Thursday, April 26, 2012

Club English Has Moved!

ClubEnglish can now be found at our website,  Not only can you read more blog posts there, but you can find articles, quizzes, multimedia, and more to help you learn English.

I won't be posting here any more, so be sure to go to Summit Language Institute and update your bookmark.

See you there!!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Ham-Handedness, Courtesy of Blogger

I received notification that one of my older posts (from nearly four years ago) was taken down by Blogger because it had received a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint.

This is a false accusation, as the post in question consisted entirely of original material and I, being the sole author, am in fact the owner of the copyright.

Until and unless this issue gets resolved, I will not be posting articles here on Club English.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Tips for Remembering English Spelling

Are you having trouble remembering how certain English words are spelled? You’re not alone! Native English speakers often have trouble with spelling, too. English has phonetic rules – rules dealing with pronunciation. (For an example of this, see #2 in this post about irregular verbs for some common phonetic rules that affect irregular verbs.) If you learn some of these rules, you will find that they will help your spelling as well as your pronunciation! However, there are also words that don’t follow phonetic rules.

What can we do about these words that don’t follow the phonetic rules? Fortunately, there are some “memory tricks” (or mnemonics) that can make it easier to remember. I’ll show you a few memory tricks that are helpful for remembering English spelling.

For example, sometimes it’s confusing whether a word should have “ie” or “ei.” Should we spell “recieve” or “receive”? “Piece” or “peice”? “Pie” or “pei”? There is a spelling rule for this! (And it’s an old rule – it’s been around a long time.)

“i” before “e”
Except after “c”
Or when sounded like “a”
As in “neighbor” and “weigh.”

Now, there are exceptions to this rule, like “science” and “ancient” and “height” and so on. You might want to put them on a “special cases” list. Then you can use flash cards to work on these. (More about flash cards in a little while!)

There are other tricks to help remember how to spell confusing words. In particular, there are some words that are pronounced the same way but have different spellings, like “red” (the color) and “read” (as in “Tom read a book last night.”) These types of words are called “homophones.” How to remember which one is which? Let’s look at an example.

“Principal” (the headmaster of a school) and “principle” (a rule) are homophones – they’re said the same way, but they have different spellings and therefore different meanings. We can remember that “principal” is a person, because

A principal is a prince of a pal.

(A “pal” is a friend – like a “pen pal,” or a friend who you write letters to.)

Sometimes acronyms (a word made from the first letter of each word – or almost every word – in a sentence) are helpful in remembering confusing spellings. “Affect” and “effect” are not homophones, but many times when they are spoken, their pronunciations are so similar that it’s easy to confuse the two. How to remember which spelling is which?

The acronym RAVEN comes to the rescue:

R – Remember
A – Affect
V – Verb
E – Effect
N – Noun

This helps us to remember that we spell “effect” with an “e” when we are using the noun, and we spell “affect” with an “a” when we are using the verb.

Sometimes, it’s just difficult to remember how a certain word is spelled. Is it “oshin” or “ocean”? “Wensday” or “Wednesday”? Acronyms can help here, too.

OCEAN: Only Cats’ Eyes Are Narrow

Other tricky spellings can be remembered with short and/or silly sentences:

“Beleive” or “believe”? ==> Do you beLIEve a LIE? (The “i before e” rule also works here.)

“Acceptable” or “acceptible”? ==> ACCEPT a TABLE.

Here is a list of commonly misspelled English words:

effect / affect
it’s / its
lose / loose
their / they’re / there
then / than
weather / whether
your / you’re

Other Tips for Spelling

What about words that don’t have any easy rule or tricks to remember their spelling? What do you do then?

Make a list of “problem words” – words that you keep on misspelling. These you will probably have to practice until they get into your long-term memory. Flash cards are an excellent way to do this. You can use a flashcard program (like the one found here). The nice thing about using a program like this is that it focuses on the cards that you have trouble remembering. It quizzes you more frequently on these, so you don’t have to spend as much time with cards that are easier for you to remember.

You can also make your own flashcards and carry these with you. Then you can work on them whenever you have some spare time. Make some cards out of paper that’s a little bit heavier, so they won’t tear so easily. (In the US, we often use “index cards” when we make flash cards.) On each card, write a word on your spelling list. On the back side of the card, you can write what the word is in your native language.

After you’ve written all your spelling words on the flash cards, you will have a stack of spelling word flash cards to work on. Flip them over so you see the word in your native language.

Start: Read the first card.

Step 1: Say what the word is in English.

Step 2: Spell it out loud.

Step 3: Check yourself.

a. If you spelled it correctly, put it in the “good” pile.

b. If you did not spell it correctly, or if you had to think longer than a few seconds to remember how to spell it, put it in the “bad” pile.

Step 4: Pick up the next card, and go back to Step 1.

Read all the flash cards in your stack of spelling words until you get to the last card. When you finish going through the stack, you’ll have two piles: the “good” pile and the “bad” pile. You can put the good pile aside and leave them for tomorrow. Take the bad pile and go through them again, like the first time. Words that you spell correctly go in the good pile, words that you don’t spell correctly go in the bad pile.

Keep on repeating with the bad pile until all the cards have moved from the bad pile to the good pile. You’re done for the day!

Repeat this process every day. As you improve, you should notice that the bad pile gets smaller day by day, even on the first time you go through the pile.

If a card is in the good pile for several days in a row (for example, every day for a week), you can move it to a “once a week” pile. You know these cards fairly well now, so you don’t have to review them every day – once a week will be often enough. If you forget how to spell one of your “once a week” cards, move it to the bad pile for your daily review. Eventually, though, all your cards will move to this “once a week” pile.

In the same way, you can create a “once a month” pile. These are cards that are in the good “once a week” pile for several weeks. This pile will have cards that need review only once a month. If you forget how to spell a card in the “once a month” pile, move it back to the “once a week” pile. By the time a card moves to the “once a month” pile, it has gone into your long-term memory. This means that you know it fairly well, and you don’t have to review it so often. You’ll probably remember it for the rest of your life!

Good luck with your spelling!!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

House Repairs: The Main Line

A few months ago, when winter was coming and the weather was turning colder, we had a main line clog. The main line is the pipe in a house’s plumbing that takes all the household water waste and sewage and sends it to the city’s sewer system. It is the only pipe that does this for the whole house. Everything that goes down the drain, or is flushed down the toilet, goes out under the house through this main line and into the city sewer.

yucky sink!Now imagine what happens when this main line has a clog, or a blockage. When you take a shower, the water goes down the drain, but underneath the pipe is clogged. The water has no place to go, and it backs up through the pipes. When you wash your dishes or your laundry, the water has no place to go, and it backs up. When you flush the toilet, the water has no place to go, and it backs up. Not a pleasant situation!!

tree rootsThere are different reasons why the main line might be clogged. Sometimes the roots of trees growing near the house might grow through the joins of the pipes. A join is where two sections of pipe come together. Tree roots function to provide the tree with water, so the tree roots naturally seek out sources of water. Toilet paper and other solid waste can then get easily caught in the tree roots. This causes a blockage. Unfortunately, this scenario is not unusual, especially in an older house like ours. An older house is more likely to have an older style of pipe that is more susceptible to this type of thing.

So we had a main line clog. The water was backing up in the sink in the basement. We couldn’t wash dishes. We couldn’t wash the laundry. We couldn’t take a shower. We couldn’t flush the toilet. If we did any of these things, sewage would back up into the sink in the basement. Actually, we had had main line clogs before, about every other year. So we tried what had always worked in the past: a plunger, a plumber’s snake, and chemicals.

plungerThe first thing we tried was a plunger – a basic tool that is handy to have around the house. It is a suction cup on the end of a stick. It is very effective for unclogging minor clogs, like when someone tries to put a few too many potato peelings down the drain. Since a plunger is a suction cup, it can be used to create a vacuum. The vacuum dislodges the blockage and sends it on its merry way, through the plumbing and out into the city sewer. Plungers work best when the clog is not that deep in the pipe. If the clog is too far away from the drain opening, then the plunger is ineffective. We tried using a plunger on the clog, but it was no use. There was just as much water in the sink as before.

plumber's snake going into main lineWe then tried a plumber’s snake. A plumber’s snake is another basic tool. It is like a metal rope or coil that can be fed, or inserted little by little, into the pipe. In the picture you see here, a man is feeding a snake through a special valve called a clean-out valve. The clean-out valve is the primary access that you have to the main line. A snake is used by ramming, or pushing forward and pulling back repeatedly, against the clog. This will help to dislodge the blockage.

plumber's snake with augerSome snakes may have an electric motor. Some also have an auger, or a type of drill, to cut through tree roots and other things that may be causing the blockage. Plumber’s snakes usually come in lengths of 25–50 feet, so they are more effective than plungers when the blockage is farther away. But if the blockage is out even further than the length of the snake, or if the pipe has become so narrow that the blockage simply cannot be rammed through, then a plumber’s snake is of no use, either. The plumber’s snake couldn’t budge our clog – the water was still standing in the sink.

So we had to resort to the big guns: chemicals. At the hardware store, you can buy a very strong base. This base reacts with fatty substances like grease or similar things. These are likely to “build up” or accumulate on the inside of the main line, very similar to plaque build-up in a person’s arteries. When plaque builds up in a person’s arteries, it can cause a stroke or a heart attack. When grease and other things build up on the inside of the main line, it can cause a clog.

So you can get this strong chemical and pour it into your pipes through the clean-out valve. Then you let the chemical sit overnight. This allows the chemical to work, and it will “eat through” the clog. Then, in the morning, you turn on the hot water and let it run for several minutes. This flushes out the chemicals and whatever was clogging the system. Now the clog is dissolved, and your drain flows freely once again. Like I said, these chemicals are very corrosive. They “eat away” at the pipes, so they’re not something that you want to use too frequently. But we had always managed to get things working again with this solution, and once every other year is not that often.

This time, however, the chemicals did not work. We tried two or three applications with little or no success. This clog was especially stubborn, and especially serious. We had no choice. We needed to call a plumbing service that specialized in cleaning out main lines. We looked online for a company that did that type of work, and contacted them.

The plumbing fellow came out the next day and took a look at our situation. He explained the basic reasons why a main line might be clogged. He also explained that this was not unusual for a house that is as old as ours. (Our house was built in the 1930s.) Then he explained that the chemicals were not very good for older pipes, because they were so corrosive. Using these strong chemicals could actually cause more problems later on.

diagnostic tool - cameraThe plumbing fellow took some special equipment into our basement. He used this equipment to try to pinpoint the clog and find out exactly where it was located. The special equipment was a type of camera attached to a long, flexible line. He fed the camera in the main line, and on the little TV screen we could see waste water and other stuff in the main line. But the clog was so bad that it was difficult even to see precisely where the clog was.

digging to find the clogIt turned out that the clog was outside the house. Actually, it was between the house and the city sewer that runs underneath the middle of the street. Later on we found out that some decorative shrubs contributed greatly to this clog. These shrubs were planted outside the house by the foundation, so they interfered with the plumbing pipes. But at the time we didn’t know that. We could only guess. The plumbing guy told us what our options were. We decided to have the plumbing fellow replace the section of pipe outside our house. That’s where the clog was. Also, the old clay pipes were broken or deteriorated, and needed replacing anyway.

external access to main lineAs long as the plumbing fellow was digging around our plumbing pipes, we also had him install an external access to the main line. Most houses are now built with such an access. But ours did not have one since it was built so long ago. This new external access would make it much easier for any future clogs to be cleaned out.

So we had our main line clog taken care of. But since the plumbing was so old, there was another potential problem: the old iron pipes in the house could fail to work. If that happened, we’d be back where we started. The old iron pipes would continue to deteriorate. Eventually they would fail, causing more clogs or other plumbing problems. We could be lucky and go for several years without any more incidents. Or we could be unlucky and have another serious plumbing problem within a month or two. No one can predict when these things will happen. But there was a strong chance that something would happen at some point. The plumbing fellow explained that the pipes should be lined with a special plastic coating. This would prevent further deterioration. It would also make the pipes practically as good as new.

Nobody likes to spend extra money, especially on something like plumbing or other house repairs. It would be more pleasant to take that money and go on a nice vacation, or buy a digital SLR camera, or something like that! But it was something that needed to be done, especially if we wanted to move sometime in the near future. A house with known plumbing problems is much harder to sell than a house without plumbing problems. So we decided to go ahead and have this other plumbing issues fixed as well. We set up a date, and the plumbing fellow came back on the agreed date to line our pipes.

Since then, we haven’t had any more plumbing problems :) . Whoever buys our house will be a lot luckier than we were. We took care of this major plumbing problem for him!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Some Hints on Learning Irregular Verbs

All languages have irregular verbs. English is no different. There are no shortcuts in learning irregular verbs. They have to be memorized. But there are some things that you can do in your study to make them easier to remember.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Group the irregular verbs by the following patterns:

A – A – A:
These are verbs that don’t change from the base form for either the simple past form or the past participle.


cost / cost / cost
hurt / hurt / hurt
hit / hit / hit

A – B – B:
These are verbs that change from the base form for the simple past and the past participle, but there is no difference between the simple past and the past participle.


tell / told / told
think / thought / thought
build / built / built

A – B – A:
These are verbs that change from the base form for the simple past, but then the past participle is the same as the base form.


run / ran / run
come / came / come
dive / dove / dived

A – B – C:
These are verbs that are different for all three: base form, simple past, and past participle.


break / broke / broken
swim / swam / swum
write / wrote / written

2. Another way to group verbs – by the change from the base form to the other forms, especially their vowel changes.

==> Key concept – This vowel change often (but not always) represents a change in pronunciation:

Base form: -a-, -ea- (pronunciation /ei/ or /i/)
Simple past: -o- (pronunciation /oʊ/)
Past participle: -o_en (pronunciation /oʊ_ɛn/ )


break / broke / broken
speak / spoke / spoken
steal / stole / stolen
wake / woke / woken
weave / wove / woven

Base form: -aw, -ow, -y (pronunciation /ɔ/ or /oʊ/ or /ai/)
Simple past: -ew (pronunciation /u/)
Past participle: own, -awn (pronunciation /oʊn/ or /ɔn/)


blow / blew / blown
draw / drew / drawn
fly / flew / flown
grow / grew / grown
know / knew / known
throw / threw / thrown

Base form: -i- (pronunciation /ɪ/)
Simple past: -a- (pronunciation /æ/)
Past participle: -u- (pronunciation /ʌ/)


begin / began / begun
drink / drank / drunk
ring / rang / rung
shrink / shrank / shrunk
sing / sang / sung
sink / sank / sunk
swim / swam / swum
spring / sprang / sprung
stink / stank / stunk

Base form: -ink, -ing, -uy, -ight (pronunciation /ɪŋk/ or /ɪŋ/ or /ai/ or /ait/)
Simple past: -ought (pronunciation /ɔt/)
Past participle: -ought (pronunciation /ɔt/)


bring / brought / brought
buy / bought / bought
fight / fought / fought
think / thought / thought

Base form: -i- (pronunciation /ai/)
Simple past: -o- (pronunciation /oʊ/)
Past participle: -i_en (pronunciation /ɪ_ɛn/)


arise / arose / arisen
drive / drove / driven
ride / rode / ridden
rise / rose / risen
smite / smote / smitten
stride / strode / stridden
strive / strove / striven
write / wrote / written

Base form: -ell (pronunciation /ɛl/)
Simple past: -old (pronunciation /oʊld/)
Past participle: -old (pronunciation /oʊld/)


sell / sold / sold
tell / told / told

Base form: -i- (pronunciation /ai/)
Simple past: -i- (pronunciation /ɪ/)
Past participle: -i_en (pronunciation /ɪ_ɛn/)


bite / bit / bitten
hide / hid / hidden
slide / slid / slidden

Base form: -ind (pronunciation /aind/)
Simple past: -ound (pronunciation /aʊnd/)
Past participle: -ound (pronunciation /aʊnd/)


bind / bound / bound
find / found / found
grind / ground / ground
wind / wound / wound

Base form: -ee-, -ea- (pronunciation /i/)
Simple past: -e_t, -ea_t, -ed (pronunciation /ɛ_t/ or /ɛd/)
Past participle: -e_t, -ea_t, -ed (pronunciation /ɛ_t/ or /ɛd/)


bleed / bled / bled
breed / bred / bred
deal / dealt / dealt
dream / dreamt / dreamt
feed / fed / fed
feel / felt / felt
flee / fled / fled
keep / kept / kept
kneel / knelt / knelt
mean / meant / meant
meet / met / met
plead / pled / pled
sleep / slept / slept
speed / sped / sped
sweep / swept / swept
weep / wept / wept

Base form: -ake (pronunciation /eik/)
Simple past: -ook (pronunciation /ʊk/)
Past participle: -aken (pronunciation /eikɛn/)


forsake / forsook / forsaken
mistake / mistook / mistaken
shake / shook / shaken
take / took / taken

Base form: -ea- (pronunciation /i/)
Simple past: -e-, -ea- (pronunciation /ɛ/)
Past participle: -e-, -ea- (pronunciation /ɛ/)


lead / led / led
leave / left / left
read / read / read

Base form: -ear (pronunciation /ɛr/)
Simple past: -ore (pronunciation /ɔr/)
Past participle: -orn(e) (pronunciation /ɔrn/)


bear / bore / borne
swear / swore / sworn
tear / tore / torn
wear / wore / worn

Base form: -i- (pronunciation /ɪ/)
Simple past: -a- (pronunciation /ei/)
Past participle: -i_en (pronunciation /ɪ_ɛn/)


bid / bade / bidden
forbid / forbade / forbidden
forgive / forgave / forgiven
give / gave / given

Base form: -i-, -a- (pronunciation /ɪ/ or /æ/)
Simple past: -u- (pronunciation /ʌ/)
Past participle: -u- (pronunciation /ʌ/)


cling / clung / clung
dig / dug / dug
fling / flung / flung
hang / hung / hung
sling / slung / slung
slink / slunk / slunk
spin / spun / spun
stick / stuck / stuck
sting / stung / stung
string / strung / strung
swing / swung / swung
wring / wrung / wrung

These have no vowel change, or vowel shift, but have a change in consonant.

Base form:
Simple past: -t
Past participle: -t


bend / bent / bent
build / built / built
lend / lent / lent
make / made / made
send / sent / sent
spend / spent / spent

These are similar to the above, except they have no final consonant in the base form. The simple past and past participle are done as above, but note that the -y in the base form is changed to -i before adding the final -d.

lay / laid / laid
pay / paid / paid
say / said / said

These also have no vowel shift – they are regular verbs. However, there is an optional –t instead of –ed for simple past, past participle (note that those ending in –ll are reduced to one “l” when using –t for past tense):

burn / burned, burnt / burned, burnt
learn / learned, learnt / learned, learnt
dwell / dwelt, dwelled / dwelt, dwelled
smell / smelled, smelt / smelled, smelt
spell / spelled, spelt / spelled, spelt
spill / spilled, spilt / spilled, spilt
spoil / spoiled, spoilt / spoiled, spoilt

These are regular in simple past and past participle, but when the past participle is used as an adjective or in passive sentences, then the –n form is more common:

hew / hewed / hewn, hewed
mow / mowed / mown, mowed
prove / proved / proven, proved
saw / sawed / sawn, sawed
sew / sewed / sewn, sewed
show / showed / shown, showed
shear / sheared / shorn, sheared
sow / sowed / sown, sowed
strew / strewed / strewn, strewed
strike / struck / stricken, struck
tread / trod / trodden, trod

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Using / BE + -ing / to Express Future Events

You can use BE + -ing to talk about something in the future. Here is the sentence pattern:


The (TIME) component is optional. You can include the time to give more information, or to emphasize that you’re talking about the future.



We / are going / on vacation / next week.
We / are going / on vacation.

(“next week” is informative.)


John / is playing / tennis / Saturday.

(Here, “Saturday” is not only informative, but it emphasizes the future. Without “Saturday,” we might think John is playing tennis right now.)


I / am baking / a cake / tonight.

(Also emphasizes the future to avoid confusion with the present continuous.)

Use the following verbs and try writing some sentences talking about the future by using BE + -ing:

1. Speak
2. Bring
3. Drive
4. Do
5. Eat
6. Have
7. Call
8. Come
9. Take
10. Pitch

My sentences:

1. Professor Lee is speaking on statistics at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
2. Tom and Jane are bringing potato salad to the picnic.
3. Jack is driving the school bus for tomorrow’s field trip.
4. I am doing laundry tomorrow night.
5. Are we eating bacon for breakfast tomorrow?
6. They are having waffles for lunch next weekend.
7. She is calling the doctor’s office first thing in the morning.
8. Mr. Smith is coming on the six o’clock train.
9. The class is taking pictures for the yearbook tomorrow.
10. Bob Feller is pitching for the Cleveland Indians next year.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Weather Report: Tons of Snow!!


When talking about the weather, a "blizzard" is a very heavy snowstorm with high winds. Usually, though, people say "blizzard" when they want to indicate that it snowed a lot.

We had a blizzard last night. We had lots of snow (20.3 inches, over 50 cm), and there were high winds. The high winds created big snowdrifts. A snowdrift is a pile of snow made from blowing wind. There was so much snow that it was hard to push the door open.

Snow was piled high everywhere. We shoveled all morning (close to 4 hours) just to dig out the driveway and clear the sidewalks. It was a lot of hard work. The snow is heavy, and then to get it out of the way, we had to lift it up and throw it in piles. If you need some exercise, shoveling snow will give you a good workout!

Tonight, it is supposed to get very cold. The weather forecast says that temperatures could get down to 12 below zero Fahrenheit (almost -25 C). With the wind, it can feel even colder - maybe 30 below (-34 C). We call this "windchill" - when it's cold and windy, it feels colder than what the thermometer actually says.