How are you doing with the Yellow Level? We’re almost finished with it, so if you haven’t gone through all the lessons in that level, it would be a good idea for you to do that now. The grammar that you study in the Green Level might look similar to that which you have studied in the Yellow Level, but there’s a big difference. In the Yellow Level you study perfect and continuous tenses. These tenses are often confused with the passive voice. Look at this example:

She has been cleaning the house. (present perfect continuous tense)

The house has been cleaned. (present perfect tense, passive voice)

In the first sentence, we know who is doing the action. In the second sentence, the person who is doing the action is not mentioned. Is it a woman? Is it a man? We don’t know. But look at how similar the verbs are.

These tomatoes were picked this morning.

(pick = to get fruit or vegetable from a plant)


Who picked them? You don’t know. When you use the passive voice, you don’t need to mention the person who performed the action. In the active voice, the sentence sounds like this:

I picked these tomatoes this morning.

Now you know who picked the tomatoes. Both sentences are in the past tense.

Look at this sentence:

Tomates are picked when they are ripe.

What verb tense is this? It’s in the present tense. Does it look like the present tense? Look at the verb "be." In this case it’s the word "are." The subject, "tomatoes," is plural, so you choose the plural form of the verb "be." The main verb is "pick" which is in the form of the past participle:

past participle

Because the verb is regular, the past tense form and the past participle look the same. They add "ed" at the end. Pay attention to the difference between the past tense and the past participle of a verb.

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Senator Edward Kennedy (1932-2009) will be laid to rest today beside his brothers, John and Robert. He was a great U.S. Senator, a great Democrat, and the last of the Kennedy brothers. Rest in peace.

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Height and weight are often a challenge for new students of English to describe. This lesson will show you how to make questions and give answers when talking about height and weight.

I had to get a new computer, so additions to the website might be a little slow in the next few days. I’ll try to add more to the blog later today.

The future continuous tense is very popular in English. Often, when given a choice of which tense to use, the future tense or the future continuous tense, many peope choose to use the continuous tense.

Subject + will + be + ________ing

  • A: What will you be doing later today?
  • B: I’ll be at work. (or…)
  • B: I"ll be working.

Go to this lessson in the Yellow Level to learn more.

How have you been doing lately? Have you been studying your English? If you haven’t been studying English lately, perhaps you’ve been doing other things. You could say, "I’ve been working a lot lately." Or, I’ve been doing a lot of gardening." Or, I’ve been helping my brother rebuild his house after the tornado tore his roof off."

As for your teacher, I’ve been doing a lot of things lately. Right now I’m enjoying a vacation from my regular teaching assignment. School starts up again in two weeks, so I have a little time off to do things that interest me. So, if someone asked me the same question I’m asking you, I’d have to say….

  • I’ve been riding my bike around town a lot lately.
  • I’ve been cleaning my basement. (It’s really a mess.*)
  • I’ve been spending time with my kids.
  • I’ve been working on my website.
  • I’ve been fixing my house. (It’s old and needs repairs.)
  • I’ve been planning on taking a trip to Chicago.
  • I’ve been taking pictures with my camera. The pictures are for my website.

*basement my messy basement

Here is today’s lesson.

Today’s featured lesson is really hard but really important. How do you describe what someone said? There are very specific rules that you must follow. Go to this Yellow Level lesson to learn more.

During late August in Minnesota, a lot of fruit begins to turn ripe. Here are some pictures of fruit that I will soon pick from my gardens:

ripe tomatoesripe plum
ripe tomatoes
a ripe plum

ripe: ready to eat, fruit or vegetable

Some fruit trees take longer than others to produce ripe fruit. These apples are almost ripe:

not quite ready to be picked


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I’m going to start a new page for students who want to practice speaking English. There will be a voice recorder on that page. Follow the directions , and your audio recording will be sent to me. This is kind of an experiment, but several of you asked me to add a feature like this to the website so here it is. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! And if you just want to use this page for listening to yourself speak English without sending me the recording, that’s okay.


It’s no accident that the lesson for perfect modal verbs in the continuous form comes immediately after the lesson for verbs in the present perfect continuous tense. Let’s look at them side-by-side with these very simple examples:

  1. They have been working.
  2. They should have been working.

The first sentence is in the present perfect continuous tense. They started working (in the past) and they are still working now.

The second sentence features a perfect modal verb in the continuous form. They were probably not working (in the past), but they should have been.

There’s a very big difference between these two sentences. If you don’t understand the difference, you will have to go back to the beginning of the Yellow Level and start working on lessons one through fourteen.

We continue to study modal verbs today by looking at perfect modal verbs. Perfect modal verbs look like this:

modal verb + have + past participle

When you use perfect modal verbs, you are describing some past action that did or didn’t happen. Here is an example:

She should have done her homework.

The main verb in the above sentence, "do," is in the form of the past participle after the verb "have." She should have done her homework, but she didn’t do it. This is an action that did not happen in the past. Let’s look at some more examples:

I could have gotten a job at that company. (but I didn’t)

She should have stopped at the light. (but she didn’t)

If he had a car, he wouldn’t have walked. (but he did)

To learn more, go to Lesson Twelve in the Yellow Level.

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Today’s lesson is on idiomatic modal verb phrases: (be) going to, have to, and (be) able to. They’re "idiomatic" because their use is common among the people–although you might find these verb phrases to be confusing. It’s extremely important that you learn how they are used.

Here’s a new quiz for have to.


The verb phrase "(be) able to" is similar to "can." It consists of three words, and the verb "be" changes depending on the choice of subject. So why do people use it instead of "can?" I think it has something to do with the word "able." It’s similar to the word "ability," so when you say you are able to do something, you are expressing your ability; however, it can also be used when you have enough time, money, strength, etc.

To practice this, tell me about some things you are able to do now that you weren’t able to do when you were younger. For example, "When I was a child, I wasn’t able to stay out past 10:00 p.m., but now I’m able to stay out late because I’m an adult. Go ahead and email me your response.

Today and on Monday we will look at modal verbs. This is an area of the website that I could easily expand because there are so many ways that modal verbs get used. The modal verbs that you must learn are can, could, will, would, may, might, should, and must. The idiomatic modal verbs that you must learn are have to, (be) able to, and (be) going to. We’re going to learn about these as two separate groups because the idiomatic modal verbs are harder to use properly; however, they are very, very popular.


How do you like the new audio feature on the website? I’m still experimenting with it to see what will work best. Thanks for the great response to yesterday’s question. Wow! Many of you had something to say, but some of you had trouble with the online recording device. I’m not sure what the problem was, but we will continue to use it because it makes the website more fun. Please understand, however, that it’s not possible to respond to every recording, and please try to limit yourselves to one or two recordings. Thank-you.

Today’s lesson is about the difference between the past tense and the past continuous tense. Did you receive yesterday’s email? It included a few examples of sentences using both tenses. If you didn’t get yesterday’s email, please sign up now.


1. What is your favorite thing to eat for dinner?

2. What do you like to eat the most?

3. What do you like the best for dinner?

These three questions are all similar. Each asks you to name one thing that you like to eat.

Today’s lesson is on the use of comparative adjectives, so I’m going to ask you a question, and you can respond in the box below. If it’s okay with you, I’ll put some (but not all) of your responses on the blog. This is a new feature I’m trying for the website.

Are you ready for the question? Here it is:

Is it easier for you to learn English online or in a regular classroom? Why?

If you’d like, you can record your answer below. The audio will be emailed to me and I’ll be able to listen to what you have to say.

To practice the comparative form for adjectives, click on the link .


The health care debate in the United States is turning ugly. Have you watched the news lately? At town hall meetings around the country, Republican and conservative critics of President Obama’s plan to provide affordable health care to most Americans loudly complain that the country is moving towards socialism or communism. Opponents of the President have organized protests at informational meetings and they have coordinated efforts to prevent important public debate on health care issues. Some conservative protestors have begun to compare President Obama to Germany’s Adolph Hitler, and Republican Sarah Palin, who ran for VIce-President in 2008, has gone so far as to say that the health care plan is evil. What do you think?


Today Sonia Sotomayor becomes the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court justice. She’s a great example of what you can become in the United States through hard work and personal sacrifice.

The U.S. Supreme Court building

The picture above was taken during a recent trip to Washington D.C.

I’m trying to add audio to the site. Click on Lesson Six and Seven in the Yellow Level and you’ll hear me read parts of the lesson. The audio quality isn’t very good, but the program is easy to use.

In today’s lesson you’ll learn how to make questions using the present perfect tense. Here are a few examples:

  • Have you eaten anything for breakfast yet? (present perfect)
  • No, I haven’t.

Notice that the question starts with "have" and the main verb is "eat." The main verb is in the form of the past participle–eaten.

  • How long have you lived in this country? (present perfect)
  • I have lived here for three years.

This question asks for information about a length of time. "How long" is often used with the present perfect tense. The helping verb is "have" and the past participle for the verb "live" is "lived." The present perfect tense and the past tense are similar in some ways, but remember that the present perfect starts in the past and includes the present. Let me show you what the sentences above look like in the past tense:

  • Did you eat anything for breakfast yet? (past tense)
  • No, I didn’t.
  • When did you move to this country? (past tense)
  • I moved here three years ago.

Do you see the difference? Notice in the second example, the verb must change in order to keep the same meaning.

If you need additional practice making questions in the present perfect tense, take a look at Lesson Five in the Yellow Level.

Also, here’s a new page for the prepositions section of the website. It’s for the preposition "behind."

To make the present perfect negative, add "not" to the helping verb "have." The examples below also show the use of contractions.

She has had breakfast. arrow She has not had breakfast.

She’s had breakfast. arrow She hasn’t had breakfast.

Notice in the above example "She’s" is "She has." Sometimes "She’s" is She is." It’s very important to learn the difference.

They have left. arrow They have not left.

They’ve left. arrow They haven’t left.

You can also use "never."

I have been to New York. arrow I have never been to Los Angeles.

I’ve been to New York. arrow I’ve never been to Los Angeles.

You can learn more about how to make the present perfect tense negative in this lesson.

One of the most important verb tenses to understand is the present perfect tense.It’s similar to the past tense, and it’s similar to the present tense, but there are some very specific reasons for using it.

Try this exercise. The answers are at the bottom. If you need help, click on this Yellow Level lesson. There’s also a new YouTube video that might help you.

1. I ________ ________ a lot of chocolate today. (eat)

2. The students ________ _________ almost all of their homework. (do)

3. Tonia __________ ___________ a dentist in over two years. (see — negative)

4. There __________ ___________ a lot of mistakes made. (be)

5. Why __________ she __________ to the store yet? (go–negative)

6. __________ you ever __________ a BMW? (drive)

7. This assignment ________ __________ a long time to finish. (take)

8. What kind of tuxedo _________ he __________ for the wedding? (choose)

9. We ________ ___________ at a lot of cars. (look)

10. She _________ ___________ very much coffee yet this morning. (have–negative)

Answers for the exercise: (1. have eaten; 2. have done; 3. hasn’t seen; 4. have been; 5. hasn’t ….gone; 6. Have ….driven; 7. has taken; 8. has….chosen; 9. have looked; 10. hasn’t had)

Today’s lesson is on the word "have." It can be used as a main verb or as a helping verb when forming the present perfect tense.

Here are some examples of "have" as a main verb:

I have a cell phone in my pocket. (present tense)

I don’t have any time to see a movie. (present tense, negative)

Do you have a dog? (present tense, question)

Did you have a good time at the party? (past tense, question)

Here are some examples of "have" as an auxiliary verb when making the present perfect tense:

I have had this cell phone for six months. (present perfect tense)

I haven’t had any time to see a movie lately. (present perfect tense, negative)

Have you ever had a dog? (present perfect tense, question)


August begins with Lesson One in the Yellow Level. This is a review of the past tense. The reason we want to review the past tense is because in the Yellow Level you will practice using the present perfect tense. The past tense and the present perfect tense are very similar in some ways. Take a look:

Did you have any coffee this morning? (past tense)

Have you had any coffee this morning? (present perfect tense)

So what’s the difference? That’s what you’ll learn in the Yellow Level.

Tomorrow you’ll begin the Yellow Level. The first two lessons in the Yellow Level review the past tense and the present tense. Then in Lesson Three you’ll begin to study the present perfect tense. This is a difficult tense to learn because you have to know how to use past participles. For those students who thought the first two levels were too easy, now you can sink your teeth into something that’s difficult. 

sink (one’s) teeth into = work hard on something

Here’s a question I received today from a YouTube viewer:

I noticed that people in American movies often say "Do you feel me?" at the end of a sentence. What does that mean? It sounds very weird to me.

"Do you feel me?" is one of those strange expressions popularized by the media (TV, movies, the internet, etc.) It means, "Do you understand my situation?" or "Do you understand where I’m coming from?"

Where does this expression originate? I’m not sure. New words and expressions bubble up from "the American people," and then they become popular when used on popular TV shows and movies. I do have one theory. In the 1990s when Bill Clinton was the president, upon listening to personal hard-luck stories at public events, he sometimes responded by saying, "I feel your pain." Many Americans believed that Clinton was sincerely interested in their problems, so "I feel your pain" became kind of a catch phrase. "Do you feel me?" is possibly derived from this.



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