In a recent Everyday Grammar report, we explored how to describe your living space. We asked our readers and listeners to write us a message about their living space.
In today’s report, we will give feedback on a message sent to us from a VOA Learning English fan in China.
Let’s start with part of what Yan wrote to us:
I bought a apartment ten years ago in shanghai as I worked for 2 years. The apartment has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, one living room, a kitchen and two balconies.
Yan wrote a nice description of the living space. The second sentence – the one describing the rooms of the house – does not need any changes at all.
That said, we can offer some suggestions to make the first sentence clearer. We can also learn about some important ideas that can be used in many situations.
Change #1 - “an apartment”
The first sentence says:
I bought a apartment ten years ago in shanghai as I worked for 2 years.
We recommend changing “a apartment” to “an apartment.” Let’s explore why.
The articles “a” and “an” both act as determiners. In other words, they tell us something about the quality of the noun they come before. “A” and “an” both suggest that the noun is general rather than specific.
The difference between “a” and “an” relates to speaking. We generally use “a” before nouns that start with a consonant sound. We generally use “an” before nouns that start with a vowel sound. Since “apartment” starts with a vowel sound, we say “an apartment.”
Change #2 - “as I worked for 2 years”
Now let’s examine our updated sentence:
I bought an apartment ten years ago in shanghai as I worked for 2 years.
Let us take note of the verbs in the sentence. We have “I bought” and “I worked.”
Both verbs are in the simple past.
Now let’s count the number of time periods mentioned. We have “ten years ago,” and “for 2 years.”
We recommend simplifying the sentence by reducing the number of time periods mentioned.
We could remove the part that says, “as I worked for 2 years.”
This part of the sentence is meant to explain how Yan got the apartment. But Yan made the money before buying the apartment. In other words, we have actions happening before other actions in the past.
So, instead of using more complex language to explain the order of events, we can instead go in a different direction. We can take out some information from the sentence.
Here is one way we could change the sentence:
I worked for two years and then bought an apartment in Shanghai.
Here is another possibility:
I bought my apartment in Shanghai 10 years ago.
Another possibility is to name the year the apartment was purchased. For example, you might write:
In 2013, I bought an apartment in Shanghai.
The central idea is to reduce the number of time periods mentioned per sentence. When we reduce the number of time periods mentioned per sentence, we can increase clarity.
So, here is part of Yan’s message that has been updated with our recommendations:
I bought my apartment in Shanghai 10 years ago. The apartment has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, one living room, a kitchen and two balconies.
One more thing: in general writing, we spell out the numbers one through nine, and we use figures for numbers 10 and higher.
We can learn some important lessons from today’s feedback.
First, it is important to pay attention to articles and how they are used. Using “a” in place of “an” will not cause a major misunderstanding in everyday situations. But it could make a small difference to your score on a writing or speaking test.
Second, it is important to keep note of how much information you include in your sentence. By limiting the amount of information per sentence, you can increase the clarity of your writing.
I’m John Russell.
John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
feedback – n. helpful information that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.
determiner – n. a word (such as “a,” “the,” “some,” “any,” “my,” or “your”) that comes before a noun and is used to show which thing is being referred to