For many students learning English, knowing when to use the verb "be" or knowing when to use the verb "do" causes some confusion, but after they learn the differences between these two words, their English improves.

The Blue Level will help you with the verb "be." The Red Level will help you with the verb "do." In the month of February, we will study the lessons in the Red Level. If you have not completed the Blue Level, go do that now so that you can catch up with everyone else who comes here to learn online.

This is a good time to remind everyone to try to write in English whenever possible. For example, when you go to the quizzes, do you print out the quiz? If so, that’s okay, but it might be better for you to write out the entire sentence or question in a noteobook that you use only for learning English.

Writing is better than clicking. It helps you remember things that you learn. Date each entry (day, month, year) and try to write something in your notebook at least once a day. You can write out answers to quizzes, or write down new words that you have learned, or write something about what you did that day. After one month look at what you wrote. I hope you will see some improvment.


In this last week, we spent some time looking at vocabulary words that are useful when talking about buying, cooking, eating, tasting, and storing food. The subject of food is very important for everyone to learn when studying English, but it’s especially important for immigrants in the United States to learn because so many people who move here from other countries get jobs at restaurants, fast food places, and grocery stores. They also work in large numbers at slaughterhouses and farms.

slaughterhouse = a place where meat is packed.

farm = a place where crops are picked.

crops = strawberries, corn, wheat, peppers, onions, etc.


Here’s the last group of vocabulary words for the week. These words are useful when storing food or when putting food away.

Today’s lesson is on the days of the week.

It’s important to understand the differences between count and noncount nouns in English. When you use a count noun, for instance, you can use the singular or plural forms for subjects or verbs. When you use a noncount noun, you use the singular form. If you don’t understand the differences between these nouns, you will have problems with good English grammar. Look at the questions and answers below:

  • A: How many tables does she need for the party?
  • B: Just a few.
  • A: How much help does she need getting everything ready?
  • B: Just a little.

Do you see the differences in the sentences above? If not, go to this Blue Level lesson and learn about count and noncount nouns.

Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge.

Today’s food lesson is about how food tastes. Bon appetit!


The phrases "comes before" and "comes after" are often used when talking about days, months, and holidays. Today is Wednesday. Wednesday comes before Thursday. Wednesday comes after Tuesday. Tomorrow is Thursday. Thursday comes after Wednesday. Thursday comes before Friday. This is a good thing for you to practice. You can write out all the days of the week and the months of the year and practice this yourself at home.

Remember, I recommend that you write as much as possible by hand. Writing helps to improve memorization. Click here for today’s lesson on months of the year.

Here’s the vocabulary for today. It’s about eating and drinking.


How many different ways are there to ask for the time? It depends on the situation. These are questions you can ask a stranger who’s wearing a watch:

  • Excuse me. Do you know what time it is?
  • Excuse me. Do you have the time?
  • Do you happen to have the time?
  • Could you tell me the time, please?
  • Excuse me. I was wondering if you had the time.
  • You got the time? (Notice the absence of "do.")

These are questions you can ask a friend or someone you know:

  • What time is it?
  • What does the clock say?
  • What does your watch say?
  • Do you know what time it is?
  • Do you have any idea of the time? (Said in anger when someone is late)
  • Can you see what time it is on your phone?

Of course, now that most people have cell phones that show the time, we don’t ask these questions as much as we used to. Today’s lesson will also help you with the day and the date. Remember that the day and the date are two different things.

Here’s some vocabulary for cooking as promised. Tomorrow the vocabulary will be all about eating food and drinking.

I hope you have a good day!

The lesson of the day is on the verb “be” in the past tense. If you have been reading the blog every day, you might know a little bit about how to use this verb already. Remember that it changes depending on the subject, and it’s very different from other verbs. Here are some examples:

  • She was at the store yesterday.
  • They were in class this morning.
  • Where were you?

You can click here for a quiz if you think you already know how to use the verb “be” in the past tense.

Click here to find vocabulary related to buying food at the grocery store.


This week I’m going to try something different with the blog. In addition to the daily lessons (which are always posted on the home page), will present vocabulary lessons centered around a weekly theme. We’ll start this new approach to the blog with one of my favorite topics: food. .


A new emailed lesson will go out tomorrow.



There’s a new page for the Prepositions section of the website for the preposition "onto."

A few years ago I had a conference bike business which I operated in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. A conference bike is a seven-person bike. Everyone who sits on the bike pedals it and makes it go forward. I’ve included a few pictures and videos of the bike in action here so that you know what it is.

Can you understand what these people are saying? Can you understand what I’m saying in the videos? I’m thinking about using the bike again, but instead of giving tours of the city, it might be fun to get Americans to ride the bike and you can listen to their conversations. The bike was really expensive. I’d like to put it to use instead of just keeping it in my garage.

Take a survey here and help me improve the website.

There are two new pages for the Prepositions section of the website: without and across.

How are you doing with the Blue Level? Next week will be our last week in this level before we move on to the Red Level. Now is a good time for you to look back at the lessons that you finished and review the things that you have learned.

One of the goals for the Blue Level is for you to understand how to use basic pronouns. Below is a chart which show pronouns as subjects, objects, and in the possessive form. Try to remember how these pronouns are related:

possessive adjective
possessive pronouns

Click here for today’s lesson.


Blue Level Lesson 14 will help you learn about possessive adjectives. It’s important to understand the difference between possessive adjectives and possessive pronouns, so that’s what you will work on today and tomorrow. Let’s begin by looking at the relationship between the possessive adjective and the subject:

I have a car. My car is in the garage.

You have a car. Your car is parked in the street.

He owns a business. His business is located in St. Paul.

She‘s wearing a necklace. Her necklace is made of gold.

This dog is hungry. Its food bowl is empty.

We bought a house. Our house needs a lot of work.

All of you have an assignment. Your assignment is due tomorrow.

They have enough to eat. Their stomachs are full.

Possessive adjectives are used in front of nouns. You can’t use a possessive adjective without a noun somewhere after it.

There’s a new video on YouTube for "can use." This might seem a little strange to you, but the modal verb "can" and the main verb "use" together mean "need." You can watch it here.


Information questions are made by using who, what, where, when, how, and why. When you ask a question for information, you get more than a "yes" or "no" answer. Look at the questions below and listen to how I pronounce each word:

  • Who — Use the word "who" for people: Who is your teacher?
  • What — Use "what" for general information. What time is it? What is your name?
  • Where — Use "where" for a location. Where do you live?
  • How — Use "how" for a method. How do you make rice?
  • Why — Use "why" for a reason. Why is the sky blue?
  • How many — Use "how many" for amounts with count nouns. How many kids are on the bus?
  • How much — Use "how much" for amounts with noncount nouns. How much ketchup is in the bottle?

Click here to learn more about information questions.

There’s a new page in the Prepositions section of the website for the word "around." Click here to see it.

Today you’ll practice making the past tense. There are two ways to think about this. First we’ll look at the verb "be." Then we’ll look at all the other verbs.

To make the past tense for the verb "be," you can use "was" or "were." For example.

I was at school yesterday. You were at home.

The verb "be" changes depending on the subject and whether or not the subject is singular (I was, you were, he was, she was, it was) or plural (we were, you were, they were).

All the other verbs require some memorization and the understanding of some simple rules. Look at the chart below:



for questions









did + not

for negatives

When making a statement in the past tense, just use the past tense form of the verb. When you make a question or the negative use "did" and the simple form of the verb. This method works with all verbs except for the verb "be." Regular verbs, like "live" and "study" add "ed" in the past tense form, and irregular verbs such as "eat" and "find" change their form completely. Look at the sentences below:

He lived in New York for 20 years. He didn’t live in Canada.

We ate breakfast early. We didn’t eat very much.

To make a question, put the verb "did" in front of the subject:

Did you study your lesson? When did you study it?

Click here for more practice with the past tense.

Click here for some videos that explain how to make the past tense with the verb "be."

Click here for some videos that explain how to make the past tense with all the other verbs. (not the verb "be.")

Why are prepositions so hard to use and remember?

There are about a hundred different prepositions in English. Some are very common, such as the ones on my website, and some are used infrequently. Click here for a short list of prepositions with examples and pictures, and click here for a long list of prepositions which I just added to the site. Knowing which preposition to choose takes time and practice. Reading in English helps you learn them, but it will take you many years before you know how to use prepositions well. You can take a quiz on prepositions by clicking here.

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday celebration. He was a great American civil rights leader of the 1950s and 1960s. Learning American English requires a knowledge of American history. Click on this link to learn more about Martin Luther King Jr.

There’s a new video on the future perfect tense. This is very difficult for beginning level students, but if you are at the intermediate or advanced levels of English, see if it helps you.

Also, don’t forget to go to the new chat rooms on my site if you haven’t seen them yet.


I’ve added a new page to the prepositions section of the website. Click here to see how the preposition "over" is used. Tomorrow the lesson of the day will be all about prepositions.


By now everyone has heard about the devestating earthquake that hit Haiti. What makes this situation especially dire is that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and the country doesn’t have the infrastructure or the equipment to help those who are in need. I’ve made some financial contributions to groups that will provide relief, and I intend to contribute more as fundraising events unfold over the coming weeks and months. If you contribute money yourself, make sure the organization is reputable. The Network for Good website is a good place to find reputable humanitarian organizations.

Here’s a new video for the future perfect tense.

Articles are those small words (a, an, the) that come before a noun. Many students make mistakes when choosing an article, or they don’t use one at all. Even advanced learners of English make mistakes with these words.

I need a wrench. (any wrench)

The wrench that I need is in my toolbox. (a specific wrench)

Wrenches are useful when fixing things. (a group — no article)

The wrenches sold at Home Depot are on sale. (a specific group)

I don’t think there’s an easy way to learn about articles. Studying English grammar books will help, but there are so many little rules, it’s one of those things that you will learn over a long period of time. I always advise students to do a lot of reading in order to improve their understanding of articles because they’re so hard to hear. Reading books, magazines, and newspapers will help you develop a better understanding of how articles are used.

Click here to learn more about articles.

Here’s a new page for the Prepositions section of the website. It’s for the preposition "above." This preposition is similar to "over."


The lesson for the day is on the verb "have." It’s necessary for you to know that "have" can be used as a main verb and as a helping verb. These sentences show "have" as a main verb:

I have nine computers in my classroom. (present tense)

She had a good time at the party. (past tense)

He has a lot of work to finish. (present tense)

To make a question in the present tense or the past tense, use "do," "does," or "did" as helping verbs.

Do you have a watch? (present tense)

Does he have any girlfriends? (present tense)

Did the teacher have a lot of students in class today? (past tense)

We won’t study perfect tenses until we get to the Green Level, but it might help you to see how "have" is used as a helping verb to make the present perfect tense:

I have had the same pair of boots for 10 years. (present perfect tense)

She has had some problems with her car. (present perfect tense)

We’ve had a good time today. (present perfect tense)

Click here to learn more about the verb "have."

It’s really important to know the differences between the present tense and the present continuous tense. Both tenses can be used for similar, daily activities, but they aren’t formed the same way and there are good reasons to choose one over the other. This video will help you:


An earthquake has just hit one of the poorest countries in the world. You can make a donation by texting "YELE" to 501501 and $5 will be charged to your mobile phone. I just did it. I hope the donation went through.

You can also make a donation here:

The American Red Cross is also a good place for making donations when this kind of thing happens. They work with countries around the world — not just the United States.

Word of the Day: hand

hand / handed / handed

You know what a hand is, but did you know that you can use it as a verb? It means "to give." Look at these examples:

  • I handed him a book.
  • Please hand me that pen.
  • Can you hand me that shirt, please?

Often "hand" is used with the prepositions "in" and "out."

  • Hand your assignment in.
  • Hand in your assignment.
  • The students need to hand in their tests to the teacher now.
  • Did you hand in your taxes yet?
  • The police asked him to hand in his weapon.
  • The teacher is handing out an assignment.
  • The boy is handing out candy to everyone because it’s his birthday.
  • She is handing out information about a new restaurant.

"Hand in" is usually something that students do, or people "hand in" information or materials to the government. "Hand out" is usually something that a teacher does in a classroom, but you can use this idiom whenever you give things out to a large group of people, especially things that are free.

Here’s a link to today’s lesson on the present tense.

Today’s lesson is on the word "there." Try to use "there" when you speak and write in English. I’ve been teaching English for 20 years, and one of the most common mistakes that students make is to forget to use "there" properly. Look at these examples:

There’s a rabbit in my backyard.

There aren’t any squirrels in my backyard.

Are there any birds at the birdfeeder?

Is there any food in the birdfeeder?

bird a birdfeeder

The verb "be" is often used with "there." This lesson will provide you with more practice and a video.

It helps to have a knowledge of count and noncount nouns when making the verb "be" singular or plural with the word "there." Count and noncount nouns are explained in Lesson Nineteen. You can go there now.

If you follow my blog, you probably know how much I love Indian food. Well, last night I tried to make naan, which is an Indian flat bread, and it turned out pretty good. Here’s a picture of it:


If you want to learn how to make this tasty bread, you can find the recipe here. There are other recipes on this website which I intend to try.


The weekend is a good time to review what you learned during the week or go back and complete lessons that are not yet finished. Did you finish the first five lessons in the Blue Level? Let’s see how much you remember. 


I _______ a teacher.

(contraction: _______)

I ____ ___ a student.

_____ ____ a student.

(your picture here)

You ______ a student.

(contraction: _______)

You ___ ___ a teacher.

You _______ a teacher.


He _______ a student.

(contraction: _______)

He ____ ___ a teacher.

He _______ a teacher.


She ______ a student.

(contraction: ________)

She ___ ___ a teacher.

She _______ a teacher.


It ________ a cold day today.

(contraction: ___________)

It _____ _____ a warm day.

It __________ a warm day.

teacher student student

We _______ people.

We _______ in the United States.

(contraction: ________)

We ____ ____ in Canada.

We ________ in Canada.

student student

You _______students.

(contraction: ________)

You ______ in the United States.

You _____ ______in Canada.

You __________ in Canada.


They ______ students.

(contraction: _________)

They _____ _____ workers.

They _________ workers.

Today’s lesson is on "this, that, these, and those." Here’s a video…


….and the lesson is here.

Your English teacher will often ask you about nouns in a sentence. There are many important things to know about nouns, but first you have to know what they are. Click here, finish Lesson Four in the Blue Level, and then come back.

Did you understand today’s lesson? If you look at the picture above, how many things are nouns? Remember that a noun can be a person, place, thing, emotion, or idea. In the chart below, we can find examples of each:

person: woman, people, traveler
place: Disneyworld, Florida, Orlando
thing: park, castle, flowers, jacket
emotion: fun, happiness, excitement
idea: fantasy, escapism, commercialism

Thanks to Ivonete for sending in the picture of her trip to Disneyworld!

Questions made in English put the verb before the subject:

prepositional phrase
at school?
at home?
in the class?

In each of these questions, the verb "be" comes before the subject. The verb is in the present tense. The verb matches the subject. If the subject is singular, the verb must be singular. If the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.

You can learn more about making questions with the verb "be" by clicking here.

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

How are you doing so far? Are you sticking to a schedule? I told students a few days ago that it might be helpful if they followed a schedule and kept it near their computer. Here it is if you haven’t found it yet.

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

Here’s a new page I just added to the vocabulary section of the website. You can use these words to describe different parts of your clothing. These are very useful words.

Your lesson for the day is here. Today you’ll learn how to make the verb "be" negative. This is not difficult to do. Just add the word "not" to the verb "be." You can use contractions if want to. Most Americans use contractions when they make the verb "be" negative:

He is not
He isn’t
He’s not
They are not
They aren’t
They’re not


Today you’ll start on Lesson One in the Blue Level. Click here.

If you follow the schedule that you received in today’s email, you should have a good understanding of English grammar after seven months.

January – The Blue Level

February – The Red Level

March – The Yellow Level

April – The Green Level

May – The Purple Level

June – The Orange Level

July – The Violet Level

1. Keep track of your progress. Print out this checklist and keep it by your computer.

2. Visit at least once a day, 15 to 20 minutes per visit.

3. Write answers by hand. Writing is better than clicking when it comes to memorization.

4. Use a special notebook for your online learning. Note the date of your visits and how much time you spend online.

5. Review what you have learned at the end of each week and at the end of each level.

6. Visit the blog regularly. On most days, audio will be added so that you can listen and read at the same time.

Good luck!


There’s a new lesson in the Prepositions section of the website for the preposition "beside." Click here.

Happy New Year! Did you celebrate last night? A lot of people go out on New Year’s Eve. I went out with my family to a Chinese restaurant and afterwards we came home to watch the televised celebration in Times Square in New York. Another year has passed. Let’s hope things are a little better than they were in ’09.

Today we begin the Blue Level. It all starts over. First the Blue Level, then the Red Level, then the Yellow Level, Green, Purple, Orange, and Violet. Why are we going back to the beginning? For one reason, many students are new to this website, and they might need help with basic Engligh. Also, intermediate learners of English usually need help with basic English, too. It’s easy to forget small things that cause big mistakes–even with the verbs "be" or "do." So everyone will improve by going through the course again.

If you are ready to move on, please go to the Links section of the website and look for intermediate or advanced level websites.


Click here to go to December 2009