Prepositional Phrases and Collocations



What is a Prepositional Phrase (or prepositional clause)?

A prepositional clause is one that includes a preposition and an object (and has certain words that modify the object). These can be divided up into adverbial phrases and adjectival phrases (adjective phrases). We all find prepositions confusing – even native English speakers, and prepositional phrases even more so. Here are some explanations of prepositional phrases which we hope will make things easier.



There are some prepositions used in phrases (prepositional phrases/clauses) and collocations (preposition expressions) that you have to learn by heart as they don’t follow any set rules.

Prepositional Phrase/Collocation Meaning Examples
1.       At first = in the beginning

= originally

  • At first John was patient with his son.
  • It was hard to find the shop at first, but after walking around the area they saw it.
2.       At once = immediately
  • You must go to the doctor at once if you aren’t feeling well.
  • We must pay the fine at once or we will get a penalty.
3.       At last = finally

= in the end

= after a long time

  • I’ve passed my exam at last!
  • At last, they have delivered my book.
4.       By far = by a great amount


  • This is the best book by far.
  • We saw by far the best film we’ve seen in ages.
5.       On purpose = something done intentionally

= something you mean to do

  • I bought two tickets to the concert on purpose.
  • The children were being loud on purpose.
6.       By mistake = accidentally,

= not meaning to do something error

  • We turned the wrong way by mistake and got lost.
  • By mistake, I added salt instead of sugar to the lemonade.
7.       On (or by) foot = walking somewhere (as opposed to going by car or other transport) ·       I went to school on foot this morning.

·       By foot it takes three hours to get there.

·       As the meeting was nearby we didn’t go by car but went on foot.

8.       On time (for); also, in time (to do something) = exactly at the correct time

= punctual

= just before the time to do something

·       We were on time for the start of the concert

·       We made it in time to catch our flight.

9.       At all = to any degree, extent

= in any way

 = (usually used with negative or in questions)

·       I don’t like coffee at all.

·       I don’t have anything to do at all.

·       What at all is the matter?

10.   In a hurry = rushed

= eager to get something done quickly

·       Let’s talk later as I am in a hurry right now.

·       John is always in a hurry to finish his work, which is why he makes so many mistakes.

11.   Out of order = not working properly

= not in sequence

= not according to the rules


·       The coffee machine is out of order.

·       The scenes in the movie were out of order.

·       The judge ruled the regulations were out of order.

12.   In advance = ahead in time ·       The restaurant is so busy you should book weeks in advance.

·       We need to prepare in advance for the meeting next week.

13.   By chance = something that is not planned ·       Last night I bumped into Sarah at the station by chance.

·       By chance I found those jeans I was looking for in the second-hand shop.

14.   Out of the question = something impossible

= something not feasible/doable/achievable

·       Dad told me that it was out of the question for me to borrow the car this weekend.

·       Don’t ask me to do that again – it’s out of the question!

15.   In no time = very quickly

= very soon

The directions were excellent and we found the house in no time.
16.   In common (with) = In the same way as We have a lot in common.
17.   Used to = accustomed to

= not new to

= familiar with

= in the habit of

I am used to having coffee in the morning.

I am used to studying English.

What are adverbs of frequency examples with the present simple tense?


We use adverbs of frequency (e.g. always, usually) with the present simple tense to explain how often, or how many times something happens.

Adverbs of frequency are also known as adverbs of time (as opposed to adverbs of manner e.g. quickly, well, loudly, or adjectives, e.g. quick, loud, good). As a part of our adjectives and adverbs grammar practise, in this lesson we use positive and negative adverbs of frequency like “sometimes” or “usually” with the present simple tense to explain how often, or how many times something happens. Questions are often the basis for using this type of adverb−when you are expecting an answer to an activity, for example:

Question: “How often do you revise your grammar rules?”

Answer: “I usually practice my English grammar rules every day.”

Examples of positive adverbs – question form

Question: How many times do you do homework every week?

Answer: I usually do my homework every day while I watch tv. (Not the most dedicated student!)

Examples of negative adverbs  – question form

Question: Why don’t you learn the position of adverbs more frequentlyyour vocabulary, grammar, and speaking will improve?

Answer: I don’t usually practice on weekends; twice a week I prefer to use my teacher’s sentence worksheets when doing my grammar homework.

Grammar Rules: types of adverbs of frequency

Adverbs of frequency can be divided up into two parts:

Definite Adverbs of frequency and normal adverbs of frequency.

Let’s look at the differences between the two as there are grammar rules to define differences in the position of adverbs in sentences:

Definite Adverbs of Frequency

Look at the form of these examples of adverbs of frequency:

  • daily, weekly, yearly – using these in a sentence shows a definite frequency.
  • often, sometimes, rarely – these are regular adverbs of frequency.


Question: What do you like to do every week?

Answer: I usually like to do any activity that helps me improve my adjectives and adverbs grammar.

Question: What is your favourite vocabulary learning exercise?

Answer: I frequently learn general grammar rules every week so that I can pass my IELTS writing exam next month.

Question: What do you usually have for dinner?

Answer: To answer the question, something simple as we are usually quite busy with work on weekdays.

What are the rules of frequency adverbs when speaking or making sentences?

In the English language, when writing or speaking the actual frequency of adverbs is as follows:

100% 0%
Always Usually Normally Frequently Sometimes Occasionally Seldom Hardly Ever Rarely Never

What is the correct usage and position of common Frequency adverbs?

When we use frequency adverbs with the present simple, the position of adverbs is important. The adverb comes before the main verb in the sentence as this provides extra emphasis:

  • I always work on my Spanish verbs by practicing my teacher’s lesson plans.
  • I never play football in the snow.
  • Usually, I find perfect tense verbs a little difficult.
  • I usually don’t click on targeted ads.
  • We usually visit my parents every weekend.
  • I sometimes go to the gym. (also: Sometimes I go to the gym).
  • I seldom finish work before 6 pm.
  • I rarely read newspapers any more.

BUT in some cases, with the verb to be (which can also be used as an auxiliary verb), they come after the verb:

  • I am usually late for work.
  • You are never on time.

If you put them at the beginning of a sentence this adds emphasis:

  • Usually, I am late for work. (more emphasis)
  • Rarely do we have a worksheet for grammar rules from our teacher.
  • Occasionally I enter ESL gaming competitions.

What are the exceptions to grammar rules for Adverbs of Frequency?

There are a number of exceptions to these rules above (it wouldn’t be the English language if there weren’t exceptions!).

“Always” never comes at the end of the sentence.

“Never,” “rarely,” and “seldom” never go at the end of a sentence. They are usually at the beginning, in what are known as “polemic sentences.”


  • Rarely do I ever watch tv; I prefer reading the written word.
  • Never do I drink coffee.

Short form answers on a subject are another exception. For example:

Statement: John is late again!

Short form answer: John is frequently late.

We will be preparing some a lesson plan and worksheet for this exercise so do sign up below for free English language lessons.


Choosing a freelance editor: a guide to different types of editing services


By The Write Writing

If your business requires you to write newsletters; websites; brochures; advertising copy; media articles; press releases; proposals and submissions; year-end reports; conference materials; technical and scientific reports; business plans; marketing literature including blogs, you might just benefit by hiring a professional editor. Why?

Editors like us are trained specifically to help you polish your prose and make your business documents shine.

Editors are more than human spelling and grammar checkers, which are fine if you want to dash off a quick email or memo, but an editor can be essential when presenting your professional best to the world. Sure, you could give your project to an intern to proofread, or rely on running a quick spell-check, but interns aren’t necessarily training to be editors, and spell check can’t detect errors such as common errors such as mistaking ‘to’ for ‘two’ or ‘too’,  or ‘their’ when you meant ‘there’.

When you hire an editor, you need to determine a few things, the first of which is where you are in your writing process:

  • Do you have a completed project or manuscript or do you need to develop an idea?
  • Is this your first time writing this kind of project?
  • Is your project a rough draft?
  • Will you need ongoing editorial support, or is this a project with a finite timeline?

The second thing to consider is the type of editing you need. Since editing goes beyond simple proofreading, you need to answer these questions first. Then, once you know what your project looks like, you need to determine the level of editing needed. Not everyone is aware that there are different levels of editing, and it takes some discussion between you and your editor to determine exactly what your document needs. You may think that you just need simple proofreading, but what, exactly, does ‘simple’ proofreading entail? Here’s a guide to help you understand what your editor is talking about.

Types of Editing

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is for ideas that are still in the rough stages, and may not be more than notes on a yellow pad. A developmental editor can help bring structure and organization to your project, whether you are looking to update your website or starting a company blog. (For online projects, look for an editor who also has at least some knowledge of SEO and/or UI, user interface design.) Our developmental editors can help you determine the hierarchy of your documents and have a working knowledge of most standard business documents.

If you are a CEO with an idea for a ground-breaking business book but do not know where to begin, a developmental editor can help you structure your topic so it flows logically and presents your brilliant ideas in their best light.

Expect to hire a developmental editor from inception to conclusion of your project.

Manuscript evaluation

If you already have a book-length manuscript (at least 75,000 words) ready, a seasoned editor will provide feedback. This is often where it is determined that you could use a developmental editor, or if you simply need a good copy editor because the quality of your prose is so exceptional. A manuscript evaluation will tell you whether you need to take the next step toward getting published, but does not necessarily imply a way ‘over the transom’, or into the hands of an editor who can guarantee a publishing contract.

Line editing

Line editing is a fine-tuning of the manuscript evaluation and gives more than a general critique of the book as a whole. A line editor judges flow and pacing, tone, the use of clichés and obtuse idioms. Line editing reveals run-on sentences as well as punctuation and grammar.


Copyediting is altogether different from line editing. Copyeditors check for everything the line editor looks for but the copyeditor also checks for style and format according to  a term that describes the specific rules for citations and formatting, such as that specified by the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press (AP). Academic copyediting often has to follow the rules of the American Psychological Association(APA) or Modern Language Association (MLA). Professional journals often have in-house style guides that must be adhered to in a manuscript.


Proofreading is just what the name implies: reading the ‘proof’ – or test print – of a book complete with title page, contents, index, bibliography, etc. depending on whether the manuscript is fiction or nonfiction.

This is where a fresh set of eyes is good to have, so you do not necessarily want your copyeditor to be your proofreader. A proofreader will be able to identify any errors in typography such as missed or misplaced apostrophes, single and double quotes, periods, commas, and semicolons. The proofreader will also be able to identify errors in page numbering, or missing pages and continuity of pages and chapters; essentially, anything that was missed in the pre-press or printing process.

Many people use ‘copyediting’ and ‘proofreading’ interchangeably so make sure you are clear on what task you are hiring and editor to do.

Knowing what kind of editing your document needs will help you when starting out, and will allow you to budget accordingly.

Writing Tips: Comma Splices


One of the most common errors that I mark on student papers is the comma splice, which happens when the writer joins two independent clauses – i.e., complete sentences – with only a comma. Like many writing errors, the comma splice was not a term.

I recognized before I started teaching English, and I often encounter limited recognition of the term outside of teaching circles. Not even my parents, who have worked as teachers, librarians, and editors, recognized the term when I mentioned it to them.

I suspect, though, that – much like pornography – they would recognize the offense when they saw it, as will many other educated readers.

To be fair, the comma splice is largely a stylistic error and one that I frequently see overlooked in commercial prose, especially in fiction. It sometimes even brings a bit of fluidity and grace to a text, transitioning between two distinct statements with only a slight glissando.

Nevertheless, comma splices more often appear sloppy, making the connection between statements fuzzy and unclear. The fixes for a comma splice are also quite simple to make, so even though it is a minor error it is a good one to work on avoiding.


How do I fix a comma splice?

To fix a comma splice, employ one of the three following techniques:

  • Change the comma-fused sentence into two separate sentences (note: this also works with so-called “run-on” or fused sentences, which are not to be confused with overly long sentences).
  • Change the comma into a semi-colon.
  • Add a conjunction after the comma.

To illustrate, here is an example of a comma splice:

“I was excited to begin working on the essay, I went home and immediately wrote a draft.”

While the comma splice does capture the excitement of the speaker, who simply cannot wait long enough to pause fully between clauses, it violates standard conventions of English.

Removing the comma does not help, as this creates a fused – or “run-on” – sentence, a more egregious error. One should only join independent clauses using the previously mentioned techniques. To illustrate:

  • Convert to two sentences: “I was excited to begin working on the essay. I went home and immediately wrote a draft.”
  • Use a semi-colon: “I was excited to begin working on the essay; I went home and immediately wrote a draft.”
  • Add a conjunction: “I was excited to begin working on the essay, so I went home and immediately wrote a draft.”

Of these three, the latter two are preferable. There is nothing wrong with the first, but it is a bit clunky and boring, without establishing a clear relationship between ideas.

The semi-colon establishes the slightness of the pause between ideas that the comma splice also conveyed, while adhering to conventional standards of English. The conjunction “so” is perhaps a little less poetic, but creates a clear, logical transition between ideas.

Whichever of these to use depends on the context and the purpose of you writing.

Grammar & Writing: Active vs. Passive Voice



Perhaps you received a graded paper with instructions not to use the passive voice, and are not entirely sure what that means. Oftentimes, professors – especially those in the humanities – prefer that students use the active voice almost exclusively to the passive.

In short, active and passive voice have to do with the relationship between subject, action, and object in a sentence. Both ways, the meaning of the sentence remains essentially the same, but the difference in emphasis can lead to slightly different interpretations.

Subject, Action, Object

Although some might find this surprising, many students do not understand the fundamental rules of sentence construction. Every sentence must have at minimum a subject and an action.

For example, one of the shortest verses in The Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), is a complete sentence because it contains a subject (Jesus) and an action (wept). Furthermore, this sentence has an unstated object. What did Jesus weep? Tears. Tears are the object that Jesus wept.

In active voice, we find a direct progression between subject, action, and object, whereas in the passive voice we flip the order around. Thus, the previous example employs active voice:

Jesus (subject) wept (action) tears (object).

To employ passive voice, we reverse the order, turning the object into the subject and vice versa:

Tears (subject) were wept (action) by Jesus (object).

Note the additions made when converting to passive voice: a helping verb, “were,” and the preposition, “by.” These are the telltale signs that you are dealing with passive voice.

Be careful, though, as students often make the mistake of associating any use of a helping very with passive voice, but sometimes the helping verb needs to be there to establish tense.

For example, “Jesus has wept” is not an example of passive voice, nor is “Jesus is weeping” as the helping verbs in both merely indicate when the action occurred. Generally, look for the word “by” to establish the passive voice, although this word is sometimes only implied, as in the passive construction, “Tears were wept.”

Why does it Matter?

The preference for active voice is largely stylistic – fewer words are used and the progression from subject directly to object leads to clearer meaning. This preference is strongest in the humanities and social sciences – particularly in the field of business – in which human subjects take priority over non-human objects.

However, the passive voice is less of a problem in fields such as engineering where a person might be of less importance than the process or technology that person is using.

Finally, you may occasionally want to use the passive voice to downplay emphasis or responsibility, especially if you leave the object implied. For example, compare the difference between “I lost your money,” and the “The money was lost.”

Moreover, it behooves you to pay attention to how others construct their sentences using the passive or active voice, to see where they might try to deny or deflect responsibility.

Who Cares About Grammar?


“Who cares about grammar?” was a question that my sixteen-year-old self would have asked rhetorically, assuming the answer was obviously “nobody of any importance.”

Those who cared about grammar were overly obsessed with rules and details for their own sake. As long as one got his or her ideas across clearly, what did it matter if they stuck to random, formal conventions?

This is not to say that I disliked writing – in fact, I’ve always loved writing, and was fortunate enough to have an intuitive understanding of how language should look and sound to get by without understanding formal rules and mechanics. I remember getting “A”s in high school for essays and short stories, but failing a test on gerunds (who cares what those are, right?).

I did not know much about grammar until I started teaching, and then mostly out of a panicked sense that teachers simply should know these things. I must say that learning the rules has helped in that doing so provided terms and definitions to apply to those concepts I had only grasped intuitively before.

This in turn has given me greater control over my own writing and my ability to help others with theirs. However, knowing the rules has also reinforced my belief that they are often arbitrary or open to debate: they evolve over time, or vary depending on the context or the purpose of one’s message.

Should you use the Oxford comma? Do you put one or two spaces after a period? Is text-speak – “u” instead of “you” – ever acceptable? Sometimes, rules that we have come to accept as gospel – do you still avoid starting your sentences with “and” or ending them with prepositions? – are mere myths.

Yet, many situations do nonetheless exist – as in formal business or academic writing – in which the strictest adherence to rules counts towards one’s professional image. Getting a detail wrong might mean a rejected proposal, loss of money, and missed opportunities. Working with rules that may not only vary depending on the situation, but also create barriers if one gets them wrong, can often provoke considerable anxiety.

Of course, a good editor will help walk you through this difficult terrain, and should address not only the formal rules but also the specific context of your writing. To further illustrate my point, I plan to use this blog to highlight some situations in which people care very much about grammar – where the rules are not only open for debate but can also arouse heated passions.

What are Sentences and Clauses?


Introduction to Sentences and Clauses

In previous posts, I referred to some of the mechanics of sentence construction, noting that many students are surprisingly unfamiliar with even the most basic elements.

Of course, one can get through life without knowing how sentences should be structured, but knowing them makes writing easier, and – I would go so far as to argue – can make your thinking more precise and well-organized. This post will discuss the nuts and bolts of sentences construction, identifying four different types based on combinations of independent and dependent clauses.


What are the basics of making a Sentence?

As I mentioned in a previous post, a sentence at its most basic level must contain one subject and one predicate (often simplified as the “action,” or the verb) – for example, “I write” is a basic sentence. Moreover, a sentence is comprised of one or more clauses, which themselves contain at least one subject and one predicate. However, not all clauses can stand on their own as sentences.

What are Clauses?

Clauses are either independent or dependent. An independent clause, such as “I write,” or “I drink coffee,” can stand on its own. However, while dependent clauses must still contain subjects and predicates, they cannot stand on their own, and only exist to modify independent clauses – for example, “while I drink coffee” is a dependent clause. It contains a subject (“I”) and a verb (“drink”) but it does not make sense on its own.

4 examples of Sentence types

Based on how you combine independent and dependent clauses, you can create four basic sentence types: simplecompoundcomplex, and compound-complex.

Simple Sentences: A simple sentence consists of one stand-alone independent clause – to use the example above, “I write.”

Complex Sentences: A complex sentence consists of one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses – combining the examples above, “I write while drinking coffee.” Now the dependent clause makes sense because it has a context based on the independent clause that it modifies.

Compound Sentence: A compound sentence combines one independent clause with one or more independent clauses – for example, “I write, and I drink coffee.” Both clauses could stand on their own, but are combined to produce a different effect. Note: there are special rules for combining independent clauses, which I discuss in my entry on comma splices.

Compound-Complex Sentences: A compound-complex sentence combines two or more independent clauses with one or more dependent clauses – “I write, and I drink coffee, while I sit at the computer.”


There is a time and a place for each of these, and good writers vary their sentence construction. A piece of writing consisting entirely of simple sentences would become tedious and repetitive, while one consisting entirely of compound-complex sentences would get confusing.

Think about the effect you want to produce, the ideas you want to emphasize, and the relationships you want to establish between ideas.