Students have asked me to review the difference between using the gerund and past participle to replace clauses. The gerund can replace either a simple present tense or a present or past continous. The past participle (ED) can only replace a PASSIVE verb or a complement.

My lecture in a nutshell:
  • Combining sentences makes for more interesting and more sophisticated (read: more C1/C2). 
  • To do so, one of the techniques is replacing clauses with present or past participles (read: ing or having ed or ed). 
  • Students don’t always do this well- the two common errors are 
  • A . using ED when it’s NOT A clause with “be” … i.e., neither passive nor complementary
Arrived at the store, she bought milk. 
As you are replacing “When she arrived” (ACTIVE =no verb to be), you need
  • B. misplacing the ED past participle, again due to thinking in terms of active vs passive verbs. 
FOUND HER KEYS, she drove to work.
if you say FOUND HER KEYS … the verb is active (After she found her keys … ergo …. After finding her keys)
but you COULD also say    … Once her keys WERE FOUND .. so verb BE .. SO
HER KEYS FOUND, she drove to work …is CORRECT.
Walking through the forest, Little Red Riding Hood met a wolf. (yes =while she was walking) Talking to the wolf, Little Red Riding Hood disobeyed her mother.(yes=because she was talking)

NO     Arrived first at the cottage, the wolf disguised himself as LRRH’s grandmother (NO!! This is not a passive  or complementary  verb. You should use “having arrived at the cottage before LRRH)

YES   Eaten by the wolf, LRRH never came home.(A horrible sentence but grammatically OK, as it is passive)

YES  Concerned that LRRH hadn’t yet returned, her mother called her friend the hunter.(This is OK because it’s a complement with the verb to be = because she was concerned)

for more, see these links (scroll down to the end)

and exercises

and I’ll post a quiz soon. 


In class we looked at *almost* the same sentence, in each of the conditionals, to try to differentiate between them:

ZERO- If you leave an i-phone at a restaurant, it gets stolen. … this is a “fact of life.”  I’m saying that doing A leads to B. I’m not referring to a specific episode (NB it’s “a phone” not a specific phone) and the “time frame” of this sentence is present=general.  (GRAMMAR:present simple/present simple, both sides. You wouldn’t use continuous as you are making general statements) (VOCAB: “if” could be “when” or even “whenever”)

FIRST – If you leave the i-phone at the restaurant, it’ll get stolen. … this might be a piece of advice, for example. In this example, I’ve used “the” phone. I’m referring to something that I think is a real possibility. The time frame isn’t now, it’s the future (albeit the near future, maybe even this evening). (GRAMMAR: the “if” side (the condition) is with present simple, while the “result” side is with a future tense. This is often will, but could be present continuous, or going to, etc.). As stated before, this is often advice, so it’s also possible that you’ll find the imperative. “If you can’t find your phone, call the police.” ( VOCAB: the “if” could be “when”)

SECOND: If you left an i-phone at a restaurant, it would be stolen. ….. in contrast to the first two, this is hypothetical. I’m not talking about generalities, more an imaginary situation. The time frame is “imaginary” – not past – it’s just that to express the hypothetical in English we use the past. (GRAMMAR: the if clause is in the past, the conditional clause uses “would” + the base verb.)

THIRD: If you had left the i-phone at the restaurant, it would have been stolen. … like the second conditional, this is not about anything real. But differently from the second conditional, this IS about the past. So… since we already use the past to talk about something unreal, now we go back even FURTHER into the past with past perfect. The other thing is that this is “impossible” – in class I called it the “dico per dire” conditional. We’re talking about something and what might or might have happened, but nothing can be changed.

MIXED: If you hadn’t left the i-phone at the restaurant, today, you’d still have it. … this mixes the “dico per dire” third conditional (referring to hypothetical ) with PRESENT time consequences. So, past perfect is used for the thing-in-the-past-that-didn’t-happen, and a present tense (simple or continous) for the part referring to now.

Here is a matching exercise like the one we did in class. FIRST – decide what conditional these are, and SECOND, match them to one of the responses below.

1. If you talk on a mobile while driving, you’ll have an accident.

2. If you hadn’t been talking on your mobile while driving, you would not have to pay that fine.

3. If you talk on a mobile while driving, use a hands-free headset.

4. If people talk on mobiles while driving, they risk having accidents.

5. If you talked on your mobile while driving, you would get a fine.

6. If you hadn’t talked on your mobile while driving, you wouldn’t have had an accident.


a. If you got caught.

b. You’re optimistic today, aren’t you? Just kidding, don’t worry. I won’t.

c. I’m aware of that. Are you saying you won’t lend me the money?

d. What can I say? You’re right. I was stupid. Stupid and lucky.

e. Very true. Still, so many do.

f. I’ll have to get one. Good idea.

(answers on our facebook page or on request.)


O present s …….IF / WHEN /WHENEVER Present
1 present s (NO WILL)…IF / WHEN FUTURE (will, going to, pres. Continous) IMP
2 past simple Would + base verb (would run)
3 past perfect Would + have + participle
MIX past perfect Present ( pres . Simple, pres. Continuous )

“ALLOWABLE” MISTAKES , somewhat  expected at C1 level, and not shocking at C2 level :  ideally  of course  you will not make all of these mistakes. 🙂  I would, however,  greatly prefer you do make a few of them rather than use boring, simple sentences. 

1. TIME FRAME errors – We need to get rid of the present-perfect-used-in-the-past. (NO: Yesterday I have finished the exam.)

We need to get rid of past tenses in the middle of a present-tense paragraph.

We need to use past simple for past time when there is a series of events. (THE FIRST IN A SERIES IS NOT PAST PERFECT.)

It’s difficult, but we need to work on “the future as seen from the past” as in I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish on time. (NO: I knew I will not..)

2. GERUND – INFINITIVE errors – These include BOTH distinguishing between cases in which we need the former or the latter (a lot of that is memorization but there are some rules) AND remembering how to form a negative infinitive (NOT TO, as in “I hope not to get sick.” This is amply covered in Destination; on-line practice HERE:

3. PREPOSITIONS – oh, these are a headache. With movement, use TO. With position use AT/IN. (I went TO France. I live IN France. I work AT the hospital).  Practice them here:

4. RELATIVE CLAUSES – you need to use them, as they help avoid repetition and allow you to write longer, more interesting sentences.

I know you need practice. Remember – THAT cannot follow a comma.  Practice here:

5. LESS COMMON MODALS …there are some modals that you really ought to know by now. Others (ought to, had better, may well, etc) are new, and I’m aware of that. I’m impressed when you attempt to use them and forgiving of uncertainty in their use. Google “advanced modals practice”

6. HYPOTHETICAL FORMS this includes the 2nd, 3rd and mixed conditionals, as well as forms like “wish,” and “if only”

7. INVERSION : this is advanced stuff. One example would be enough for a page- two might be too much. The most common error is with Only. If you begin with “Only by ..” or “Not only” you must invert the regular order of subject and verb. Not only requires an auxiliary as well.

Only by remembering our mistakes CAN WE AVOID making them again.

Not only DID HE lose his keys, he lost his car!

Practice this at :

8. LINKING WORDS: Like modals, there are some that you REALLY ought to know by now. While C1 students may struggle with despite vs although, it’s important to try to use these. Practice them at :

9. ELLIPSIS AND SUBSTITUTION – again, you need to try to avoid repetition, and these are the techniques used by advanced writers. Find excellent practice at


It’s hard to say if these are allowable or not. It is inadvisable to have too much repetition of the same word, and too many errors in word formation will also hurt you. Please study the vocabulary we come across in class and in the book, as it’s quite a lot and will turn out to be useful both directly (if you need it) and indirectly (through word formation).

An example of this issue is “difficulties.”

If we do not use our memory, we will have difficulty facing the many difficulties that we find in life.  A person must use past experience to overcome these difficulties and make  decisions about what steps to take when they encounter difficulties. 

When you write this sentence you should be well aware that it’s problematic. The next step to take is to brainstorm synonyms: problems, hurdles, obstacles, crises, challenges, unexpected roadblocks, brick walls, etc etc.

CARELESS MISTAKES – These are B1 level errors. Too many of them mean I cannot possibly pass your essay as C1 work. 

1. 3rd person singular has an s. (NO: He work)

2. You must learn the common irregular verbs. (NO: I choosed) Here’s a list:

3. Would is not equal to would like. (NO: I would become a tour operator.) Would is merely the conditional (YES:I would go, but I cannot.)

4. Is cannot be used without a subject. (NO: Is important to check your grammar.)

5. Word order- subject-verb-object-adverb (with some exceptions) (NO: I like very much English)

6. Pronoun -reference agreement – This includes VERY basic errors like (NO: George loves her sister) and less terrible ones when you get the reference mixed up in a longer sentence (NO: I and my cousins played for hours in the snow, but eventually he got cold.)

7. Plural adjectives do not exist. (NO: a two years old boy)

8. Most false friends should  have been mastered by now. See the many lists on internet. (No: I actually study in Siena.)

Please take these these pieces of advice into consideration as you write the essay for the mock exam.

FAQ what is the word limit and does I’m count as 2 words?

answer: I’d like you to stay within 300 words or so. If you exceed 450 I may be annoyed and I may not finish reading it. But I’m not counting those words, so if it’s 380 I’ll never notice, so don’t worry about the I’m question .. unless you are using formal register (if so, see checklist below)

1) Set an alarm clock for 60 minutes and do not exceed the time allowed.

2) Do not start writing without having done any planning. Do not continue writing for the entire period, but rather spend AT LEAST five minutes looking for “your” kinds of mistakes.

3) Some of these possible mistakes you should look out for are on this CHECK LIST:


paragraphs – and they should be at least 2 long or 3 short sentences long

evident intro, body, and conclusion

if the writing is formal, avoid “you” to mean “people”

if the writing is formal, avoid contractions

DO NOT repeat the same word 5 times. Think of a synonym.

DO NOT  use words from the LIST OF BORING WORDS. (SEE BELOW)

TRY TO AVOID repetition of subjects etc. by using ELLIPSIS and SUBSTITUTION (if you don’t know what these are, look them up, as they will definitely appear on the exam and you’ll need to be able to name examples of each).

DO  use complex sentences (multiple clauses, relative clauses, compound verbs, linking words are all examples of how these are formed.)

DO  use linking words and DO use organization to make your writing flow logically from point to point. Linking words show relationships and are well worth studying.  There are many excellent websites on this, one of which is

DO NOT USE boring words: good, nice, very, happy, really, bad,  big, like .. there is a list of 50 of these on page 42 of the fantastic free book at this link.

Class notes week of Dec 10-14:

DEFINING clauses vs NON-DEFINING clauses (Global pp 30-31)


The two kittens that are black are female. = more than 2 kittens

This clause is the way we distinguish/ define the kittens.


The two kittens, which are black, are female. = only 2 kittens exist.


My brother that lives in Vermont works at a brewery. = I have more than 1 brother.

My brother, who lives in Vermont, works at a brewery. = 1 brother.


My favorite toy was a doll. My brother destoyed it, which was mean.

Which refers to the ACTION.


The toy car my mother gave me was my favorite gift.

The lady (that/who) I met last night

The guy I saw with Cristina


The gift of _which __ I was speaking just now.

The man of _ whoM ___ I was speaking…

The man _who_____ I was talking to

The man _whose__ daughter is standing over there is my neighbor.



TEST one: is there a preposition? Use whom if in the middle of the sentence, but use who if the preposition is at the tail end of the sentence.

TEST two: without this pronoun is it he (who) or him (whom), she or her?

The gift was meant for her.

She was …the person for WHOM the gift was meant.

..the person whom the gift was meant to receive.

..the person who the gift was for.


The man whose car is parked here should move it.

That woman, whose name I cannot recall, is annoying.

The man of whom you speaking (you were speaking of him)

The man for whom I bought this package (I bought it for him)



She was the one in my family who would go on to great things, I thought.

She……who I thought would go on …

She … I thought


..they had high expectations for me (that/which) I couldn’t live up to.


The exam was easier than we expected. That made for a nice change.

we expected, which made for /was


The team whose results were consistent all year showed great promise for the final.


I had a good feeling about the apartment into which we were about to move.

….the apartment which we were about to move into.

…. the apartment where we were about to move.


I spoke to a lot of people many of whom were disappointed about their career.

….people who were …




Only the “of.”

Both require either a gerund or “the fact that”

1) Despite being tired, I went out.

In spite of being tired, I went out.

2) Despite the fact that I was tired, I went out.

In spite of the fact that I was tired, I went out.

  1. Despite my objections, she went out
  2. In spite of my objections


Although I was tired, Although I objected





Here are the situations you were to write about: (you may of course do so still, and show them to me during office hours.


Consider the reading about blindness or the reading about swimming through the tunnel.


Can you think of a time when YOU felt scared or helpless or disoriented by a situation in which you found yourself? Where were you and what happened? Try to describe that time. Give some background information, and try to use structures to describe your senses (I heard x ing, I saw x ing, etc.)


Consider the reading about the boy on vacation and the tunnel.


Can you remember a childhood adventure in which you – knowingly or unknowingly – put your own life or that of someone else at risk? Try to describe the circumstances and perhaps either your own emotions at the time, or how the situation unfolded.

Consider the reading about the museum exhibition and the maxim about learning from encounter.


Can you think of time when you were shocked or awed by an unexpected experience or sight? (In other words, a time when you a profound or unexpected insight into something or somewhere or someone?) Try to explain where you were, what you learned, and what change (if any) the experience had on you.

Consider the reading about blindness.


Take a leap of imagination and try to describe the ways in which your day today would have been different if you suffered from a physical disability (blindness or deafness or being confined to a wheelchair). Think of what you have done so far today- describe your activities and the difficulties you might have encountered had you had a disability.

Consider the vocabulary you learned on page 19 (illuminating, the light at the end of the tunnel, in light of, etc.)


Talk about either a story you have heard or read in the news, or a new discovery, using as many expressions as you can from exercise 2 on page 19 as possible.

Consider the readings about solar power and outer space, as well as the language of prediction we studied on p. 21.


Talk about the current situation (regarding anything- climate, extreme weather, jobs, whatever) and make predictions about what you think life will be like for your own grandchildren with regard to these issues – and why.

TIME FRAME ERRORS – These (VERY COMMON) errors occur when you either forget what time frame you are writing in (because of digressing usually) or forget what verbs GO in the time frame (present perfect is PRESENT) or forget how to use them (past perfect is an example of an oft-misused tense).

Find them! Correct them! Check with a friend or with me to see the corrections.

Last summer was one of the best of my whole life. I have been to the beach and I have met some amazing friends. We are still in touch today. In fact, we are meeting next weekend for a pizza.

I hope to be accepted into your post-graduate program in order to deepen my knowledge of English history, language and culture. I study English since ten years ago, but I know that only a full immersion into the Anglo-Saxon world would make me truly fluent.

When the car pulled up to an old, dilapidated cabin, I was terrified. I climbed out of the car, walked up the driveway. I have felt prepared to meet my new “parents,” but instead a large, honey-colored dog runs to meet me at the door.

Although I studied French for twelve years, when I first arrived in France after finished high school, I cannot understand a world anyone was saying. It took me six weeks to catch my breath, after which I knew going there was the best decision I could make.

I’m half way through marking the personal statements.

Here is a list of recurrent issues that you ought to all take note of:

1) Do NOT underestimate the power of planning and coherence. Use topic sentences even in what seems to you a simple business letter. CONNECT ideas to your reason for writing, and to each other. End on a strong note and don’t merely repeat the introduction or the other information.  ………….. so, Do NOT write single sentence paragraphs or indent after each sentence. If you have a single sentence paragraph that means you cannot possibly have developed the idea or connected it to anything else.

2) Check your grammar in these often-incorrect areas: a) TIME FRAME, which we’ve discussed at length in class    b) SVA – agreement of subj and verb   c) use of gerunds and infinitives  d) irregular verbs (choose-chose-chosen, become-became-become)

3) Use this forum of the statement to show off strong vocabulary. CONSULT  a dictionary or thesaurus to avoid repetition!! Rather than repeating “study” ten times, try variants of : school- education- studies- academic career – learning- research- read up on- etc.

4) Use SPELLCHECK. Never again send me a piece of writing that is riddled with spelling errors. I’ll go out of my mind (worst case scenario) and I won’t correct it (best case scenario).

HERE IS A HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE for those of you who have not done your homework. ( I am no longer accepting papers, though I will mark all those that I received by Dec 10th)

A: (student paper)

I have always loved languages and I want very much to make a work experience far from the daily life.

To spend a year abroad and become a part of another culture. It would be an experience that would benefit all aspects of my development, both academically and personally.

I believe that Erasmus program entails openness to other worldviews and rigorous academic standards.

As a matter of fact languages are essential to the world today, since the  insight they provide give us way to communicate with different people and promote peace and understanding.

I  completed a linguistic high-school in Montalcino and am fluent in both English and French. I am keen to perfect my German level which is currently at B2.

I am now in my second year at University and have high marks in all my courses. I am also studying Chinese, of which I have a good working knowledge when I graduate.

I am very sports-oriented (I play volleyball since I was a child) and a good team player, and I have even been captain of our team for two years. I have worked as a baby sitter and as a waitress in my home town for many years, which made me responsible and caring. Sometimes I  babysit for foreign children and I am able to have conversation in language with foreigners. I am outgoing and enjoy new experiences.

At last my decision to apply for Erasmus stems from a fascination of the complexety of the language and the changes which languages go through. This experience could prove what I have learnt for years.

I think that all the activities I take part in and subjects that I have studied have made me a well-rounded, indipendent person with a worthy knowledge from many languages.

 I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon and benefitting from your great university.

B: (My corrections- (bold) taking into account the notes above, and above all the PURPOSE for writing this statement and trying to AVOID REPETITION).

I am writing to apply for the Erasmus program at the University of Heidelberg. As I have always loved languages, I dream of taking part in a study experience far from my ordinary  daily life, and I believe that my academic and personal experience make me a candidate who will both benefit from and contribute to your program.

I believe that successful participation in any Erasmus program entails rigorous academic standards and an openness to other world views, and I have a proven track record of both.  I completed a linguistic high-school in Montalcino and am fluent in both English and French.  I am now in my second year at University and have high marks in all my courses, including Chinese, of which I expect to have a good working knowledge upon graduation.  I have decided to apply to your Erasmus program as I am particularly keen to perfect my German level, which is currently at B2.

My decision to apply for Erasmus was two-fold: in part it stems from a fascination of the complexity of the language and the changes which languages go through, and this experience could prove what I have been learning about for years.  On the other hand, I am attracted by the social function of languages: they are essential to the world today, since the insight they provide gives us a way to communicate with different people and promote peace and understanding.

Just as there are multiple facets to the importance of languages, I think that my own maturity has grown as a result of all the activities I take part in and subjects that I have studied, making me a well-rounded, independent person.  I am very sports-oriented and a good team player: for example,have played volleyball since I was a child, and was honored to be selected captain of our team for two years.  I have always juggled my academic load with a job: I have worked as a baby sitter and as a waitress in my home town for many years, which enabled me to become  responsible and patient. Sometimes I have babysat for foreign children, which has given me pratical experience conversing with foreigners in their native tongue.

An outgoing person, I always enjoy new experiences.   To spend a year abroad and become a part of another culture would bebeneficial experience both academically and personally, and nothing would please me more than to do so at a university of the caliber of  Heidelberg.  I  look  forward to hearing from you soon.