Saturday, November 19, 2016

Why is WENT the past tense of GO?

In present tense, it is GO. In past tense, it is WENT. Why is this? The two words look completely different from each other.

In the past, when English was Old English, there were two words for GO. There was GO and there was WEND. The past tense of GO was GAED and the past tense of WEND was WENT.

As time passed, WEND became less popular and GAED became less popular. In modern English, we are left with GO and WENT. GAED and WEND are no longer used. The word WANDER is related to WEND/WENT.

Why do some words become more popular and some become less popular over time? There are many reasons, but mainly they just sound nicer. Perhaps GAED and WEND do not sound as nice as GO and WENT.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Everybody knows the word ‘often’, but have you ever heard the word oftentimes?
Oftentimes is an old-fashioned word that simply means ‘often’. It is old-fashioned, but it has started to become popular once more as the chart below shows.

By the way, as an English teacher, students always used to ask me about the pronunciation of the word ‘often’.

You can pronounce it with or without the T sound – both pronunciations are correct!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Vocabulary: Describing Feelings

Here is an activity for learning and practising words used to describe feelings.

It is a picture activity and it features 25 words. 

Teachers, you can use it on your smartboard or ask your students to access it on their mobile devices. The language is kid-friendly.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Road to Grammar English Test - Find Your CEFR Level

The Road to Grammar English Test is now available.

It is free to take at


  • the test takes around 20 minutes to complete
  • it tests vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening
  • feedback is given in the form of a CEFR level
  • a short, but very detailed report is provided at the end of each test, you will find out your strengths and weaknesses and the description of your level
  • you can take the test on a smartphone or tablet although a laptop is recommended as there is some typing 
  • the test is free to take

Thursday, September 01, 2016

The Final Straw

The final straw
‘The final straw’ or ‘the last straw’ is an interesting idiom. It means the last in a series of negative incidents that leads to disaster. Okay, maybe that is a little difficult to imagine. How about the following:
Imagine a man has a camel and he uses the camel to carry straw (straw as in hay, not drinking straws!). He places pieces of straw on the camel’s back one by one until slowly the camel is hopelessly overburdened. Eventually, the man will place one final straw on the camels back and the camel’s back will break! This is what we call ‘the final straw’. And, yes, another version of the idiom is ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.
Now imagine Bob’s boss is really mean to him. He shouts at him every day and insults him, but Bob perseveres. One day, Bob wants to take the afternoon off to visit his sick mother in hospital. His boss says no and Bob resigns. This is ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’ or, as we said earlier, means the last in a series of negative incidents that leads to disaster.

Poor camels!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Expressive and Receptive Vocabulary in ESL

A useful concept for ESL teachers (and learners) is the concept of expressive and receptive vocabulary.
If you have ever learned and used a foreign language, you may have noticed that it is much easier to take in information (listening and reading) than to produce it (speaking and writing). The language that you understand is receptive language and the language that you produce is expressive language.

There may be a lot of words that you recognise, but when it comes to speaking, the words just don’t come to mind. Alternatively, you may get stuck because you lack the repertoire of sentence structures to say what you want to say.

Native speakers, too, use a smaller range of language than they recognise. For example, someone might tend to use the word ‘maybe’ and never use the word ‘perhaps’. Of course, they recognise the word ‘perhaps’ when they hear it.

Native speakers tend to have a smaller difference in the ratio of expressive to receptive vocabulary. ESL speakers tend to have a larger difference. Hence, one goal of a language learner is to become more expressive.

How can you become more expressive? Writing a lot helps, because when you write, you have time to think and you have time to research synonyms for what you wish to say. Another way is to try to use easy synonyms for words that you commonly use. Use ‘perhaps’ instead of ‘maybe’ and ‘for instance’ instead of ‘for example’. Expand your range of emphatic adjectives, so that you say ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘very good’ or ‘awful’ instead of ‘very bad’. (See here for practice on this topic.) Employ active reading and listening techniques so that you are more likely to use what you hear or read.

Finally, this is not too difficult a topic to explain to an ESL class of pre-intermediate and upwards. If they can understand the concept of receptive and expressive vocabulary, it might be a good tool to assist them in their future learning endeavours.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The CEFR Levels

The CEFR Levels are a way of describing a person’s level of English. They are getting more and more popular all the time.

There are six CEFR levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. A1 is the lowest and C2 is the highest.

See a summary of the levels here:

Or click on the image below to enlarge it:

Monday, June 13, 2016

Switching Sentence Parts Around to Improve Your Writing Style

One of the keys to good writing is sentence variety and one easy way to achieve greater variety in your writing is to switch sentence parts around.

English sentences, as you may have noticed, are made up of blocks.

Or we could say: English sentences are made up of blocks, as you may have noticed.

Or we could say: As you may have noticed, English sentences are made up of blocks.

Let’s look at this sentence structure:

                Pete went to Japan to learn Judo.

The clause ‘to learn Judo’ explains why Pete went to Japan. We can move it to the front of the sentence:

                To learn Judo, Pete went to Japan.

Now we have a more sophisticated sentence structure! Let’s see a couple more examples:

                I need more eggs to make this cake.
                To make this cake, I need more eggs.

                They offered discounts to attract customers.
                To attract customers, they offered discounts.

We can use the same trick with ‘in order to’:

                They offered discounts in order to attract more customers.
                In order to attract more customers, they offered discounts.

We can also use this technique with certain sentences with FOR:

                Pete went to the Bahamas for a break from his work.
                For a break from his work, Pete went to the Bahamas.

                Jennifer bought some mackerel for her fish pie.
                For her fish pie, Jennifer bought some mackerel.

Finally, we can do this with prepositional phrases:

The birds were singing in the trees.
In the trees, the birds were singing.

There was a fight at the stadium.
At the stadium, there was a fight. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Exercise: Avoiding repetition

In English writing, repetition is considered to be a bad style. Look at the following example:

Bad:  We look forward to your participation when you participate in the event.
Good:   We look forward to having you participate in the event.

Can you improve on these sentences?

1 Janice went to the beach, but the beach was cold and windy.
2 I like my job because it is an easy job.
3 Fish is not only tasty, but fish also helps your brain.
4 The dust made the air really dusty.
5 I like chocolate because the taste is really tasty.
6 The teacher teaches us many things.
7 On my travels I traveled to Rome, Milan and Palermo.
8 I have not yet decided on my decision.
9 I spent my holiday in Timbuktu. Timbuktu is a city in Mali.
10 I signed up for a Spanish course. The Spanish course lasts three weeks.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Conversation Worksheet: Talking Money

Teachers, here is a great conversation worksheet for introducing the topic of money.

It includes vocab, reading of people's opinions and a long discussion section. There is also a follow-up on some of the grammar points.

Download it here:

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Practise IELTS Vocabulary

Getting ready for the IELTS exam?

Here is an activity where learners can practise 570 words that have been identified as important for the IELTS exam. You need to recognise them in the listening and reading sections and it is good to use them in the speaking and writing sections.

In this activity, you'll be tested on 10 words at a time and you'll have the chance to review the definitions after each set of ten.

Try it here:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

BING BONG: New Word Game

Road to Grammar is pleased to announce a new word game: BING BONG. You can play it here:

Or get it for your Android device here:

This is a simple game very well-suited to ESL Learners. You are given a five-letter word but only shown the first and last letters. You have to guess the middle letters each from a set of two options:

You win when you guess the complete word. You get between 10-100 points depending on how many tries you needed. You get an additional 200-point bonus after every five rounds. You get a chance to view the meaning each word you guess.

As you finish more levels, you will get longer words and you will need to beat a timer. Why not see if you can get a high score?

This game can be played on a smartphone or tablet. If you are looking for a more challenging version (not recommended for ESL learners), try the original version here:

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

New ESL Resource: Comprehensive notes and activities on the Present Simple Tense

New today on RoadtoGrammar is a comprehensive unit on the Present Simple Tense. As we all know, the Present Simple is not as simple as it sounds and even advanced ESL learners make some mistakes with it! The new unit contains 13 pages of notes and 12 short practice activities, covering all aspects of the present simple tense. Teachers, you'll find you can project it or use it on your smartboard and do the activities with your classes. It works on smartphones.
Try it here:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Update: Fluent - A Game for ESL Learners

I've updated the game FLUENT with a new look and some extra questions, but primarily so that users will be able to play it on smartphones and tablets.

Play FLUENT at:

The new look is something like this:

New Quiz: YOUR and YOU'RE

There is another new quiz on Road to Grammar on the topic YOUR and YOU'RE - many learners - and even native speakers - mix up these two ...