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

‘Compared to’ instead of ‘rather than’

Cities offer larger salaries to people rather than small towns.

Here the comparison is between ‘salaries’ and ‘small towns’. The writer is saying that cities offer people large salaries and do not offer them small towns. Hmm. I would be quite happy if someone gave me a small town!

If we want to compare the salaries offered by cities with the salaries offered by small towns, then we need:

  • Cities offer larger salaries compared to small towns.
    (= salaries in cities vs. salaries in small towns)

And if you really must use rather than, then you could also write:

  • Cities offer larger salaries rather than smaller salaries.
    (= larger salaries vs. smaller salaries)

Most of the time instead of is synonymous with rather than:

  • Cities offer larger salaries instead of smaller salaries.

However, instead of is quite often a replacement for something that came before:

  • City companies now use electronic transfer instead of cash payment for salaries.

Next time make sure you’re comparing what you mean to compare!

Lost in translation


The sentences below demonstrate some common misuses of English.

A flag (Indonesian flag) at the end of an example indicates that meaning has become distorted or even lost in translation from Bahasa Indonesia to English.

Clicking on opens posts that describe these problems in detail. Many such posts include activities to practice correct language use.

Continue reading

Since I discovered present perfect

Since 2010, I am IT Specialist at Purwodadi Botanical Gardens.

Here we need to think about (1) meaning and (2) form.

1. Meaning

The word since means from a time in the past up to and including now.

2. Form

If you mean up to and including now then you need one of these:

How do I know I mean up to and including now?!

  1. You mean up to and including now if you use the word since followed by a time expression describing a past point in time.

Since 2010 I have been an IT specialist at Purwodadi Botanical Gardens.

  1. You mean up to and including now if you use the word ‘for’ followed by a time expression describing a period of time that began in the past and includes now.

For 8 years I have been an IT specialist at Purwodadi Botanical Gardens.

  1. You mean up to and including now if you don’t use a signal (since, for) and you don’t use a time expression, but you do imply past time up to and including now.

I have repaired many computers.

In example (3) you are using present perfect to assure us that NOW (in the present) you are an experienced computer repair person, and we can trust you! We don’t need to know exactly when you did the repairs, or exactly how many computers you repaired – we just want to make sure that you are experienced!

Wrong because of ‘because’

People in my office know me as a person who knows about computer because my background study.

In my experience students usually get this wrong because of because of!

When you use cause effect signals, you need to think about how each signal behaves with either a cause or an effect. Because ‘behaves’ as follows: Continue reading

Due to bad grammar!

This problem occurs due to people throw waste into the irrigation system.

Ok well it’s nice to use an alternative to because, but a change of cause effect signal can often mean a change of grammar.


The grammar for because is familiar to most people:

Prices increased because demand increased.

In this structure, Prices increased is an independent clause (= it can stand alone as a sentence), and demand increased is also an independent clause.

We could also think of this structure as:

because + cause sentence

Due to

The grammar for due to is slightly different:

Prices increased due to an increase in demand.

In this case Prices increased is an independent clause, while an increase in demand is a noun (or noun phrase).

Again, this structure could also be thought of as:

due to + cause noun

Because of

Indonesian flag A common error is to treat because of in the same way as because. For example it is incorrect to say:

Prices increased because of demand increased.

Because of follows the same structure as due to:

Prices increased because of an increase in demand.


So, let’s review these three cause effect signals:

  • Prices increased because demand increased. (because + cause sentence)
  • Prices increased because of an increase in demand. (because of + cause noun)
  • Prices increased due to an increase in demand. (due to + cause noun)

And if we apply these to our opening example then we get:

  • This problem occurs because people throw waste into the irrigation system.
  • This problem occurs because of the irresponsible behaviour of people who throw waste into the irrigation system.
  • This problem occurs due to the irresponsible behaviour of people who throw waste into the irrigation system.

Using a combination of these in your IELTS speaking and writing will help to increase your scores in all criteria.

Why do we hate grammar? Heading matching!

There has been much debate about how grammar should be taught and what age is the best age to study it. Before reading the text, consider these questions:

  • Did you study grammar in school, and if so, did you enjoy it?
  • How old were you when you first studied grammar?
  • Do you think that was a good age to start?
  • Is it better to study grammar separately from reading or just acquire it through listening and reading?

Now read the text and select suitable headings for each paragraph. Click ‘check your headings’ for feedback! If there are any ideas in the text that you agree or disagree with, add a comment and let’s discuss! Continue reading