Learn American English Online Blog
October 31, 2010
There are some new pages for the website.
Click here for a new addition to the Red Level Reading Room. This is in the past tense. Notice as you read the story the differences between the verbs "buy" (past tense, "bought") and "bring" (past tense, "brought").
Click here for a quiz on "so" and "such." Many beginning and intermediate level learners confuse these two, or they don’t think about using these words at all. "So" and "such" can be very idiomatic at times.
Today we finish the Red Level. Click here for a review of the Red Level. If it’s easy, that’s good. That indicates your knowledge of basic English is good. If it’s difficult, you should probably go back and review both the Blue Level and the Red Level.
Today is Halloween. Happy Halloween!
October 30, 2010
Yesterday’s lesson will probably look similar to the lesson for today, but there’s a big difference between "used to" and "be used to." Past activities are commonly described with "used to," but "be used to" can be applied to the past, the present, and the future. "Be used to" describes adaptation. A person does something again and again, and after awhile, he or she becomes "used to" doing it. Look at the sentences below:
She’s used to the cold weather.
She may or may not like the cold weather, but because she lives in a place that’s cold and it’s a part of her daily life, she’s okay with it. Notice in this example that a noun (weather) and its modifiers ("the" and "cold") appear after "be used to."
Compare that example to this:
He’s used to working late at night.
It’s possible that he doesn’t like to work at night, but he does it all the time, so it’s okay. Notice in this example the use of a gerund (working) after "be used to."
Here are some more examples in different tenses. A gerund is included in each sentence:
These examples use nouns following "be used to":
It’s very common to substitute the verb "be" with the verb "get" when making these kinds of sentences and questions:
October 29, 2010
Red Level Lessons 23 and 24 are on "used to" and "be used to." I added these lessons because they’re especially helpful when speaking or listening to English.
"Used to" indicates some past action. Often the action was repeated or habitual:
I used to smoke.
Do I smoke now? No. But it was a daily habit. I did it every day in the past.
She used to live in California.
Does she live there now? No. She lives somewhere else now.
We never used to have so many problems.
Do we have problems now? Yes. In the past, we never had so many problems, but now we have them.
The best way to make "used to" negative is to use "never." However, you will hear Americans use "didn’t used to" or "didn’t use to" (without the "d"). English teachers argue over which one is right, but you’ll find both usages in English books. Frankly, I don’t care for either one because I use "never" to make the negative.
Tomorrow we’ll look at "(be) used to." It’s not the same as "used to" because the verb "be" comes before it. That makes a very big difference.
October 28, 2010
The lesson for the day is on multiplication and division. This is a recent addition to the Red Level after several students asked me to post some YouTube videos that show how to talk about the multiplying and dividing of numbers. Of course, you know how to do that already, but talking about it in English might be new to you.
There are a few things to notice in the questions and answers above. One is the use of "you" to indicate "anybody. "What do you get if you multiply five times six?" The other thing is the use of the verb "get" when describing a result: "You get 30," is the same as "The answer is 30."
The easiest way to ask and answer these questions is like this
October 27, 2010
October 26, 2010
Today’s lesson is on reflexive pronouns: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, and themselves.
Reflexive pronouns refer the reader’s or the listener’s attention back to the subject. Here are some examples:
I burned myself.
You hurt yourself.
He talks to himself.
She likes herself the way she is.
The coffee maker turns itself on in the morning.
We work for ourselves.
You can help yourselves.
They taught themselves.
You can also use these pronouns to show that someone is alone or did something without any help:
She’s sitting by herself.
He finished the work all by himself.
I ate lunch by myself this afternoon.
October 25, 2010
The lesson for today is on possessive pronouns. These are words that can be used in place of a possessive adjective and a noun. For example:
Your class starts at 10:00. My class starts at 11:00.
Your class starts at 10:00. Mine starts at 11:00.
In the second sentence, instead of repeating the noun "class" and using the possessive adjective, "my," those two words are replaced with just a possessive pronoun, "mine." Here are some more examples:
My phone isn’t ringing. Yours is.
I forgot my book. He forgot his, too.
Our house is green. Theirs is blue.
Your children are young. Mine are old.
It’s worth noting that the possessive pronoun is singular or plural depending on the noun with which it’s used. Click here if you think you need more instruction. Click here if you want to go directly to a quiz on possessive pronouns.
October 24, 2010
This week you’ll finish the Red Level. Notice there are some new lessons for numbers, multiplication and division, and "used to."
October 23, 2010
Today’s lesson on gerunds is important for a couple of different reasons. First of all, gerunds are very useful. They describe activities and they function as nouns in a sentence. Second, gerunds are sometimes confused with the present continuous tense, but they are quite different. Look at the sentences below:
Exercising is necessary for strength and good health.
He’s exercising because he wants to stay healthy.
The first sentence uses the word "exercise" as a gerund. It’s the subject in that sentence. Gerunds are always singular so choose a singular verb. The second sentence is in the present continuous tense. The verb "be" (is) is used with this tense.
October 22, 2010
Your lesson for the day is on infinitives. This YouTube video from a few years back will help you understand what infinitives are:
Here’s a reading lesson for the Red Level: Skyscrapers are very tall buildings.
Click on this link to see a YouTube video for talking about doing multiplication in English. This will be a part of a new Red Level lesson for next week. I know many of you already know how to do multiplication, but talking about it in English is another matter.
October 21, 2010
Today’s lesson is on expressions of time.
Here’s a link for a new page: The Red Level Reading Room. Someone emailed me and asked if I could organize the reading section so that it’s easier to find. I’ll do the same for the other levels as more reading exercises are added.
October 20, 2010
The lesson for today is on conjunctions: and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so.
These are coordinating conjunctions. They can be used to join together words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. Look at this sentence:
My friend and I are waiting for a cab.
The subject in the sentence above is plural because the conjunction "and" joins together a singular noun, "friend," and a singular pronoun, "I." Now look at the next sentence. It joins together two clauses.
Sheila is attending college, and she has a job as a waitress.
It’s possible to separate this sentence into two sentences….
Sheila is attending college. She has a job as a waitress.
…but that doesn’t sound as good as the first example. Using conjunctions makes sentences sound smoother. Sentences become easier to make and listen to.
Another important conjunction is "but." This is used to show differences and contrasts:
Sheila is attending college, but she doesn’t have a major.*
The conjunction "but" separates two parts of the sentence. Notice that a comma (,) goes before the conjunction. Use a comma before a conjunction that joins together two clauses.
major: an area of study that leads to a degree (biology major, education major, business major).
October 19, 2010
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October 18, 2010
Today’s lesson provides examples for the many different ways the word "like" is used in English. I think it’s a good idea to read the examples carefully because misunderstanding "like" will cause you some confusion.
1. Use "like" to express your happiness with something or someone:
2. Use "like" to make comparisons:
3. Use "like" to ask about preferences or opinions:
4. Use "like" in colloquial speech (This is difficult for non-native speakers, but it’s extremely important to understand because you hear this in spoken English a lot–especially among young people):
5. Use "like" to quote another person (This is used for indirect quotes, which is also very difficult for non-native speakers but popular among American young people. Older people avoid this kind of usage.)
October 17, 2010
We’re just halfway through the Red Level, but if you haven’t completed the Blue Level yet, now is a good time to do that. Consider going to the September blog. That might be a more enjoyable way of completing those lessons.
Remember: the daily blog entries match the level of the month. This month we’re working in the Red Level so most of the blog entries are related to Red Level lessons. Next month we’ll work in the Yellow Level, so the blog entries will match Yellow Level lessons. In December we’ll work in the Green Level, and so on until we finish all seven levels plus the Prepositions section. Then we start all over again with the Blue Level; however, I haven’t decided yet which month would be best to do that.
October 16, 2010
Today’s lesson is on the use of the "going to" future tense. There are a couple of important things to know about this. One has to do with its application, and the other is in the pronunciation.
The "going to" future tense is made like this:
Subject + (be) + going to + the simple form of the verb
I am going to go to the store.
He is going to see his girlfriend.
You are going to play soccer.
They are going to be late.
The verb "be" changes depending on the subject. Then you always use "going to" followed by the main verb in the simple form. You can use just about any verb in this manner, especially the verbs "be" and "do."
I’m going to be busy today.
She’s going to be a doctor when she graduates.
They’re going to do something fun.
We’re going to do our homework after school.
The "going to" future is extremely common in American English, but sometimes it’s hard to hear because many people put "going" and "to" together to form "gonna." This is okay in spoken English but not when writing. Listen carefully to how I pronounce these sentences:
I am going to go to the store. / I’m gonna go to the store.
He is going to see his girlfriend. / He’s gonna see his girlfriend.
You are going to play soccer. / You’re gonna play soccer.
They are going to be late. / They’re gonna be late.
If you want to use "will" when describing the future instead of "going to," that’s okay, but sometimes it sounds kind of odd to say, "I will go to the store," or "He will see his girlfriend." Using "(be) going to" sounds much better in these sentences.
For more practice with the "going to" future, go to Lesson Twelve in the Red Level.
Here’s a link to a new quiz for possessive pronouns.
October 15, 2010
When students first learn English, they learn that the future tense is made with the modal verb "will." Lesson Eleven in the Red Level provides examples of that.
However, it’s also possible to use other tenses when describing future activities. Look at the sentences below. They all use the verb "leave," but they use different verb tenses:
Here’s another verb that can uses different verb tenses to describe the future:
What’s really interesting in the above examples is that the last sentence using "will" doesn’t sound as natural as the other three sentences. It sounds kind of stiff, but this how many beginning students of English make the future tense. Of course, this interchangeability of tenses to express future activities doesn’t work with all verbs, but it works with many of them, and you should be aware of that.
stiff: not relaxed
October 14, 2010
Lesson Ten in the Red Level reminds you of a few important things regarding the use of "a lot of," "some," and "any." As I mentioned on Tuesday, you can almost always use "a lot of" when making a sentence, but "some" and "any" have a few rules:
Use "some" for affirmative statements and questions:
Use "any" for negative statements and questions:
You can click here for additional instruction.
There’s a new quiz for articles. Click here to practice your knowledge of "a," "the," or no article.
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Congratulations to the country of Chile and to the miners who were trapped in the mine. Their rescue was quite an achievement. Way to go!
October 13, 2010
Today’s lesson on "a few" and "a little" is similar to what you studied yesterday, but we use these words to describe small amounts. Use "a few" with count nouns and use "a little" with noncount nouns. Click here for Lesson Nine, or you can take this quiz, see how well you do, and if you need help, go back to the lesson.
October 12, 2010
Everyone who studies English needs help when choosing between the words "much" or "many," or it’s necessary to decide not to use either word.
First of all, a knowledge of count and noncount nouns is necessary. Use "many" with count nouns, and use "much" with noncount nouns:
In the examples above, "reasons," "relatives," and "people" are count nouns in the plural form. Now compare these next two sentences and a question:
"Work," "time," and "money," are noncount nouns, so you use the word "much."
If you can’t remember the rules used with count and noncount nouns, it’s possible to just use "a lot of" when making a sentence:
For more practice, go to Lesson Eight in the Red Level.
October 11, 2010
Today’s lesson is on the use of the verb "do" as a main verb. This causes a lot of confusion for students because "do" is also a common helping verb. One of the most common mistakes made by people learning English is in the misuse of this word.
The verb "do" is often used for work, cleaning, and shopping:
This is what the above sentences look like when they’re negative. Notice the use of the helping verb "do" to make the verb negative:
For more examples and an explanation for the verb "do" as a main verb, click here.
October 10, 2010
It’s a beautiful fall day here in the midwest. We’re experiencing a long stretch of Indian summer right now, so I’ve been outside a lot this weekend, trying to get some work done around my house before it gets too cold. Indian summer occurs after the first frost of the year. The sky is clear, blue, and very sunny. The air temperature remains in the 70s and 80s. It’s a really nice time of year, but we all know that winter is just around the corner.
Here’s a picture I took of an oak tree in my front yard. As you can see, it’s beginning to change color:
Soon all of the leaves will turn red and then they will drop to the ground.
This next picture is from a leaf pile. The leaves are dry and crunchy. I’m going to save these leaves for my gardens. They make a good mulch.
frost: temperatures drop below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit; 0 degrees Celsius)
just around the corner: soon; something that will happen within days or weeks.
crunchy: a loud, natural sound made by things that are dry, such as leaves.
mulch: ground covering; biodegradable additive for soil.
October 9, 2010
Here’s a new page for the prepositions section on the preposition beyond.
This is a new page for the Red level reading section.
October 8, 2010
The helping verb "do" is extremely important to understand in English. That’s why so many lessons in the Red Level include the verb "do." Red Level Lesson Five will help you practice making questions with this verb in the present tense.
One reason why "do" is so important is because it can be used as a helping verb and as a main verb. When a question is asked, it might be used twice. Here’s an example of that:
However, you can use "do" as a helping verb with almost any main verb except for the verb "be."
October 7, 2010
How good are you at using commands (the imperative form) in English? This quiz will help you find out.
If you don’t do well on the quiz, go to the next lesson in the Red Level.
October 6, 2010
Today’s lesson shows some differences between the present tense and the past tense. You only need to change the helping verb ("do," "does," or "did") when making questions or negatives:
Does she take the bus to school? (present tense)
Did she take the bus to school? (past tense)
She doesn’t take the bus to school. (present tense — negative)
She didn’t take the bus to school. (past tense — negative)
In the form of a question or when the verb is negative, only the helping verb changes. The main verb stays in the simple form. (Click here to learn about the simple form.)
After you finish the first three lessons in the Red Level (Lesson One, Lesson Two, Lesson Three), there are two quizzes you can take:
It’s a good idea if you take both quizzes at the same time. Remember, you have to write out your answers on a piece of paper, or you can print out the quizzes and write the answers directly into the blank spaces.
write out your answers =
October 5, 2010
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October 4, 2010
To understand the present tense and the past tense well, you’ll need to know how to use the verb "do" as a helping verb and as a main verb. Look at this question:
What do you do in the morning?
The first "do" is a helping verb. It helps to make the question. The second "do" is the main verb. It refers to the action. Now look at this sentence:
I wake up early and go to school.
This is the response to the question, "What do you do in the morning?" Notice that the verb "do" is not included in the answer; however, it is possible to use "do" as a main verb when describing cleaning, housework, studying, research, or shopping. Here’s an example:
I do my laundry in the morning.
In this sentence, "do" means "wash" or "clean." For other household activities, you can say, "I do the dishes," I do the cleaning," I do the vacuuming."
Start Red Level Lesson One today. It would also be a good idea for you to watch the video that was posted here yesterday.
October 3, 2010
Before we begin the Red Level tomorrow, it might be helpful for you to watch this new YouTube video. It shows how to use the simple form of the verb to make questions and sentences:
October 2, 2010
This week while teaching one of my classes, I noticed a few students were having trouble with the verb phrase "take care of." We use this phrase when caring for another person who needs help, usually a baby, a small child, or an elderly adult. You can also use "take care of" for a problem. This is what "take care of" looks like in the simple form, the past tense, and as a past participle:
You must include all three words including the preposition "of" when using "take care of."
In the present tense:
In the present continuous tense:
In the past tense:
In the future tense:
Used with "have to":
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How are you doing with the Blue Level Review? We’ll start Lesson One in the Red Level on Monday.
October 1, 2010
Did you study all of the Blue Level Lessons? If so, take this test (or call it a "review") and see how well you do. Eventually, each level will have a test/review at the end of it.
Did you miss the month of September? We studied…
Click here to go to September 2010