Monday, 3 December 2012

'Used to' or 'use to' vs would

To express this we can use either used to or would.
  • When I was young I used to play with my dolls. = When I was young I would play with my dolls.
Of course I no longer play with dolls!
  • We used to go out a lot in the summer.
Implies that we no longer go out much.
If you want to talk about repeated states or habits in the past, you must use used to, you cannot use would : :
  • My dog used to bark at cats.
  • I used to smoke.
  • I used to be an administrative assistant.
  • I used to live in England.
You should use 'use to' without a d in sentences when it follows 'did' or 'didn't' (don't worry too much about this because lots of people get it wrong).
The question form is ‘Did you use to…?'. When asking a closed question you put did/didn't in front of the subject followed by use to, you cannot use would.
  • Did you use to go out with my sister?
  • Did they use to own the company?
  • Didn't we use to go to the same school?
Also when asking questions about states in the past you cannot use would.
  • What sort of things did you use to like when you were young?
. In the negative you cannot use would without a change in meaning.
  • I didn't use to play with my dolls.
If I said I wouldn't play with my dolls. It would mean I refused to play with my dolls.
  • We didn't use to go out much in the winter months.
If I said we wouldn't go out much. It would mean we refused to go out much.
!Note - The general rule is when there is did or didn't in the sentence, we say use to (without d) when there is no did or didn't in the sentence, we say used to (with d).
There is also a difference between "used to do something and to be used to something".


Collective nouns are those nouns that denote a group of people, animals, objects, concepts or ideas as a single entity.

These collective nouns are commonly used under the category of people.

  1. A class of students.
  2. An army of soldiers.
  3. A choir of singers.
  4. A crew of sailors.
  5. A band of musicians.
  6. A bunch of crooks.
  7. A crowd of people/spectators.
  8. A gang of thieves.
  9. A group of dancers.
  10. A team of players.
  11. A troupe of artists/dancers.
  12. A pack of thieves.
  13. A staff of employees.
  14. A regiment of soldiers.
  15. A tribe of natives.
  16. An audience of listeners.
  17. A panel of experts.
  18. A gang of labourers.
  19. A flock of tourists.
  20. A board of directors.
Collective Nouns Exercise 1
Collective Nouns Exercise 2

The following collective nouns are used for animals.
  1. A catch of fish.
  2. An army of ants.
  3. A flight of birds.
  4. A flock of birds.
  5. A haul of fish.
  6. A flock of sheep.
  7. A herd of deer/cattle/elephants/goats/buffaloes.
  8. A hive of bees.
  9. A litter of cubs.
  10. A host of sparrows.
  11. A team of horses.
  12. A troop of lions.
  13. A zoo of wild animals.
  14. A pack of wolves.
  15. A litter of puppies/kittens.
  16. A swarm of bees/ants/rats/flies.
  17. A team of horses/ducks/oxen.
  18. A murder of crows.
  19. A kennel of dogs.
  20. A pack of hounds.
The following collective nouns are used for things.
  1. A group of islands.
  2. A galaxy of stars.
  3. A wad of notes.
  4. A forest of trees.
  5. A stack of wood.
  6. A fleet of ships.
  7. A string of pearls.
  8. An album of stamps/autographs/photographs.
  9. A hedge of bushes.
  10. A library of books.
  11. A basket of fruit.
  12. A bowl of rice.
  13. A pack of cards.
  14. A pair of shoes.
  15. A bouquet of flowers.
  16. A bunch of keys.
  17. A chest of drawers.
  18. A pack of lies.
  19. A range of mountains.
  20. A cloud of dust.
Collective nouns are endless and these are just a list of those used more often. As you continue to work on improving your English, you will stumble across many more. Be sure to add them to your list and use them as frequently as you can.


Recognize a collective noun when you see one.

Nouns name people, places, and things. Collective nouns, a special class, name groups [things] composed of members [usually people]. Check out the chart below:

Use correct verbs and pronouns with collective nouns.

Each noun from the list above is a single thing. That thing, however, is made up of more than one person. You cannot have a committee, team, or family of one; you need at least two people to compose the unit.
Because people behave as both herd animals and solitary creatures, collective nouns can be either singular or plural, depending on context. In writing, this double status often causes agreement errors. How do you tell if a collective noun is singular or plural? What verbs and pronouns do you use with the collective noun?
Here is the key: Imagine a flock of pigeons pecking at birdseed on the ground. Suddenly, a cat races out of the bushes. What do the pigeons do? They fly off as a unit in an attempt to escape the predator, wheeling through the sky in the same direction.
People often behave in the same manner, doing one thing in unison with the other members of their group. When these people are part of a collective noun, that noun becomes singular and requires singular verbs and pronouns. As you read the following examples, notice that all members of the collective noun are doing the same thing at the same time:
Every afternoon the baseball team follows its coach out to the hot field for practice.
Team = singular; follows = a singular verb; its = a singular pronoun. All members of the team arrive at the same place at the same time.
Today, Dr. Ribley's class takes its first 100-item exam.
Class = singular; takes = a singular verb; its = a singular pronoun. All members of the class are testing at the same time.
The jury agrees that the state prosecutors did not provide enough evidence, so its verdict is not guilty.
Jury = singular; agrees = a singular verb; its = a singular pronoun. All members of the jury are thinking the same way.
Now imagine three house cats in the living room. Are the cats doing the same thing at the same time? Not this group! One cat might be sleeping on top of the warm television. Another might be grooming on the sofa. A third animal might be perched on the windowsill, watching the world outside. There is one group of animals, but the members of that group are all doing their own thing.
Members of collective nouns can behave in a similar fashion. When the members are acting as individuals, the collective noun is plural and requires plural verbs and pronouns. As you read these examples, notice that the members of the collective noun are not acting in unison:
After the three-hour practice under the brutal sun, the team shower, change into their street clothes, and head to their air-conditioned homes.
Team = plural; shower, change, head = plural verbs; their = a plural pronoun. The teammates are dressing into their individual outfits and leaving in different directions for their individual homes.
After the long exam, the class start their research papers on famous mathematicians.
Class = plural; start = a plural verb; their = a plural pronoun. The students are beginning their own research papers—in different places, at different times, on different mathematicians.
The jury disagree about the guilt of the accused and have told the judge that they are hopelessly deadlocked.
Jury = plural; disagree, have told = plural verbs; they = a plural pronoun. Not everyone on the jury is thinking the same way.
Whenever you cannot decide if a collective noun is singular or plural, exercise your options as a writer. You have two ways that you can compose the sentence without causing an agreement error: 1) insert the word members after the collective noun [jury members, committee members, board members], or 2) use an entirely different word [players instead of team, students instead of class, soldiers instead of army]. Then you can use plural verbs and pronouns without worrying about making mistakes or sounding unnatural.


How do you count uncountable nouns? You can't, but you can measure them. You have to use ‘counters’



Uncountable Question
How much sugar is there?
How much jewellery is there?
How much cheese is there?
How much wine is there?
How much furniture is there?
How much money is there?
There's a lot of sugar.
There's some jewellery.
There's a lot of cheese.
There's some wine.
There's some furniture.
There's a lot of money.
Add a word

Make it Countable

A bowl of sugar.
A piece of jewellery.
A round of cheese.
A bottle of wine.
A piece of furniture.
A bag of money.

Countable Question

How many bowls of sugar are there?
How many pieces of jewellery are there?
How many rounds of cheese are there?
How many bottles of wine are there?
How many pieces of furniture are there?
How many bags of money are there?


There's one bowl of sugar.
There are two pieces of jewellery.
There are three rounds of cheese.
There's only one bottle of wine.
There are two pieces of furniture.
There are four bags of money.

Other words you can add to make uncountable nouns countable:-

You can put something into a container to count it, but the thing you're counting doesn't take the plural form. The container takes the plural form:-
A bag of money.
Two barrels of beer.
Three bottles of wine.
Four bowls of sugar.
Five boxes of cereal.
Six buckets of water.
Seven cans of Coke.
Eight cartons of milk.
Nine cups of coffee.
Ten glasses of water.
Eleven jars of honey.
A dozen packets of butter.
a saucepan
Thirteen pans of rice.
Fifteen tanks of petrol.
Sixteen tins of custard.
Seventeen tubs of margarine.
Eighteen tubes of toothpaste.

You can measure something to count it, but it still doesn't take the plural form. The measurement takes the plural form:-
For example:-

1 and a half litres of milk.
Two pints of beer.
pound / ounce / kilo etc...
Two pounds / ounces / kilos of butter.

You can measure uncountable nouns in other ways, using shapes or portions. Again the measurement takes the plural form.

Ten balls of wool.
Three bars of soap.
Two pinches of salt.
Five slices of cake.
Fourteen spoonfuls of sugar.
Ten squares of chocolate.


A simple sentence, also called an independent clause, contains a subject and a verb, and it expresses a complete thought. In the following simple sentences, subjects are in yellow, and verbs are in green.  

A. Some students like to study in the mornings.
B. Juan and Arturo play football every afternoon.
C. Alicia goes to the library and studies every day.

The three examples above are all simple sentences.  Note that sentence B contains a compound subject, and sentence C contains a compound verb.  Simple sentences, therefore, contain a subject and verb and express a complete thought, but they can also contain a compound subjects or verbs. 


A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinator. The coordinators are as follows: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. (Helpful hint: The first letter of each of the coordinators spells FANBOYS.) Except for very short sentences, coordinators are always preceded by a comma. In the following compound sentences, subjects are in yellow, verbs are in green, and the coordinators and the commas that precede them are in red. 

A.  I tried to speak Spanish, and my friend tried to speak English. 
B.  Alejandro played football, so Maria went shopping. 
C.  Alejandro played football, for Maria went shopping.

The above three sentences are compound sentences.  Each sentence contains two
independent clauses, and they are joined by a coordinator with a comma preceding it.  Note how the conscious use of coordinators can change the relationship between the clauses.  Sentences B and C, for example, are identical except for the coordinators.  In sentence B, which action occurred first?  Obviously, "Alejandro played football" first, and as a consequence, "Maria went shopping.  In sentence C, "Maria went shopping" first.  In sentence C, "Alejandro played football" because, possibly, he didn't have anything else to do, for or because "Maria went shopping."  How can the use of other coordinators change the relationship between the two clauses?  What implications would the use of "yet" or "but" have on the meaning of the sentence?


A complex sentence has an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A complex sentence always has a subordinator such as because, since, after, although, or when or a relative pronoun such as that, who, or which. In the following complex sentences, subjects are in yellow, verbs are in green, and the subordinators and their commas (when required) are in red.

A. When he handed in his homework, he forgot to give the teacher the last page. 
B. The teacher returned the homework after she noticed the error.
C. The students are studying because they have a test tomorrow.
D. After they finished studying, Juan and Maria went to the movies.
E. Juan and Maria went to the movies after they finished studying.

When a complex sentence begins with a subordinator such as sentences A and D, a comma is required at the end of the dependent clause. When the independent clause begins the sentence with subordinators in the middle as in sentences B, C, and E, no comma is required. If a comma is placed before the subordinators in sentences B, C, and E, it is wrong.

Note that sentences D and E are the same except sentence D begins with the dependent clause which is followed by a comma, and sentence E begins with the independent clause which contains no comma.  The comma after the dependent clause in sentence D is required, and experienced listeners of English will often hear a slight pause there.  In sentence E, however, there will be no pause when the independent clause begins the sentence. 


Finally, sentences containing adjective clauses (or dependent clauses) are also complex because they contain an independent clause and a dependent clause.  The subjects, verbs, and subordinators are marked the same as in the previous sentences, and in these sentences, the independent clauses are also underlined. 

A. The woman who called my mom sells cosmetics.
B. The book that Jonathan read is on the shelf.
C. The house which Abraham  Lincoln was born in is still standing.
D. The town where I grew up is in the United States.
Adjective Clauses are studied in this site separately, but for now it is important to know that sentences containing adjective clauses are complex.


Are sure you now know the differences between simple, compound, and complex sentences?  Click QUICK QUIZ to find out.  This quiz is just six sentences.  The key is to look for the subjects and verbs first.

Another quiz, this one about Helen Keller contains ten sentences.
These quiz sentences based on the short story, The Americanization of Shadrach Cohen, by Bruno Lessing.

Quick Quiz:  Shadrach

After each quiz, click GRADE QUIZ to see your score immediately. 
Remember that with the skill to write good simple, compound, and complex sentences, you will have the flexibility to (1) convey your ideas precisely and (2) entertain with sentence variety at the same time!  Good luck with these exercises!