writing


When I go out shopping on the weekend here in Korea I often see the following English signs at new businesses:

Grand Open! (WRONG!)

New Open! (WRONG!)

Renewal Open! (WRONG!)

Unfortunately, these signs are NOT standard English!  There is a reason you will not see these signs in the U. S.  They are not grammatical.  In all of these signs, “Open” is a verb.  The only time you see verbs on signs written in English is when the verb is a command, such as “STOP”, “YIELD”, or “WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS”. Most signs in the U.S. are nouns or adjectives.  The signs above should say:

Grand Open –> Grand Opening! [a noun – an event; this store is celebrating a grand opening]

New Open! –> Newly Opened! [adjective – what kind of store; this store is newly opened]

Renewal Open –> Grand Re-opening (after a store has remodeled) [a noun – an event; this store is celebrating a grand re-opening]

Here are a few other signs you might see:

Closed for Remodeling (the store is changing it’s layout)

We Have Moved to ________

Going Out of Business (the store is closing – this is a sign that everything in the store is on sale)

Several weeks ago, I talked about the difference between because and because of. Basically, because is a conjunction, while because of is a preposition.

He was late because his sister was sick. (conjunction connecting 2 clauses)

He was late because of his sister. (preposition with an object – only 1 clause)

The difference is clear. If you are connecting 2 clauses (complete sentences) together you should use because. If you are just adding an object, you should use the preposition because of.

However, some words in English, such as before and after, can be used as either a conjunction or a preposition:

After he ate dinner, he studied. (after used as a conjunction)

After dinner, he studied. (after used as a preposition)

He ate dinner before he went to the party. (before used as a conjunction)

He ate dinner before the party. (before used as a preposition)

These examples are also pretty clear. Many students become confused, though, when using a gerund (verb form +ing) after the preposition.

After eating dinner, he studied. (after used as a preposition with gerund as object)

He ate dinner before going to the party. (before used as a preposition with gerund as object)

When using before or after as a conjunction, the subject must be repeated. (A conjunction connects 2 clauses.) When using before or after as a preposition with a gerund, the subject should not be repeated. (The gerund phrase modifies the existing subject.)

I was tired after I drove all day. (conjunction – subject is repeated)

I was tired after driving all day. (preposition- no subject in gerund phrase)

Before the team got on the bus, they had lunch together. (conjunction – subject repeated)

Before getting on the bus, the team had lunch together. (preposition – no subject in gerund phrase)

Don’t make this mistake.  Be careful not to repeat the subject when using a gerund phrase.

Because is a conjunction which connects 2 sentences. (Every sentence must have a subject and a verb.)

Because of is a phrasal preposition. A preposition should always be followed by a noun only (not a verb).

The picnic was canceled because it was raining. (“it was raining” is a sentence.)

The picnic was canceled because of the rain. (“rain” is a noun)

In the first sentence, “rain” is being used as a verb. In the second sentence, “rain” is used as a noun.

Because there was traffic, he was late to the party. (“there was traffic” is a sentence.)

Because of the traffic, he was late to the party. (“traffic” is a noun)

In the first sentence, “there was” is added to “traffic” to make a sentence. In the second sentence, only the noun, traffic, is needed.

He couldn’t sleep because the baby was crying. (“the baby was crying” is a sentence)

He couldn’t sleep because of the crying baby. (“baby” is a noun)

In the first sentence, “baby” is the subject and “was crying” is the verb. In the second sentence, “crying” is an adjective modifying the noun “baby.” (“Crying” is a present participle.) There is no verb.

1) Especially is an adverb which usually means “particularly.” (If you need an adjective, use “special” instead.)

I felt especially after the party. (WRONG!)

I felt special after the party. (CORRECT)

2) You cannot start a sentence with especially.

Especially I like chocolate. (WRONG!)

I especially like chocolate. (CORRECT)

3) Especially is often used to introduce an example (don’t forget the commas).

Many Asian students, especially Koreans, study English.

I like superhero movies, especially “Spiderman” and “Batman.”

I’ll post on the proper use of “specially” in the next day or two.

Usually when you use “and” with “to be” you need to use the plural form of the verb, such as:

A dog and a cat are outside.

However, when you use “There” with “and” after the verb this is not always true.

There were two dogs and cats outside. (correct)

There was a dog and a cat outside. (also correct)

The reason for this (as I noted in an earlier post) is that the second sentence is short for:

There was a cat outside, and there was a dog outside.

The answer to this problem is that you need to look at the first noun of the subject. If this noun is plural, the verb should be plural and vice versa. This also applies to subjects connected by “or”:

There is a fly and some mosquitoes in the room. (fly is singular)

There are some mosquitoes and a fly in the room. (mosquitoes is plural)

There is a pen or two pencils in the drawer. (pen is singular)

There are two pencils or a pen in the drawer. (pencils is plural)

Many ESL writers make a common mistake when using and and not together in a sentence.

The following sentence is correct:

I don’t like apples, and I don’t like bananas.

However, if you combine the subject and verbs to make one sentence it should read:

I don’t like apples or bananas. NOT I don’t like apples and bananas.

Here’s another example:

I don’t eat meat, and I don’t drink alcohol.

If you combine the sentences (this time only the subject is shared), you should get:

I don’t eat meat or drink alcohol. NOT I don’t eat meat and drink alcohol.

This is actually not so much a grammar mistake as it is a logic mistake. There is a difference between “I don’t like peanut butter AND jelly” and “I don’t like peanut butter OR jelly.” The first sentence means you don’t like peanut butter TOGETHER WITH jelly (though you may like peanut butter or jelly separately). The second sentence means you like NEITHER peanut butter NOR jelly.

Finally, if there is no NOT in the sentences you are combining, do not change AND to OR:

I eat meat, and I drink alcohol = I eat meat and drink alcohol

To read more about the logic of AND, OR, and NOT click here.

There was some confusion in my Business English class this morning. We are talking about resumes and job interviews. Last week I told my students they didn’t need to submit a cover letter this week – but I do want them to submit a cover sheet on all their assignments. Next week, I’m collecting cover letters with a cover sheet on top. So, what’s the difference?

A cover letter has to do with getting a job. It is the formal letter you write to a prospective employer telling the company why you are qualified for a job. It’s probably called a cover letter because it almost always comes on top of your resume. Your resume is a general description of your academic and employment history. Your cover letter should be written to a specific person for a specific job.

A cover sheet has to do with reports (business or academic). It just refers to the first page of a report, which usually contains the title, name, date, etc.