Basic Written English - Part 2  
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Basic Written English - Part 2  

This is the solution to the puzzle we set on the previous page. It's a good idea to practise building sentences in the same way:

The Paragraph

If a sentence may be defined as a group of words expressing a single thought, and ending with a full stop, a paragraph may be regarded as being an ordered sequence of sentences expressing a number of thoughts that relate to the same idea, theme or topic. The end of a paragraph, or rather the beginning of the next one, is indicated by the use of a fresh line, which sometimes starts a little way in from the left-hand margin, and there is often a significant space between one paragraph and the next. The intended pause at the end of a paragraph is usually much longer than the pause at the end of a sentence; it gives the reader a rest or a break, something like a rest ( an interval of silence) in music.

There is no rule to tell us how long or short a paragraph should be, but most paragraphs probably contain no more than twelve sentences and no fewer than three. Popular newspapers frequently use very short paragraphs, and they often contain only one sentence. This device of the one-sentence paragraph can be quite effective, but we recommend that you do not use it until you are experienced enough to be able to do so without any possibility of criticism.

Suppose that we want to write a short article or essay containing three paragraphs on the subject of 'My local railway station'. The first paragraph could say where the station is and how we get there. We could say what is close to the station, such as fields, shops, houses, and give a description of the station itself including, for example, the number of platforms. The second paragraph could say where most of the trains go to or come from and how many carriages they have. Presumably there would be only a few for short distances and more for longer distances. The third and final paragraph could mention the fact that years ago the engines were all powered by steam but are now all diesel or electric. This final paragraph (and the article) could possibly be brought to an end with two sentences something like, 'It is a pity that steam engines are no longer in general use on our railways. For many of us, train travel no longer has the romance that it had all those years ago'.

Spelling and the use of the dictionary

Despite the fact that English is a beautiful language, there is no doubt that it is not easy to spell many of the words we use, as they are not always spelt as they sound. However, one way to overcome this difficulty is to read, and retain the spelling of words as you come across them. Our own president, Dr Bernard Lamb, has admitted that he was a poor speller until he was in his thirties, but he is now the author of numerous articles and books. His latest book, 'The Queen's English and How to Use It', published in hardback in 2010 and now is in paperback and as an ebook. It deals fully with all aspects of the English language (including spelling!) and we shall refer to it again later.

Over the years there have been many attempts at spelling reform, but for one reason or another they have all ended in failure. This is not to say that minor adjustments to our spelling are not possible. For example, some writers end certain verbs in 'ise' and others insist on ending them in 'ize' (baptise, baptize, etc), probably on account of their Greek origin. For some time it was thought that 'ize' was used by our American cousins, and 'ise' by traditional English speakers, but this is no longer the case. Our advice is to forget etymology (the origins of words) and to use 'ise' for them all.

We have to admit that there is no easy way to learn spelling: no 'Spelling Without Tears'. But there is one method that was in constant use in our schools until about the 1960s. Those of us who are now into our fifties (or of course older) were taught how to spell correctly at school from about the age of six. The method was simple but effective. Every so often the teacher would give us a list of about a dozen 'difficult' words, which we had to memorise (often as homework) in readiness for a spelling test. We were also given frequent reading tests, which involved reading out aloud, either on our own to the teacher, or to the rest of the class. From memory this did not give us any real difficulty, and it undoubtedly helped us, not only with our spelling but also with our writing.

There are, of course, many ways of learning spellings, and you have to find the best one for you, or make up your own. Sometimes people use rhythm in order to fix a spelling: for example, 'a' double 'c', 'o' double 'm', o d a t i o n = 'accommodation'. If you think of it as in 4/4 rhythm in music, you will see how it works.

Other people use a mnemonic, otherwise known as a memory aid: for example, there is a rat in separate; Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs FFI, Mrs C, Mrs U, Mrs LTY = difficulty: big elephants can always understand small elephants = because. Think of the NEC in Birmingham to know there is only one 'c' in 'necessary'.

And sometimes you need to write a word many different ways until your brain recognises the pattern of the right spelling. Even when you have learnt how to spell a certain word, it will be useful practice for you to make up different sentences using the word, and to write the sentences down, perhaps three or four times.

It is fair to say that most of us have difficulty spelling some particular word or words, and the reason is not always obvious. However, we must never rely on modern technology to correct our spelling mistakes. To do so would be lazy and dangerous, as the computer just checks whether each word typed is one that is in the dictionary. All the computer knows is that 'checks' and 'cheques' (for example) are both valid words, and we may well end up with 'checks' when we meant 'cheques' or 'cheques' when we meant 'checks'.

This is where the dictionary itself comes into its own. All we need are the first two letters of the word we are looking for and we should then be able to find it quite easily. But a medium-sized dictionary usually offers much more than that. When we have found the word we are looking for, we are given its meaning or meanings and are told which part of speech (adjective, noun etc) it comes under. If a word can function as more than one part of speech, each is dealt with in turn. A selection of any fixed phrases containing the word usually then follows (for example, 'here', in 'neither here nor there'). If a word or phrase is colloquial (broadly, suitable only for speech or informal writing) or slang or vulgar, it will be labelled accordingly. The origin of each word (if known) is given at the end of each entry.

There is an old saying that practice makes perfect. That simple statement certainly applies to writing in general, but it also applies
This is the solution to the puzzle we set on the previous page. It's a good idea to practise building sentences in the same way: