Monthly Archives: March 2014

How to use less and fewer

The difference between less and fewer is actually really easy!

Use less with things that you can’t count:

There is less violence in the world today.

Less time is wasted on silly things.

He’s got less money than he had a year ago.

Use fewer with things that you can count:

Strong verbs are easier to read and use fewer words.

Fewer and fewer people know how to use this correctly.

And the most famous:

English lessons Utrecht


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5 myths around academic writing debunked

English lessons UtrechtIf you can stop believing in these myths, you’ll make writing that paper much easier on yourself.

5. I need to use big words.

Generally, you’ll already have quite a few big words to describe the specifics of your research. Since you can’t change those words, you should try to balance it out with shorter, simpler words in between. The most common example is “use” instead of “utilize”. Using shorter, more normal works gives your reader a chance to catch her breath!

4. Passive voice makes me look objective.

Passive voice does not have the power to cause objectivity. Passive voice takes away the agent of an action, that’s all. Sometimes the passive voice can help you (e.g. when discussing methods or processes), but other times it can hinder you (e.g. when drawing conclusions). If used incorrectly, it can actually make you look like you are not taking responsibility for the conclusions you’ve drawn or decisions you’ve made.

3. I need to have a complicated sentence structure because my topic is complicated.

Actually, the more complicated the topic, the more simple and straightforward the structure should be. A complicated structure blocks your message because you give your reader two things to decipher (structure and message) rather than just one. Think of your structure as something that the reader shouldn’t notice at all. Focus on your message.

2. I should use a thesaurus to avoid repeating any words.

On the contrary, you will need to repeat certain words exactly and consistently to avoid confusing your reader. If you’re writing about type 2 diabetes, for example, and you call one group “the obese group” and then later call that same group “overweight,” your reader will wonder whether you’re talking about the same group. Remember that rarely do you find two words that are exact synonyms. If you change it up, have a reason, don’t just change the words because you think you are using them too frequently.

1. The only way my article will get accepted is if I write the way everyone else is writing, even if I don’t like it myself.

Have the courage to write an article you would want to read. Don’t use words you wouldn’t normally use when talking about your research. If you read a sentence and can’t understand it yourself, then no one else can either. Publishers and journals want you to write clearly, concisely and actively; they don’t want jargon-laden, noun-heavy paragraph-long sentences.


Filed under Writing in English

Your Professional Reputation: will

English lessons Utrecht

In the Netherlands, you don’t hear will frequently enough among non-native speakers of English. Maybe this is because we actually contract it to make I’ll and you’ll (and those are terrible to pronounce!) or maybe because in Dutch you frequently use the present tense to talk about the future.

Whatever the reason, adding will back into your vocabulary is an easy way to sound more fluent quickly.

 Instead of…       Use…
 I see you tomorrow  I’ll see you tomorrow
 You join us later?  You’ll join us later?
 He goes to Amsterdam this Friday.  He’ll go to Amsterdam this Friday.
 They are late tonight.  They’ll be late tonight.

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How language transformed humanity

Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of “social technology” that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.

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March 10, 2014 · 12:00 pm

Quit wasting time: 5 ways to study English more effectively

You think you’re studying the right way, but you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere? Most likely you just need to change your approach to become more efficient. Fluency in English doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in school. So take your learning outside of the classroom and make improving your English an active part of your daily life.

5. Be consistent

Invest (a little time every day) in a vocabulary trainer on your smartphone or tablet.

4. Focus on the right things

Groups of words, not individual words. If you read one online article per work day in English, take one expression from the article and add it to your vocabulary list. Take expressions from your (English-speaking) colleagues’ emails and add them to your vocabulary trainer. You probably know many of the words already, but can you use them together with such flair?

3. Write every day

When you talk, you need someone to listen. Writing can happen alone and it is one of the easiest ways to convert your passive knowledge into active knowledge. You can write your emails, your to-do list, your meeting minutes in English, or even start a blog or journal.

2. Use your down time

Change your subtitles from Dutch to English. Dutch subtitles are a crutch that is preventing your brain from processing the English that you hear on the TV all the time.

1. Connect with context

This is for all the high school students out there: no one can memorize lists of random words. Add context to your vocabulary lists: write a short, catchy sentence for every word. You’ll have an easier time remembering the words within a context.

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