Tagged: grammar

You could use ‘can’, or not!

­čśŽ This could be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.

This is possible in some languages but not in English. In English if something happens the same way, all the time, predictably, without variation, then there isn’t really any question of probability (‘could’). For regular, predictable phenomena use good old present simple tense without modals:

  • This is achieved┬áusing gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.

Only use modals for unpredictable or uncertain situations, and then think about the degree of predictability or certainty:

  • This could be achieved┬áusing gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level, but there are other, better methods. (Gravity perhaps not the best method)
  • In most situations this can be achieved┬áusing gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level. (Gravity usually the best method)

flag-of-indonesia Notice that could implies a more negative evaluation than can. Indonesians should think carefully about this distinction as they tend to over-use could, having been taught in school that could is more formal than can. Well, yes it is, but only in offers and requests:

  • Can you pass the salt? (informal)
  • Could you pass the salt, please?┬á(formal)
  • Excuse me. Would you mind passing the salt?┬á(very formal)
  • etc.






‘One of’ or ‘a’?

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

flag-of-indonesia 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:

­čÖé 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.


It is called as ‘bad grammar’

­čśŽ People call this as the ‘big data era’.

flag-of-indonesia In Bahasa Indonesia disebut (called) collocates strongly with sebagai (as). Not so in English. Indeed, sebagai is often redundant in English, except when it collocates with certain verbs.

The correct options here are:

  1. People call this the ‘big data era’. (active┬ácall without┬áas)
  2. This era is called the ‘big data era’. (passive┬ácall without┬áas)
  3. This era is known as the ‘big data era’. (passive┬áknow with┬áas)

Most native speakers would probably use number 1, except when the term being introduced is somehow scientific:

Liquids tend to travel quickly along very narrow spaces. This phenomenon is known as capillary attraction.

Be careful. If you want to use┬áknown as then you need to begin with some of the defining characteristics of the ‘known’ phenomenon:

Recently data┬áhas become so┬ácomplex that traditional┬ádata┬áprocessing application software is inadequate to deal with it. This data is now known as ‘big data’.

flag-of-indonesia Indonesians.. Once again, be careful with sebagai! It collocates differently in English.


Ask the menu!

menu couple 450

Non-native speakers having dinner!

flag-of-indonesia┬áThis is a common mistake made by Indonesians translating ‘tanya’ instead of ‘minta’.

The options in English are (take a deep breath!):

  1. I’ll ask the waiter. (ask someone)
  2. I’ll ask the waiter to bring us the menu. (ask someone to do something)
  3. I’ll ask the waiter about the menu. (ask someone about something/someone)
  4. I’ll ask the waiter for the menu. (ask someone for something)
  5. I’ll ask for the menu. (ask for something/someone)

Most native speakers would probably use Number 5.

Notice that ask something is not in this list. The picture below shows what might happen if you ask the menu!

menu talk 300

Most menus cannot answer questions!

flag-of-indonesia┬áPossibly there are different ways to translate the correct forms into Indonesian. I know that I’m never confident when using┬átanya and┬áminta┬áin Indonesian. If you have any suggestions, please share in the comments box below!



´╗┐Blah changed, resulting in blah!

­čśŽ Sales increased dramatically reached 2,000 in July.

So, this is obviously bad grammar because there are 2 verbs in the same clause: increased and reached. There are three possible corrections:

1. Separate sentences

The easiest solution would be to put verbs increased and reached into separate sentences:

­čÖé Sales increased dramatically. They reached 2,000 in July.

2. Conjunction

Another approach would be to use┬ácomma + conjunction (‘and’) to join two clauses together:

­čÖé Sales increased dramatically, and reached 2,000 in July.

3. Comma + __ing

A third solution is to use comma + ___ing.

­čÖé Sales increased dramatically,┬áreaching 2,000 in July.

This last example is little used by lower level IELTS candidates but very common in native speaker speaking and writing, particularly when describing statistical changes over time. It’s especially useful when you want to include the result of a series of changes:

Sales increased dramatically but then remained steady, finishing at 10,000 at the end of the period.

Ultimately you want to aim for variety in your grammar, and so aim to use a mix of all three structures in your writing.

Fancy a challenge?

Take a look at the highlighted area of the graph below. Can you describe what’s happening using the three structures that I have demonstrated? Answers in the comments box below!

comma __ing exercise



Parallel structures and IELTS

­čśŽ Modern art and music can cause conflicts in existing cultural values and can cause misinterpretation or even losing their originality in cultural identity.

If you want to pack a list of items into one sentence, then these items need to be ‘parallel’. What do I mean by┬áitems and what┬ádo I mean by parallel?

  • Items are usually noun phrases or verb phrases, although they are sometimes preposition phrases.
  • Parallel means that all of the items are the same type – all nouns, all verb phrases, etc.

Parallel nouns

Our opening example could be written using noun phrases only:

­čÖé Modern art and music can cause conflicts in existing cultural values, misinterpretation, or even loss of originality in cultural identity.

..in which we have one verb – cause – and three nouns separated by commas:

  • conflicts in existing cultural values
  • misinterpretation
  • loss of originality in cultural identity

(Notice that the final noun is preceded by or even as a substitute for and.)

Parallel verbs

Alternatively the sentence could be written using verb phrases only, again separated by commas:

­čÖé Modern art and music can cause conflicts in existing cultural values, lead to ┬ámisinterpretation, or even result in loss of originality in cultural identity.

Parallelism and IELTS

Accurate parallel structures can help to increase your IELTS score for GRA (they’re ‘structural’), LR (noun phrases are probably the most common item), and CC (non-parallel structures are difficult to understand).

Ha! There – I just used a parallel structure built from nouns (GRA, LR, CC)!