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STARTING TO WRITE ENGLISH WITH NO MISTAKES: :

Module Nine

How to write correct English: Module Nine Video


OK, now in an earlier module we looked briefly at how to correct a sentence. You
remember It depends on the weather?
Well, now were going to look at another sentence in more detail Ruth wrote
I work in a big company, but yesterday I decide to have a day free.
Now again, when Ruth wrote that sentence she thought it was correct; she wasnt going
to make mistakes on purpose. But once shed written it, she took the view that it might
contain mistakes it might well contain mistakes. After all, as she said to me, I often
make mistakes when I write in English.
Well, first she checked the spelling. About 16% of mistakes in essays are spelling
mistakes. So thats a good place to start. She put the sentence though the spell checker
on her word processor. No problems all clear. If she hadnt had a spell checker, she
would have looked the words up in her dictionary.
Next she checked the verbs Its easy to find the verb groups in a sentence. Here there
are two:
I work in a big company, but yesterday I decide to have a day free.
The first thing that Ruth asked herself is: do both these verbs have a subject? And
the answer is yes: the subject is I and it appears immediately before each verb. Good.
The second thing that Ruth asked herself is: is each verb in the right tense? The first
verb is in the Present Simple tense. We use that tense to talk about regular activities and
routines. Well, working is a regular activity. Unfortunately. The other verb, decide, is
also in the Present Simple form but it doesnt refer to a regular activity or routine. It
refers to something Ruth did once, yesterday. So it should be in the past simple, it
should be decided.
Next Ruth looked at the prepositions. Prepositions are a big problem, Nearly 10% of
mistakes in essays are mistakes with prepositions. There are two prepositions in this
sentence:
I work in a big company, but yesterday I decided to have a day free.
So, I work in a big company. Is that correct? Yes or no? Now, Ruth could say Oh,
I think its OK. When shes driving, she could go over the traffic lights on red. A
crash isnt inevitable just probable. OK prepositions dont kill people, but Ruth is
careful and she stops at in. She looks up work in the Cambridge Advanced Learners
Dictionary. Notice she doesnt look up in. She looks up work. Thats the big word,
the word with semantic content, which determines the preposition. If you want to
JIM LAWLEY & RUBEN CHACN BELTRN | 2015

STARTING TO WRITE ENGLISH WITH NO MISTAKES: :

Module Nine

know if you say in Christmas or at Christmas, then its better to look up Christmas
than in and at. In the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary, Ruth finds these
example sentences
He works at the local hospital
and
Mike works for a computer company.
Hmmm .. so we have work at and work for That doesnt mean work in is wrong.
But theres no evidence here that its right. And notice that
Mike works for a computer company.
is very close to
Mike works for a big company.
And
Mike works for a big company.
is very close to
I work for a big company.
At this point Ruth could probably opt for
I work for a big company
but she is very conscientious and she wants to learn. So she looks up company in the
Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary. She finds these examples
He works for a software company
and
I work for Duggan and Company
Well, that really settles it, doesnt it?
Ruth hasnt found that work in a company is wrong its always difficult to prove a
negative but she hasnt found that it is right, either. Meanwhile she has found that
work for a company is right, and its right in just the sort of context in which Ruth wants
to use it.
So she could simply change her sentence to I work for now. But because shes very
conscientious, she goes to the British National Corpus and puts work in a company in

JIM LAWLEY & RUBEN CHACN BELTRN | 2015

STARTING TO WRITE ENGLISH WITH NO MISTAKES: :

Module Nine

the search box. No hits. The phrase doesnt appear in the 100-million word corpus.
Then she puts work for a company and gets eight hits. Eight different writers who write
correct English have used it in the way she wants to use it a sure sign that it is correct.
Next she checks decide to in her dictionary. She finds this example:
In the end we decided to go to the theatre.
And the dictionary also makes clear that decide to plus verb is a basic English
structure.
OK, next Ruth wants to check the adjectives. There are two:
I work for a big company, but yesterday I decided to have a day free.
A normal position for an adjective is in front of the noun it modifies. We say a
nice teacher not a teacher nice. Well, big is in front of company but free comes after
day. Ruth looks up free in the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary. She finds
the phrases free time and free evening. If free evening is correct then surely so is free
day. She looks up free day in the British National Corpus and there are 25 examples:
examples like we have a free day tomorrow. She looks up day free and finds seven but
the examples with free day were much more like what Ruth wants to say so she
changes day free to free day.
Now the sentence looks like this:
I work for a big company, but yesterday I decided to have a free day.
Next Ruth checks conjunctions. Theres only one: but. This is not a complicated word;
Ruth knows what it means, and she knows how and where to use it and she knows she
knows and shes sure its right. Finally she checks on yesterday She looks in the
British National Corpus and finds examples with yesterday at the end of the clause and
also examples where it has a little more emphasis at the beginning of the clause. She
decides to leave it where it is.
So her sentence now reads
I work for a big company, but yesterday I decided to have a free day.
Ruth has made three changes and now she is sure it is correct And shes right!
OK. Write about a hundred words about something you did yesterday. Check what
you have written in the way Ruth checked her sentence. Make sure it is correct

Data cited herein have been extracted from the British National
Corpus Online service, managed by Oxford University
JIM LAWLEY & RUBEN CHACN BELTRN | 2015

STARTING TO WRITE ENGLISH WITH NO MISTAKES: :

Module Nine

Computing Services on behalf of the BNC Consortium. All rights


In the texts cited are reserved.

JIM LAWLEY & RUBEN CHACN BELTRN | 2015