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United English es una escuela de inglés en Querétaro, México. Especializamos en la enseñanza de idiomas y inglés de negocios. Ofrecemos clases de inglés en nuestra escuela y en empresas. Aprender inglés con un horario flexible y maestros nativos.

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How to use punctuation in English - and a game to practice

Dave Cook

Before we begin: “.” is called a period in the United States and a full-stop in the UK. As I’m British, I’ll call it a full-stop.

Everyone, myself included, often stops at some point and tries to work out if they need a full-stop or a comma or, if they are feeling particularly brave, maybe even a semi-colon. Often, these decisions end up being made on the basis of intuition or gut-feeling and these aren’t always reliable. So I’m going to offer, what I hope is a quick and simple guide to correct punctuation.

What is a clause?

If we are going to understand how to punctuate, we need to know what a clause is. Once we understand this concept, punctuation is fairly simple - indeed, understanding all grammar, in any language, becomes much more straightforward. Fortunately, clauses are not complicated.

A clause contains a combination of a subject and a verb. That’s it. If you have a new subject, you’re in a new clause. Let’s look at some examples:

  • I want chocolate.

This is a very simple clause. It has the subject I and the verb want.

  • I want to eat chocolate.

This is very similar. However this time we have two verbs, want and eat. You may think that this means that there are two clauses, but there is no new subject with eat, so it’s not a new clause.

  • I think that he will come.

Here we have a slightly more complicated construction. Because there are two subjects I and he, we know that we have two clauses.

How about this example:

  • I want him to give me chocolate.

Now this is a little more complicated. In many languages, including Spanish, this would be treated as two separate clauses but if we notice him is not a subject, it’s an object pronoun. Without going into too much detail, if there is a to between the person and the action, it’s not a new clause. The example above is therefore just one single clause.

How to use a full-stop

The full-stop should be your default choice. Once a clause is finished, we use a full-stop unless there is a word to link it to the next clause. We will see some of these shortly.

It seems to be fairly intuitive when a clause is finished. I rarely see mistakes of this kind, however just to be sure, let’s see an example.

  • I know you will like him.

Here, we come to a new clause with you but, as this clause represents the thing that you know we don’t need a full-stop. We can’t finish the sentence until we know what know refers to. Once this verb is satisfied, we can finish the sentence, unless we add a linking word.

The most common mistake that I see - and I do see it a lot - is that people use commas where the should use full-stops. Rarely, if ever do I see mistakes with commas being missed out.

How to use a semicolon

Maybe your clause is over but you feel that the next thing that you want to write is very closely related and so they should be joined. My advice, if you are not confident, is to simply use a linking word and, but, moreover, however, or any other. If you feel adventurous a semicolon may also be an option, though.

  • I like my friends; they are good people.

We also use semicolons to separate lists of things that contain commas to avoid confusion. For example:

  • I brought my hat, which my mother gave me; my gloves, which I bought yesterday; and my brother’s scarf, which I stole.

The game

This has been a less-than-comprehensive guide on punctuation, which just focuses on the most common mistakes. Despite this, I hope that it has clarified the situation a little and here is a quick game to practice the points mentioned above:

React App


Why do children learn languages so easily? Why is it so hard for adults?

Dave Cook

Choose your language below to read this blog.
Elige un idioma abajo para leer el blog.

  • English
  • Español
Subtitles:
on
off

If you enojoyed this, take a look at our brand new resources page for articles, games and other language-learning help!

References

Cook, V.,1940- author (2017) Second language learning and language teaching / Vivian Cook, Fifth Edition. edn New York : Routledge, 2017]; ©2017

DeKeyser, R.M. (2000) 'The Robustness of Critical Period Effects in Second Language Acquisition', Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 22(4), pp. 499-533

Gardner, R.C. (1972) Attitudes and motivation in second-language learning / by Robert C. Gardner, Wallace E. Lambert, Rowley (Mass.): Newbury House Publishers.

Krashen, S., Long, M. and Scarcella, R. (1979) 'Age, Rate and Eventual Attainment in Second Language Acquisition', TESOL Quarterly, 13(4), pp. 573-582.

Lenneberg, E.H. (1967) Biological foundations of language / with appendices by Noam Chomsky and Otto Marx, New York ; London: Wiley.

Sachs, J., Bard, B., & Johnson, M. (1981). Language learning with restricted input: Case studies of two hearing children of deaf parents. Applied Psycholinguistics, 2(1), 33-54. doi:10.1017/S0142716400000643

¿Qué se te hizo difícil al aprender español? Subjuntivo parte 2

Dave Cook

Aquí volvemos al tema del subjuntivo en español. Un aspecto del idioma que nos confunde mucho a los hablantes de otros idiomas. Si todavía no lo has leído, échale un vistazo a la parte 1 de este blog.

Pasado del subjuntivo

Igual como el presente del subjuntivo, el pasado se usa después de ciertos verbos y conjuncciones. Estos son los mismos verbos que ocasionan el uso del presente del subjuntivo, solo en el pasado. ¡Fácil!

  • Quería que él fuera.

  • Vino para que lo viesemos juntos.

  • Me dijo que le ayudara.

Muchos verbos son irregulares (hubiera, tuviera, hiciera…) pero ya nos acostumbramos de eso con el subjuntivo del presente. Hasta aquí no hay gran problema.

Los problemas

2a condicional

Un tema que siempre asusta a los alumnos cuando surge en las clases de inglés es las condicionales. Pero yo propongo que no es el inglés que ocasiona la confusión, sino lo complicado que es formar estos frases en español. Veamos lo siguiente:

  • If I had $1 million, I would buy a Ferrari.

Estudiantes del inglés reconocerán esta estructura, el 2° condicional. Hay que recordar que consiste en dos partes, la parte que contiene el if se conjuga en el pasado simple y la otra parte con would y otro verbo. Imagino la cara confundida del lector de este blog ahorita pero veamos el caso del español…

  • Si tuviera $1 millón, me compraría un Ferrari.

Aquí vemos que aunque a primera vista se vean parecidos, hay una diferencia fundamental en como se forma esta condiciónal en español - tuviera. Ésto es el subjuntivo pasado y les cuesta mucho a los hispanohablantes formar el equivalente en inglés cuando la verdad es que en inglés es más sencillo, se usa el pasado.

3a condicional

Esto es uno de los puntos gramáticales más espeluznantes para un estudiante de inglés. Consideramos la siguiente frase:

  • If I had seen her, I would have told her.

¿¡Cuántos verbos auxiliares!? Admito que es complicado pero sostengo que el español sigue siendo más difícil. Muchos traducirían la frase así:

  • Si la hubiera visto, le hubiera dicho.

¡Aja! está pensando el lector astuto quien ha llegado a leer tanto de un blog sobre la gramática (si alguien lo hizo). ¡Esto es más fácil en español! Sólo hay que poner hubiera en ambos partes y ya.

Puede parecer más fácil a primera vista pero la realidad es más complicado. Los dos hubieras no son iguales… Sólo uno se puede cambiar por habría y uno se puede cambiar por hubiese:

  • Si la hubiese visto, le habría dicho.

¡El subjuntivo tiene varias formas! No basta aprender solo una conjugación, hay que estar consciente de varias - y son sutilmente diferentes.

Un consejo: si hubiera se puede cambiar por habría, se traduce en would have. Si se puede sustituir por hubiese, es had.

Must vs Have to

Dave Cook

When do we use have to and when do we use must? How about have got to? Or even gotta? Normally when we learn these two words, we are told that they mean the same thing - but is this really true? Let's investigate...

Must not vs Don't have to

It is true that must and have to mean similar things, however when we add a not the differences start to appear. Must not means that an action is prohibited, whereas don't have to means that something is not necessary. For example:

  • You must not eat in class.

  • You don't have to wear a uniform

Spoken and written English

 Instances per million words in the British National Corpus

Instances per million words in the British National Corpus

This graph represents how common have to, must, have got to and gotta are in a collection of examples of British English. We can very clearly see that have to is much more common in spoken English and must is more common in written language.

Collocates

Collocates are words which are commonly used together. If two words have the same meaning, you would expect them to be used alongside similar words. For must and have to this is true in most cases, but the few differences are interesting.

Have to

The following verbs appear with have to but not with must or have got to.

  • face

  • deal

  • rely

Farmers have to deal with all these challenges. 
Well, we all have to face the reality that coherence starts at home.
Students and professionals who have to rely on their pens. 
(Examples found on linguee.com)

These examples are all referring to general situations or obligations from external sources.

Have got to

The following verbs appear with have got to but not with must or have to.

  • watch

  • pick

  • sort


Look grandpa, you've got to watch her!
He has got to pick up the goods and the costs for the empty container return.
We've got to pick up Diana as well.
(Examples found on linguee.com and the British National Corpus)

In these examples, we can see that there is either a direct order or a more specific obligation than in the examples for have to.

Summary

In short, these words have very similar meanings, however there are some general differences to remember to use them more naturally:

must

  • Is much more commonly used in written language

  • Is more formal

have to

  • Is the most commonly used option

  • More frequent in spoken English

  • Can refer to obligation caused by external sources or situations

have got to

  • The have is almost always contracted (I've got to, She's got to etc)

  • Almost never found in written English

  • Refers to a direct order or a specific duty

-Dave Cook

Want to speak English effectively? Fan of video games? What do they have in common?

Chris Thompson

The answer? Focus and confidence. This great TED Talk by Marianna Pascal entitled 'Why you should speak English like you're playing a video game' explores the idea of language being a tool for communication rather than a subject you have to learn. Marianna says the focus has to be on effective communication rather than perfection.

'English is not an art to be mastered, it's just a tool to use to get a result.'

Check it out.

Class gallery

Chris Thompson

At United English, we pride ourselves on giving meaningful, interesting and dynamic classes to our students. We know that sometimes learning a new language can be tough, especially after a hard day's work at the office, so we try to make it as fun as possible for everyone (including the teachers)!

Here are two of our top teachers, Dani and Lisa, having a great time in class with their students.

Getting past the plateau

Chris Thompson

This post is for students who are finding it difficult to make the jump from Intermediate to the Advanced levels.

This is a very common problem in language learning, and is often referred to as the 'plateau'. It happens when a student progresses to a certain point but then has trouble making the jump to the next level. It can happen at many stages along your language learning journey, but it is most common at the intermediate level.

Check out this video from BBC Learning English for some helpful tips on how to push past the plateau and make it through to the advanced levels.

The best way to learn new vocabulary

Chris Thompson

Do you have trouble learning new vocabulary? Does it sometimes seem like it's just too much? Well, here is one top-tip that could really help you to start expanding your vocabulary bank. And this works in any language - not just English.

As explained in this article, the key is to focus on language 'chunks' or common phrases, and experiment with using them in different situations.

Why not try it out using the vocabulary from our new Telephone Language infographic? We're sure you'll start seeing the benefits soon!

 

The benefits of a bilingual brain

Chris Thompson

There are plenty of obvious benefits to learning a new language: better professional opportunities, being able to communicate when you travel, getting the opportunity to study abroad. But did you know that it can actually change how your brain works? Watch this video to find out some of the interesting benefits of being bilingual.

Student Satisfaction Survey Results 2017

Chris Thompson

We have now finished compiling the results of our most recent satisfaction survey.

We would like to thank all the students who took the time to complete the survey. This gives us invaluable feedback and helps us to keep improving our service.

Check out the results here. To download the PDF click on the button below.

New Teacher - Kirsten Greener

Chris Thompson

This year we welcomed our newest teacher, Kirsten Greener, to United English. In just a few short weeks Kirsten has already proven to be an invaluable member of the team, much liked by both students and teachers. Welcome Kirsten!

Kirsten pic.jpg

Kirsten says: “I joined United English at the beginning of January after teaching in Turkey, Italy and Vietnam. I’d always wanted to work in Mexico and, finally, the chance came at around Christmas time. I love the food, music, culture and the people - and my plan is to try and learn Spanish while I’m here.  I come from Newcastle in the northeast of England, a large city famous for its football team and for Greggs, a bakery with branches all over the UK.  I love teaching and studying language and, particularly, I love the process of working out how to best explain something in the classroom.  The best feeling is when you know a student has understood and can use what you’ve been trying to teach - you really can’t beat it!”

United English is very proud of our dedicated team of teachers and is delighted to welcome Kirsten into the fold. Thank you Kirsten for bringing your experience and passion to the school. A big welcome from us all!