A very quick usage note based on an error I see quite a lot.

Economic” is an adjective that means “related to economics or the economy.”

As in: “I had to sell my house for economic reasons.”

Or: “Universities that invest in sports enjoy certain economic benefits.”

Economical” (note the last two letters) is an adjective meaning that something is affordable or doesn’t cost or use a lot of money.

As in: “My new compact car is very economical.”

Or: “I replaced my old light bulbs with more economical fluorescent bulbs.”

Or: “Switching to solar energy is a very economical choice in the long run.”

You can also refer to a person who doesn’t spend a lot of money as “economical,” but I think this is a bit less common and I tend to avoid it.

As in: “Josh is a very economical shopper.”

Just to complicate things, the subject you study at university is “economics.” Note the final letter.

As in: “I took an economics class last semester.”

And: “I need to buy an expensive economics textbook.”

Quite a lot of students forget that final “s” when they write personal examples in their essays!

Semicolon use is really tricky. To be honest, I f–k it up quite a lot, so I guess my writing is full of errors. I wrote a 90 page thesis in order to graduate from university, and I probably didn’t use a single semicolon in it. There are a few things you should remember, though.

If you have two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction between them use a comma before the coordinating conjunction.  Like:

“I will go to the restaurant tomorrow, and I plan to order a hamburger.”

If you have two independent clauses and there is nothing between them, use a semicolon. Like:

“I will go to the restaurant tomorrow; I plan to order a hamburger.”

If there are two independent clauses and you have a conjunctive adverb between them (the sorts of things we usually refer to “transitional phrases” in this group like moreover, therefore, consequently, thus…) use a semicolon before the conjunctive adverb, and a comma after the conjunctive adverb. Like:

“I will go to the restaurant tomorrow; moreover, I plan to order a hamburger.”

“It is raining today; therefore, I will go to the restaurant tomorrow.”

Part of the problem is that a lot of native speakers (myself included) often forget about the semicolon in the last example and just use a comma after the first clause.  As in:

“It is raining today, therefore I will go to the restaurant tomorrow.”

This usage is so common that I’d pretty much call it “correct.”


I often see students mix up “boring” and “bored.”

Remember that a thing is boring.  Like a movie, a speech or some homework.  This means we say:

“This movie is really boring.  I hate it!”


“The president’s speech was boring.  I almost fell asleep.”

People feel bored.  So we say:

“I feel really bored today.”

“The movie made me feel really bored.”

“Baby, I’m bored.  Let’s watch a different movie.”

This is the most common error I see, but there are a few similar pairs.  For instance:

  • We feel interested.  Things are interesting.
  • We feel excited.  Things are exciting.
  • We feel confused. Things are confusing.

Speaking of public transportation, be careful when using the plural “subways.”

Don’t use “There are lots of subways in my city” or “Lots of people take subways in my city.”

There is only one “subway” in your city. That refers to the whole network of trains and tunnels and stations. It is generally referred to as “the subway.” So you should say:

“Lots of people take the subway in my city.”

To express the same thought as “there are lots of subways in my city” you should use something like:

“There are lots of subway lines in my city.”

Or in a more natural way:

“The subway runs very frequently in my city.”

The plural “subways” is used mostly to talk about multiple subway systems. As in:

“There are many dirty subways in America.”

That means there are many dirty subway systems in cities across America.

I see this error a lot in TOEFL essays as they often require students to write examples about their everyday life and how they get around. A classic error is something like:

“There are a lot of busses and subways for people in my city.”

This is annoying to fix because it requires something like:

“There are a lot of busses and a great subway system for people in my city.”


“There are a lot of busses and subway lines for people in my city.”

In case you are wondering, the compartment you sit in on the subway is called a “subway car” and the whole bunch of cars plus the place where the driver sits is called a “subway train.” I have probably never spoken the words “subway train” out loud in my life.

There ya go. A ton of writing about a simple error. Life is suffering.

Don’t even get me started on “I am on a bus” vs “I am on the bus.”

Don’t use “public transportations” (with an “s”).

Just use “public transportation” (non-count).

If you want to turn it into a countable noun, try something like “public transportation systems.” Or even “public transportation options,” depending on the context.

Like this:

“I always use public transportation to get around.”

“Most cities want to improve their public transportation systems.”

“There are a lot of public transportation options for commuters in my town.”

I see this error quite frequently since the independent essay can often be written using personal examples about going to work or school.

Use: “I want to lose weight.”

Do not use: “I want to lose my weight.”

Use: “I lost weight.”

Do not use: “I lost my weight.”

Treat “gained weight” in the same way. 

Say:  “I gained weight”

Do not say: “I gained my weight.”

Since talking about your health is a good way to approach a lot of the TOEFL independent essay questions, I see the above error quite a lot. 

I totally understand the error, as we do say things like “I lost my hair” and “I hurt my back.” Just remember that “weight” is not a body part!

“Everyday” = an adjective meaning “common” or “ordinary.”

“Every day” = each day

Native speakers mix these up all the time. I see errors related to these words in newspapers and magazines and serious websites every day.

Since students often support their arguments in the independent essay using examples from their lives, they often need to write about things they do “every day.” Take a minute to learn the difference!

In Use:

“I don’t talk about anything important in everyday conversations with my friends.”

“I wash the dishes every day.”


Evaluate (v) = to assess, judge, grade, etc.
Value (v) = to consider something important

I’m getting a ton of essays which mix up these definitions nowadays.  Particularly in the past tense. Funny how vocabulary mistakes seem to come in waves.

The problem is generally that students incorrectly use “evaluate” to express that something was appreciated. As in: “My boss evaluated my English skills.”

They must instead say:  “My boss valued my English skills.”

Readers of this blog will know that my preferred grammar book is English Grammar in Use (5th Edition). You can buy it on Amazon. I usually recommend it to students who want to increase their writing scores. Since the book is quite long, I’ve created a list of specific units that students can focus on (along with a few notes about the reasons for my choices).

Before you read the list, though, a few things should be recognized:

  • You really should communicate with a teacher to see what units are best for you. This list is just a starting point.
  • I think that the fourth edition of the book (from 2012) has the same unit names, so the list can be used with it.
  • The list can probably be used with the 3rd and 4th editions of “English in Use – Intermediate“. That is the American version of “English Grammar in Use.”

Present and Past

Unit 2 – Present Simple (for talking about things in general, the state of the world and writing a thesis statement)

Unit 3 – Present continuous and present simple (you must understand the difference)

Unit 5 – Past simple (for personal examples)

Unit 6 – Past continuous

Present Perfect and Past

Unit 7 – Present Perfect 1 (for examples, advanced grammar)

Unit 8 – Present Perfect 2

Unit 9 – Present Perfect Continuous

Unit 10 – Present Perfect Continuous and Simple (know the difference!)

Unit 12 – For and Since

Unit 13 – Present Perfect and Past (know the difference!)

Unit 14 -Present Perfect and Past 2

Unit 15 – Past Perfect (useful for examples)

Unit 16 – Past Perfect Continuous (useful for examples)

Unit 18 – Used to (frequent errors)


Unit 33 – Should (useful for topic sentences and thesis statements)

If and Wish

Unit 40 – If I had known… (useful for “summing up” sentences)


Unit 42 – Passive 1 (it is useful to know what this is because the e-rater prefers active voice)

Reported Speech

Unit 47 – Reported Speech 1 (know how to use it as quotes look bad in the essays)

-INg and to

Unit 53 – Verb + -ing (everything in this heading is fundamental)

Unit 54 – Verb + to…

Unit 55 – Verb (+ object)

Unit 56 – Verb +ing or to 1

Unit 57 – Verb +ing or to 2

Unit 58 – Verb +ing or to 3

Unit 59 – prefer and would rather (useful when writing a thesis statement or topic sentence)

Unit 60 – Preposition + -ing

Unit 62 – Preposition + -ing (very common error)

Articles and Nouns

Unit 69 – Countable and Uncountable 1 (very common errors)

Unit 72 – A/An and The (very common errors)

Unit 73 – The 1

Unit 74 – The 2

Pronouns and Determiners

Unit 88 – All/all of, most/most of, no/none of

Relative Clauses

Unit 92 -Relative Clauses 1

Unit 95 – Relative Clauses 4

Adjectives and Adverbs

Unit 98 – Adjective ending in -ing and -ed

Unit 101 – Adjectives and Adverbs 2

Unit 107 – Comparatives 3

Conjunctions and Prepositions

Unit 117 – Like and As

Unit 119 – During, for, while (common errors)


Unit 125 – In/at/on

Unit 126 – to, at, in and into

Unit 127 – in/on/at

Unit 130 – adjective + preposition 1

Unit 132 – verb + preposition 1

Unit 133 – verb + preposition 2

Unit 134 – verb + preposition 3

Unit 135 – verb + preposition 4

Phrasal Verbs

Study everything, but note that studying phrasal verbs in a grammar book has limitations.

Additional Exercises

Try numbers 1, 5, 9, 29 and 32.

English Grammar in Use (Supplementary Exercises) isn’t the sort of book that one reviews, so I will keep this brief.

Freshly updated for 2019, this book complements the new fifth edition of “English Grammar in Use” by providing additional practice exercises for students to work through. And exercises are all you get here – there aren’t any explanations provided.

The exercises are fine. They seem to be more contextualized than in the main book, which means they are more likely to take the form of emails, dialogs and articles. That’s a great choice for a supplementary book that digs deeper than a primary classroom textbook.

The exercises in the book are match the units in the main book, but since this is a shorter book it combines units. Note that these aren’t always sequential (it starts with five pages of exercises about units 1-4 and 19 and 25), but the groupings are logical and obvious.

Overall, I do recommend this book to intermediate level students and teachers… just as long as you already have the main book.

I should also mention that unlike the main book, this one is in black and white and is printed on non-glossy paper. That means it is much cheaper.

Finally, I haven’t seen the fourth edition of the book, so I don’t know exactly how much it has been updated. Anyways, that edition seems to be selling for even more than this one, so I guess you don’t need to bother with it.

There are quite a few good grammar books available nowadays, but English Grammar in Use is still my favorite. A new fifth edition was published this year, and I will continue recommend it to students. Though it is advertised as a book for intermediate learners, I usually recommend it even to upper-intermediate and advanced students.

The 145 units in the book (and related appendices and extra exercises) make it a fairly comprehensive look at English grammar. With 34 years worth of revisions over the course of the book’s five editions some obvious thought has been put into how the information in the book is presented. It is remarkably easy to follow.

A moderate level of revision has occurred since the fourth edition was published in 2012. This seems to mostly have affected the organization of the exercises in the book, but the explanatory parts have been revised to some extent as well. On a shallower note, I’m happy to report that the illustrations in the book finally reflect a modern aesthetic – those in the fourth edition were not particularly attractive.

Overall, though, the book maintains the organization used since at least the second edition (the earliest I have in my collection). Each unit is two facing pages long. The left-hand page explains a specific grammar point, and the right-hand page includes exercises that students can work through. Answers are included at the end, though Cambridge does sell a version with those omitted. The seven appendices list verb forms, contractions, tricky spelling rules and notes about American English usage. There is also a study guide which might help students discover specific grammar points they should focus on.

Note that the units are grouped into logical chapters (present and past, modals, adjectives and adverbs, etc) rather than from “easy to difficult.” This isn’t a book that students work through from the beginning to end, but rather one where they focus on units covering their specific needs. The study guide might help, but they really need a teacher to show them the way. While the cover bills this as a “self-study guide,” it is better used as a supplement to classroom instruction or personal tutoring.

These activities pair well with Cambridge’s companion text English Grammar in Use: Supplementary Exercises. That book was updated in 2019 to match the new edition of the main text. Obviously, it provides additional practice which matches the units in the main book. Keep in mind, though, that it book lumps units together, and not always in chronological order.

Continue reading “Book Review: English Grammar in Use (Fifth Edition)”

Before a noun with a determiner, use “all of.”

This means you can write: “All of the teachers are helpful.”

You should not write: “All of teachers are helpful.”

Before a noun with no determiner, you should use “all”

This means you should write: “All teachers are helpful.”

You should not write: “All of teachers are helpful.”

Note: A determiner is “one of a group of words that begin noun phrases.” They include: a/an, the, my, this, either, several, more, both, all

Further reading: “Practical English Usage,” 4th edition (#147)