TEFL newsletter – May


“Cast ne’er a clout till may is out” introduces two linguistic features of interest: the word “clout” is a cognate of the German “Kleid” and hence refers to clothing while the lower case “m” reminds us that it is not the month of the year whose end we must await but the blossom of the hawthorn.

Be that as it may, if only people would observe the distinction between “can” and “may”: the more usual “Can I smoke?” is an unnecessary physical enquiry from someone with two lips and pulmonary function and has nothing to do with a request for permission.

SIZE DOES MATTER … may or May?

… when it comes to upper or lower case letters. Can you correct the errors in these phrases?

  1. english-speaking
  2. tony blair
  3. buckingham palace
  4. edinburgh
  5. cleveland police
  6. a romanian teenager
  7. chariots of fire
  8. newcastle city hall
  9. king edward vii hospital
  10. the cairngorms

Check a grammar book for the rules if uncertain.

C or S?

Were it not for my grammar school grounding in Latin and weekly spelling tests, I would long ago have questioned my spelling of “practice” and “practise”, having corrected the two forms on so many occasions in the course of Eurolink marking alone. For the record, the noun is spelt “practice” and the verb is spelt “practise”.

It is worth reminding all potential TESOL practitioners that, whereas formal grammar may not be taught in British schools, their students will largely come from enlightened cultures where the teaching of grammar is considered fundamental to the learning of any language.

Other bones of contention are “advice” and “advise” with the different spelling and pronunciation, the English “defence” as opposed to the American “defense”, likewise “offence” and “offense”.


A constant source of irritation to me is listening to speakers on Radio 4 spouting statistics in a knowledgeable way and yet confusing countables and uncountables with such grammatical howlers as “less differences” and “the amount of people”.

Whatever made “fewer” and “the number” redundant accuracies respectively?

  • Basically, if a noun has a plural, you can count it.
  • Students should be reminded that not all words ending in “s” are plural: consider the words — news, physics, mathematics, gymnastics, aerobics, economics and logistics: all are regarded as singular nouns.
  • Some uncountable nouns are plural in their own right; they have no singular forms with the same meaning and cannot be used with numbers, eg macaroni, spaghetti, paparazzi. English words include — arms, clothes, customs, goods, groceries, police, remarks, thanks.
  • Problem areas for non-native speakers include — trousers, jeans, pyjamas, pants, scissors, spectacles and glasses.

If you spend more time researching the grammar, you will make fewer mistakes and save a vast amount of time dealing with any number of queries — more or less!

Ken Milgate
Chief Examiner

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