English Corner – The Building Blocks of Reading Materials

“When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits.”

When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits. It is a necessary complement to your learning and will help flex that muscle needed to retain both the grammar and the vocabulary that can drive your overall proficiency forward. It is not so much which reading material you choose but the fact that it should be appropriate for your reading level as a whole.

For example, it would not make sense to try something very difficult because you think you will advance that much quicker. Often times, if you go beyond your reading level in English, it will often cause an unnecessary step back and you will waste precious time in trying to understand a level of vocabulary and grammar that you are not yet ready for. It is often better to be err on the side of caution in terms of selecting multiple reading materials that you find yourself comfortable with and will challenge you yet you know for sure what the material is about and you can interpret the meaning and explain it to a teacher or a colleague.

If you are a beginner in the English language, I would start off your reading adventure with short poems and short stories, not more than a couple hundred words. Even if you are an adult as well, children’s books are a great way to get more familiar with the language level that you are currently at with basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar principles. You may also want to read fliers and short email examples as well to become aware of the structure of those forms of writing.

I would also recommend short letters written about different subjects such as sports, weather, the daily habits someone has, and about going shopping or out to eat. It is key to read these short pieces of writing twice or three times to really understand the full meaning of what is being written. You may also want to read the story, the poem, or the letter out loud to work on your own pronunciation too to feel more comfortable absorbing the vocabulary that you are learning. A beginner should not be reading anything more than a few pages in length and at a very low vocabulary level. Preferably, a children’s book, a short email, or a quick poem are best for beginners in this sense.

For the intermediate learner, it is important to challenge yourself more and depending upon one’s age level, there are different options to consider. I encourage students who are younger to choose comic books, short stories, and even short mystery novels as well. Older students may enjoy reading magazines about sports, news, and even fashion depending upon their interests. I also encourage becoming more familiar with reading current events and news articles and being able to explain them to the teacher or to a friend.

Adding on to the difficulty means reading longer reading passages as well as longer letters or poems as well at any age group. You want to make sure that the reading level is higher so instead of at a 1st or a 3rd grade level, you should try to read materials that are at a 5th or an 6th grade level and perhaps up to an 8th grade level. Perhaps most importantly, at the Intermediate level, you should be able to hold a conversation about the topic you just read and to explain the main ideas and supporting ideas of the piece you read. Lastly, with your vocabulary, I would encourage being able to explain too your point of view for an article, what you thought about it.

The advanced learner should be at the point where they can read full books, magazines, and longer-form pieces of writing of at least a few thousand words or more. They should be able to understand and interpret vocabulary at the high school level. Depending upon which English-speaking culture they would like to learn more about, they should do their best to become familiar with writers of different backgrounds and be able to read successfully in a few genres, both fiction and non-fiction.

Reading and interpreting different kinds of texts that deal with different subjects and modern-day issues is also a key part of advancing in the English language. You should be a flexible enough reader at this point to be able to handle different types of reading that is longer than the other levels. From a 500-word poem to a 2500-word article to a 100-page book, being able to handle these types of reading at a high level will set you apart from the beginner or intermediate levels that you used to be at.

Another key to this advanced reading level is one’s ability to speak and write about what you just read with accuracy and by utilizing some advanced vocabulary and phrases learned from these reading exercises. If the professor or teacher were to assign you a persuasive, narrative, or argumentative essay for you to write about your reading assignment, you should feel comfortable by this point in doing so across a number of genres.

‘Building blocks’ take time to assemble and the same goes for building up your reading prowess. Again, it is necessary to start slow with short forms of writing from poetry to a short story to a quick email and then work your way up to a long article or a magazine and then on to the full novel or book that may take a month or two to finish. Getting better at reading in English is a key skill to have and is necessary to boost your proficiency and to do so in a comprehensive manner. It is not only true that your reading skills will get better the more consistent and driven you are with each page but your speaking skills should also improve and your writing abilities will be complemented if you can analyze, interpret, and describe what you have just written in your own words.

Patience is a virtue and reading are the biggest part of that quality when it comes to developing your English language skills. You may show quicker gains with speaking or writing but the long-term success of your English proficiency will be determined about how well you read, how you understand the reading, and what you can tell others about what you have read.

English Corner – Proper Email Etiquette

“In order to write good emails for your professional pursuits or for your career, you need to be able to understand the proper etiquette that comes with this kind of writing.”

Writing cohesive yet concise emails is a key professional trait to be successful at as part of your overall English writing skills. In order to write good emails for your professional pursuits or for your career, you need to be able to understand the proper etiquette that comes with this kind of writing. If you are able to master the etiquette of emails, you will be able to do a good job in working well with others, being cooperative, and being considered a team player.

Without proper etiquette, you are likely to not be taken seriously at your work and you may not be able to have others take the rest of your email as seriously as it should be. Once you have the etiquette down, the content of your email is likely to be read and taken into consideration for whichever subject you are addressing.

The Introduction: Email etiquette starts with the introduction of any email message so if you do not get it right from the beginning, the rest of the email will suffer. I believe it is important to remember that how you introduce your email depends on if you know the person or not. If you do not know the person, you should begin your email with the following: ‘To whom it may concern,’ ‘Dear Sir’ (for a man but without a known name), Dear Madam (for a woman without a name known). These three ways are both formal and proper in terms of addressing someone at work or for business if you do not know who they are.

However, if you do know the person, it is best to address the email as ‘Dear Mr. __________ / Dear Ms. __________’, their last name should always come after Mr. or Mrs. To indicate the formality of the email and the unknown status of the woman’s marital background, it is best to use Ms. or Miss for the woman’s last name rather than assuming that she is married right away.

Lastly, I would refrain of saying ‘hello’, ‘hello there’, ‘hi’ to start off the email if you do not know who it is you are emailing. It is best to instead go with good morning / good afternoon or even good evening depending upon the time of the day that you are emailing for your work. I would say that once you have exchanged an email or two, you can be more informal by starting off your email with Hello ________, Hi __________, or just ‘Dear _________’ as you had for the first email.

Continuing on with the introduction, the first paragraph should begin with Hello and then a few following options below depending upon your preference.

Hello, I hope that this email finds you well, I hope that you are doing well, I hope that you are having a good week, etc.

You can also say the purpose of your email in that first paragraph by stating your clear purpose up front by something like:

            I am emailing you today because _______________.

            The purpose of my email is to __________________.

            I am messaging you today in the hopes that _______.

            This email is to inform you that _________________.

These are all great ways to start off a formal email and to inform your reader quickly what you are messaging them about, and it should be done in the first sentence after your salutation at the beginning. I would keep the overall introduction just two or three sentences and state the main idea of your email quickly and succinctly. You want to make it easy for the professional person or the worker to know what it is you are messaging them about and how does it involve them, all in the introduction paragraph.

The Body Paragraph(s): There is not too much to keep in mind when it comes to formality in body paragraphs but make sure you use formal words like ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘if you could’, ‘it would be great if…’, ‘we would be appreciative of…’, etc. The main thing to keep in mind is that you are using sir or ma’am throughout the paragraph(s) and to add in a Mr. ______, Mrs. _________ every now and then. If you need to ask something or request a few items of need, always use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ for any major thing that you are asking for business purposes.

In order to make the email a two-way exchange, relay what you are planning to do in response to make sure that the business relationship or the exchange of information goes smoothly. Beyond the purpose of the email outlined in the introduction, you should add the supplementary details beyond the ‘ask’ or the ‘request’ in the body paragraph(s). Towards the end of the body, make sure you list a timetable for when you might need a reply back and who else you may have CC’d or added on to the email who is pertinent to the message.

While not the main focus of email etiquette, you should be using formal vocabulary throughout this part of the email and don’t forget to use ‘could’, ‘would’, ‘when’, instead of insisting with ‘you need’, ‘you will’, which is not polite at all. Any request in the email should be made with the possibility that the person may say ‘no’ to you and you should be ready to hear that kind of answer but it can help your chances of success when you are polite not just in the introduction but throughout the heart of the email as well.

The Conclusion: The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to email etiquette in this part is to thank them above all else for their time and their attention to your message. Whatever the ask was in the body paragraph, you should thank them formally for their consideration and that you hope to hear from them soon.

You also want to say that you hope to stay in touch and to leave your contact information with them including your work phone, your best email address, and what time(s) of the day are best to be reached. It does not hurt to also say that you are hoping that they are doing well or if it’s a Friday, ‘to wish them a good weekend’, if you are writing the email before a holiday, it’s nice to also ‘wish them a good holiday’ but only best to do so when it’s a non-religious holiday rather than assume they are of a certain religion, of course.

To end the formal email on a good note, you should sign off with one of these options, which are both formal in nature and also really considerate to other people. Depending upon your preference, any of these options would be fine. It is also key to remember that you put a comma after any of these closing salutations and then write or sign your full name below it so they know who sent the email and who is making the request(s).

The following closings are good ways to end the email according to proper etiquette:

-‘Best,’

-‘Sincerely,’

-‘Warm Regards’,

-‘Kind Regards’,

-‘Regards,’

-‘Best Wishes’,

-‘Warm Wishes’,

‘Thank you,’

‘With gratitude’,

-‘Many thanks,’

The one closing that I would not endorse for a formal email of this nature is ‘much appreciated,’ because it is a little too informal in its vocabulary and would best be used instead with close friends or family members or for a business connection whom you already know very well.

After having the etiquette down well, you will be able to draft much better business or career-related emails because not only will your vocabulary improve but also your understanding of the English-speaking business culture. This kind of email writing takes time and practice but if you are willing to learn from others, practice a lot, and make a few mistakes every now and then, you will definitely be benefitting in your business or career after some time. There are clear differences between formal emails and informal emails and the etiquette that each kind of email shows makes all of the differences known. In order to write a complete email of a formal nature, you have to use etiquette properly not just for the introduction but also for all of the body paragraphs and for the conclusion as well.

From the opening salutation to the closing wish, your email etiquette must be consistent and clear for whoever is reading it. Be sure to use your best judgment, edit it before sending, and be patient in waiting for a reply. Do not be afraid to make a few mistakes because emails are sometimes hastily written, and you may fudge a word or two but that should not stop you from forgetting your overall etiquette with that person with whom you are corresponding. Writing the first draft of any email is the hardest part but once you got that part down, you will be well on your way to becoming a great English email writer.

English Corner – On Writing Memos

“What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world.”

What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world. Memos are usually shorter in terms of written length and can range from as little as 100 words to about 1000 words depending on the subject matter. Memos are not only used in the business world, but they also carry over to governments as well as to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at times.

While memos are not as popular anymore due to the rise of electronic mail (e-mail), they are still a fast, secure, and cost-effective way of communicating with other people in the business or company. If you are to work in a business setting, you’ll need to do a wide variety of vocabulary as well as have a good understanding of formal grammar and syntax.

Some key aspects of the memo include the header or title to sum up what the memo is about, the subject line to describe the focus of what the memo’s topic is, and then you have who the memo is addressed to with the To: line and then below that is the From: line to indicate who wrote the memo and where it is from. Then, you have the body paragraph(s) where the ideas of the memo are divulged and then the conclusion which re-states the ideas and sums up the purpose of the memo.              

You also want to make sure that the memo is single spaced or double spaced depending on the guidance you receive from your workplace. If there is an ‘attachment’ such as an image or a text, make sure it is attached to the memo before you send it out and that you indicate that there is an attached file when you write up the memo. Lastly, it is very important to leave your name at the bottom as well as the date at the top so that person who received the memo knows not only who it came from but when it was written to see how fresh or old it is.                                   

Memos place a high emphasis on timeliness but also orderliness while being able to sum up a large amount of information in a short amount of space. Most memos are only a page long but can get up to no more than five pages depending upon the subject or general content you are writing about. The style of any memo you write should always be concise and succinct.

You have to show analytical clarity with your writing. (It has to make sense to the reader). It may be sensitive material so you will have to be your own editor and not rely on others in the company. The content has to be informative, persuasive, and relevant to the audience. When you write or read a memo, you should expect for it to be impactful in some manner to inform the reader.

There are main questions you will want to answer in any memo that you write such as:

  1. What is relevant for the person reading it to be aware of from my memo?
  2. Why does it matter to the business / company / organization?
  3. What is the objective of the memo?
  4. Who is my audience for it?
  5. What is the issue that we are working on?

The most important thing to be aware of when asking these questions is what is the objective?, who are my audience?, and what is the issue I care about? If you forget the other questions, it is very important to remember OAI: objective, audience, issue. As long as you address those three main questions, your memo should be really concise and informative.

When it comes to the actual structure of the memo, the scope of your issue have to be addressed up front as well as the main points you want to focus on. The Subject of your memo should always be both descriptive and short (about 4 to 8 words)

1. Example: How to Increase Our Fourth Quarter Earnings

The ‘bottom line’ or summary sentence must be upfront or at the top of the memo. You should always have a good ‘hook’ to draw in the reader’s attention. You’ll also want to articulate the key points or the recommendations in the first or second sentences of your memo. You have to assume that the reader of the memo may only have time to read one paragraph of it especially if you are in government or in the business world for your career.

You should always be using specific facts and relevant information to bolster your bullet points. You’re going to want to paint a comprehensive picture of the situation at hand and what can be done about it. Always be able to articulate the risks of your reasoning, the possible consequences to your action points, as well as the counterpoints (additional context) if your memo calls for it. The memo should have a logical flow and is not as structured as an essay or article. Lastly, remember to utilize precise language and avoid unnecessary words.

When it comes to what you should always do in memo writing, the Do’s are quite obvious from a writer’s perspective: Choose your words carefully. Be brief and clear as much as possible. Anticipate and address the reader’s questions in them. Avoid leaps in logic and assumptions based on the memo’s content. Proofread or edit your writing thoroughly and consistently. Use correct grammar throughout the entire memo.

The don’ts of memo writing is a bit more difficult but also involve some common sense in addition to having the structure and the techniques memorized. Perhaps most importantly, don’t summarize but analyze instead. Don’t ever use either abbreviations or acronyms to save some space as it is important to spell all the words out to retain their meaning. It’s important to not have unclear terms that will confuse the reader or audience. Keeping any run-on sentences at all in the final version is also a big no-no. You also would not like to have unprofessional or unrelated jargon (vocabulary) that is not related to the memo in the text of what you have wrote.

Memo writing is an advanced form of English writing, but it can be quite useful to know how to do if you are willing to put in the work. For business, government, or NGO purposes, good memo writing will be essential to your career so please make sure to study the structure, the techniques, and the overall uses for memos even after reading this article. Good luck to you and I hope being able to write formal memos will further your business and career goals as an English writer.

English Corner – Double The Word Phenomenon

“The particular reason why this particular comedy hour stood out to me was due to Jerry’s focus on a peculiar aspect of the English language and how it was even strange to him even as a native speaker and whose English vocabulary is varied and mature.”

I was watching Jerry Seinfeld’s new Netflix documentary last week titled, “23 Hours to Kill”, which was pretty funny, and I do recommend it if you are looking to watch a comedy special featuring a native English speaker doing a comedy routine. The particular reason why this particular comedy hour stood out to me was due to Jerry’s focus on a peculiar aspect of the English language and how it was even strange to him even as a native speaker and whose English vocabulary is varied and mature. He was drawn to the fact that in the English language, we sometimes have this tendency to repeat certain words again or back to back and it can still make sense.

While he did not give this tendency a name, I am going to refer to it as what I like to call the “Double the Word” phenomenon. In my opinion, it is a phenomenon because it does not happen that often and if you can spot it, you can understand it easily but it tends to happen rarely and when it does, the speaker is unlikely to repeat it or even explain it to you. They may not understand why they doubled the same words or even know the meaning behind why they said it.

The phenomenon of the ‘double word’ or being back to back is not that complicated. It only takes an example or two for you to get the deeper meaning underlying the expression. I also think you will be able to use them after reading these examples. Hopefully, you will be able to take this knowledge gained to expand your English vocabulary and to explain the ‘double word phenomenon’ to your friends and family. A good skill to develop with English is to become acquainted with our various phrases expressions that you won’t find in your average textbook.

  1. “It is what it is.” This phrase means that sometimes, you can’t change things or people to be what you want and that the situation will not change so it’s not worth fighting it. You have to pick your battles but sometimes it’s best to leave things as is. An example of this ‘double word phenomenon’ would be: “Jamie does not want to change jobs at the moment because of the economy; it is what it is.”
  2. “Business is business.” This phrase is a bit neutral in its meaning in that business could be good or it could be bad, but it goes on as usual and remains uninterrupted or in danger of not going on. The meaning behind its positive or negative significance really depends upon the speaker’s tone and body expressions so it’s something to be on the look-out for. “We are making do with what we have in the store: business is business.”
  3. “Rules are rules.” Rules are not meant to be broken and this phrase makes it clear. Usually, an authority figure of some sort would say this to you to say there are no shortcuts or no easy ways out and laws or rules have to be obeyed. This kind of phrase does not lend it to leniency and means that you have the follow the rules whatever they may be. “There is no diving or jumping into the pool. Rules are rules.”
  4. “A deal’s a deal.” In the English-speaking business world, business deals after being finalized are final hence the phrase of “a deal’s a deal.” You cannot back out of a deal after it has been signed and it is a bad cultural practice to renege on your commitments after giving your signature to the paper. If you back out of a deal or want to re-negotiate, you have to make sure that is a possibility before signing the deal. If “a deal’s a deal”, it means you cannot go back on it and it has no room for further negotiations or changes. “You had agreed on the terms and conditions a week ago and now you want to back out? Sorry, but a deal’s a deal.”
  5. “What’s what.” When a person usually a colleague or a friend want to show or explain something to you. They want to show you what something is, how it works, what its’ function is, and why it’s important. When somebody wants to show you “what’s what”, they want to explain it to you so you can understand how it works and even let you figure it out while they watch. This phrase is especially true of machinery of any kind which takes a skilled person to operate it. “Jack took me to Tesla headquarters to show me what’s what regarding the new car model designed to be emissions-free.”
  6. “Who’s who.” This phrase indicates that you or someone you know is indicating that they want to show you who is really important, famous, or worth getting to know. Regardless of which career field or hobby they mastered, they are the ‘who’s who’ of their profession or craft. You might see this double word phenomenon in a Hollywood magazine to show you who are the famous or important people at an awards show. While not used often, it is an interesting ‘double word’ usage that has a deeper meaning. “The Entertainment Tonight hosts were scouring the red carpet at the Oscars to figure out who’s who for the award ceremony later.”
  7. “Whatever happens, happens.” Sometimes in life, you have to let the unknown play out and not try to control the outcome. You have to leave things up to chance or fate and not try to control it. The double the word phenomenon of “whatever happens, happens” means letting things fall as they might and rolling with what life throws at you. If you are in Las Vegas, for example, you could let down your hair a little and enjoy a party or two because in Vegas, whatever happens, happens. “John knew that Las Vegas was a good trip for his friends’ birthday because whatever happens, happens and it stays there after they leave.”
  8. “Whoever does it, does it.” You are very hands off and laid back when you say this particular phrase. You want to express your desire for the responsibility to lie with someone else and for someone else to also take the lead. You express your preference for the work to be done already and for the person to step up and do it already. “Tina did not have a preference for who starts the group’s presentation and stated, whoever does it, does it.”
  9. “And that’s that.” Conclusions or endings can be very subtle, or they can be very sudden. When “And that’s that” comes along, the ending happens very quickly to a story or an event and it is over quicker than you thought it had started. You want to leave no impression behind of any ambiguity after recalling what happened and to indicate that there is no debate to make because the ending was quite clear. There are different ways this double word can be used but this example could be one to use: “Frodo threw the ring into Mordor, Sauron and his minions were destroyed, and they lived happily ever after…And that’s that.”
  10. “Totally totaled.” This phrase may not be an exact double word, but I wanted to include it because it is close enough and includes two similar words that have the same meaning. “Totally totaled” means that something has been destroyed beyond repair or there is no way of fixing it at all. It may not be a bad thing especially if it was your intent to destroy the thing, but it often refers to a car or other kind of vehicle that was damaged beyond repair. “James was anguished when he realized that his beloved car was totally totaled in the accident that happened last night.”

The double the word phenomenon may not be that common in the English language, but these phrases can help you improve your proficiency. You will notice the subtle meanings behind idioms such as these and you will be able to use them in a number of situations, sometimes funny and sometimes serious. Like in most other languages, you can find ways to use the same words back to back and it would still make logical sense to the native speaker.

Part of being an advanced learner of English is recognizing these subtle yet important meanings behind seemingly simple words. The added word that is back to back makes it more subtle in terms of its overall meaning and it’s good to be able to know and understand these deeper meanings behind these seemingly innocuous double word expressions.

Also, if you get a chance, try and look up Jerry Seinfeld’s other comedy specials or YouTube comedy clips. He does other skits that focus on the idiosyncrasies of the English language and is able to explain these weird oddities to both native speakers and those learning the language as their 2nd or 3rd languages.  

Monthly Subscription Plans

Welcome to my Monthly Subscription Plans. Whether it is learning English through private lessons or through my online courses, I have committed myself to helping English language learners succeed for more than five years.

Continue reading “Monthly Subscription Plans”

English Corner – Writing Formal Letters

Writing a formal letter has gone out of style with the rise of e-mails and text messages. However, it is not gone yet and if you would like to stand out as a great English writer, I really recommend you learn more about the art of writing formal letters. Writing a letter, in general, is great practice especially when it comes to developing your vocabulary and sentence structure. Being able to write down your thoughts, be truthful with your words, and hold the person’s attention singularly is not easy to do nowadays but it is not a lost art.

Simply put, it is an extremely thoughtful gesture that won’t go unnoticed by the person or people whom you write letters to. It is also a nice way for you to be able to receive letters and to work on your reading comprehension skills too as an English learner. It is also overlooked how writing a letter by hand especially will increase your penmanship and make your writing more legible. Perhaps most importantly, you are using formal language in writing letters and there are various ways you can use this kind of language from the beginning of the letter to its final conclusion.

Let’s start with writing formal letters in a general way. Depending upon the gender of the person you are writing to, it will change. In terms of greetings, your options will look like the following:

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Mr Brown
  • Dear Ms Jones

Then, after the greeting and citing who you are writing to, you must state your purpose or you reason for writing your letter to them, also in a formal manner.

  • I am writing in response to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing with regard to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing regarding your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing to you about my proposal / my business / my project, etc.
  • I am writing for the purpose of sharing my findings / research / news / updates, etc.

When you come to ending a generally addressed letter, you can choose to end it formally in a number of ways and it would be fine to do so in any of these cases. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • I look forward to receiving your reply
  • I look forward to your reply
  • I look to hearing from you
  • I am, yours faithfully (if you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • I am, yours sincerely (if you know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • Yours faithfully
  • Yours sincerely
  • Sincerely
  • Warm Regards
  • Best Wishes

Beyond just writing letters for general purposes, we can sometimes write letters that involve complaints whether it is to an airline for their baggage policy, to a restaurant for unusually poor service, or to a company to request money back for a product that didn’t work, sometimes, a written letter with the right language can do the trick to help you get your money back and also help maintain your patience with that same company.

If you would like to formally introduce a complaint that is singular in nature, there are a number of ways to do so and politely since you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings unnecessarily.

  • Firstly
  • In the first place
  • First of all
  • My first complaint is
  • The first problem is
  • The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is
  • My first concern is

If the letter you are writing happens to have more than one complaint, do not worry because there are ways in English for you to make it known to the reader that there is more than one thing that you disproved of or would like to see fixed in the future.

  • Secondly
  • In the second place
  • Not only…but also
  • In addition
  • In addition to this
  • Added to this
  • ________ was also unacceptable and unfortunate

The heart of this kind of complaint letter involves demanding some kind of action on the part of the reader and you can make this also known in a polite way. If you would like to see change happen, you have to be kind about it even if you are steaming mad on the inside. A sign of a mature person is when they can make their complaints known in a polite way without using insults or derogatory language to demean the person reading the letter.

After you have made your complaint(s) known, you can wrap up the letter by demanding action and then ending it with the form of resolution you hope comes about after they read it.

  • I suggest that you replace the item
  • I therefore suggest that I be given a full refund
  • I would be grateful if my money was refunded
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a full refund
  • I look forward to hearing from you
  • I look forward to receiving a full refund
  • I look forward to receiving a replacement
  • I look forward to receiving your explanation

Beyond just your complaints, formal letters are also great ways to make suggestions to people you know on how they could improve or become better in some way, shape, or form. You can describe possibilities, options, and opportunities that they did not know existed.

  • I am writing to suggest
  • I am writing to arrange
  • I am writing to offer suggestions
  • I am writing make arrangements

When it comes to making these suggestions, the beginning of your sentences should look formally like these options:

  • My first suggestion is
  • First of all, I suggest
  • I would like to suggest
  • Another possibility is
  • A further possibility is
  • I further suggest
  • I would further suggest
  • Secondly

Giving suggestions in a letter also means not forcing anybody to act or do anything they would not want to do so part of your language used should offer a choice that they must decide upon themselves. Here is how that might look in your letter’s formal language:

  • Would you therefore mind choosing between ….?
  • Either……or
  • You might choose either ……. Or

Requesting information is another big reason why people choose to write in-depth letters so they can be made aware of a person, place, or situation that they do not know much about but would like to find out more. In terms of the English language, there are numerous ways to express your reason for writing a formal letter in this case:

  • I am writing to receive further information about….
  • I am writing to inquire about…
  • I am writing to receive more detailed information about…
  • I am writing to receive further details about…

Further on in the letter, you will ask for the details or pieces of information and there are likely to be more than one of them. In these cases, you have to phrase your sentences to the point but in a polite manner so as to get that information over to you without causing any hard feelings or distrust.

  • The first thing I would like to know is…
  • First of all, I would like to know…
  • I wonder if you would mind telling me first of all ….?
  • Could you also tell me….?
  • Could you also inform me ….?
  • Would you also mind informing me ….?
  • Would you also mind telling me ….?
  • Do you know ….?
  • I would also like to know if…
  • I would also like to know whether…
  • I hope you might also let me know about…

In this particular kind of letter, you really do have to thank the person for their work in helping you get the information you requested. It probably takes a lot of work on their part so it would be nice of you to show thanks in terms of your language used towards the end of this particular letter.

  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance…

Often times, you will be writing these letters to give out information that will be necessary for business, work, or for school. There are a few ways to address the reasons you are writing to give out this information such as:

  • I am writing to inform you about…
  • I am writing to provide you with information about…
  • I am writing to let you know that…

Next, you will want to lay out your main point and supporting points regarding the information you are giving out that would help the reader out and inform them of what they need to know.

  • The first thing I would like to inform you of is..
  • The first thing I would like to tell you is..
  • The first thing I wish to inform you of is..
  • I would like to begin by informing you of…
  • I would also like to let you know that…
  • I would also like to inform you that…
  • You might also find the following information useful:
  • It might also be useful for you to know that…
  • Another piece of information that might be useful is…

When you end a formal kind of informative letter, you should conclude with asking if they need anything else or if there are any other questions that they may have regarding the information given.

  • If you require further information, please do not hesitate to let me know.
  • If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask…
  • I will willingly provide further information on request…
  • I am at your disposal should you require further information…
  • I am at your disposal should you need further assistance…
  • Please do not hesitate to ask should you require further information…

Lastly, you will want to write a formal letter from time to time regarding requesting or asking for permission to do something, go somewhere, or start a new project. To start off your reason for writing a permission kind of letter, it should look something like this:

  • I am writing to ask permission for…
  • I am writing to ask permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission for…
  • I am writing to ask if I might…

Your permission or request letter might come with more than one enclosed in the letter so make sure you let the reader know that there is only one request or more than one request and what are these requests specifically.

  • Firstly, I wonder if you would…
  • First of all, I wonder whether you would mind…
  • The first request I would like you to consider is…
  • I would be grateful if you would also consider doing…
  • I wonder if it might be possible for me to…
  • I would also like to request permission for…
  • I would also like to request permission to…

Make sure you thank the reader for their permission or for granting your request(s) ahead of time and upon reading the letter. Hopefully, they will grant you permission after you give them formal reasons and good explanations as to why your requests are necessary. Here are the examples:

  • Many thanks for kindly considering my requests
  • Thank you for considering my requests

Writing formal letters is clearly an underrated skill as it has gone out of practice, but people will really appreciate it if you are able to do it for them especially for a family member or a friend. You can practice your penmanship, handwriting, and your overall writing knowledge. It is clear that with enough practice, your vocabulary and your grammar will also improve, and it will benefit you in the long run.

Whether it is a letter to a work colleague about a project, a letter to your girlfriend or your boyfriend about a wedding plan, or a letter to a friend about your next semester classes, these are all formal letter examples that you can use these sentence examples to get started.

Once you have formal letters down, you can move on to more informal topics, which are much easier and much faster to master. However, becoming an expert in writing formal letters about formal topics will put you ahead in your English language learning and give you great writing practice that will stay with you as a student into the future. It will also make you a more compassionate and understanding person to communicate by letter instead of by a short e-mail, or an even shorter text message.

English Corner – Colons

The colon is very useful in the English language, but it is also considered to be a bit underused as a means of punctuation within the world of grammar. You have to understand the circumstances for which a ‘colon’ can be used as well as a few examples of when it can show up in a regular sentence. If you can master colons, you can definitely count yourself as being advanced as an English learner. It will take time, but I hope that this tip will help you get a little bit better in making the colon work to your advantage as a writer.

What is a colon? Well, a colon indicates the meaning of what you want to say as well as to list what is necessary for the reader or the listener to understand. Colons and semicolons are very different in terms of meaning and use. They should never be used in the same sentence and are very rarely used together.

There are a number of uses for colons, but the three top ones would be the following:

Use #1: To introduce two or more items and to list them together separated by a comma(s).

Examples:

  1. You should do the following tonight: Practice your instrument, study for the test, and help clean the dishes.
  2. He got what he wanted today: A big promotion and an increase in his salary.
  3. Remember what we talked about: work hard, tell the truth, and always give it your best effort.

Use #2: To start a letter or an e-mail to somebody.

  1. Dear Mrs. Jones:
  2. To Whom It May Concern:
  3. To My Beloved ________:

Use #3: To introduce a quote or a short summary of a few sentences:

  1. John F. Kennedy once spoke: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
  2. The author of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, wrote in the second chapter:

“Tom Sawyer went back to his bed and stared at the fence where Jim was painting for Tom’s father. Tom wondered whether his father and Jim were friends or even if they spoke to each other.” (Not a real quote from the book, just an example)

  1. The Presidential candidate was quoted as saying: “I agree that we must move forward on fighting climate change in order to create a better future for our people.”

As you can see now, there are three main uses for colons as well as some rules that have to be observed. Let us now look at some of the important rules for using colons and how to make sure that we abide by them.

Rules of Colon Usage

  1. Colons are used in the middle of most sentences and are usually followed by a list of items or words belonging to the same or similar categories.
  2. Colons can also be used between two sentences especially if the second sentence relates to the meaning of the first sentence.
  3. A colon should always be used to introduce a numbered or a bulleted list, such as for grocery items or different types of grammar concepts.
  4. As mentioned earlier, colons can be used to introduce a quote from a speaker who was reported to have said the following words and sentences. This kind of long quotation does not need quotation marks if you have already introduced who the speaker is and what they are talking about followed by the comma (:).
  5. Colons can also be used at the beginning of a letter or an e-mail in both formal and informal settings for co-workers, bosses, friends, and family members. From seeing the examples above, you can note that instead of a comma (,), a colon (:) is being used instead to introduce the salutation or the greeting for the reader of the letter or e-mail.

These are the main rules for how to use colons and it’s important to keep in mind that a colon can:

  1. Never start a formal sentence.
  2. Never end a formal sentence.
  3. It is rare to have more than one colon used in a single sentence.
  4. Colons can be used between two sentences provided there is no period (.) separating them.
  5. While not very prominently used like a comma or a period, this form of punctuation has its uses which you should know how to utilize.

Colons are a tricky subject but once you understand both the main uses and the main rules, you will be well on your way to creating better sentences and more detailed quotes from the use of this punctuation. Similar to semicolons, colons are an advanced topic that separate an advanced English grammar learner from an intermediate learner. Once you can list items, introduce quotes, and start an e-mail off right, you will know that you are using colons correctly and for the right reasons.

English Corner – The Utility of Commas

The Comma is an integral part of any English language sentence and while it may not come up all the time, it is likely to come up many of your sentences especially if they are longer than 10 sentences. The comma helps us to avoid run-on sentences or sentences that are too long-winded, which will distract the reader, and take away from the meaning of your sentence(s).

Commas should be used moderately to not to introduce many pauses within your sentences. You should be looking to use conjunctions in lieu of commas or with them depending upon the context. What you do not want to do is not use commas at all or use them too much. There is a key balance there that a writer in the English language must learn through trial and error as they develop their grammar proficiency.

What a comma (,) does in not just English but in other languages as well is to break down sentences into individual clauses with the comma acting a pause in the action to let the reader catch his or her breath. Commas are used in several scenarios but none as so important as forming a list of two or more items. In a list type of sentence, the comma is effective in separating the people, places, or things into an order from first to last to differentiate them.

If there are two or more items in the list, the comma will come before the conjunction (and, but, or) to finish out the sentence properly. This kind of arrangement forms the basis of the ‘oxford comma’, which is still being debated by English grammar scholars, but for which is popular with some English language students and is advocated for by certain teachers. The comma + conjunction combo is not only just for the oxford comma but for a wide variety of sentences.

If you had to summarize the main uses of commas in sentences, they function in terms of being placed between items for formal lists and they also establish separate yet interdependent clauses within a single sentence. The supplementary uses for commas involve being used between parts of speech such as adjectives, adverbs, and before quotations. Commas can also be used for dates related to days, months, and years in terms of how it is written.

Let’s break down the different uses of commas but listing a few examples for each type of popular usage:

Main Uses

1.      Building lists

·        Not only was Jenny captain of the Varsity soccer team but she was also President of the Chess club, and a member of the National Honor Society.

·        Felix had several things to get from the supermarket today: eggs, milk, bread, meat, and soft drinks for his daughter’s birthday party.

·        I think my grandmother, Jean, will be there along with my grandfather, Patrick, and my mother, Eunice.

2.      Separating the clauses

·        Jack wanted to go out with his friends to the movies, but he couldn’t do so because he had to finish his homework.

·        Lying to other people is not a good idea, and it often hurts other people’s feelings.

·        They were lost in the woods, hoping to get home by morning, but they were out of food and without a compass to guide them.

Supplementary Uses

1.      Adverbs and Adjectives

·        However, he was not guilty of the crime they thought he committed.

·        Moreover, they apologized to him and let him go free.

·        The dreary, sad day was encapsulated by the rainy weather.

·        President Franklin Roosevelt was fervent, unwavering in his belief in the American people’s ability to contribute to the war effort.

2.      Quotations and Dates

·        Mr. Johnson told his students, “You should always know how to use commas in sentences.”

·        LeBron was dismissive of the reporters stating, “I scored 50 points and did my best to help the team win the game.”

·        Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky, United States.

·        Independence Day happened on July 4th, 1776 as the United States declared its independence from the British Empire.

As you can see from these examples, commas play a really important role in both English writing and in English grammar. There are several main uses and supplementary uses that the English language learner should be aware of. You must be able to practice each of these comma uses regardless of the purpose. In order to use commas properly, you must write your own sentences, make corrections if necessary, and get feedback from your teacher or your other classmates.

Each comma use is important whether its to separate sentence clauses, making a list of items, putting them with adjectives and adverbs, or using them for quotes or dates in those type of sentences. Without commas, you won’t have a complete sentence and you’ll run the risk of having a run-on sentence, which is what you want to avoid as much as possible in mastering English grammar and writing.

English Corner – Sentence Order and Structure

In previous ‘English Corner’ posts, I have covered ‘Personal Pronouns’ and ‘Singular and Plural Nouns’. I now would like to focus wholeheartedly on how the average English language learner can create a basic yet complete sentence that follows the SVO rule.

What is the SVO rule you may be asking? Good question. SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object, which is the chronological order for which English sentences are made of. Other languages besides English may be forming sentences as Subject – Object – Verb, Object – Verb – Subject or Object – Subject – Verb but just for this particular language that we are learning which is English, we are going to stick with Subject – Verb – Object and the SVO rule.

If you have doubts about remembering that SVO stands for Subject – Verb – Object as an acronym, you can instead remember it as Some Valuable Onions (SVO) or So Very Open (SVO). These are just two examples of acronyms that you can associate with the SVO rule. It is important to remember that an English sentence will not make any sense unless it follows this particular rule and of placing these characteristics in the right chronological order.

Let’s begin with the Subject:

Subjects are often personal pronouns or proper nouns, which begin the English sentence. If you are using a personal pronoun, you would begin your sentence with I, You, We, They, He, and She if you are referring to a person. You would use a proper noun to refer to an object or a thing as ‘It.’ In addition, you can focus on using proper nouns as well that refer to specific people, places, and things. For example, you could begin a sentence with ‘The President, Albert Einstein, The Miami Dolphins, Hollywood, etc.) These proper nouns are usually formal titles referring to a person’s rank, their full name, or the title of the object or thing being referenced to.

Let’s continue with the Verb:

There are thousands of verbs that we can put in the heart of our sentences but let’s focus here on just the basic ones that are the come up the most frequently. When it comes to verbs, they usually will come right after the ‘subject’ in terms of the order to be in the middle. You also may need to add another verb or two to the sentence to make it complete with an additional subject word at the beginning if you are referencing another person in the ‘personal pronoun’ form.

When it comes to ‘verbs’, you will have the main verb of the sentence and then the ‘auxiliary verbs’ before or after the main verb which are meant to support the actual meaning of the sentence. Auxiliary verbs are not integral to basic sentence structure, but it is something to be aware of as most English sentences will have more than one verb. If you mess up the order of verbs in the sentence, do not be too concerned because that is an easy mistake to make. The key thing to keep in mind is that you are putting the verb after the subject and before the object or object(s) of the sentence.

Let’s finish with the Object:

The object of a sentence brings meaning or purpose to it so without the ending or the ‘object’ being made clear, the sentence will not function on its own within a larger paragraph or an essay. Objects can be either ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ in terms of their relation to the subject. Types of objects include animals, people, places, things, etc. that are referenced to in some way at the end of the sentence.

A preposition can also go in front of the ‘object’ such as ‘for, to, on, with, by’ and can either be prepositions of place or prepositions of time.

Objects can be abstract, real, theoretical, or imaginary as long as they relate to both the previous subject(s) or verb(s) of the sentence. You can refer to an object directly in the sentence or indirectly depending upon the context.

It is important that the sentence when you finish writing it makes sense grammatically and in terms of using the correct vocabulary. Lastly, while you need a complete sentence, it does not have to be a run-on sentence meaning that you can break up a sentence in two or more sentences if you are saying too much.

Let’s look at a few examples going from the shortest sentence to the longest sentence:

Example #1: I like football.

Example #2: I want to play video games.

Example #3: She was not a good ballet dancer, but she was an excellent writer.

Example #4: You are not supposed to be at the music festival as you have a big test to study for tomorrow.

Example #5: Abraham Lincoln is known as the 16th President of the United States but he was also an avid reader, a lawyer, a U.S. Senator, and an outdoorsman.

Each of these examples sum up the varying levels of complexity that make up sentences in the English language. As you can see, it is likely that the longer a sentence is, the more complex it will be with additional subjects, verbs, and/or objects. The key to avoid run-on sentences is to look over your written work to make sure that the sentence is following the SVO rule but has the right vocabulary to go along with it.

The first example starts us off with one subject, one verb, and one object. The second example adds an auxiliary verb to the sentence and adds a preposition as well. The third sentence enters in a comma as well as an explanation regarding how ‘she’ was ‘not’ a ballet dancer, ‘but’ was an excellent writer. You have two objects, a preposition, and the same verb being used twice in the simple past tense. To add on to the complexity, the fourth sentence highlights the two objects as well as three total verbs and has a time frame by using ‘tomorrow’ as its indirect object at the end of this example. Lastly, the fifth and most complete English sentence discusses a real-life subject in President Abraham Lincoln and how he could have a number of other ‘objects’ associated with him. This sentence also has different verbs as well as a descriptive adjective like ‘avid’ to add some flair to this last example.

As you can see from my explanations and my examples, English language sentences are as diverse and as varied as the language itself. Whether it is three words or thirty words, one complete and compelling sentence can make all the difference in making you both a better English writer and a better English learner overall. Good luck and remember to use this post as a way to begin your quest to create excellent English sentences!

The Downsides to Sarcasm

Sarcasm is one of those things in life that should be used fleetingly or in moderation so as to not step on anybody’s toes or to get yourself into trouble. Sarcasm has its place and time but when it is used commonly, so much that you are not even sure of whether you yourself are being serious or sarcastic, then you may start to have problems in your interpersonal relationships. Sarcasm may be considered funny or humorous at times but there are much better ways on how to put a smile on somebody’s face.

How do we define ‘sarcasm’? What exactly does it mean? Well, sarcasm is essentially the using of contempt or irony to mock someone or make fun of someone. Sarcasm is often negative in terms of its usage and while it can be funny to some people you’re not referring to as the focus of the joke; others may be offended by it or not find it tasteful. The thing with sarcasm is that once you start using it on people, you may be liable to consequences where people make fun of you in return using sarcasm. Sarcasm is an unclear form of communication and while it can be considered witty or clever, you’re risking it that the joke may not go over well or that the sarcasm will be turned against you.

You also should be careful about who you are using sarcasm around because some cultures and some peoples are not familiar with this form of humor and will think that you are being serious instead of being aware that you’re joking around. While not limited to only the English language, Sarcasm is considered to be most commonly used in English and is rather foreign to other languages who do not use it as a form of humor.

Sarcasm can often be misconstrued even when it is meant to be funny leading to angst and resentment that can hurt friendships and relationships. The biggest downside to sarcasm is that at the heart of it is dishonesty or a lack of forwardness that can cause mixed emotions or bad feelings over time. When it is used over and over again with the same person, they will not be able to tell if you’re ever being serious or if you’re always being sarcastic instead. When you are hoping to clearly communicate with another person in an honest and frank way, you want to stay far away from using sarcasm at all.

While using sarcasm with friends and family isn’t the worst thing if they are familiar with what it is in terms of humor, you should avoid using it with strangers, employers, or people in official roles. You would not be sarcastic with a firefighter if your house is burning down nor would you do it with a police officer if your car got pulled over for speeding on the highway. These kinds of situations are where you do not want to use sarcasm at all because it could backfire on you in terms of hurting your future.                  Using sarcasm at the office or the workplace is also highly inadvisable especially because of the likelihood that it can be taken the wrong way.

This is especially true if you do not know the person well or know about their sense of humor. Using sarcasm with the wrong people or in the wrong situation could backfire on you severely causing you to lose your job or even lose your friendship when you are not careful about it. Sarcasm with strangers is also not a good idea because they don’t know who you are, or they might not even know what sarcasm which is could put you in potential physical danger if you are not careful. Because of these examples that I have cited, we can conclude that sarcasm should only be used with close friends or family members especially sparingly so as to not cause miscommunication or hurt feelings.

Also, compared to other figures of speech in the English language, sarcasm neither translates well to other languages nor can be written in any real form. You can only use spoken sarcasm usually with humorous or hurtful intent, which means it may be one of the least useful figures of speech to learn and use. Sarcasm is mainly used to mask a true form of communication and is a shortcut or cheap way to undermine being honest and open with other people. People who use sarcasm often and without previous thought run the risk of being seen as emotionally distant or uncaring. They will be perceived by others as putting up walls and not being able to hold a serious conversation. As a result, a lot of sarcasm can cause a lot of harm to one’s personal life and prevent somebody from forming deep, real, and lasting relationships.

Sarcasm, when used in the right way can be very funny, but it is one of those things in life that has a diminishing marginal utility the more it is used. People don’t want to be around someone who is sarcastic all of the time and can’t be trusted to have a serious conversation. Open and honest communication is the antithesis to sarcasm, and I think most people would rather deal with someone who is honest rather than sarcastic. There are also much better and more sincere forms of humor out there that can generate a lot more laughs without hurting someone’s feelings. To poke fun of someone in a real way is alright but to constantly do it will lead to serious problems and broken friendships if the sarcasm does not stop.

Unsurprisingly, sarcasm is most popular with middle school and high school children, but it should be a stage that you grow out of in college and beyond. If you’re a grown man or woman using sarcasm all of the time and never being honest with your co-workers, friends, or family, it is almost certainly going to backfire on you and cause issues in your life. The next time you think of being sarcastic as a grown adult, think deeply before you do it and think about the person or people, you’re making the butt of the joke. If you do not think before you speak, it is likely to end up with negative consequences for you.

Sarcasm is a figure of speech in the English language but to me, it is a mostly unpopular and overrated one that doesn’t translate well or write well either. The next time you hear a sarcastic conversation go on for too long, politely step away and ask to be excused. It’s not worth your time and it’s best you spend your time with other people who are more open, honest, and serious. Being able to handle mature conversations without using sarcasm will set you apart from others and show people that you are a serious adult who is not to be made fun of or messed around with.

Lastly, sarcasm is the lowest form of humor in the English language and as a figure of speech, it leaves a lot to be desired when compared to others such as irony or metaphors. While sarcasm isn’t going away anytime soon, let’s try to limit it down to only being used when a really funny situation arises.