A Quick Reference Guide for Relative Clauses

What are the basics?

We know that relative clauses modify nouns. This explains why they are sometimes called adjective clauses. Unlike adjectives, relative clauses come after the noun they modify.

Courtesy of blog.powerscore.com

Courtesy of blog.powerscore.com

What kinds are there?

Relative clauses can be either restrictive or nonrestrictive. Some people use other words to classify them, but they have the same meaning. Restrictive clauses identify the noun that is being modified. Nonrestrictive clauses simply add information about the noun. Notice the difference here.

  • The boy who had his birthday party here was sick.
  • The boy, who is ten years old, is sick.

What about the pronouns?

There is a set of pronouns that is usually used with relative clauses. These are called relative pronouns. The most common relative pronouns are that, who, and which. Sometimes the pronoun can be omitted altogether.

When do we use these pronouns?

The most commonly used relative pronoun is that. It can be used with people or things. For people we can also use who or whom. Who is used for subjects and whom is used for objects. Many people use who for both. Which is used with things.

Do I have to use a relative pronoun?

No, sometimes it is possible to omit the relative pronoun. When the relative clause is for an object, the relative pronoun can be omitted. They cannot usually be omitted when the relative clause is for the subject.

These are some basic questions and answers about relative clauses. In our Grammar and Writing level 4 class, we go in to more detail about these clauses. If you are up for a challenge, try to find out what information I have left out. You can bring it to class or post it online.

Kody, Level 4 Writing Instructor

Kody, Level 4 Writing Instructor


The Importance of a Clear Reference—Spring Break Edition


Robin, Level 3 Grammar and Writing Instructor

Robin, Level 3 Grammar and Writing Instructor

Hello Grammar and Writing students! Spring Break is coming up and I know that many groups of students have fun plans for the break. Some of the younger students plan to go to the beach, another group of hard workers will stay home and study during the break, and still others plan to return home and visit their families. I think that they will have the most fun.

Uh oh. You may have noticed that my last pronoun—they—was not very clear. In the last sentence, who is “they”? It’s difficult to figure out, because I am writing about three different groups of students—it could be any group, right? It is absolutely essential, then, to make sure your pronoun references are clear.

pronoun reference

The subject of my paragraph was “students.” Writers will often repeat the subject of a composition by using pronouns, synonyms, or idioms. To refer to students, I used students, groups, younger students, hard workers, others, their, and they. Did you notice that I used so many different words to refer to the same people? Writers do this commonly—it’s good writing!


Fixing the problem in the first paragraph is easy. We just need to be clear about who will have the most fun. Will the hard-working students have a lot of fun? Maybe, but that’s doubtful. Will the students visiting families have a lot of fun? Very possible, but that’s probably not their goal. Since we know that people have fun at the beach, we need to think of a pronoun, synonym, or idiom to describe this group.

A pronoun, as we have seen, wouldn’t work very well. Idioms are a challenge to use, and might not fit well in a paragraph meant for other ESL students (but, just so you know, a really good idiom for this situation is “beach bums.”). So what’s a synonym for “students who go to the beach”? It takes some thinking, but beach-goers works pretty well. So, let’s revise the paragraph:

“Hello Grammar and Writing students! Spring Break is coming up and I know that many groups of students have fun plans for the break. Some of the younger students plan to go to the beach, another group of hard workers will stay home and study during the break, and still others plan to return home and visit their families. I think that the beach-goers will have the most fun.”

Looks good to me! Remember this process when writing to make references and subjects clear for your reader. Happy writing! Oh, and have a fun break when it comes—especially you beach bums!

beach bum

Irregular verbs

Toby, Level 1 Grammar and Writing Instructor

Toby, Level 1 Grammar and Writing Instructor

In the beginner writing and grammar class this semester, we have been discussing various topics dealing with expressing past time and future time. As the class was working through the chapters of the textbook that dealt with past time, I began to notice that many of the students were struggling with the aspect of irregular verbs. This is to be expected with English language learners; particularly beginner level students. As a result, I gave them many exercises in class to help clear up any of their confusion. However, when it comes to irregular verbs, confusion is bound to happen eventually.

So, just what is the easiest way to tell the difference between regular and irregular verbs?

First, in the English language verbs are split into three categories: base form, past simple form, and past participle form.

Regular verbs are those verbs in the English language that have a base form and an -ed form for both the past simple and past participle. (Ex. watch, watched, watched)

Irregular verbs are those verbs in the English language that:

1) have changes in all three forms (Ex. begin, began, begun)

2) have changes in only 1 of the verb forms (Ex. buy, bought, bought)

3) have changes to none of the verb forms (Ex. cut, cut, cut)

One might ask, “What is the easiest way to recognize if a verb is irregular or regular?” There is a simple answer to this question….memorize it!

Give the following exercise a try now that you have a little insight into regular and irregular verbs.  Click here for the practice exercise

For more rules on regular and irregular verbs, click here.

Common Irregular Verbs

Active and Passive Voice

Obie, Level 2 Grammar and Writing Instructor

Obie, Level 2 Grammar and Writing Instructor

In Grammar last week, we were discussing active and passive voice. When attempting to convert from passive voice into active, and vice-versa, you have to know what tense the sentence is written in so that you know which structure to use for the conversion (there are several conversion charts online…google converting verb tense from passive to active…active to passive).

In order for you to know what tense the sentence is in, you have to find the verb (the verb is the action taking place in the sentence). There are many books and other resources that will help you in determining what tense a sentence is written in. Remember, if the subject is doing the action, the sentence is active…if the subject is receiving the action, the sentence is passive voice.


**Please note that active voice is most common in writing because the primary subject and meaning of the sentence is more concrete.

How to Write an Academic Essay Introduction

Academic Phrases for Writing Introductions

Kody, Level 4 Writing Instructor

Kody, Level 4 Writing Instructor

There are many ways to introduce an academic essay or assignment. Most academic writers, however, appear to do one or more of the following in their introductions:

  • establish the context, background and/or importance of the topic
  • indicate a problem, controversy or a gap in the field of study
  • define the topic or key terms
  • state of the purpose of the essay/writing
  • provide an overview of the coverage and/or structure of the writing

Examples of phrases which are commonly employed to realize these functions are listed below. Note that there may be a certain amount of overlap between some of the categories under which the phrases are listed.

Introductory sections for research dissertations are normally much more complex than this and, as well as the elements above, may include the following: a synopsis of key literature/current state of knowledge, synopsis of methods, lists of research questions or hypotheses to be tested, significance of the study, recognition of the limitations of the study, reasons for personal interest in the topic.

Establishing the importance of the topic:

One of the most significant current discussions in legal and moral philosophy is ……

X is the leading cause of death in western industrialized countries……

X is an important component in the climate system, and plays a key role in Y…….

X is an increasingly important area in applied linguistics……..

X is a common disorder characterized by……

Establishing the importance of the topic (time frame given):

Recent developments in X have heightened the need for ……

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in ……

The past decade has seen the rapid development of X in many …….

Over the past century there has been a dramatic increase in ……


Highlighting a problem in the field of study:

Despite its safety and efficacy, X suffers from several major drawbacks:

Questions have been raised about the safety of prolonged use of ….

However, a major problem with this kind of application is ……..

Lack of X has existed as a health problem for many years.

Highlighting a controversy in the field of study:

To date there has been little agreement on what ……

The controversy about scientific evidence for X has raged unabated for over a century.

The issue has grown in importance in light of recent ……

One of the most significant current discussions in legal and moral philosophy is ……

More information can be found at http://www.manchester.ac.uk/

*Source: The University of Manchester website

11 Rules of Grammar

For this blog post I wanted to find something that was fun and easy to read.  It is my constant goal to take one of the hardest and driest subjects and turn it into something that is alive with which we can interact.

11 Rules of Grammar


Here are 11 rules of grammar to help you reach more bravely into the scary world of sentence construction and accurate communication.

Active Voice: The Most Important of the 11 Rules of Grammar



Every human language starts an active sentence with the subject, or the “doer.” In English, the verb (what’s being done) follows the subject. If there is an object (the receiver of the action), it comes after the verb. The formula looks like this: S+V+O. This rule is the foundation of the English language.

Here are some examples:

Mary walked the dog.

The dog liked Mary.

I did not like the dog.


Sometimes you want to link two ideas with a second S+V+O combination. When you do, you need a coordinating conjunction. The new formula looks like this: S+V+O, COORDINATING CONJUNCTION+S+V+O.

Coordinating conjunctions are easy to remember with an acronymic mnemonic device:



  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

https://i0.wp.com/www.writers-block-help.com/images/CommaRules.pngCoordinating Comma

FANBOYS are used when connecting two ideas as one in a single sentence, but don’t forget the comma.

For example:

I do not walk Mary’s dog, nor do I wash him.

Mary fed her dog, and I drank tea.

Mary feeds and walks her dog every day, but the dog is still hyperactive.

The Serial Comma

The serial or Oxford comma is the most controversial of these 11 rules of grammar. Some want to eliminate it altogether while others just don’t know how to use it. The serial comma is the last comma in a list, usually appearing before “and.” The serial comma comes after “dog” in this sentence:

Pets R Us has lizards, dogs, and birds.https://i1.wp.com/www.nscblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/the-comma.jpg

Commas separate units in a list. In the above case, each unit only has one part, so it’s easy. Where people get confused is when the units are bigger, but the rule still applies:

Pets R Us has lizards and frogs, dogs and cats, and parakeets and macaws.

Notice that the serial comma comes before “and” but not the last “and” in the sentence. The “and” that follows the comma is only there because it sounds better. Grammatically, “and” is irrelevant. Only units matter.

The Semicolon


https://i1.wp.com/www.blackgate.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/semicolon.gifA list of grammar rules has to include the scariest of punctuation marks. It might look funny, but don’t be afraid of the semicolon; it’s the easiest thing in the world to use! Say you want to connect two ideas but can’t figure out or can’t be bothered to use a coordinating conjunction. The two ideas can be separate sentences, but you think that they are so closely connected; they really should be one. Use a semicolon.

Mary’s dog is hyperactive; it won’t stop barking or sit still.

My heart is like a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea; it’s bitter and smoky.

Mary has to walk her dog every day; it is the most hyperactive dog anyone has ever seen.

Simple and Easy

The simple present is the tense you use for any habitual action. The things you always do or do every Tuesday are described with the simple present, which just means you pick the first form of any verb.

Mary likes dogs.

I don’t walk Mary’s dog.

Mary and I drink tea every Tuesday together.

Progressive for Now

The present progressive tense is for anything that is happening right now. All of the progressive tenses are easy to spot because their verbs always end with “-ing” and get a helping verb. A helping verb is just so we know who and when we’re talking about. In the present progressive, the helping verbs are the present tense conjugations of “to be.”

I am drinking Lapsang Souchong tea.

The barking dogs outside are driving me crazy.

Mary is playing with her hyperactive dog.

The Simple Past

When we talk about the past, we have to add an “-ed” to regular verbs to make the second form. Irregular verbs are tricky and have their own sets of rules. Drink, for example, turns to “drank.” Most of the time, though, “-ed” will do.

I drank a lot of Lapsang Souchong tea yesterday, but Mary didn’t.

The dogs stopped barking two seconds ago, and I am feeling better.

Mary played fetch with her hyperactive dog.

Perfect Timing

Practice makes perfect with the perfect tenses. Here are three rules to finish the 11 rules of grammar. If you remember these, you’ll be well on your way to perfection.

Present Perfect

The present perfect can be confusing for some, but it is one of the most important rules of grammar. When people talk about things that have already happened but consider the time in which they occurred to be unfinished, they use the third form of the verb with a helping verb. The helping verb for the present perfect is the present tense conjugation of “to have.”

I have drunk three cups of Lapsang Souchong tea today.

Mary’s hyperactive cur dog has bitten me three times so far.

Mary has walked her hyperactive poodle 100 times this week.

Unfortunately, the only way to know the third forms of verbs is to remember them.

Present Perfect Progressive

When the action as well as the time is considered unfinished, the verb loads up on third form helping verbs (“to be” and “to have”) and changes to the progressive form.

Western countries have been waging wars in the Middle East for thousands of years.

I have been drinking tea all day.

Mary’s dog has been barking like crazy since it was born.

Past Perfect

When two things happen in the past, we have to mark which one happened first. The one that happened first changes to third form and gets the helping verb, “had.”

By the time I drank one cup of Lapsang Souchong, Mary’s dog had barked a million times.

I had not yet eaten breakfast when Mary walked her dog.

Mary couldn’t stop laughing; her dog had bitten me again.

This information is provided by LoveToKnow, Corp and can be found on grammar.yourdictionary.com


Daniel, Level 3 Grammar & Writing Instructor

Daniel, Level 3 Grammar & Writing Instructor

10 Tips for Better Spelling

We have been working on the spelling of plural nouns in grammar the last couple of weeks, and one of the students asked how to improve his spelling. After thinking about it and looking online for a few things, I thought to myself this is something that all students (not just beginner level grammar students) could use to improve their spelling. It is a few things that I found on a website. If you want more practice, simply search for spelling practice/rules on google, and you will find many helpful things.

Ten Tips for Better Spelling

  1. This may be the best-known spelling rule:
  • i before e, except after c
  • or when sounded like “ay”
  • as in neighbor and weigh
  • Here are some words that follow the rule:
  • IE words: believe, field, relief
  • CEI words: ceiling, deceit, receive
  • EI words: freight, reign, sleigh
  • Some exceptions: either, foreign, height, leisure, protein, weird
  • “CIEN words” are another exception to the rule. These include ancient, efficient, and science.
  1. Here’s another familiar spelling rule: “Silent e helps a vowel say its name.” This means that when a word ends with a vowel followed by a consonant and then silent e, the vowel has a long sound. That’s the difference between rate and rat, hide and hid, and cube and cub.
  1. Have you heard the expression “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking?” This means that when there are two vowels in a row, the first usually has a long sound and the second is silent. That’s why it’s team, not taem; coat, not caot; and wait, not wiat. Remembering this rule will help you to put vowels in the right order.
  1. Learn the basic rules for spelling with plural nouns so that you know whether to use s or es and how to make plurals of nouns that end in y or f.

  1. In general, though, memorizing rules isn’t the most effective way to learn spelling. Most rules have exceptions—and besides, you are best at learning words that you have made an effort to understand. A good way to understand a word is to break it into syllables. Look for prefixes, suffixes, and roots. Practice each short part and then the whole word.
  • dis-ap-pear-ing
  • tra-di-tion-al

After you break apart a word, ask yourself: How is this word like other words I know? Spelling the word traditional may make you think of spelling functional and national. Finding patterns among words is one of the best ways to learn spelling.

  1. It’s also helpful to try making up a funny memory aids. For example, do you have trouble remembering which has two s’s—desert (arid land) or dessert (a sweet treat)? Remember that with dessert, you’d like seconds. Similarly, do you have trouble remembering how to spell separate? Remember that there’s a rat in the middle.

  1. Another kind of memory aid is to make up a sentence in which the first letter of each word can be used to make the spelling word. The sillier the better—goofy sentences may be easier to remember.
  • chili: cats have interesting little ideas
  • physical: please have your strawberry ice cream and lollipops
  1. Make sure that you are pronouncing words correctly. This can help you to avoid some common spelling errors, such as canidate instead of candidate, jewelery instead of jewelry, and libary instead of library.
  1. Put together a list of words that you find difficult to spell. Go over your old papers and spelling exams to track down these troublemakers. Once you’ve got your list in hand, see if some of the tips above will help you.

  1. And lastly: Don’t rely on electronic spellcheckers! They can miss errors—especially when you have used the wrong word but spelled it correctly. To prove it, we’ve taken a sentence and messed up all the words. And the spellchecker thinks it’s fine.
  • “I might need some new shoes for gym,” Harry told our Aunt Ann.
  • “Eye mite knead sum knew shoos four Jim,” Hairy tolled hour Ant

Found on… http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0903395.html

P.S. #10 (to me) is by far the most interesting, as I have had many students send me similiar messages…the words were spelled correctly, but the word choice was not correct for the meaning he or she was attempting to communicate. As always…ENJOY!!

Obie, Level 1 Grammar & Writing Instructor

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

This week in Low-Intermediate Grammar we are studying active and passive voice. Active and passive voice are both important and should be used for different reasons. Let’s look at the differences.

Active Voice

One common sentence structure in English is SUBJECT + VERB + DIRECT OBJECT. This sentence style emphasizes the person or thing that does the action. Look at the example below.

            We will make a decision about our trip soon.

The emphasis in this sentence is on “we”. In other words, the sentence is focused on the people doing the action.

Passive Voice

Passive voice sentences also have common SUBJECT + VERB structure. The difference in passive voice is that the subject is the receiver of the action. Look at the example below.

            A decision about our trip will be made soon.


In this sentence the emphasis is on “a decision about our trip,” not the people making the decision.

There are different reasons for using both. One reason is to emphasize different subjects. A good time to use passive voice is when the “actor,” or person doing the action is unknown. Look at the example below.

            The money was stolen.

In this example, the person who stole the money may be unknown. Therefore, passive voice is used to emphasize the action, but not the actor.


In your writing you should think carefully about what information you wish to send. Any writer must choose the more appropriate voice for each.

Source: Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners by Keith S. Folse

Kody, Level 2 Grammar & Writing Instructor

Relative Clause Tips

espresso english image

Here are some tips for all of you out there studying relative clauses:

  • A relative clause is a dependent clause that must be joined to an independent clause, which creates a complex sentence.
  • Relative clauses are also known as adjective clauses.
  • A relative clause should follow the noun that it modifies (describes).
  • Relative clauses begin with adjective clause markers (relative pronouns and relative adverbs).

espresso english image

  • The relative pronouns are who, whom, whose, that, or which.
  • The relative adverbs are when, where, or why.
  • Remember, in order for it to be a clause, it must have a subject and a verb (the adjective clause marker is sometimes the subject of the relative clause).

In higher level writing, readers expect to see complex structures to show true proficiency of English language skills. Hopefully this short video will give you some other good insight into relative clauses.



Toby, Level 4 Grammar/Writing Instructor