When working in class yesterday, we discovered an interesting sentence pattern that is easy to learn and very useful:

gerund + is very + adjective

Exercising is very important.

Remember that gerunds are "ing" words that function in a sentence like a noun and express some kind of activity. Gerunds are singuar, so the verb used with the gerunds should be singular. Here’s another pattern:

gerund + object of gerund + is very + adjective

Studying English is very difficult.

Because we talk a lot about the world of work in my classes, we applied this sentence pattern to things that are important to do at work:

Helping customers is very important.

Following instructions is very important.

Understanding directions is very important.

Being on time is very important.

Did you know you can use the verb "be" as a gerund? It’s quite common. Here are some examples:

Being able to use a computer is necessary.

Being able to get along with other people is extremely necessary.

Being able to identify your own mistakes is a good skill.

Click here to see today’s lesson on superlative adjectives. Tomorrow we begin the passive voice in the Green Level.


When an adverb is used in the comparative form, you usually put the words "more" or "less" before the adverb:

  • We slept more comfortably than they did because our bed was softer.
  • This highway is less heavily travelled in the morning.
  • The students are more easily managed if they understand the consequences for their misbehavior.

Some adverbs don’t use the "ly" ending when in the comparative form. Use only an "er" ending:

  • I can get to work faster on my bike than on the bus.
  • She sleeps longer on the weekend than during the week.
  • This computer works better than my last computer.

You can also use "as" on either side of the adverb to make the comparison, but then you don’t use "er" or "more."

  • They didn’t sleep as comfortably as we did.
  • She can’t sleep as long during the week as she can on the weekend.
  • The computer doesn’t work as well as my last computer. ("Well" is the adverb form for "good.")

Go to Lesson Twenty-two in the Yellow Level to see more examples.


Adverbs are words that describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. Many adverbs have an "ly" ending, but not all of them do.

It’s possible to put an adverb in many different parts of a sentence:

She walked through the hotel quickly.

She quickly walked through the hotel.

Quickly, she walked through the hotel.

Adverbs of frequency indicate how often something happens. These are words such as always, often, sometimes, usually, rarely, and never.

They’re often late to class.

Sometimes he goes out for lunch.

I never drink alcohol.

Adverbs such as very and really show to what degree something is true:

This party is really fun.

That movie wasn’t very interesting.

To learn more about adverbs, go to this Yellow Level lesson.

There’s a new page in the prepositions section for the preposition "per."


This week in my regular classroom, we learned about an idiom that’s very popular here in the United States: hold up. It has a few different meanings. The first meaning that you’ll learn about refers to the continuation after some problem or physical struggle. I thought this would be a good thing to blog about, so here are some examples of how "hold up" can be used:

  • You went to bed at 2:30 in the morning? How are you holding up?
  • My old Toyota has held up well after 18 years.
  • This little tent won’t hold up in a big storm.
  • New laws passed by the government should hold up to forthcoming challenges by opponents.

However, "hold up" also means to show something or someone so that everyone can see and learn:

  • The doctor was held up in front of her peers as an example of dedication and diligence.
  • The teacher held up the student’s rude behavior in front of the other students, causing him to feel shame and humiliation.
  • President Barack Obama is often held up as a model of courage, determination, and great intellect.

There’s a webinar today at 10 a.m. CDT. Click here to register.


Today’s lesson is on height and weight. Let’s do height first:

  • A: How tall are you? / What’s your height?
  • B: I’m five feet, ten inches tall.
  • B: I’m five ten.

You can describe your height either way. Most people just use two numbers. The first number is for feet (five feet), and the second number is for inches (ten inches). Look at the way we indicate feet and inches in writing. One mark notes feet (5′) and two marks note inches (10"). Listen to the way I read these numbers:

She’s 5’4" / He’s 6’2" / You’re 5’11" / I’m 5’7"

When there aren’t any extra inches, just say "feet":

He’s six feet. / He’s six feet tall.

Here are some ways to talk about weight:

  • A: How much do you weigh? / What’s your weight?
  • B: I weigh 185 pounds.
  • B: I’m at 185.
  • B: I’m a 185-pound man. (This is not as common as the first two)

The word "weigh" is a verb. The word "weight" is a noun.

To get more practice with height and weight, click here.

To make the future continuous tense, use this formula:

will + be + ______ing

This is not a difficult tense to learn but some students aren’t sure when they can use it. It’s similar to the simple future tense, but because it’s continuous it implies activity over a period of time. Look at the differences between the two tenses:

I’ll wake up early tomorrow.

I’ll be waking up early tomorrow.

They’re both good sentences, but many speakers of English will use the second one. It has the feeling of action and motion. Also, many people seem to prefer the future continuous when speaking to each other. Here are some more examples:

She’ll be working tomorrow from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

They’ll be leaving for the airport soon.

We’ll be having dinner in about ten minutes.

It’s also possible to use the "going to" future in place of "will."

She’s going to be working tomorrow from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

For more practice with the future continuous tense, go to Lesson Nineteen in the Yellow Level.


Prepositional phrases provide information about time, location, and direction in a sentence. At the beginning of the prepositional phrase, there’s a preposition, and at the end of it it, there’s a noun.

There’s a lot of traffic in the afternoon. (time)

There’s a lot of traffic on the highway. (location)

There’s a lot of traffic going to the stadium. (direction)

The first part of the sentence, "There’s a lot of traffic," receives additional information through the prepositional phrase. Each begins with a preposition (in, on, and to) and ends in a noun (afternoon, highway, and stadium).

The difficulty students face is choosing the correct preposition. It has to match the noun. Sometimes there is more than one choice for a preposition, but often there’s only one, and if you make a mistake, your English sounds funny. You don’t want to say, "on the afternoon," or "to the highway," or "on the stadium" in the sentences above because of the word "traffic" before the prepositional phrase and because of the words chosen to end the prepositional phrase.

It takes a long time to learn prepositions and how to make prepositional phrases. You can click here to see a list of different prepositions and click here to see examples of how some of these prepositions are used in a sentence.

Click here for the Yellow Level lesson for prepositional phrases.


Today’s lesson is on the use of the past perfect continuous tense. Lesson Seventeen in the Yellow Level begins by showing the difference between the present perfect continuous tense (which you studied last week) and the past perfect continuous tense:

I have been eating a lot lately. (present perfect continuous)

I had been eating a lot until the doctor told me to go on a diet. (past perfect continuous)

In the first sentence, I started doing something in the past and I’m still doing it. In the second sentence, I was doing something in the past but then I stopped at some point in the past, which is identified in the sentence with "until the doctor told me to go on a diet."

The sentence would look like this in the past perfect tense:

I had eaten a lot until the doctor told me to go on a diet.

This doesn’t sound very good because the nature of the action is expected to be continuous over time. However, there is one more way of making this sentence.

I was eating a lot until the doctor told me to go on a diet.

This sentence is in the past continuous tense which is often an acceptable substitute for the past perfect continuous tense.


How do you describe what someone else has said? There are a few different ways of doing this. Look at the sentence below:

"My car needs some gas," Paul said.

The quotation marks at the beginning and end of the statement indicate that these are the exact words of the speaker. Then you see who made the statement (Paul). To describe this statement to another person, you usually have to change the verb and the arrangement of the sentence:

Paul said that he needed some gas.

However, it’s also possible to do do this:

Paul told me he needed some gas.

Or you can do this:

Paul says he needs some gas.

To learn more about indirect speech, you can go to this lesson.


There’s a new quiz for the past perfect tense. You can take it right now if you finished last Friday’s lesson, or watch this video and then take the quiz:

Click here for the quiz after you watch the video.


I’m working on new sections for the website. This is an example of a reading exercise for the Yellow Level. Does this help you?

There’s a new webinar on Wednesday, March 24. Sign up here. It’s free!

Happy New Year to my Iranian friends! The first day of the new year, called "Nowruz" by those who follow the Persian solar calendar, is also the first day of spring. Goodbye winter, hello spring.


I get a lot of questions from students who want to know why or how to use the past perfect tense. In some ways, it’s similar to the past tense, but it’s a more accurate way of describing past events. Also, the construction of the past perfect tense is quite different from the past tense.

helping verbs
past participle




In the chart above, I’ve included some of the most confusing verbs to use when making the past perfect tense, but if you pay attention carefully you will understand.To make the past pefect tense, the formula looks like this:

helping verb: had + past participle

She had done many good things in her life before she retired.

He hadn’t gone to see a doctor until he had his first heart attack.

If we‘d had the time, we would have stayed longer last night.

You always use the helping verb "had" and the past participle when making the past perfect tense. When making the past tense, you only use the helping verb for questions and negatives but not for statements:

She did her homework.

Did she do her homework?

She didn’t do her homework.

The past tense describes one event in the past. The past perfect describes the first of two events in the past. Click here to learn more about the past perfect tense.


I hope you’ve been studying modal verbs this last week. Lessons Ten through Fourteen help you understand how to use them in many different ways. Today I’ll show you how to use modal verbs with a present perfect continuous tense. This is similar to the lesson Tuesday, but it’s actually a little easier because you don’t have to know the past participle for the main verb:

modal verb
+ have been
may / might
  • He could have been living in California, but he decided to stay in Chicago.
  • My teacher should have been teaching us about modal verbs last week, but he didn’t.
  • We would have been working today, but our machine broke so we couldn’t get anything done.
  • You must have been feeling sick yesterday. I heard you coughing and sneezing.
  • Those kids might have been fighting, but I’m not sure what they were doing.

Some of these sentences can be used for the very recent past or present (could have been living / would have been work). Some are clearly in the past (should have been teaching / must have been feeling / might have been fighting).

Click here for more practice.


Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This is a big day for people with Irish blood. You can learn more about St. Patrick’s Day here.

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Also, don’t forget there’s a webinar tonight from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. CST.

Modal verbs (perfect modals) can be used to describe situations in the past. This is the formula you use:

modal verb
+ have
+ past participle
may / might
  • I could have made dinner. (But I didn’t make dinner)
  • She should have done her homework. (But she didn’t do it.)
  • They would have made a great couple. (But they never got married.)
  • You must have seen Star Wars. (But I’m not sure. Did you?)
  • He might have gone shopping. (But I’m not sure. Do you know where he went?)

Here’s some more practice with perfect modals.


Idiomatic modal verbs can often replace regular modal verbs–but not always. They are very popular in conversation, so it’s good to learn how to use them:

modal verb
is similar to:
idiomatic modal verb


(be) going to
have to
(be) able to
ought to
  • It will probably rain today / It’s probably going to rain today.
  • We must eat more fruit and vegetables. / We have to eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • Sandra can use a computer. / Sandra is able to use a computer.
  • You should see a doctor. / You ought to see a doctor.

The interesting thing about idiomatic modal verbs is that they can be combined more easily than the regular modal verbs:

She’s going to have to work longer hours.

I have to be able to get to work tomorrow.

You ought to be able to see downtown from here.

We’re going to have to be able to use this faucet.

This last sentence combines three different idiomatic modal verbs, which probably isn’t the best thing to do, but it does happen when Americans speak English. (The main verb is underlined in each of the above sentences.)

To learn more about idiomatic modal verbs, go to this lesson.


Did you remember to set your clocks ahead one hour for daylight savings time? Not everyone around the world does this, but in the United States we set our clocks ahead one hour in the spring to increase the amount of natural light that is available in the evening. It’s one less hour of natural light in the morning, but that’s okay because morning light is wasted if people are still sleeping as the sun is coming up.

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

– – Benjamin Franklin

I’m working on a new reading section for the website. You can preview some of it here.

Today’s webinar begins at 11:00 CST.

There are eight modal verbs that are important to learn: can, could, will, would, may, might, should, and must. Then there are some other idiomatic modals that are a little more difficult to learn, but they’re also important (have to, ought to, be able to). We’ll work on those later.

Modal verbs show different degrees of possibility. Learning them well takes a lot of time and practice, but anyone can understand how to use them properly. Just remember not to put the word "to" after a modal verb. This is a very common mistake:

She needs to see a doctor. (okay)

She must to see a doctor. (no)

The students want to learn more about modal verbs. (okay)

The students should to learn more about modal verbs. (no)

Click here to learn more about modal verbs.

Today’s lesson shows you the differences between the past tense and the past continuous tense:

It was raining this morning while I was driving to work.


While I was driving to work this morning, it was raining.

Compare that to….

It rained this morning as I drove to work.

Continuous tenses sometimes sound better–or sound more natural–for certain situations that happen over a period of time. Look at these sentences and try to decide which one sounds better and why:

 1. Maria was studying English last night when she got a phone call.

 2. Maria studied English last night, and she got a phone call.

The first sentence, of course, is better. Studying English happens over a thirty-minute period. Or it takes several hours, right? Then she got a phone call. The verb "get" is in the past tense, and it interupts the action (studying) but it doesn’t continue.

Learm more about the differences between the past tense and the past continuous tense by clicking here.

If you didn’t receive an email from me today, please sign up on the homepage. Emails are sent out every week or every two weeks to let students know about new lessons and updates to the website.

Word of the Day: convenient

"Convenient" is an adjective. It means that something is easy to find, or something happens at a good time:

  • This store is in a very convenient location.
  • What time would be convenient for us to meet?
  • We moved to a more convenient location.
  • *It’s convenient to have a bus stop nearby.

To make the negative, use "not" or the prefix "in."

  • This is a very inconvenient time to have a meeting.
  • This is not a convenient location for our business.
  • I’m sorry if this is inconvenient for you.

The noun form of the word is "inconvenience."

  • I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience.
  • This new arrangement is too much of an inconvenience.

A student wrote to me last weekend and asked for help with the "th" sound in English. There are actually two "th" sounds. One is unvoiced, meaning that the vocal chords don’t move. The unvoiced "th" sound is made entirely by blowing air over the tongue and the teeth:

third, through, thought, think, thermal, teeth, breath, bath

The other "th" sound is voiced, so the voiced "th" sound is made the same way with the tongue and the teeth, but the vocal chords move in this one and the tongue vibrates a little so that the sound is a little louder and a little slower:

this, that, then, there, the weather, breathe, bathe

Your tongue must touch your teeth when you make these sounds. It looks like this:


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

Click here to go to today’s lesson on superlatives.

It’s not too late to sign up for the webinar tonight. Click here for more information.

If you watched the Academy Awards ceremony last night, then you know that The Hurt Locker won more awards than any other film. It also won the Oscar for Best Picture, and Kathryn Bigelow, the director of the film, won the Oscar for Best Director. The movie Avatar was more popular at movie theaters and made more money than The Hurt Locker, but the amount of money a movie makes doesn’t determine the winner of an award, which is a very good thing.

The paragraph above uses comparatives and superlatives to make comparisons between and among movies. Today the lesson is on comparative adjectives and tomorrow it’s on superlative adjectives.

To sign up for the next webinar, click here.

Tomorrow and Tuesday, you’ll learn about using comparative and superlative adjectives if you follow the schedule that’s on the home page. Because the Oscars ceremony is tonight, the examples below should be helpful in getting started on this subject:

Who’s a better director, James Cameron or Kathryn Bigelow?

In this question, the word "better" is the comparative form for "good." Comparatives describe differences between two things or two people.

Which movie will win the Academy Award for Best Picture?

In this question, the word "best" is the superlative form for "good." Superlatives describe one thing or person in a group of three or more.

There will be another webinar this Tuesday. Sign up is free. Click here for more information.

I made a new video that explains some of the differences between the present tense and the present perfect. I’m going to post if here and put beside it another recent video that explains some of the differences between the past tense and the present perfect. If you watch both videos, you might gain a better understanding of how to use the present perfect tense:

present vs. present perfect
past vs. present perfect

There’s still time to sign up for today’s webinar. Click here.

The next webinar is on Tuesday, March 9, 2010.


The final lesson this week for the present perfect tense shows you how to make questions. As with many other tenses, the helping verb goes before the subject and the main verb goes after the subject:

Have you eaten breakfast yet?

What have you done so far this week?

Where have all cookies gone?

Click here for the next Yellow Level lesson.

I’m working on a new section of the website for reading. It will look something like this.

Today you’ll continue to learn about the present perfect tense with a lesson in making the present perfect tense negative. It’s helpful to show how to make the present and past tenses negative when studying this:

Main verb: go

  • I don’t go shopping at that store. (present tense)
  • I didn’t go shopping at that store. (past tense)
  • I haven’t gone shopping at that store. (present perfect tense)

Main verb: have

  • She doesn’t have anything to eat. (present tense)
  • She didn’t have anything to eat. (past tense)
  • She hasn’t had anything to eat. (present perfect tense)

Main verb: be

  • They aren’t in class today. (present tense)
  • They weren’t in class yesterday. (past tense)
  • They haven’t been in class since last week. (present pefect tense)

You can learn more about making the present perfect tense negative in this lesson.


After you learn how to use the present tense and the past tense well, you should learn how to use the present perfect tense. Knowing how to use the present perfect tense will allow you to describe events in the present and the past more accurately. There are three ways to use it:

1. Describe something that started in the past and is still true now:

She has lived in the United States since 2007.

This means that she moved to the U.S. in 2007 and she still lives here now. The present perfect tense is very useful in expressing the passage of time from the past to the present.

2. Describe something that happened in the recent past without an indication of time:

We have decided to get married.

When did they decide to get married? It’s not clear. But we know that the decision happened in the past.

3. Describe a repeated action in the past:

I have read that book many times.

He’s been to Europe at least five or six times. (He’s = He has)

I always tell my students that the present perfect tense is one of the most important tenses to learn. For the next three days, if you follow the lessons on the website, you’ll learn how to use the present perfect tense in making statements, negatives, and questions. Click here to begin.

If you have trouble understanding the differences between the past tense and the present perfect tense, this video might help.


Before you study the present perfect tense in Yellow Level Lesson Three, you should have a very good understanding of how to use the verb "have." The reason for this is that "have" is a helping verb used in making the present perfect tense, but it’s also a very common main verb. Look at these sentences below:

I have a guitar.

She has three cats.

He doesn’t have any patience.

We have some time before the movie begins.

My car doesn’t have any gas in it at all.

They had a good time last night.

I’ve caught a rabbit.

All of these sentences use "have" in the present tense except for the last two sentences. "Had" is the past tense form of "have" and "have caught" is in the present perfect tense. To learn more about how to use "have," click here for Yellow Level Lesson Two.

In addition to the webinar on Wednesday evening, I’ve added another webinar for this Saturday. Please sign up if you are interested in attending.

Today you’ll begin the Yellow Level. The first two lessons are an important review, and then in Lesson Three you’ll start learning about the present perfect tense.

Word of the Day:Hurry

hurry / hurried / hurried

The word “hurry” is used as a verb and sometimes as a noun. It means to go fast:

  • She hurries to work in the morning.
  • Hurry up! We have to go!
  • Please don’t hurry. We have a lot of time.
  • If we hurry, we can get to the movie on time.
  • You wouldn’t have to hurry if you work up earlier.

Sometimes the word "hurry" is used as a noun:

  • I’m in a big hurry.
  • What’s the hurry? We’re not going to be late.

Click here to go to February 2010