One family

I have one wife, one child, one cat and one dog.

In the IELTS speaking test candidates often mention their families when talking about their homes. Sometimes they do this to justify only having a small home, or maybe they want to explain why they chose live in a particular area.

But in any situation when you offer information about your family, your listener will make certain assumptions, in particular about numbers, and if the number is one then this is often best communicated without using the word ‘one’. Continue reading

Articles and sentient animals

New Zealand now recognises all animals as sentient beings!

Discuss with a friend.. If animals are sentient beings (they can think and feel pretty much like humans can), how does this affect our attitude to:

  • animals as food
  • scientific experimentation involving animals (vivisection)
  • animals in sport and entertainment

After your discussion, read the following text and select articles as appropriate. Continue reading

When? Where? What?

Today I challenge you to make some predictions based on a text and at the same time supply suitable articles! (Rules for selcting articles or ‘s’ here)

I’ll post the answers to the following questions tomorrow. Meanwhile, if you think you already know the answers, write them in a comment below this post!

  1. When (approximately) did these events take place?
  2. Where (in the world) is the place referred to in the text?
  3. What kind of music, specifically, is referred to?

Continue reading

Sustainable articles

There was confusion in class recently about the meaning of ‘sustainability’, so let’s take a few minutes out to get our heads around this extremely important social issue. Below is the opening of the Wikipedia entry on sustainability. Find out what sustainablity actually is and at the same time practice using articles!

A related practice activity focusing on the effects of plastic on the environment can be found here. And if you need ideas about how to choose articles to go with nouns, read this.

As usual, if you think an article isn’t needed, just leave the drop-down menu blank! Continue reading

Plastic articles

Just as plastic causes problems for our planet, articles cause all kinds of problems for students of English, especially when their first language doesn’t really have them (Indonesian!).

In a more recent practice activity the focus is on sustainable development and how that relates to the envirnoment. Meanwhile if you’re not sure about how to use articles in English (a, an, the), read this first, and then try the activity below!

In addition to the instruction given, if no article is suitable then don’t make a selection. Good luck! Continue reading

Articles and/or ‘s’

[alert type=”danger” dismissable=”true”] WARNING to lazy students! This post includes tricky grammar rules and there’s a challenging practice activity for you to try at the end![/alert]

Articles and nouns

For every noun you speak or write, you need to use grammar to communicate one of the meanings in the ‘meaning’ column in the table below. Continue reading

Followed by medias!

I agree that famous people should be followed by medias.

This sounds like an alien race called ‘The Medias’ have arrived on earth intent on following famous people. I think this is what you meant:

  • I agree that famous people should be followed by the media.

Media‘ is one of those words that always has ‘the‘ when it is used as a noun meaning TV, Radio, newspapers, etc. – combined!

On the other hand if you’re talking about the materials used to make a work of art, then that’s a different ‘media‘!

  • This latest exhibition features work using mixed media.

‘Media’ can be countable or uncountable. In its singular form it is ‘medium‘, and in its plural form ‘media‘. We never write or say medias.

‘One of’ or ‘a’?

Euthanasia may be one of ways to deliver health resources fairly to people who still want to live.

Indonesian flag This is a direct translation from Bahasa Indonesia: ‘salah satu‘.

For every noun in English it is important to communicate one of three meanings:

In the opening example the writer communicated successfully. However, the sentence is gramatically incorrect. If you really must use ‘one of‘ then you need more grammar:

  • Euthanasia may be one of several ways to deliver.. (‘several’ behaves like ‘many’)
  • Euthanasia may be one of the best ways to deliver.. (‘one of’ + the + superlative adjective + plural count noun)

You can see how easy it can be to introduce grammatical error, or to choose the wrong word to follow ‘one of’! A much easier and far more common way to communicate ‘one of many’ is using the indefinite article ‘a‘ (or ‘an‘) – NOT ‘one of‘.

Want to communicate one of manyUse the indefinite article:

  • Euthanasia may be a way to deliver health resources fairly to people who still want to live.

For more examples of article use, click the articles tag.

Society and community revisited

Space exploration does not improve conditions in the society.

Recently in class we were discussing the difference between society and community and it occurred to me that this might be an opportunity to contrast society and the society (see also previous post).

As you may be aware, there are so-called ‘uncontacted peoples‘ living in forests in different parts of the world. These people form communities whose social structures are very different from those found in modern society. This is because uncontacted peoples – for whatever reason – are cut off from the rest of society.

In this case, society (uncountable, without the) refers to all of humanity. Meanwhile community (here countable) refers to a group having shared values, interests and lifestyle. Academics sometimes identify uncontacted peoples as primitive societies (plural countable), where each society can be counted as a separate group having unique social characteristics. Note, however, that the countable use of society tends to be restricted to the fields of anthropology, sociology, and other social sciences.

If we wish to talk about society (uncountable, without the) to mean all of humanity, then our opening sentence should probably read:

  • Space exploration does not improve conditions in society.

Indonesian flag A common error made by Indonesian students is to write the society (a particular group) when you really mean society (all of humanity).

For further analysis of society and the society try here.

When is a school not a school?

I have also been a teacher in one of high schools in Padang.

Indonesian flag This is a common mistake made by Indonesians desperate to translate ‘salah satu‘ or maybe ‘sebuah‘.

In English, when we want to communicate one of many, we use the indefinite article ‘a/an‘:

  • I have also been a teacher at a high school in Padang.

This is sometimes called generic reference. The school in the example is not a particular school – we don’t yet know the name of the school, its address, etc. So far we’re just imagining a typical school. The image of the school in the writer’s mind will not be exactly the same as the image of the school in the reader’s mind, and that doesn’t matter.

I might use ‘one of‘ if I’m introducing more specific information about ‘a‘ school. For example:

  • There are many schools in Padang. One of them is close to my house.
    (information about the location of the school)
  • Only one of the schools in Padang offers an international curriculum.
    (information about the curriculum of the school)
  • I studied at one of the best schools in Padang.
    (information about the quality of the school)

Notice also that ‘one of‘ is followed by certain words, in particular:

  • the / them (pronouns)
  • these / those (demonstratives)
  • my/his/their (possessives)
  • superlative adjectives

For more examples, click here.

As a general rule – if you’re talking generally (generically!), use ‘a/an‘ for countable nouns. For uncountable nouns use ‘some‘.