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Welcome to EnglishClub Writing for ESL learners, to help you learn the skill of writing in English.
English Spelling Rules
Writing (and therefore spelling) is a representation of the spoken word. The spoken word is not a representation of writing. Because accents and pronunciation can change easily and quite quickly, whereas what is written in books and dictionaries remains "fixed" for years, as well as for various historical reasons, there is often little correspondence between spoken English (pronunciation) and written English (spelling). English spelling therefore often appears to be totally illogical. The following rules can help you to decode the mysteries of English spelling. But remember, even the best rules have their exceptions. Adding -er/est We make the comparative or superlative forms of short adjectives by adding -er or -est. Spelling Rule Just add -er or -est to the end of the adjective, for example: quick > quicker > quickest great > greater > greatest full > fuller > fullest
Exceptions If the adjective ends in: consonant + -y consonant + -e consonant + vowel + consonant do this: change the -y to an -i remove the -e double the last letter and add: -er -est For example: happy > happier > happiest late > later > latest hot > hotter > hottest
Note: adjectives ending in -l are regular, except: cruel > crueller > cruellest
Often we need to add -ing or -ed to a verb to make other forms of the verb, for example: I was talking when John arrived. Spelling Rule Just add -ing or -ed to the end of the base verb:
work > working > worked play > playing > played open > opening > opened
Exceptions If the base verb ends in: consonant + vowel + consonant and a stressed syllable do this: double the final consonant and add: -ing -ed For example: stop > stopping > stopped begin > beginning tap > tapping > tapped But, for example: open > opening > opened (because no stress on last syllable of open) consonant + -e remove the -e -ing -ed phone > phoning > phoned dance > dancing > danced make > making rake > raking > raked dye > dying > dyed lie > lying die > dying lie > lied die > died
change the -ie to -y nothing
We often make an adverb by adding -ly to an adjective, for example: quick > quickly. Spelling Rule Just add -ly to the end of the adjective:
coy > coyly loud > loudly beautiful > beautifully senseless > senselessly intelligent > intelligently
Exceptions If the adjective ends in: -ll consonant + -le -y (except 1-syllable adjectives) do this: nothing remove the final -e remove the -y and add: -y -y -ily For example: full > fully terrible > terribly happy > happily
Note: 1-syllable adjectives ending in -y are regular, except: day > daily gay > gaily
We add -s to words for two reasons: 1. to make plural nouns (boy > boys) 2. to form the 3rd person singular of the present simple tense (I work > you work > he works) Spelling Rule Just add -s to the end of the word, for example:
dog > dogs play > plays demand > demands
If the word ends in: -ch -s -sh -x -z -f -fe
do this: nothing
and add: -es
For example: church > churches mass > masses brush > brushes fax > faxes box > boxes chintz > chintzes wife > wives calf > calves except: beliefs, chiefs, dwarfs, griefs, gulfs, proofs, roofs
remove the -f or -fe
consonant + -y
remove the -y
spy > spies baby > babies
Note: words that end in -o normally just add s, except: buffalo > buffaloes cargoes (or cargos) domino > dominoes echo > echoes go > goes grotto > grottoes halo > haloes hero > heroes mango > mangoes mosquito > mosquitoes motto > mottoes (or mottos) potato > potatoes tomato > tomatoes tornado > tornadoes torpedo > torpedoes veto > vetoes volcano > volcanoes
-ible or -able
Many words end in -ible and -able. Sometimes it is difficult to remember which spelling to use. The -ible ending is for words of Latin origin. There are about 180 words ending in -ible. No new words are being created with -ible endings. Here are the most common examples:
accessible admissible audible collapsible combustible compatible comprehensible contemptible credible defensible destructible digestible divisible edible fallible
flexible gullible horrible illegible implausible inaccessible incontrovertible incredible indefensible indelible inedible insensible intelligible invincible invisible
illegible irresistible irreversible ostensible permissible plausible possible responsible reversible sensible susceptible suggestible tangible terrible visible
The -able ending is for:
some Latin words, for example: dependable non-Latin words, for example: affordable, renewable, washable new (modern) words, for example: networkable, windsurfable
Rule of thumb This rule can help you decide the correct spelling. It works most (but not all!) of the time. Remember, if you are not sure about a word, it is probably best to use a dictionary. Here is the rule:
If you remove -able from a word, you are left with a complete word. If you remove -ible from a word, you are not left with a complete word (note that accessible,contemptible, digestible, flexible and suggestible a bove are among the exceptions to this rule).
-ie- or -eiSometimes it is difficult to remember whether a word is spelled with -ieor -ei-. There is a very simple rule about this: I before E except after C or when sounding like AY as in neighbour and weigh
Rule I before E except after C or when sounding like AY
Examples achieve, believe, brief, chief, friend, grief, hygiene, patience, pierce, priest, thief ceiling, conceit, conceive, deceit, deceive, perceive, receipt, receive beige, feint, freight, inveigle, neighbour, sleigh, vein, weigh, weight
Here are some common exceptions to the above rule:
either, neither, caffeine, codeine, counterfeit, foreign, forfeit, height, leisure, protein, their, weird, seize, seizure
English and American English Spelling
Here are the principal differences in spelling between English and American English. English Final -l is always doubled after one vowel in stressed and unstressed syllables in English but usually only in stressed syllables in American English, for example: Some words end in -tre in English and ter in American English, for example: Some words end in -ogue in English and og in American English, for example: Some words end in -our in English and or in American English, for example: Some verbs end in -ize or -ise in English but only in -ize in American English, for example: rebel > rebelled travel > travelled American English rebel > rebelled travel > traveled
centre theatre analogue catalogue colour labour realise, realize harmonise, harmonize
center theater analog catalog color labor realize harmonize
English all right analyse American English all right, alright (disputed) analyze
centre cheque colour counsellor criticise, criticize defence doughnut favour fibre flavour fulfil grey honour humour jewellery judgement, judgment kerb labour license, licence (verb) licence (noun) litre
center check color counselor criticize defense donut favor fiber flavor fulfill gray honor humor jewellery, jewelry judgment curb labor license (verb) license (noun) liter
metre mould neighbour offence practise (verb) practice (noun) pretence
meter mold neighbor offense practice (verb) practice (noun) pretense
programme (plan, concert etc) program program (computer software) program pyjamas realise, realize savour speciality theatre travelled travelling tyre valour pajamas realize savor specialty theater travelled, traveled travelling, traveling tire valor
Six Common Mistakes In ESL Writing And How To Avoid Them
Mistake #1: Switching tenses unnecessarily
One of the more common problems seen in ESL writing is unnecessary switching between past, present and future tenses. Changing between verb tenses within a sentence can make it difficult for the reader to follow a piece of writing and should be avoided. An exception to this is when a time change must be shown. To ensure that you avoid this problem, keep the following in mind:
In general, establish a primary tense and remain consistent with it at the sentence, paragraph and overall work level Only change tenses when it is appropriate, e.g. when there is a time shift that must be shown Reread your writing and consider what overall timeframe it is in past, present or future Pay close attention to your verbs and notice the tense they are in
Practical tip: Review EnglishClub’s verb tenses exercises to brush up on your knowledge.
Mistake #2: Excessively long paragraphs
While there is no set rule for the number of sentences a paragraph should contain, it is possible to have paragraphs that are too long. Excessively long paragraphs are one of the more common problems seen in ESL writing. The problem can easily be avoided if you adopt a conscious attitude towards it. Practical tip: As a rule of thumb, two to five paragraphs per A4 page works well (assuming single line spacing). Also, try to keep each paragraph to a single main idea or topic.
Mistake #3: Inconsistency in spelling style (UK/US English)
The subtle spelling differences between British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) spelling can be difficult for ESL writers to spot. It is important, however, that you write in the appropriate spelling style for your audience and that you remain consistent. A common issue found in ESL writing is for the author to interchange between UK and US English spelling, i.e. they spell some words in the
British form and others in the American. The most frequent instances are:
-our (BrE) and -or (AmE) as in "colour" and "color" -ise (BrE) and -ize (AmE) as in "organise" and "organize"
Practical tip: this issue can easily be solved by ensuring that you have MS Word's spellcheck on the appropriate spelling setting.
Mistake #4: Writing in the first-person in academic contexts
Writing in the first-person in an academic context can make a piece of writing read as informal, subjective and biased; it is a major no-no in the context of academic writing. It is an established convention that academic writing should be done in the third-person, and breaking this rule will cost you precious marks. First-person (the incorrect way): "I would argue that Smith’s (1992) research was biased as he was personally invested in the positive outcome of the results." Third-person (correct way): "It can be argued that Smith’s (1992) research was biased as he was personally invested in the positive outcome of the results." Practical tip: to ensure that you are writing in the third-person, avoid making personal statements and using personal pronouns such as "I/me/my" etc.
Mistake #5: Incorrect capitalization
The rules of capitalization in English may seem confusing, especially to non-native speakers. Issues with incorrect or missing capitals in ESL writing are regularly seen. Stick to these basic rules:
Always capitalize "I" Capitalize proper nouns, which include names of people, places and organizations Do not capitalize common nouns (for example: car, pen, school) Always capitalize the first letter of a new sentence Capitalize weekdays, holidays and months of the year
Here is an example of these bad capitalization issues (in order 1-5):
"This year i will be going to london to study at University. my visa application still has to be accepted but i have been told to expect it to arrive in january." The correct capitalization would be: "This year I will be going to London to study at university. My visa application still has to be accepted but I have been told to expect it to arrive in January." Practical tip: be conscious of the differences between proper nouns and common nouns as these represent the most common capitalization issues amongst ESL writers. For example, "car/truck/lorry/van" are common nouns, while "BMW/Mercedes/Ford/Toyota" are proper nouns.
Mistake #6: Incorrect use of articles
The improper use of definite (the) and indefinite (a/an) articles is a common problem for ESL writers. The best method for avoiding this issue in a sentence is to first consider whether it contains a countable or uncountable noun. Countable nouns have both a singular and plural form and may be preceded by an article, e.g. "a banana". Uncountable nouns have only a singular form and should not have an indefinite article, e.g. "a/an rice". Generally, "a" precedes words starting with a consonant, while "an" should appear before words that begin with a vowel. There are exceptions to this, however. Words that begin with a silent "h" should be preceded by "an", e.g. "it would be an honour". The definite article "the" should be used in front of singular and plural nouns and adjectives when referring to something that both the author and reader are familiar with. "A dog" is in reference to a single unspecified dog, while "the dog" refers to a particular dog. Practical tip: there are no short-cuts to proper article usage. Keep practising using articles in your writing and look for feedback from friends, teachers or through the EnglishClub forums.
sentence (noun): a group of words that expresses a thought and is complete in itself (starting with a capital letter and ending with a full stop or question/exclamation mark) variety (noun): the quality of being different; not having uniformity or sameness Do you read your sentences out loud after you write them? It is a good idea to do this. Writing that reads easily and sounds conversational is easier to understand. When we talk, we vary the length of our sentences. Some of our sentences are long and exciting and seem to go on forever until it is time for us to finally stop and take a breath. Some are short and sweet. A wise English poet once said, "Variety is the spice of life." Remember this advice as you write your stories, essays and letters.
How to add Sentence Variety
There are a number of ways to add variety to your writing. Imagine yourself cutting up a sentence into individual words and placing them in a paper bag. Now shake it up! Did you do a little dance? Great. Now lay out your sentence and experiment. Can you make two sentences out of one? Can you put your sentence back to front? Try turning your sentence into a question. Or, if you think your sentence is too short, you may want to add another sentence to it. If you have a really important point, perhaps a famous person has said something similar. In other words, there may be a quote you can use to strengthen your writing.
Before we look at sentence variety, let's review the 4 main types of simple sentences. Simple sentences contain one clause.: 1. Declarative sentence (most common): The sky is blue. 2. Interrogative sentence: Why is the sky blue? 3. Exclamatory sentence: The sky is blue now! (It was black just a minute ago.) 4. Imperative sentence: Don't go outside! (It's pouring rain.) More advanced types of sentences are "compound" (combining two sentences with a conjunction) and "complex" (using at least one dependent clause and one independent clause). To create these sentences you need to know how to use conjunctions, adverbial phrases, prespositional phrases, conditionals and noun phrases. Simple sentences: The boy wanted to go outside. He had to eat his pizza first.
Compound: The boy wanted to go outside but he had to eat his pizza first. Complex: Although the boy wanted to go outside, he had to eat his pizza first.
The most common sentence pattern that writers use is sentence-verbobject (SVO). This is how beginners write. For example:
The boy ate pizza. I play soccer. Homework is boring.
There are many ways to rewrite SVO sentences. Let's play with this sentence:
The boy ate pizza.
1. Turn it into a question: Do you know what the boy ate? Pizza. 2. Turn it into a passive sentence: The pizza was devoured by the boy. (You could use "eaten" but here "devoured" gives a better reason for placing the pizza first.) 3. Turn it into an exclamatory sentence: The boy ate pizza again! 4. Combine it with your next sentence: The boy wolfed down the pizza and then ran outside to play. 5. Use a transitional phrase: Even though the boy ate the pizza, you could tell that he wanted to be outside playing. 6. Start with a participle: Eating the pizza, the boy watched his friends playing outside. 7. Place modifiers in different places: The pizza, which was a huge pepperoni slice, was devoured by the boy. Wolfing down his pizza, the boy barely noticed the pepperoni on it. The boy ate the large pepperoni pizza as quickly as possible. Although he wanted to keep playing, the boy rushed in and wolfed down his pizza lunch. As fast as he could, the boy ate the pizza.
Avoid using sentences that are all the same length. Short sentences are powerful. Combine short sentences with long sentences to make your writing flow more naturally. Your most important sentences should be clear and concise. Keep them short. Descriptive sentences can have more length, but you should read them out loud to make sure that they flow naturally. Example of a paragraph with poor sentence length: The boy's mother called him inside for dinner. The boy ate his pizza. He was very hungry. He didn't want to eat, though. He wanted to play outside with his friends. Example fix: The boy's mother called him inside for dinner. It was pizza. Even though the boy was hungry and pizza was his favourite meal, he wanted to stay outside and play. He wolfed the pizza down and ran back outside. Note: Occasionally writers start three or more sentences in a row with the same word. This is a stylistic trick used for emphasis, for example:
It was hot. It was humid. It was the last day of summer.
Sentence Variety: Writing Challenge:
How many ways can you rewrite, expand, reorder, reword these ten boring sentences? 1. The sky is blue. Example: Blue skies like these make my day. There isn't a cloud in the sky. It's a clear day. You won't get a finer day than today. The sky is as blue as the sea. Have you ever seen such a blue sky? What a fine day! 2. I am sick. 3. I have school tomorrow. 4. My room is small. 5. Andrea is busy. 6. There's nothing to do. 7. It's cold in this house. 8. I don't want to be late. 9. I'm hungry. 10. It's Wednesday.
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