Topic: Professional development

Background material for teachers on an array of topics in English language and linguistics. These resources are designed to help teachers feel more confident in their knowledge of the English language, and more adept at leading Englicious lessons, starters, and projects in class.

Want to know more? Or would you like to ask all your questions in a face-to-face session? The Englicious team offers full-day CPD courses entitled English Grammar for Teachers, in conjunction with the UCL Institute of Education and UCL Life Learning. Forthcoming session dates can be found on the IoE and UCL Life Learning websites.

Pronouns: Advanced

Pronouns behave in some ways like nouns and can sometimes replace them in a sentence. For this reason, pronouns are often treated as a subclass of nouns and there are some good reasons for doing this, but they are – in some important ways – different from nouns.


We all use different forms of language in different situations. At the most extreme, you’ll probably know that in casual conversation with friends you will use very different language from that which you’d use at a job interview.

The kinds of differences will relate to vocabulary (the word choices you make) but also to grammar (the structures, the complexity, the patterns of words).

Semantic roles

When we talk about grammar, we mostly discuss language from the point of view of its internal characteristics.

We can say that steered in the following example has a grammatical form, namely verb. More specificallty, we say that it is a verb in the past tense.

Sentence types: simple, compound, complex

This unit further explains simple sentences, compound sentences and complex sentences, which were introduced in the unit 'Clauses: main and subordinate'. Simple sentences contain one clause, while compound and complex sentences contain more than one clause.

National Curriculum note: The National Curriculum now refers to sentences that contain one clause as single-clause sentences, and those that contain more than one clause as multi-clause sentences.


Is it always necessary to spell words correctly? Of course not. When students send text messages, for example, they abbreviate words and simplify spellings; indeed, sometimes to do anything else could be silly. But when they’re giving a presentation and need to write on the whiteboard, spelling words incorrectly can be a real problem.

Spelling: A history

Most alphabets in the world’s living languages evolved from a single alphabet developed around 2000 BC in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A lot has changed since then. Even from the time of Old English, from about AD 500 to about AD 1100, much has changed. In fact, languages are always changing. Over the generations, grammar changes, words and their meanings change, accents and pronunciations change, and spelling changes.

Spelling: Alternative spelling

Just like humour and humor, and centre and center, a number of other words vary in their British and American spellings. How different are British and American spelling and how should you choose which spelling to learn?

The number of spelling differences between British and American English amount to less than 1% of the overall vocabulary of contemporary English. It’s not something that we need to be terribly worried about, but it is always something that we must bear in mind.

Spelling: Double consonants

If a root word ends in a consonant, adding a suffix will sometimes require that you double the base word’s final consonant. How do you know when to double the consonant?

Consider the following examples, where doubled consonants are underlined.

  • shipment
  • shipped
  • muddy
  • fitful
  • fittest
  • waiting
  • greenest

Now take a look at some larger words, whose base forms have more than one syllable.

Spelling: Resources

The most important resource for English spelling is a good dictionary. Which dictionary should you use? A variety of dictionaries is available, suitable for various skill levels and specializations, for both British and American English.

Spelling: Rules

At some point, many of us learned some handy spelling rules that we’ve carried with us for years.

Most people probably remember the mnemonic:

  • I before E except after C.

That’s a very useful rule for remembering how to spell believe and receive. But what about seize and seizure? And what about leisure, either, or heifer?

Spelling: Spelling and word structure

Many common spelling errors occur with double consonants or vowel combinations, as in the following words:

Spelling: Suffixes

Suffixes cause many of our common spelling mistakes. One challenge is simply to know which is correct: for example, legible or legable? In fact, −ible and −able serve the same function, and sound the same. As a matter of history, -ible entered English from Latin, while −able entered English from French, but there’s no easy rule for knowing when to use which suffix. Each word with each suffix just requires practice.

Spelling: Suffixes and 'e'

If an original word ends in a final e, as in manage,adding a suffix will sometimes require that you drop the final e in the root word.

  • Drop the final e: managing
  • Keep the final e: management

How do you know when to drop the final e?

First, consider the following examples, which either drop or keep the final e.

Spelling: Suffixes and 'y'

When a word ends in y, adding a suffix will sometimes require that we change the y to an i or to an ie. How do you know when to change the y?

Look through the examples below and the rules that follow.

Spoken language

Spoken language and written language are often referred to as two different modes. Spoken language has a structure that is often different from that of written language. Because we use spoken language in different situations from written language, we can often rely on context, gesture and shared understanding, so many of the grammatical structures and devices that we tend to use in written language aren’t necessary.

One mode is not ‘better’ than another mode, and we should be careful not to describe spoken language as ‘incorrect’ or ‘wrong’.

Spoken language: Dialect and slang

[Amended from Dan Clayton's Teaching English Grammar in Schools blog]

The history of grammar teaching has often been associated with prescriptive models in which the "correction" of perceived faults in language has been paramount. While linguists are careful these days to talk about what is 'grammatical' or 'ungrammatical' and 'standard' or 'non-standard', rather than what is 'right' or 'wrong', there is still a tension at the heart of the teaching of English.


The Subject of a sentence is often defined as the phrase identifying the agent that carries out the action denoted by the verb. All the examples below involve actions (fleeingsniffingwriting) carried out by the individuals referred to by the highlighted phrases, and for this reason we identify these phrases as Subjects.

Subject Complement

Consider the highlighted phrases in the examples below.

  • The rice is marvellous. [S1A-022 #262]
  • He was a really nice guy. [S1A-006 #21]

Each of the highlighted phrases adds information about the person or thing picked out by the Subject. Marvellous attributes a property to the rice, and a really nice guy does the same for he.

These phrases have different forms but the same function.

Tag questions

Questions like ...isn’t it?, ...haven’t they? and ...wouldn’t you? that sit on the end of a statement are called tag questions in linguistics. There’s a range of different tag questions most people call on, varying by verb, tense, person and whether the tag is positive or negative.

Tag questions: Innit

For some people, innit is just another tag question, a contraction of isn’t it. But kids in urban Britain are using innit to cover a wider and wider range of situations. Here are some examples of non-standard use, gleaned from recent messageboard postings:

Verb phrases

The National Curriculum does not recognise verb phrases as such. Instead, the notion of clause is defined as "a special type of phrase whose head is a verb".

Here at Englicious we use the term 'verb phrase' in a slightly different way. For us verb phrases are phrases whose Head word is a verb, called the main verb (sometimes also called a lexical verb).

A verb phrase includes a single main verb, either:


Verbs have traditionally been described as ‘doing words’ or ‘action words’. This works well for some verbs, like sprint, chatter, eat. Here are some sentence examples with verbs which describe actions:

Verbs: Auxiliary verbs

A key distinction in the word class of verbs is between main verbs (also called lexical verbs) and auxiliary verbs:

Verbs: Modal verbs

Modal auxiliary verbs (or modals for short), as the name suggests, are a kind of auxiliary verb. They have most of the attributes of auxiliary verbs. They are a closed class that is identifiable as a short list, and they convey particular types of meaning.

Here is a table which lists the most important modal verbs (also called the core modals). It shows most of them in pairs as present and past tense forms, which makes them easier to remember.


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