English Usage Tips

VOCABULARY

 

  • “Fewer” refers to items you can count individually

Incorrect: There are less pupils attending today.

Correct:  There are fewer pupils attending today.

 

  • “Less” refers to a commodity, such as sand or water, that you can’t count individually

Incorrect: My sister eats fewer rice than I do at dinner.

Correct:  My sister eats less rice than I do at dinner.

 

 

For more vocabulary tips, click the following links below:

For some grammar and punctuation tips, click the following links below:

English Usage Tips: Grammar

GRAMMAR: CONTRACTIONS

 

  • “They’re” is short for “they are”.

Incorrect: Their going to be home soon.

Correct:  They’re going to be home soon.

 

  • “Their” is the possessive form of “they” and indicates something belonging to someone.

Incorrect: Can we borrow they’re car?

Correct: Can we borrow their car?

 

  • “Thererefers to a particular place that is not where you are. We also use “there” to show something exists.

Incorrect: Their is a new shop next door.

Correct: There is a new shop next door.

 

English Usage Tips: Punctuation

PUNCTUATION: APOSTROPHES

 

  • Apostrophes indicate possession – something belonging to something or someone. 

Incorrect: Jennifers horse is over there.

Correct: Jennifer’s horse is over there.

To indicate something belonging to one person, the apostrophe goes before the ‘s’.

 

Incorrect: The postman delivered the parcel to the Ng’s flat.

Correct: The postman delivered the parcel to the Ngs’ flat.

To indicate something belonging to more than one person, put the apostrophe after the ‘s’.

 

 

 

  • Apostrophes are never used to make a word plural, even when a word is in number form, as in a date.

Incorrect: We received a Chinese New Year card from the Lee’s.

Correct: We received a Chinese New Year card from the Lees.

Incorrect: My parents like to listen to music from the 1970’s.

Correct: My parents like to listen to music from the 1970s.

 

 

  • Apostrophes are also used to indicate a contraction.

Contractions are two words made shorter by placing an apostrophe where letters have been omitted. For example, “let’s” uses an apostrophe to indicate that the word is missing the “u” from “us”.

 

English Usage Tips: Grammar

GRAMMAR: PREPOSITIONS

  • on OR in OR at?

A:  Listen – is this right: ‘I live on 99 Bishan Road’?

B:  No, that’s wrong! You live in 99 Bishan Road.

C:  Both wrong! You live at 99 Bishan Road.

Who is right? In is generally used when we talk about a location ‘inside’ something (in the house, in the theatre). On is used for a location ‘on top of’ something (on the table, on the floor), and at is used for a location which is a point on a horizontal or vertical surface (at the end of the drive, at the window). The problem is that there are different ways of looking at the same location.

But C is right.

At is used when street numbers are mentioned because we think of a particular point along the street, namely No. 99.

 

English Usage Tips: Punctuation

PUNCTUATION: COMMAS

 

  • Using commas with appositive phrases – An appositive phrase is a noun phrase that identifies or adds detail about the noun right next to it.

Incorrect: Mr Khoo, who is a professional magician performed at my sister’s birthday party.

Correct: Mr Khoo, who is a professional magician, performed at my sister’s birthday party.

Incorrect: Mr Khoo, a professional magician is well known in Singapore.

Correct: Mr Khoo, a professional magician, is well known in Singapore.

 

  • Use commas, not colons, when punctuating dialogue

Incorrect: Before doing his trick, Mr Khoo said: “Hey, presto!”

Correct: Before doing his trick, Mr Khoo said, “Hey, presto!”

 

English Usage Tips: Punctuation

PUNCTUATION: HYPHENS

 

  • When do you use hyphens in numbers?

Incorrect: There are three-hundred-sixty-five days in a year.

Correct: There are three hundred sixty-five days in a year.

Use a hyphen when writing out the numbers twenty-one to ninety-nine in words. Do not use hyphens for other numbers.

 

Incorrect: France has a 35 hour working week.

Correct: France has a 35-hour working week.

Incorrect: The ten year old boy wanted to become an archaeologist.

Correct: The ten-year-old boy wanted to become an archaeologist.

Use hyphens only when the number functions as an adjective phrase.

 

English Usage Tips: Grammar

GRAMMAR: PLURAL NOUNS & CONTRACTIONS

 

  • fish OR fishes?

Incorrect: Some customers like to smell the fishes to make sure that they are fresh.

Correct: Some customers like to smell the fish to make sure that they are fresh.

The plural of fish is usually fish: ‘a fish’, ‘three fish’. Fishes occur mostly in children’s literature. 

 

 

 

  • it’s OR its?

Incorrect: The dog lost it’s bone.

Correct: The dog lost its bone.

Incorrect: Its under the chair.

Correct: It’s (it is) under the chair.

The confusion between it’s and its occurs because ‘s indicates possession, so English speakers naturally want to use it’s to mean ‘something belonging to it’. But it’s is only used when it’s a contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Otherwise, it’s always its.

 

English Usage Tips: Vocabulary

VOCABULARY

 

  • cope OR cope up?

Incorrect: Some children find it difficult to cope up with all the homework they are given. 

Correct: Some children find it difficult to cope with all the homework they are given. 

You can catch up on homework but you cope with something (without up).

 

 

 

  • costly OR expensive?

Incorrect: Taxis are often unavailable during peak hours and are too costly.

Correct: Taxis are often unavailable during peak hours and are too expensive.

Fares, tickets, clothes, food items and all the things that people regularly buy or pay for my be described as expensive but not costly. Costly is normally used for something which has a very serious effect on your resources or well-being:

‘Failure to insure one’s property can prove very costly, especially in the event of a fire.’

‘Their decision to ignore the report’s recommendation was a most costly error of judgement.’

 

 

 

  • enter OR join?

Incorrect: All children under 12 are invited to join the singing contest.

Correct: All children under 12 are invited to enter the singing contest. 

You enter (or take part in) a contest or competition (not join). 

 

English Usage Tips: Vocabulary

VOCABULARY

 

  • hand in OR hand up?

Incorrect: I somehow managed to hand up the assignment on time. 

Correct: I somehow managed to hand in the assignment on time. 

When you give a piece of written work to a teacher, you hand it in: ‘Remember to hand in your exercise books before leaving the room.’

 

 

 

  • fetch OR take?

Incorrect: Eventually, I had to get a taxi to fetch me to the hospital.

Correct: Eventually, I had to get a taxi to take me to the hospital.

If you fetch someone, you go somewhere to get them and then bring them back again: ‘At what time do you fetch your children from school?’

 

 

 

  • raise OR raise up?

Incorrect: The government wishes to raise up the standard of health.

Correct: The government wishes to raise the standard of health.

Adding up after raise is redundant.