were made, and neither does she.

Notice that “either” comes after the helping verb in the sentence above; the word “neither” goes before the helping verb. Isn’t that interesting? Here are some more examples:

  • He doesn’t want to go to school today, and she doesn’t either.
  • He doesn’t want to go to school today, and neither does she.
  • You haven’t finished your assignment, and they haven’t either.
  • You haven’t finished your assignment, and neither have they.
  • Sandra didn’t understand the assignment, and Rita didn’t either.
  • Sandra didn’t understand the assignment, and neither did Rita.

Click here for today’s lesson on “either” and “neither.”


Today is Presidents’ Day. It’s a holiday, so I have a little extra time to add a few things to my website today.

My favorite President is Thomas Jefferson. He wrote the Declaration of Independence ("….all men are created equal.") and he was the third U.S. President, serving from 1801 to 1809. He presided over the Louisiana Purchase, which almost doubled the amount of territory claimed by the United States, and he strongly argued in favor of the separation of church and state.

Aside from his work as a politician, he was a farmer and an inventor. I visited his plantation (Monticello) in Virginia a couple of years ago. Here’s a picture of his house:


Surrounding the house are gardens and buildings where his slaves lived and worked. He was a slave owner, which is a little ironic considering his opinions about the equality of human beings.


There are some interesting differences between the words "so" and "too" when used in a sentence to show that two things or two people are alike. Look at the sentences below and notice how the words are arranged:

  • She likes ice cream, and so do I.
  • She likes ice cream, and I do, too.
  • They’re going on vacation this weekend, and so are we.
  • They’re going on vacation this weekend, and we are too.
  • I can speak English, and so can you.
  • I can speak English, and you can, too.

In the second part of the sentence after the conjunction, "and," the word "so" comes before the helping verb or the modal verb; the word "too" comes after the verb.

It’s also important to notice that "so" and "too" are used when the similarities are affirmative–not negative. You can’t say, for example, "I can’t speak English, and you can’t, too." When the information is negative, there are other words to use for that: either and neither.

Today’s lesson will help you learn how to use the word "wish" when describing something that you don’t have now or didn’t have in the past. Look at the chart below:

Statement using "wish" in the present tense:
What it means:
 I wish I had a million dollars.
 I don’t have a million dollars.
 She wishes she were a famous actress.
 She’s not a famous actress.
 They wish they could take a vacation this summer.
 They can’t take a vacation.
 The students wish they didn’t have to take a test today.
 The students have to take a test today.
 Statement using "wish" in the past tense:
What it means:
 I wish I had gotten up earlier.
 I didn’t get up early.
 Bob wishes he had moved to Florida.
 He didn’t move to Florida.
 My coworkers and I wish we hadn’t been laid off from our jobs.
 We were laid off from our jobs.
 He wishes he hadn’t smoked when he was younger.
 He smoked when he was younger.

For more practice, go to Lesson Fifteen in the Orange Level.


Past conditional sentences (or past contrary-to-fact sentences) describe situations in the past that did or did not happen; however, the speaker considers an alternative reality. Look at the sentence below:

  • He would have taken a different highway if he had known about the accident on this highway.

Did he take a different highway? No. He didn’t know about the accident on this particular highway, but the sentence considers what he would have done.

There are two parts to past conditional sentences:

the main clause uses….
the "if" clause uses…

would have

could have

should have

might have

the past perfect tense

would have taken
had known

Here are some more examples. Notice that some of these sentences are negative. That means that the situation did happen.

  • If she hadn’t eaten so much, she wouldn’t have gotten a stomachache. (She got a stomachache.)
  • If Robert had practiced the piano more, he would have turned in a better performance. (He didn’t practice enough.)
  • We could have purchased that house if the sellers had lowered the price a little more. (The sellers didn’t lower the price.)
  • Maria shouldn’t have been given those peanuts. If her parents had known she was going to have an allergic reaction, they wouldn’t have given the peanuts to her.

As you can see, these sentences can be quite complicated. However, we often consider past possibilities, even if we can’t change the past.


Present conditional sentences (also known as present contrary-to-fact sentences) describe a present situation or present possibility. The easiest way to make a sentence like this is to use the word "if." Here’s an example:

If she woke up early, she would get to school on time.

In the first part of the sentence after the word "if," the verb is in the past tense (wake up / woke up). But this sentence describes a present situation. Why is the verb in the past tense? Good question. According to the sequence of tenses, the verb that follows the word "if" is put into the past tense. This is a difficult thing to explain to some students but just trust your teacher on this. In the second part of the sentence, use "would" then the simple form of the verb. You could also use words like "should," "could," or "might."

In the next few sentences, notice that the verb after the word "if" in in the past tense:

I would be in better shape if I worked out.

(Do I work out? No.)

If their car had a good engine, it would go faster.

(Does the car have a good engine? No.)

She would go to the beach every day if she were in California.

(Is she in California? No.)

The last sentence looks kind of strange. The verb "be" is in the past tense after the subject, "she." Normally, the past tense form is "was," but here the verb "be" becomes "were" after the singular subject. You’ll hear some teachers refer to this as the subjunctive mood, particularly when the verb "be" is involved.

Conditional sentences are best learned in a traditional classroom because they are so confusing, but let’s try anyway. Finish the lesson, and then try this exercise.


For the next four lessons, you’ll learn to describe situations that are conditional or hypothetical. That means that the situation does not exist, but the person speaking attempts to describe some sort of alternative to what does exist. There are a few different ways to refer to these sentences. Some teachers call them "contrary to fact" and others use a number system. In the end if doesn’t matter what you call them. Most of the sentences use "if" and are composed of a dependent and an independent clause. Let’s look at these sentences together and then you can begin Lesson Twelve.

The future conditional describes a situation in the future:

If I work really hard, I’ll achieve my goals.

The present conditional describes a situation in the present:

If I worked really hard, I would achieve my goals.

The past conditional describes a situation in the past:

If I had worked really hard, I would have achieved my goals.

You can also use the word "wish" to make a sentence like this:

I wish I had worked harder.


Valentine’s Day is today. In the United States, this is a big day for florists. Many people (usually men) go to buy flowers for girlfriends and wives. To learn more about this holiday, click here.


In Orange Level Lesson Eleven, you learn about changing direct speech to indirect speech. This is also known as reported speech. This is very important to learn and practice because often in conversation you must describe what another person said. In addition to studying today’s lesson, you should also take a look at yesterday’s lesson. If you have already done that, then let’s practice:

Your teacher said this to you:
"We have a test tomorrow."

My teacher said that we had a test tomorrow.

A friend asked you this question:
"Do you want to go out for lunch?"

A friend asked me if I wanted to go out for lunch.

A woman in a store said this:
"I think these melons are ripe."

She said she thought the melons were ripe.

The weatherman said this:
"It will rain later today."

The newspaper said that it would rain later today.

Your uncle said this:
"I’m moving to Texas."

My uncle said that he was moving to Texas.



Today’s lesson on the sequence of tenses might be a little confusing for you, but it’s necessary to study when describing what another person says, and you need to know about the sequence of tenses when making conditional sentences, which you will learn about next week.

Look at the sentence below. Someone named "Mary" is speaking. She uses the present tense for the verb "be" when giving her name:

"My name is Mary," she said.

After she says this, a person who didn’t hear what she said might ask for her name.

  • A: What’s her name?
  • B: She said her name was Mary.

Do you see how the verb "be" changes from direct speech in the present tense ("My name is Mary.") to indirect speech (She said her name was Mary) which is in the past tense? At first this will probably be confusing; over time, you will learn this and apply your knowledge of the sequence of tenses, but it takes a lot of practice.

This video explains why the sequence of tenses is necessary to learn.


How did you do with yesterday’s lesson on adjective clauses? I hope the exercises in that lesson helped you. Just remember that adjective clauses usually begin with the words "who" (sometimes "whom"), "that," and "which," and they describe nouns in a sentence.

Today you’ll learn about adverb clauses. These clauses are quite different from adjective clauses. An adverb clause describes some kind of action. It indicates when, why, and under what conditions something happens. Look at the sentence below:

I went to the store.

This is a very ordinary sentence, but you can provide additional information with an adverb clause:

  • Why?: I went to the store because I needed some food.
  • When?: I went to the store after school was over.
  • Condition: I usually go to that store if they have something on sale.

As with most clauses, you can reverse the order of the clauses and put the adverb clause (or you can call it "the dependent clause") first:

  • Because I needed some food, I went to the store.
  • After school was over, I went to the store.
  • If they have something on sale, I usually go to that store.

If you put the adverb clause at the beginning of the sentence, make sure you put a comma at the end of that clause.

Now you try it. Take a simple sentence such as "I study English," or "My car never works," or "My tooth hurts," and add an adverb clause to provide information about why, when, or under what condition the action takes place.

Did you receive today’s emailed lesson? If not, sign up on the homepage and I’ll send you free lessons and tell you about new material on the website.


One thing you’ll notice when you study different types of clauses is that they often begin with the word "that." Sometimes this word is optional, but I think it’s a good idea for you to get used to using it. Do you see where the clause is after the word "that" in this sentence?

He decided that he wanted to go to college.

You can also write the sentence like this:

He decided he wanted to go to college.

"He wanted to go to college" is a noun clause. You don’t have to use "that" in this instance, but you should notice this particular word pattern. It’s very common in English, and It goes like this:

S + V + (S + V)

He decided (he wanted…. )

In this next sentence, the noun clause serves as a subject and the word "that" must be included:

That he wanted to go to college was clear to everyone.

You can learn more about noun clauses in Lesson Six in the Orange Level.

This week, you’ll study the formation of clauses beginning with noun clauses.

A noun clause can take the place of a subject or an object in a sentence. For example:

When she’s going to get married is a secret.

It is a secret.

"When she’s going to get married" is the noun clause. It represents the subject in the sentence above.

I know how much he makes every year.

"How much he makes every year" is the noun clause. It represent the object in the sentence above.

Study noun clauses carefully. Remember the noun clause has a subject and a verb. If it doesn’t have both, it’s not a clause.


There are several things that people like to talk about in the United States. These include the weather, movies, and sports. American football is an especially popular topic at this time of year because it’s when the Superbowl is played. The Superbowl is the last game of the football season. It’s played between the two top football teams, and it’s watched by a majority of Americans, whether they usually watch football or not. It’s kind of a communal event when the whole nation gets together to watch something happen on live TV.

This year the biggest game of the year is between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Because the Packers are from the midwest (the area I live in), many midwesterners will support the Packers. The Steelers are located in Pennsylvania which is part of the eastern United States, so most easterners will probably root for the team from Pittsburgh. Although many people have their favorite teams, some don’t really care about the outcome of the game at all. They just want to attend the parties that are held during the game.

Superbowl parties include a lot of food: pizza, chili, soup, chicken wings, chips, and things to drink, especially beer.

The commercials shown during the game are almost as important as the game itself. Because the cost for airtime during a Superbowl game is so valuable, sponsors create commercials that they hope will get the most attention. Some commercials are made and shown for just this one game, so there’s the competition on the football field, but there’s also competition among advertisers who try to produce the most entertaining commercials.


Today’s lesson is on compound-complex sentences. Go to this page to learn about what they are.

Are you going to watch the Superbowl on TV tomorrow? If so, you can listen to me read about American Football by clicking here. This reading selection is just a general overview of the sport.


The lesson for today is on complex sentences. A complex sentence has an independent clause and a dependent clause:

Everyone went home after the party was over.

independent clause: everyone went home

dependent clause: after the party was over

The great thing about complex sentences is that you can almost always rearrange the clauses in the sentence:

After the party was over, everyone went home.

Everyone went home after the party was over.

Complex sentences often include subordinating conjunctions such as after, before, because, although, while, etc. Click here for a more complete list of subordinating conjunctions.


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Today’s lesson is on clauses and phrases. These are groups of words that work together to provide information in a sentence.

A clause has a subject and a verb:

  • She studied English.

The subject is "she" and the verb is "studied." A clause can look like a sentence. In fact, what you see above is a sentence, but I can also write something like this:

  • Before she studied English.

Because I added the word "before" in front of the clause, I’ve created something that is not a sentence–although it looks like one because it has a subject and a verb. Let’s add more to it:

  • Before she studied English, she had spent five years studying French.

Now the sentence is in two parts separated by a comma (,). Each part is a clause. The first part is a dependent clause, and the second part is an independent clause. An independent clause is also referred to as the main clause.

A phrase has neither a subject nor a verb, but if you aren’t careful, you might confuse a phrase with a clause:

  • early in the morning before sunrise.

There’s no verb and no subject, but there is some information about when something happens. Phrases are often used in conversation when answering questions or making statements, but to make a phrase into a clause or a sentence, you have to add a subject and a verb:

  • She wakes up early in the morning before sunrise.

Now we have a sentence. It’s important for you to understand the differences between clauses and phrases when you practice your English. When speaking or writing, they both have a role to play. We’ll learn more about clauses and phrases in the month of February.

Today you can start on Lesson One in the Orange Level. The Orange Level and the Violet Level should help you to make better sentences. One of the things I notice in my students’ writing is that they try to make these really long sentences, but they don’t have any control over what they want to say. If you have this problem, my advice to you is this:

  • 1. Try to keep your sentences short. As your English improves, you can lengthen your sentences.
  • 2. Learn about clauses and phrases. These are the building blocks for understanding how to effectively communicate.
  • 3. Study sentence structure. In the Orange Level, you’ll learn about different kinds of sentences and how to make them.
  • 4. Practice writing. In some of the exercises for the Orange Level, I will recommend that you write out the entire sentence when you do the exercise.

The first lesson in the Orange Level is about sentences. You might know something about them already, but if you really want to improve your writing, you should work through all of the lessons in this level.


Click here to go to January 2011 to see what students learned.