Improve your writing

Many students have problems with the writing part of the Cambridge or the EOI English exams. It can be difficult to find someone to check a writing exercise and many schools and language schools don’t spend enough time on writing. But you can get some feedback on your writing if you use HemingwayApp to check what you have written.

HemingwayApp lets you paste your writing into their website (paste it over the example text on the homepage), and it will highlight any errors.

Useful links to refer to before the Cambridge exam

If you are preparing to take the Cambridge First English exam (FCE / B2) or Cambridge Advanced English exam (CAE / C1), these two links are an absolute “must” to visit several weeks before you do the exam. They are both excellent; the best sites I know for preparing for these exams: (B2 / First level exam) (C1 / Advanced level exam)

Both sites contain really useful tips about the best way to prepare for and to do the exam. They have videos, lots and lots of examples and ideas about each part of the exam.

There are also many tips on how to make effective use of your vocabulary in the speaking and writing parts of the exam, depending on the type of situation (formal / informal) that you are in. And everything is explained in easy-to-understand English.

Bookmark these sites to use before you do the exam!

Common errors in the writing exam

When you finish the writing part of your English exam, take a moment to review what you’ve written.

The exam is quite stressful, and it’s easy for mistakes to creep in unnoticed. I’ve put together a list of common errors, which are made by students at all levels, which you can download here. It’s a short list, only 7 items, so I hope you can remember them in the exam.

Good luck!

Prepositions of Place and Time: at, in and on

The short version is in this post; a more detailed explanation which includes some exercises to practice can be downloaded here (prepositions-at-in-on.pdf). The answers to the exercises are available here.

Prepositions of place

In general we use:

  • at a POINT
  • on a SURFACE


  • Peter is waiting for you at the cinema
  • Do you live in Italy?
  • Someone has spilt wine on this menu

Prepositions of time

In general we use:

  • on a DATE or DAY


  • We usually eat lunch at 1 p.m.
  • Are you going on holiday in June?
  • Where will you be on your birthday?

Ellipsis, Ellipses and Elision

1. Ellipsis

Ellipsis is the omission of words from a sentence to simplify it without changing the meaning. Sometimes the position of the omitted words is indicated by ellipses (three dots: …), but often there is no need to include the ellipses. We often use ellipsis in spoken language and emails to make it sound less formal.


  • I took a photo of Peter and Peter took a photo of Sandra.
  • I took a photo of Peter, and Peter of Sandra.
  • It sounds like a good idea to me.
  • Sounds like a good idea.
  • Do you fancy a meal with us this weekend?
  • Fancy a meal with us this weekend?

2. Ellipses

Ellipses are the three dots (…) which are used to indicate that text has been omitted. They are also called ellipsis dots.
They are often used by journalists to shorten quotes. In reported speech and dialogs they can be used to indicate that the person speaking paused. They can also be used instead of “et cetera” (etc.) at the end of a list to show that the list is even longer and some items have been omitted.

We use ellipses less than the Spanish, and even native English speakers who use ellipsis in email often use it too often. If in doubt, don’t use ellipses!

In the case of journalistic quotes, it is considered essential that the meaning of the quotation should not be changed when text is omitted.

In emails and informal writing ellipses can be used to indicate the trailing off of a thought.


To rescue from oblivion even a fragment of a language which men have used and which is in danger of being lost –that is to say, one of the elements, whether good or bad, which have shaped and complicated civilization –is to extend the scope of social observation and to serve civilization. ~ Victor Hugo (Full quotation)

To rescue from oblivion even a fragment of a language … is to extend the scope of social observation and to serve civilization. ~ Victor Hugo (Shortened quotation)


Informal trailing off:
If only she had . . . Oh, it doesn’t matter now.

A list which is incomplete:
We have to buy to buy carrots, eggs, peas, …

A pause in spoken dialog:
“I don’t know … maybe we should call him.”

3. Elision

Elision is the omission of one or more sounds in a word or phrase. Sounds are often elided to make them easier to pronounce. Sometimes a sound is changed when a word is elided (e.g. going to > gonna).

Common examples are: “cam-ra” instead of “camera”, “rest-rant” instead of “restaurant” or “lie-bree” instead of “library”.

Elision also occurs sometimes in Spanish (e.g. para trabajar > pa trabajar; cansado > cansao), but it is much less common.

When do you use “especially”, and when “specially”?

In many cases, there isn’t much difference between using “especially” or “specially”. Roget’s Thesaurus gives each word as a synonym of the other, and suggests “in particular” or “specifically” as further synonyms.

There is a small difference – when you use “especially”, you are usually singling out one particular person that you have done something for, or a particular reason that you had for doing something. In general, we use “especially” much more frequently than “specially”.

You can find a good explanation in the Oxford Dictionaries website.

Hypothetical situations and desires

We use the past tenses to talk about hypothetical situations (situations which are not true). When we talk about our wishes or desires, we use the present tense.

1. Hypothetical Situation in the present or the future
- Supposing
- I wish (Note: wish + could = a desired ability)
- What if
- If only (Note: If only is stronger than I wish)
- Would rather (Expresses a preference in the future)

+ past simple

Supposing a cat and a dog fell in love
I wish he used less after-shave / I wish I could swim
What if we went on holiday to Italy this year?
If only we hadn’t eaten so much
He would rather he worked from home
2. Hypothetical Situation in the past
- Supposing
- I wish
- What if
- If only
- Would rather

+ past perfect

Supposing we had won the lottery
I wish I had accepted that job offer
What if your car had been stolen?
If only we had parked nearer to the station
Mary would rather she had chosen a different position
3. Preferences in the present or future
- I would rather
+ verb base (= the infinitive minus “to”)He would rather his employees work less overtime
4. Irritating habits of others
- I wish
+ would + verb baseI wish he would clean up in the kitchen after he’s eaten
5. Something which should have already happened
- It’s about time
- It’s high time
- It’s time

+ past simple

It’s about time we changed to a different phone company
It’s high time we painted the house
It’s time we went to see your grandmother

Note that with …would rather…, the word which is stressed can be used to show what our preference is:

– I’d rather you went. (instead of me)
– I’d rather you went. (instead of staying)
– I’d rather you did the housework. (instead of the cooking)

When do we double the final consonant in a word?

1. Only some letters are doubled: b, d, g, l, m, n, p, r, t.

2. We double the final consonant of a word before we add

-ed,     -er,       -est,      -ing,       -able       and       -y

to show that the vowel has a short sound.

2a. With a one-syllable word:

If the word ends with a Consonant + Vowel + Consonant, double the final consonant.

This called the C-V-C rule.


hat – hatter
big – biggest
mum – mummy
run – running, runny
gut – gutted

2b. With multi-syllable words:

Double the final letter when the final syllable is stressed in speech.


begin – beginning
prefer – preferring, preferred
transfer – transferred

In British English, cancel and travel are exceptions to this rule: (travelled, cancelled, cancelling are correct)

3. If the final syllable is not stressed, we do not double the final letter.


listen – listening, listened
happen – happening, happened

Vowels: a, e, i, o, u
Consonents: all other letters

Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are normally used more in spoken English than in formal writing. They consist of a verb and one or two additional words which are adverbs or prepositions. The majority of phrasal verbs consist of the verb and one more word (e.g. “put off”) but some consist of a verb and two words, such as “put up with”.

There are over 3400 phrasal verbs listed on the Use of English website. For a more manageable list of common phrasal verbs, a good website is If you want to print their list of verbs, click the link “Print Page” at the top left of their page.