The author of the “Guinlist” site

Welcome to a blog for and about advanced learners of English for academic and professional communication. The blog author is Paul Fanning (pictured), a specialist in English for Academic and Professional purposes. More about him can be read by clicking the “about” tab above.

The blog particularly seeks to clarify advanced topics in English grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation that give the greatest problems to speakers of other languages when they are involved in academic and professional communication. The topics have come to the author’s attention as a result of extensive experience reading international students’ efforts to write academic and professional English.

The content of the blog falls into three main categories:

1. Regular posts about relevant advanced English language learning problems.

2. Learning materials that have been used in the writer’s past English classes.

3. Technical papers that indicate thinking behind the materials. 

The learning materials and technical papers can be accessed by clicking on the relevant tabs at the top of this and every other page. The learning materials were not specially composed for this blog, but are simply copies of handouts given to past students in the author’s classes on English for academic purposes. The technical papers are all unpublished. Some were originally written in the hope that they would be published, some were not. Clicking on the tab will bring up a list of titles and dates; the actual articles are a further click away.

The posts are the main part of the blog. A new one is usually published every two weeks (typically on a Monday), the average length being about 1600 words. Searches can be conducted in various ways. Clicking on the “All Posts” tab allows scrolling backwards in time right back to the beginning in 2011. The “Reading Posts” tab locates posts dealing more with reading problems than writing ones. The “Common Errors” tab is provided for readers who are looking to improve their English but do not know what they should work on. The “Problem Words” tab identifies posts dealing with particular words rather than wider word categories.

Alternatively, the menus on the right of each page can facilitate more refined searches. You can access the 10 most recent posts, or the most popular posts, or all of the posts in a particular category (grammar, pronunciation, reading, etc.), or the posts of any particular month. There is also a search facility at the top of the side menus, through which you can type in a particular topic that you are hoping to find.

Each post also allows comments or questions on its content. Comments and questions on other topics will generally not be approved.

Reproduction of the blog’s material on other sites is not objected to, provided the free Guinlist source is acknowledged and made available via a link.

Related to the blog are two books by the same author:

Grammar Practice for Professional Writing (2nd edition) was published in electronic form in 2016. Its aims and approach were and remain the inspiration for the blog. They can be read by clicking here.

Secrets of English Grammar is a new publication (Sep 2019). It is a collection of 45 of the most popular posts within this blog (based on viewing statistics). It is available only in book form, since electronic versions of the posts already exist in the blog. The wording of the title echoes a comment made once about the blog by one of its readers.

Both books can be purchased online through Amazon (to see details on the British Amazon site, click here).

114 thoughts on “HOME

  1. It is always a pleasure reading your posts about the English language, Mr Paul. I must say that I have always considered it as a privilege to be taught by you (at PCJ Uganda) where i first came into contact with the English language. It was not easy as i came from a French background but through your teaching, i have managed to be able not only to fluently speak English but also to write a few notes. Forever grateful, Paul!

  2. Hello Sir, I have been in love with English, especially,spoken, for more than 25 years, but I haven’t gone through such an amazing blog like yours. Hats off. Do you have any YouTube videos or any audios?

  3. It is an awesome blog, website, and resource for learning or improving knowledge about English! I have encountered two articles so far about topics I was struggling with, and now I have gotten things compartmentalized in my head. Thank you a bunch for your work!

    • How can I read your posts in chronological order? I can’t find your earlier posts using the search box at the top right corner.

  4. Hi Paul

    A very interesting blog and there are lots of good Esl articles to read. Paul you were my teacher at Middlesex University in 1999/2000. It is nice to find you here and know that you wrote a lot material regarding English teaching issues.


    Sansao Norton

  5. Hello, thanks for the very informative articles.
    I am wondering there’s any article explaining the usage of “has/had”? For example, to distinguish between the following:

    (1) The news created panic across the world.
    (2) The news has created panic across the world.
    (2) The news had created panic across the world.


  6. Hi Paul ! I really like your website because it helps me understand the querkiness of the English grammar. I wanted to run these two conditional clauses past you in the hope that you could kindly shed some light on their grammatical correctness:

    D Abrante

  7. What is the relation between main verb & Aux verb and finite & non-finite verbs.
    eg. The children are playing.
    John is sleeping.
    Though playing and sleeping are non-finite verbs (or forms of verbs), are they still main verbs in the sentences ?

  8. I understand an infinitive is a noun(To err is human….) used as the subject, the object of a verb etc. But in the dictionary the meaning of every verb starts with ‘to’. eg. i) answer = to say, write or to do sth.as a reaction. I earnestly request you to clarify.

    • Hi. A full answer to this would probably need a survey of infinitive usage in English, something too long for a comment section like this. Briefly, though, infinitives are perhaps best thought of not as nouns but as verbs with a variety of uses that may or may not be verb-like. The examples you mention are nounlike, but infinitives cannot be combined with a preposition in the way nouns can (the “-ing” form is used there instead). Some infinitives are adjective-like, giving information about a preceding noun (e.g. the need to work hard). Some are verb-like (see the post 105. Questions with a “to” Verb), while some are like adverbs (“to be honest, Nobody knows”).

  9. Hi Paul!! I really liked your page! It turned very useful to me cause I teach English in my country, and I also work as a translator. Could you, help me with a doubt,, pleaset? While preparing a class about compound adjectives, I realized that some of them were not quite clear to me. I undestand the rules about -ing and -ed but one thing that I´ve never seen any explanation is why we say a snow-white tablecloth or a lemon-yellow dress, not a snow-whited/ whitening tablecloth or a lemon-yellowed/ yellowing dress. Thanks in advance!

    • Thanks for your feedback and question, Cris. It is not one that I have encountered before, but I will do my best to help you. My grammar book (“A University Grammar of English” by R. Quirk & S. Greenbaum) lists various types of adjective compound (p. 447). Some end with a participle (“good-looking, law-abiding, quick-frozen”) and some do not (besides your examples, “duty-free, class conscious”). The difference seems to me to be that the participles are more verb-like than adjective-like: they are easily paraphrased with clauses containing the same verbs (“looks good”, “abides by the law”). I would also add that adding “-ed” or “-ing” to an adjective converts it into a verb and changes its meaning. Thus, a “white” tablecloth has the permanent property of whiteness, whereas a “whitened” one has only recently been changed from some other colour to white (for more on this difference see my post 66. Types of Passive Verb Meaning).

  10. Hi Paul! I am not a native speaker but since I was a little boy I enjoyed English language as if it was my mother tongue. I would just like to say how much you blog is helpful because I have everything I need in one place. My desire is to keep on learning English until I pass on so I hope you will be writing this blog until then!
    Best wishes,
    Prodison Hetgal

    • Hi. Thanks for looking at my blog. There is actually an existing Guinlist post on the difference betrween gerunds and participles: 71. Gerund and Participle Uses of “-ing”. I suggest you read that, and then if there is anything in it that is not clear, you are welcome to ask me about it.

  11. What a great website – interesting and informative. I stumbled across you while looking for examples of ‘may…but’ for tomorrow’s upper-intermediate class, then ended up just flicking from one page to another instead of preparing.

    Anyway, thanks!

  12. Hi Mr Fanning,

    I just hope that you would have a second publication.
    I have just read through your post, “103. Sentences Starting with “it””, again after half a year, as I mixed that with relative clauses, again. Your explanations are always the best.

    Thank you!


  13. mr fanning,i would like to ask whether is right or not to use the word opportune with ed when i mean i eg,i got an opportunity instead i say,i was opportuned

  14. also I have been hearing from my fellow students saying”let we start….or let we go,when they mean let us start and let us go,it is correct to make such kind of sentence

    • Hi Ernest, and thanks for your question. In answer, you are correct in saying “us” after “let” and not “we”. It is an object, not a subject, of “let”.

  15. please Mr Paul,is it correct to say “all is good/well” or all are good when you mean things are okey

    • “All” is one of those pronouns that can be singular or plural in meaning depending on what it stands for (uncountable or countable noun). In the expression you are asking about, it is singular, so it is right if you say “All is well”.

  16. Dear Sir,

    First of all, I would like to thank you for the ‘secrets’ of English that you have generously disclosed here.

    Of course, besides this, I would also want to pose a question here regarding one of your blogs, Pronoun Errors, and hoping that you would disclose more about the ‘secrets’.

    It is disclosed that ‘this/ these’, as demonstrative pronoun, can stand for any part of a previous sentence except the subject, and ‘it/they’ repeats the subject of the previous sentence. Then, I wonder whether ‘that’, as demonstrative pronoun, refer to the subject of the previous sentence.

    A newspaper write, ‘ABC Co-operation Organisation began quietly 13 years ago, its sights on security, but without a keen sense of purpose and direction. That its members were country X, Y and Z was as much a source of strength as weakness.’ Is the ‘That’ refers to ABC Co-operation Organisation ? Furthermore, it is quite difficult for me to understand the phrase, ‘as much a source of strength as weakness’.


    (I am a Hongkonger, or Chinese. I brought your book in 2012, since I ascertain that what you have discussed are all ‘secrets’. For example, a Longman Englsih grammar book for intermediate students and a Collins one both tell me ‘this/these’ refer to something that is near in space/time, and ‘that/those’ refer to something that is not near. To me, this seems too vague.

    Although I am no longer a student, I would like to challenge again in Public exams so as to earn a good grade in English subject, and hoping this will help my career.)

    • Hello, Ken. I much appreciate your feedback and interesting questions. I agree with you about the unhelpfulness of the textbook explanations of “this” versus “that”. They are true of some uses of these words, but not of all. One unrecognised distinction seems to be between formal and informal usage: academic writers generally prefer “this” to refer back to a previous sentence, while journalists, especially in the more popular newspapers (and perhaps ‘The Economist’), often use “that” instead.

      I do not think English often uses “that” to refer to the subject of a preceding sentence, but I’m sure examples of it can be found, since even mother-tongue English speakers are sometimes unsure about the correct use.

      As for the sentence you ask about, “that” is a conjunction there, not a pronoun. It is the same kind of “that” which is used to introduce indirect speech. It is commonly used to enable a verb and its subject (here “its members were”) to be the subject of another verb (here “was”). It is replaceable here by “the fact that … “.

      “As much a source of strength as weakness” means “brings strength in the same quantity as weakness”. It is an ordinary “as … as … ” sentence expressing equality between “source of strength” and “(source of) weakness”. Hope this helps. Regards.

  17. Dear Paul,
    Thanks for this blog! I still have a long way to go as far as learning English is concerned!! This blog is just the right place to be especially for me who still find difficulty in the use of certain adverbs and prepositions.

  18. Dear Paul,

    I got a question: we have established an international educational institute and named it Risalat (which in Arabic means “mission”) but now a friend argues that it needs “the” before the name and it should be “The Risalat International Institute” while we think it is not needed. It is to note that by naming the institute as Risalat we do not consider its meaning but as a mere proper name.
    This is very urgent, so thank you for your soon reply in advance!

    • Hi Reza, and thanks for your interesting question, which I’ll try to answer as best I can. If the name is to be just “Risalat”, then “The” would be incorrect before it. However, if you also want to include the words “International Institute”, then “The” is an optional addition. Without it, you create a name, with it a description (for the difference, see the post “47. Article Errors with Proper Nouns”). In other words, if you say “Risalat International Institute”, you are giving it a name like “Oxford University”, whereas “The Risalat International Institute” would perhaps put more focus on the meaning of the individual words. However, it’s a fine distinction – most people would see little difference.

  19. Dear sir, one day i was watching hollywood movies and found a sentence like ” he’s watching tv sitting on the sofa, not doning his homework.” is the sentence grammartically right or wrong? If right, then the words “watching, sitting & doing” which -ing belongs gerund & which one participle?. I am looking forward to recieving your explanation.

    • Thanks again for your interest, Sunny. The sentence you ask about is grammatically correct. It has a rather unusual grammar structure, though: … IS/ARE -ING, NOT -ING. It tells us that the first action (what “he” is actually doing) is unexpected, and that the action after “not” is the expected one. A paraphrase might be “He is watching TV sitting on the sofa RATHER THAN doing his homework”. All of the “-ing” verbs in the sentence are participles describing “he”.

  20. my mom & dad went to the merket, leaving me alon at home. In the above sentence, is the word “leaving” participle or gerund? Please paul explain it.

    • Thanks for this good question. The word “leaving” in your example is a participle, because a noun described by it can be found: “my mom and dad” (subject of the sentence). More can be read about this use of participles near the end of a sentence in the post 101. Add-On Participles.

    • excuse my teacher and father,is it recommended to say” for example, eat well so that you can be able to work”

      • Hi Ernest, and thanks for your question. There is one definite grammar error in the sentence you’ve asked about, but to say whether the sentence is otherwise correct I would need to know what context it was being used in. The definite error is the combination of “can” and “be able to”. These two are found together in some varieties of English (e.g. in East and Central Africa) but not in Standard British or American English. They mean the same thing, so they are felt to be repetitive. After “so that” in a purpose sentence you need “can” or “will” (see the post “Using FOR in Purpose Sentences”). If you use “can”, don’t say “be able to” (“… so that you can work.”); but if you use “will”, leave out “can” (“… so that you will be able to work.”).

  21. Hi,
    Mr. Paul Fanning, I am Otika Mathew your formaer Student at PCJ. Currently I am in Italy and my English is not as good as you had improved. Please, if you don’t mind, I came across an English phrase that I failed to understand the grammar with certainty. I am not sure if the limitation was due to a gap in my knowledge or something is actually wrong with the phrase. The phrase goes; “access to the archaeological site is now through the door on the Clivus Scauri. An entirely renovated route through the rooms are currently in use, and facilities for the disabled are available.” my query stems from the verb agreement..”an entirely renovated route through the rooms are currently…”, Is it “are” or “is”?
    thank you in advance.

    • Greetings, Matthew. It’s good to hear what you’re doing now. You’re right about “are” in the words you quote: it should indeed be singular “is”, agreeing with the head word in the subject, the singular noun “route”. I wish you the best for the future.

  22. Paul

    I had a discussion with someone recently who wanted to know which of the following was correct.
    “Arsenal are a good team”
    “Arsenal is a good team”

    In my view neither are correct! Your view?

    • Thanks for this question, Gregjof. To answer it, you first need to establish which meaning of “correct” is relevant. If it is about grammatical accuracy, the answer is that both is and are are “correct” in your sentence. This is because Arsenal, the name of a British football team, is a “collective” noun – a singular noun representing a group of people. Most collective nouns can be used in the singular form with either a singular or plural verb, depending on whether you want to emphasise the unity of the group or the plurality of its members. This point is discussed in more detail in my post entitled 12. Singular and Plural verbs.

      On the other hand, if by “correct” you are asking about the truth of the sentence, then its correctness is a matter of opinion. If, like me, you support Manchester United, one of Arsenal’s bitter rivals, then you would question the truth of both of your sentences. But supporters of Arsenal would probably not question either.

  23. Thank-you! I could never figure out relative pronouns until I read your article about them. Grammar is difficult, but you make it easier to understand. 🙂

  24. Thanks Paul.
    One more:
    There is a leafy area in our playground called The Wild Garden. I am not sure whether I am using capital letters correctly in the following sentence:
    We recently went to the school’s Wild Garden to look for insects.
    Many thanks for your help with my queries.

    • Hi again. Yes, capitals are best, because Wild Garden is a name rather than just an ordinary noun expression. The confusion results from the fact that the name uses the same words as the ordinary expression. That is like calling your cat Cat instead of something like Tinkerbell. You could say “wild garden” in your sentence without capitals, but that would be focussing on what it looks like rather than what it’s called.

  25. Hi Paul
    I was wondering if you could clarify where the apostrophe should go in this sentence:
    “He is willing to listen to others’ ideas”
    Have I used it correctly in the above example?
    Many thanks
    Emily Fernandez

    • Hi Emily, and thanks for your question. Your apostrophe is in the right place if you mean “the ideas of other people”. The normal rules for possessive apostrophes apply: before “s” for singular and after it for plural. I guess the uncertainty is because “other” is such a tricky word, able to be either a pronoun or an adjective (for more on which possibility, see the post entitled “28. Pronoun Errors”). In your sentence it must a pronoun because adjectives don’t have -‘s or -s’, and as a result it means “other people’s”. The adjective form (meaning just “further”) could also be used without changing the meaning, like this: “He is willing to listen to other ideas”. The singular form of the pronoun would be “another” or “the other”, and the possessives of these are “another’s” or “the other’s”. I don’t think you can say “other’s” – you must always have “an” or “the” before the singular form.

  26. I like the way on how you explain the concepts. There are so many unhelpful grammar books, such as explanations of relative pronoun punctuation. It is really quite difficult for me to understand what is mean by “defining”.
    So, thank you for your sharing here.
    I would like to buy your book, but it seems quite difficult to find one in Hong Kong.
    Do you have any suggestions?

    • Glad to be of service. And thanks for your interest in my book. If you buy it on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com, they should be able to post a copy to you. There is a link to them under “Blogroll” on the right.

  27. I like the work you are doing here Mr. Fanning and I’m very proud to have been your student for close to 3 years!.

  28. Dear Mr. Paul,
    which is correct!!
    i am looking forward to telling him something.
    i am looking forward to tell him something.

    • Thanks for this question. It is actually the topic of one of the posts on the site: “35. ‘To do’ versus ‘To doing'”, so clicking on that will give you a full explanation. The correct one is “to telling”.

  29. thanks a lot for your good work!
    mr.paul i have two questions which are a abit hard for me to answer.they are about formal writing.firstly:But that arguement doesn`t add up.secondly:lots of errors showed up.please asist me to write in formal rephrasing.

    • Hi Joseph. Here are your two sentences with the informal parts in capitals: “BUT THAT argument doesN’T ADD UP” and “LOTS OF errors SHOWED UP”. You should change BUT into HOWEVER (it is informal to start a sentence with BUT – see my post on “Where to Put a Conjunction”); THAT should be THIS (THAT used as an adjective is conversational); N’T should be NOT (abbreviations are informal); ADD UP should be MAKE SENSE (ADD UP is a two-word verb, and these are usually informal); LOTS OF should be NUMEROUS; and SHOWED UP (another two-word verb) should be APPEARED. Hope this helps.

  30. Hi Victor, and thanks for your question. The words you mention are not in themselves wrong, but you might have wrongly used them in a particular context. So if I am to assist you with your question, I must have a context – e.g. a particular sentence – where the grammar checker indicates a mistake. It may be that the grammar checker is wrong, rather than you, because computer grammar checkers are notoriously unreliable. One possible reason why a word like “himself” might be questioned by a computer grammar is the contemporary fashion (in Western countries) of trying to avoid language that might seem discriminatory against a group of people, in this case women. So in order to assist you more I wait for you to give me a specific context-based example of these words being criticised by a computer grammar.

    • Hi Mr. Fanning. Thank you once more for taking trouble to reply. Interestingly, though, the MS Word grammar checker is no longer underlining the words “myself, himself, herself, and themselves” in the sentences I have composed following your request. I am guessing the underlining that used to occur indicated poor sentence structure, or improper use of the words in a sentence, on which I have apparently improved. Nevertheless, please review the below sentences and kindly advise if I have used the words in question correctly

      I will pick her up from the bus station myself. Vs. I myself will pick her up from the bus station.

      He ordered me out of the house himself.

      The president himself ordered the police to release the notorious warlord they had arrested.

      They never do the dirty jobs themselves; they hire someone to do it.

      She looked herself in the mirror and almost passed out shocked at how severely her face had burnt.

      ***The major challenge- I think – I still have left with the English language is proper use of prepositions (I have to think hard before I can figure out which one is correct) and proper sentence construction).

      Thank you.

      • Hi again Victor. Your uses of “-self” pronouns are all correct. I have only these observations to make: (1) “I myself … ” is more emphatic than “I … myself”; (2) In your 4th sentence you used “it” instead of “them” (= “jobs”); and (3) you needed an “at” between “She looked” and “herself” (typing error?). As for improving preposition accuracy, I can only suggest that you appreciate prepositions are a problem of vocabulary rather than grammar. Learning a new word should often involve learning its associated prepositions just as we learn whether a noun is countable or uncountable and a verb is transitive or intransitive. However, the meaning of the new word can sometimes point to the correct preposition. I have a whole chapter on this in my book (see side panel for link).

    • Hi Robert, and thanks for your question. What you ask about is an idiom. It means someone is very proud, talkative and even boastful about an achievement of theirs. Regards, PF.

  31. i have been reading texts, especially newspaper articles which have “one” before names of people(nouns). I don’t fully understand its use. Will you elaborate this for me? example in a sentence;
    The second subject together with his wife one Nadhifa Ali were arrested from their house…

    • According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, this use of “one” is a more formal way of saying “a certain”. We would say “one Wayne Rooney” or “a certain Wayne Rooney” when we expect our listener to be unfamiliar with Wayne Rooney and we do not want to explain who he is. I hope this helps!

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