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How to improve your grammar?

08.10.2014

bryan-picture_v2Hi! My name is Bryan Brennan and I’ve been a teacher at Langports since 2007. In that time, I have taught all levels in the UFO English programme but I mainly teach the closed course for the Cambridge Advanced English test, which is not only a proficiency test that is highly regarded in businesses around the world but is also accepted by governments for visas as well as for entrance into many of the top universities in English speaking countries. One of the criteria for communicating in almost every test, whether it be Cambridge, IELTS, TOEIC or any CEFR (Council of Europe Framework Reference for Languages) assessment tool, is to be able to communicate using a wide range of vocabulary and grammar with flexibility. This basically means that you can say the same thing in different ways. So, today, I’m going to talk about how to show contrast using different words that are known as subordinating conjunctions, or what we at Langports call adverb clause markers of contrast.

These are words that we use to join two clauses into one sentence. Look at the following sentences:

                I got to the beach. I swam in the water.

This is an example of two “simple sentences” that a beginner level student could write. Anyone who reads this understands the message that the writer (or speaker) is trying to convey. However, as you become better skilled, you should be able to convey the message in a more advanced form. To do this, we use subordinating conjunctions to link the two sentences into one “complex sentence”. In the above examples, we are looking at the sequence of events or actions so we can use the adverb clause marker of time, “after”:

                After I got to the beach, I swam in the water.

By doing this, we have been able to communicate our ideas with flexibility.

Now, let’s go back to using adverb clause markers of contrast. Have a look at the following words and think about what they mean:

                although                                              while                                                    whereas

 Did you get it? If you said they all mean the same, you are correct: they all mean “although”! However, one problem that students have is deciding when to use them accurately as, even though they mean the same thing, grammatically, you can’t always use them without following the rules. Here are two sentences where we have used “although” to show the contrast between two statements. Can you replace this marker with both “while” and “whereas”? If so, why? If not, why not?

                Although I like to drink red wine, I always wake up with a hangover the next day.

                Although the Gold Coast is famous for its good weather, Melbourne is known for having four seasons in one day.

In the first sentence, you can use “whileas in:

                While I like to drink red wine, I always wake up with a hangover the next day.

But you can’t use “whereas”. However, you can use it in the second one:

                Whereas the Gold Coast is famous for its good weather, Melbourne is known for having four seasons in one day.

Actually, the reason is quite simple but a lot of students don’t know the rule. In the first sentence, the subject in both clauses is “I”, but in the second sentence, the subjects are different, namely, “the Gold Coast” and “Melbourne”. So, if you have different subjects, you can use the subordinating conjunction, “whereas”. But, what about “while”? Can you use it in the second sentence too? Well, I leave that for you to think about and, if you’re not sure, throw the question at your teacher. If they are a Langports teacher, I will bet they know the answer! Part of the Langports Academic Way, or LAW, is not only to know grammar but also to explain it to our students in a way that is easily understood.

To finish off, I want to also mention that there are many other words and expressions that we can use to link ideas within sentences or even with other sentences such as coordinating conjunctions, transitions or pronouns. Now, read through this article and see how many of these linking words there are. You’ll be surprised at how many you can find! And remember that the more often you practice using these words in your speaking and writing, the more proficient you will become in communicating your ideas with flexibility!