6 Steps towards improving your Speaking Skills

How to effectively improve your speaking skills divided into 6 easy steps

Public Speaking

Just the thought of making a presentation, a speech, or having to speak up during a meeting makes many people very anxious. In fact, for many public speaking even is their number one fear and they tend to avoid it whenever possible.

However, public speaking is a skill that, if practiced sufficiently, can be turned into something that you can be good at and enjoy.  Below are six easy steps that will help you to turn yourself into a good and confident speaker.

  1. Speak clearly
  2. Develop ‘flow’
  3. Choose your ‘expert’ topic
  4. Become a topic expert
  5. Develop style
  6. Practice daily
  1. Speak Clearly

Clear speech is direct and takes responsibility of its meaning. This means that if you want to make an impact, you should not be vague or abstract. You need to make sure that what you say is what you believe, so you can ‘own’ the content of your talk. This means that you should be direct in how you address people. So, don’t say:

It wasn’t appreciated.

Instead, when you make a claim, make sure people know it is your claim and say:

I didn’t appreciate it.

Taking responsibility means that, if you are not speaking for other people but just for yourself, they should know that. So, don’t say:

We are not sure what to do.

When you are speaking for yourself, instead say:

I am not sure what to do.’

People will appreciate it when you are being direct and are taking responsibility for what you say because it makes you connect with them on a personal level. As a speaker, this makes you more believable, so your talk will have more impact.

Volume is also important if you want to be clear, because clear speech demands attention and gives you ‘presence’. People need to know that you are there and understand that you came to talk to them about something important. Speaking at a volume that is just right, so neither too loud nor too soft, makes people trust you. It makes you look confident and it makes your audience understand that you know what you are talking about.

It is also important that you speak with passion. Showing that you are enjoying what you are doing will rub off on the people that are listening to you, and they will want to share in your passion.  To look at things differently, you cannot expect people to enjoy your speech if they think you are not even enjoying it yourself.

Speaking clearly also means not overusing slang and jargon. Slang tends to be quite informal and, therefore, not appropriate in all situations. So, don’t say:

That is an awesome idea.

Instead, you should use more neutral language and say:

‘That is a great idea.’

Jargon should also be kept to a minimum because just the people that are familiar with it will understand it, and it will make your talk quite abstract. Let’s look at this example:

I can give you a ballpark figure.’

The term ‘ballpark figure’ is often used in sales, accountancy and finance. It is a rough numerical estimate of something. However, it is possible that only people who are working in these fields will understand you.

  • Develop ‘Flow’

Speaking with ‘flow’ means looking comfortable in front of the people you’re talking to and being able to speak about any topic with equal grace. Contrary to what many people believe, having flow is not a skill that people are born with, it can be practiced and learned.

Also, looking at ease when speaking to audience should not be confused with being at ease. Often, a lot will be going on in your head when you are speaking, but most of that is not visible to the people in front of you. To develop ‘flow’, there are a number of things to consider.

First of all, thinking about the pace at which you speak is important. Most people, especially when they are nervous, tend to speak too quickly. Speaking quickly affects accuracy and understanding negatively and therefore it is important to take your time. When you consciously force yourself to speak slightly slower than you normally would, your pace tends to be just right for your audience.

Pausing is also important when presenting, for a variety of reasons. Not only can it replace the ‘uh’s and ‘uhm’s, and the filler words that people use in everyday speech, pausing can also be used for emphasis. For instance, many good presenters build in a short pause right before saying something important. In this way, what they say has more impact and is therefore is more likely to be remembered by the audience. Pauses are also used in other advanced presentation techniques.

  • Choose your ‘Expert’ Topic

When trying to become a better public speaker it helps to choose an ‘expert’ topic that you can use to practice with. Often this is something related to your passions or interests. The advantage of choosing something that your care about is that when are talking about that subject, you will probably already be knowledgeable about the subject, so you can spend less time thinking about the content of your talk and more about the delivery. In addition, it will also make you look confident. An added benefit is that your passion for the subject is likely to shine through and you will look more excited about what you are going to say.

  • Becoming the ‘Expert’

Because it is much easier to talk about something that you already know a lot about, it makes sense to choose these types of subjects to talk about if you can, or become a topic expert if you need to. In this last instance that means it will definitely be worth it to study up your subject so you can start your presentation with confidence. Once you are confident, you will find that you will naturally aim for conversations that you are comfortable with, pursue positive reactions from your speaking partners when you talk to them and naturally divide your talk into subtopics, all because you are the expert.

  • Develop Style

Now that you have become a topic expert, you can develop your style. Style is personal, which means that there is not one way, or just one style in which you should present. Your style needs to go with your personality and often it takes quite some time and experience to discover what your personal style is.

To develop your presentation style the volume at which you speak, and particularly the variation in it, can help you to make your talk more memorable. For instance, you could speak up when you are (or want your audience to be) excited about something.

Varying your pace is also a useful tool that can help you discover your style. Not only do certain advanced presentation techniques require you to speed up, slow down or pause, varying your pace could also help you express emotions effectively.

Showing good body language is also an essential skill to develop if you want to be a better presenter. Your gestures and expressions not only support the content of your talk, they also tell the audience a lot about how you feel as a presenter. For this reason, being aware of how you look and how you move in front of your audience is something worth working on.

Adding some humorous comments of jokes to your presentation could also help. It is a good way to establish rapport between you and the audience, especially during your opening. You do have to keep in mind, however, that humor is very personal and culturally specific. What some people find hilarious may not work on others. Because of this, you have to keep in mind that a joke can work wonders if people find it funny, but it can be disastrous for your presentation if it bombs. Therefore, if you choose to include a joke, you may want to choose one that is safe, or at the expense of yourself.

Telling a story can also work well. You can use it as a ‘hook’ to make your audience interested and to approve your credibility as an expert if you choose to a story that is personal. In general, storytelling will also make your talk more interesting because your story will link your subject to everyday life experiences and make your presentation come to life.

  • Practice Daily

When it comes to presenting well, practice makes perfect. There is no way around it; the more you practice, the better you’ll become. This doesn’t mean, however, that all your presentation should be ‘high stakes’. If you want to become better, most of your presentations should take place at home. You should ask friends and family for feedback, record yourself on video, and practice in front of a mirror. Setting specific targets for yourself will help you focus on specific skills. This means choosing one or two things you want to focus on every time you practice. Presenting at ‘real’ events will help you learn to present under pressure. This could range from simply starting a conversation during a party, to speaking up during a meeting, to being on the podium in front of a real audience. It doesn’t matter, as long as you practice, you’ll get better and more confident.


The above-mentioned steps will help you become a better, more confident, and more successful presenter. Just keep in mind that presenting is not a talent you are born with, but a skill that you can work on and develop over time until it becomes something you are skilled at and is fun.

Presentation skills: The Power of Changing the Focus of a Sentence

Making what you say during a presentation have more impact by changing the focus of a sentence.


In a presentation your content is of course essential. However, if you want to make a real impact, it is often not just what you say that is important, but also how you say it. Putting emphasis on certain points in your message by changing the word order of your sentences can help you focus the audience’s the parts that you think they should remember.

‘Given’ and ‘New’ Information

In English, important information is often put at the beginning or the end of a sentence, but there are two types of important information: ‘Given’ information and ‘new ‘information.

Given information is that which the listener already knows, and it is usually put at the beginning of a sentence. So, if the topic of your presentation is poverty, you can assume that this is given information for the audience. In that case you would probably use something like the following sentence:

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.

‘New’ information is that which the listener has not heard before, and this information is put at the end of a sentence. 

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor.

Looking at this sentence, you will see that when defining the term poverty, that which defines the term is put at the end of the sentence. In other words, the information in the last part of the sentence explains, or gives meaning to the first part. That is because the definition of the term poverty is the new information.

This idea of putting given information at the beginning of a sentence and new information at the end can be very helpful when building  a well-structured argument if you make the new information from one sentence the given information from the next. In other words, the what you added to the last part of one sentence  as new information, should be put at the beginning of the next as given information, like in the following example:

Poverty is the state of being extremely poor. Being extremely poor has negative effects on the economy.

You could now continue your argument by making the new information from the last sentence, the given information in the next. In this case you would then start by taking negative effects on the economy as the beginning of your next sentence. Please note, however, that when using this technique, you should not always just copy the exact words from the previous sentence, since this would lead to a very awkward writing style. You should, however, repeat the information, so in many cases you should paraphrase instead of repeat.

Shifting Focus

As mentioned, shifting focus means changing the word order of a sentence to put emphasis on something in a sentence.  This could be, for instance:

  • A person
  • An object
  • A time
  • Etc.

Now let’s look at how you could change to focus of a sentence by changing the normal word order.

Normal sentence:

Alexander Fleming invented penicillin in 1928.

Focus on the person:

It was Alexander Fleming who invented penicillin in 1928.

Focus on the object:

It was penicillin which Alexander Fleming invented.

Focus on the time:

It was in 1928 when Alexander Fleming invented penicillin.

Changing the focus of the sentence by moving the things you want to emphasis to the front of the sentence allows you to formulate your words in such a way that your audience is much more likely to remember.

Introducing ‘New’ Information

Keeping in mind that new information usually goes at the end of a sentence, it makes sense that if you put it there when you introduce it for the first time. So, let’s look at the following examples:

Normal sentence:

Global warming is my subject today.

New information at the end:

What I’m going to talk about today is global warming.

Normal sentence:

Profitability is essential

New information at the end:

What is essential is profitability.

Clarifying Points

When talking about complex topics, or when, for some reason, you digressed from what you planned to talk about, you will need some expressions to put the focus back on the main points of what you wanted to say. Here are some expressions that will help you do that:

Let me put in another way …

Look at it this way …

What I’m trying to say is …

The point/thing is …


Putting focus on specific information by changing the word order in order to change the emphasis in a sentence can be a very powerful presentation technique. Just by carefully thinking about how you say what you want to say could dramatically improve the impact your message will have on your audience, so use it to your advantage.

How to make the perfect pitch deck with 10 slides

How to make the 10 slides you need for the perfect pitch

Okay, so you have managed to get yourself invited to a meeting during which you will get your shot to pitch your business idea to room full of important decision makers. This is the moment you have been waiting for to present your revolutionary product, service or idea, and you really need to make an impression. You know what you want to say, and how you want to say it, and your ideas are well connected. But is your slide deck the best it can be? Below you will find how to produce the 10 slides you need for a perfect pitch.

The Purpose of a Pitch

Before you decide what your slide deck is going to look like, you need to think about what the purpose of your pitch is. It is very rare for investors to make commitments based on a 20-minute presentation by someone they may have never seen before, so as a presenter, instead of going after this, your pitch should go after arranging a second meeting in which you can get into the specifics of your idea. Therefore, you should keep your pitch concise, simple, and clear, and you should not try to cover all the aspects of your proposal or provide too much detail. Your goal should be to generate enough interest in your idea to get another meeting. That is all.

What Should Your Slide Deck Look Like?

If you want your slides to be effective, it is important to keep them very simple. You don’t want your audience examining your slides while they should be listening to your pitch. Your slide deck is your support, not the main feature of your pitch, and it should not be a distraction. You also need to figure out how to talk about your visuals. In other words, you need to decide what you are (and may be more importantly) and what you are not going to talk about when it comes to your slides. The general rule should be, the more slides you need, the less compelling your idea is. In most cases, all you need for an effective and memorable pitch is ten simple slides with mostly keywords and pictures, and you should never need more than fifteen.

  1. The Title Slide

Your title slide should contain the following information:

  • Company name
  • Name and title
  • Address
  • Email
  • Phone number

This slide should be up during the beginning of the presentation, when you introduce yourself, thank your audience for the opportunity to pitch your idea, etc. Generally speaking, detailed information like names, addresses, and numbers, are very difficult to remember, so it is important to visually support them by putting them on the slide.

  • The Problem/ Opportunity

Your second slide should be all about the problem you are solving or the opportunity you are presenting. For example, if your idea is selling a revolutionary type of paint that is environmentally friendly, and that is so strong that it will last for twenty years, you may want to talk about the problem of having the repaint your whole house every five years.

If your idea is about offering an app that will allow  regular people to trade on the stock market, using the same real-time information stockbrokers have access to, you could start your pitch by explaining that up until the present ‘normal people’ don’t have the opportunity to effectively trade on the stock market because the lack of access to up-to-date information. Presenting the problem or opportunity should serve as the ‘hook’ of your presentation; a way to grab your audience’s attention.

  • The Value Proposition

After you have talked about the problem or the opportunity, you need to explain how your idea, product or service solves this problem or how it provides pleasure for your buyers. In short, you should answer the questions: What is in it for the customer if they by my product?’. The answer to this question is your value proposition. You should be able to answer this question in a concise, and clear way.

  • The Underlying Magic

Explaining the ‘underlying magic’ is about making sure that your audience understands what the technology is behind what you are offering. This will help them to assess what makes your product different from what your competitors might be offering. You need to explain what makes your it special. To do this, you can put simple charts, diagrams, or other visuals on your slide, but make sure that you keep them as simple as possible. This means using very little text and using pictures instead of words when possible. If you have a working prototype of your product, this is when you should do a demonstration. Keep in mind that it is always better to show your product than to talk about your product.

  • The Business Model

Explaining your business model is all about making clear how your idea makes money for you and your potential investors. Basically, this means talking about who has ‘the money’ now and how you are going to get it instead. In case of the aforementioned investment app you are going to explain how the app is going to generate income. For example, this could be by  asking money for the app itself, charging the app users for in-app transactions, putting ads inside the app, etc.

  • The Go-to-Market Plan

Presenting your go-to-market plan concerns making clear how you are going to reach your customers. This could be by opening up brick-and-mortar stores, starting a website, making deals with large retail chains, etc.

The go-to-market plan also involves a marketing strategy. In other words, how are you going to make sure that your customers know you exist. Are you going to buy Facebook Ads? Are you planning to reach your customers through influencers, and so on.

  • The Competitive Analysis

A competitive analysis involves providing a complete overview of who your competitors are. What counts here is that it is usually better to have too many than too few, because having a lot of competitors means that there probably is a large demand for what you are offering. Many starting businesses tend to underestimate how much competition they have and paint a picture for their potential investors that is not realistic.

  • The Management Team

Who is in your management team is important for your potential investors to know. Investing in a business is often about trust, so investors would like to know who they will be working with if they decide to invest and what these people do. If there are other investors that are already on-board, this should also be made clear. You may worry that you don’t have the perfect team yet to run your business, but you need to keep in mind that is why you are delivering your pitch.

  • The Financial Projections and Key Metrics

On this slide your need to back up your claims with numbers. You need to explain how much money you are going to need from your investors to continue growing your business. You need to forecast the number of potential customers, how much they are going to spend, what your turn-over projections are, etc. It is important that you present your metrics ‘bottom-up’. This means that you start with the smallest viable customer base to be able to run your business, and then explain how you are going to grow that customer base about three years into the future.

  1. The Current Status, Timeline, and Use of Funds

Finally, you need to explain the development status of your product, service, or idea. Do you have a working prototype? Are you already selling your product? How is the business currently doing?  Next, you need to explain what your future plans for the business are, what you want to achieve, and how you are planning to use the investors’ money you are trying to raise. This should also be your closing remark of your pitch.

How to make an effective and memorable ‘How to …’ Presentation

How to make a ‘How to …’ presentation that is effective and memorable.

A ‘How to …’ presentation is an informative talk in which you go through the completion of a task or a process by demonstrating how to complete it while going through a number of clear steps. Examples of possible topics for a ‘How to …’ presentation are:

  • How to tie your shoes correctly
  • How to set up a blog
  • How to speak with conviction
  • How to eradicate malaria
  • How to predict the weather
  • Etc.

In order to explain the completion of a task or process properly, it is important to clearly structure your talk by making sure you do these six things in order:

  1. Explain why it is necessary for the audience to listen to you
  2. Give them an overview of the entire process you are going to describe
  3. Divide the process into a number of steps and going over them one-by-one
  4. Describe each step, and show it (if possible)
  5. Discuss possible options, extras or variations (optional)
  6. Give a summary
  1. Explaining why

The first thing you need to do is come up with an effective opening in which you explain to your audience why it is important for them to listen to you. You do this by making clear which problem they will be able to solve after you are done speaking. When they know this, they will be motivated to listen to you because they will understand what is to be gained from it. Reasons for listening could be, for instance:

  • Earning money
  • Building a range of skills
  • Making life easier
  • Solving an important problem

It often helps to start your presentation with a story in order to paint a picture for your listener. For instance, if your talk is about how to learn to speak with conviction, you may want to start with a story about yourself in which you tell a story about a situation in which you were not able to do so, and the problems that caused you. You could then continue by describing how your life improved after having become a better speaker. A story like this allows you to build rapport with your audience because they will be able to put themselves in your shoes and relate to what you are saying.

  • Giving an overview of your entire process

Before describing the steps that need to be taken for the completion of whatever it is you are going to explain, it is important to give your listeners a clear overview of the entire process. This will provide a framework for the details you are going to talk about later. By doing so, you will allow your listeners to put the different steps of your process into context. You need to make sure you keep the framework simple, so it’s easy to understand.

  • The steps

Once you’ve given your audience an overview of your talk, you can move on to talking about the individual steps of your process, sticking to the core outline of your framework. Here the emphasis should be on how the steps are connected. Generally speaking, the simpler your series of steps is, the better. When your series contains optional steps or alternatives, it often works best to leave them until later so you can keep the emphasis on how the different steps in the series relate to each other. These connections should be clearly ‘signposted’ by using clear signaling language, like:

To move on, …

First, …

Finally, …


  • Describing the steps

After mentioning the steps,  you need to explain what the different steps of your process are and describe (and possibly show) each step separately. You can do this by:

  • Explaining the purpose of each steps, or why each step is necessary
  • Making clear what needs to be done during each step
  • Showing how each step should be performed
  • Discussing options, extras or variations

If the process you are describing includes options, extras or variations, it is important to leave them until after you have completed the task or process description. This is because offering alternatives while describing the steps often leads to confusion in the audience. You need to keep the emphasis on the general process and leave any options or variations until the end.

  • Summarizing

Finally, you need to summarize the entire task or process for your audience and recap the benefits of following the steps you offered. This will be your ‘take-home message’, so your summary needs to be simple and easy to remember.

How to make an effective and memorable ‘How to …’ Presentation

About your visuals

When selecting the visuals for your ‘How to …’ presentation, remember that your own body is the best prop. Good body language is essential for making your talk effective and memorable. Also, keep in mind that physical props make what you are saying more real. This means that if you’re explaining how to tie your shoelaces correctly, bringing a pair of shoes to your presentation will have a positive effect on your audience. If your topic doesn’t allow you to bring physical props to your presentation, using photographs and diagrams instead, could also help you, as long as you keep them simple. Finally, make sure that all your visuals are big enough for everyone in your audience to see.

Presentation Skills: Effective Openings

How to effectively open your presentation and ‘hook’ your audience to grab their attention.

Starting your presentation with an effective opening is extremely important for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, people form an opinion about each other usually within the first few minutes of meeting for the first time, and this is no different for you as a presenter. This means that the audience will have already formed some kind of opinion about you before you reach the main body of your talk, and if this opinion is positive, they will be more open to your message.

Also, starting your presentation well makes you feel confident, and speaking confidently is essential to get your message across and grab the audience’s attention. In order to do that, you need a ‘hook’, which is a way to make sure that your audience wants to listen to you.

There are several ways in which you can earn the audience’s attention, for example, by starting your presentation with an interesting story or an anecdote that links to your subject. It often helps if this story is personal, and based on an experience you had. Personal stories tell your listeners that you have experience, and that you know what you are talking about.

Revealing something personal will also help you to establish rapport between you and your audience. There may be people in the audience with whom you share certain experiences or interests and connecting to them on a personal level will make them more likely to want to listen to you.

If you decide to ‘hook’ your audience with a personal story or anecdote, it helps to do this in a conversational style, so you are easy for the audience to relate to. You could start with phrases like:

When I think about what life would be like without internet access, I …

I remember when I had to take my first important exam. I …

Have you ever been in a situation where you walk into a room and everybody starts looking at you? Well, I …

Another way of ‘hooking’ your audience is by giving them a problem to think about. By doing this you not only put them in the right mindset to be susceptible to your message, you also make them feel that you are asking them contribute to finding an answer to the problem you are going to discuss. They are becoming part of the presentation, which is another way of establishing rapport between you and the people in the room. Phrases that you could use are:

How would you react if you were given the opportunity to invest one million euros in a company of your choice?

How many people here this morning feel that they are spending too much time online?

Suppose you were given to opportunity to go back to college, what would you study?

You could also use some interesting facts or statistics to earn the attention of your audience. Doing this adds gravity to your message because what you say isn’t just your opinion but your claims will be supported either by what people believe to be generally true or by verifiable proof. What makes this work is that what you say will be supported, which makes it easier for your audience to believe you. Here are some example phrases:

Did you know that the Netherlands has twice as many bicycles as cars?

Research shows that, on average, mobile internet users spend nearly three hours online every day.

According to a recent study, around fifteen percent of the carbon released into the environment is due to deforestation.

Presentation Techniques: Effective Openings

In conclusion, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression, which means that it very important to start your presentation well. Coming up with an effective ‘hook’ will help you to grab the audience’s attention so they will be open to what you have to say.

Revising Sentence Fragments

How to correct fragmented sentences that were created because the sentence lacks a subject, a verb, or both, or because the sentence does not express a complete thought

As the word ‘fragment’ suggests, a sentence fragment is a ‘part of’ a sentence. In other words, a sentence that is not complete. To be able to talk about sentence fragments it is important to talk about a sentence first.

For a group of words to form a complete sentence, it needs to first of all be a complete thought. This basically means that what is being expressed makes sense. The sentence should have a clear meaning by itself, without relying on other sentences around it to give it meaning.

Secondly, for a group of words to be a sentence, there needs to be a subject. This is the someone or the something that the sentence is about.

The third condition for a group of words to qualify as a sentence is that it needs to have a main verb. The main verb helps to explain what the subject (so the someone or something) is or does.

The following is an example of a complete sentence:

The researchers chose three random samples.

In this sentence ‘The researchers’ is the subject and ‘chose’ is the verb. Also, the sentence expresses a complete thought because it has a clear meaning by itself.

So, let’s move on to the sentence fragment.  In a sentence fragment, important information is missing and therefore it does not express a complete thought. These sentence fragments often occur in informal types of writing, for instance when the writer tries to use a more journalistic style, but in formal writing, fragments should not be used. Now, let’s look at these three examples of fragments:

Because the team made three awkward choices.

A plan with many risks involved.

Potential for making money everywhere.

There are four reasons groups of words are considered fragments.

  • There is a subject missing
  • The main verb is missing
  • They are both missing
  • The writer has created a subordinate clause.

The Subject is Missing

One way in which a sentence fragment can be created when you write a sentence that has no subject, like in this example:

By simply shipping more units can make this business profitable again.

Here the writer mistook the prepositional phrase ‘By simply shipping more units’ for a subject, which created the sentence fragment.  To correct this mistake, the preposition, so ‘By’ could be taken out, making the activity of ‘Simply shipping more units’ the subject of the sentence. Now it is a complete sentence that works.

The Main Verb is Missing

Sometimes a fragment is created because the sentence lacks a main verb, like in the following example:

Affordable products sold everywhere.

Possible revisions, in this case, could be either completing the verb, creating:

Affordable product were sold everywhere.

or turning the fragment into the direct object of the sentence by adding a subject and a verb. Like here:

They saw affordable products sold everywhere.

The Sentence Lacks a Subject and a Verb

Sometimes the subject and the verb are both missing from the sentence, like in this example:

Without a suitable explanation.

In this fragment there is no someone or something, doing or being anything, and it is also not a complete thought.  To revise this fragment, (to turn it into a sentence), a subject and a verb could be added, and the sentence would look something like this:

She left without a suitable explanation.

The Writer has Created a Subordinate Clause

The final reason why a group of words is a sentence fragment is that the writer has created a subordinate clause (also known as a dependent clause, so a clause that needs independent clause to make a sentence).  A subordinate clause is a group of words that does contain a subject and a verb, but that does not express a complete thought because this type of clause needs to be combined with an independent clause to give it meaning. A subordinate clause by itself is a sentence fragment. Here is an example:

Until all the preliminary data has been processed.

To turn this fragment into a sentence it needs to be combined with an independent clause (In this case ‘the project cannot move forward’), and the sentence could look like this:

Until all the preliminary data has been processed, the project cannot move forward.

This is now a sentence that expresses a complete thought.

Subject – Verb Agreement

How to make sure that your subjects agree with your verbs

Subject/ verb agreement means that subjects and verbs must agree with each other in number. In other words, if the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb that goes with it needs to be singular as well, and if the subject is plural, the verb needs to be plural. Even though this seems pretty straightforward there are some situations in which using the right form of the verb could cause problems.

In the sentence, ‘My brother is taking the bus to school,’ for example, ‘brother’ is a singular noun so the singular verb ‘is’ needs to be used. However, in the sentence ‘My brother, as well as most of his friends, is taking the bus to school.’ It is a lot less clear whether a singular or a plural verb needs to be used. The following guidelines will help you make sure that your subjects agree with your verbs. Situation number one”

1.         When the subject is made up of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by            and you need to use a plural verb.

            He and his sisters are on vacation.

2.         When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, you          use a singular verb. Like in this example:

      The chairman or the secretary is at the meeting.

3.         When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun      joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearest to the verb.

            The owner or his employees go to the bank every day.


            The employees or the owner goes to the bank every day.

4.         Number four is about not being misled by phrases that come between the subject and the verb. You just have to make sure that the verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun that might be in the phrase.

            One of the men is injured.

            The girl with all the dogs walks down the road.

5.         Number 5. You should use singular verbs with the words: each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one.

            Each of these books is good.

            Nobody ever calls the emergency number.

6.         Number 6 is about what to do with nouns such as mathematics, civics, euros, measles, and news. Although they also need singular verbs.

            The news comes on at ten o’clock.

            Note: words like euros or, for example, dollars, are a special case. When you are          talking about an amount of money, you need to use a singular verb, but if you are           are referring to the euros or dollars themselves, so the currency, you need to use       a plural verb. So,

            Ten euros for a ticket sounds quite cheap.

            Euros are often used instead of Pounds.

7.         Number 7. Plural verbs are used for nouns like scissors, tweezers, trousers, etc.           

            Those trousers look very cool on you.

8.         Moving on to number 8. When using sentences beginning with there is or there are, make sure the subject follows the verb.

            There is one option

There are many possibilities.

9.         Number 9. Collective nouns, so nouns that are considered singular but are usually made up of multiple members, like team, committee, class, family, etc. take a singular verb when they operate together as a group, like in:

            The committee votes on the proposal.

            If the members of the group represented by the collective noun operate          independently, (so doing different things probably at different times) you should use a plural verb.  Like in:

            The class write their thesis papers this year.

This means that the people in the class write papers on different topics, probably       at different times during the year. They don’t operate in unison towards the same goal.

10.      The last one is number 10. When you use expressions like including, accompanied by, in addition to, or as well, etc., the number of the subject does not change. If the subject is singular, so is the verb.

            The King, accompanied by the Queen, is visiting the Netherlands.

Revising Comma Splices in Writing

A tutorial on how to revise comma splices in your writing

You create a comma splice when you join two independent clauses with a comma but without a conjunction. To be able to understand what that means it is important to understand what an independent clause is and what a conjunction is.

 An independent clause is a clause that has a subject and a verb and that expresses a ‘complete thought’. This means that an independent clause has a meaning on its own and does not need another clause to give it meaning. A simple example of an independent clause would be I sleep until nine, for instance. Here the subject is I, the verb is sleep, and the sentence expresses a complete thought because it is clear what is meant.

Conjunctions are words that link other words, phrases or sentences together, like in this example:

I like ice skating and field hockey, but I hate ice hockey.

Here and and but are the conjunctions that link the words and phrases together. As mentioned before, a comma splice is created when two independent clauses are joint together with a comma but without a conjunction, like, for example and or but.

The following is an example of how a comma splice is created starting with two independent clauses. The first independent clause is:

Spiders are not considered insects.

And the other one is:

They are arachnids.

When you join these two sentences together using just a comma – like in the example – you create a comma splice.

Spiders are not considered insects, they are arachnids.

There are three ways in which you can correct a comma splice. You can:

  1. Add a conjunction
  2. Change the comma into a semicolon
  3. Make separate sentences.

So, let’s take this sentence with a comma splice and rewrite it in these three different ways:

So, we start with:

He is not going to buy a house, he is planning to rent one.

This sentence contains a comma splice.

Adding a Conjunction

If you add a conjunction to the sentence, it would then read like this:

He is not going to buy a house, but he is planning to rent one.

So, the comma is still there, but it is now followed by a conjunction.

Adding a Semi-colon

Instead of using a conjunction, you could also add a semi-colon. The advantage of that is that the sentence would read the same as the originals sentence with the comma splice, the only difference being that it is no grammatically correct.

He is not going to buy a house; he is planning to rent one.

If you decide to use a semi-colon, it is important to make sure there is a close, logical connection between the two independent clauses. In this case the semicolon works because both sentences are about ways get a house.

Two Separate Independent Clauses

Another option is to divide the sentence containing the comma splice into two separate independent clauses. The sentence would then look like this:

He is not going to buy a house. He is planning to rent one.

Even though turning a sentence containing a comma splice into two separate sentences is an acceptable option, you have to keep in mind that good writing often means having to connect ideas. This is very difficult to do, however, if you use to many simple independent clauses, because it often leads to a very ‘choppy’ and simplistic writing style.

Acceptable Uses of a Comma Splice

There are also a few instances in which comma splices are acceptable. The first one is when using question tags, like in:

He is not here, is he?

It is also acceptable to use comma splices in short parallel contradictions, so when both phrases that make up the contradiction have a similar grammatical structure, like in:

I’m not rich, I’m poor.

Finally, comma splices are often used in fiction and poetry for the simple reason that in these types of informal writing the rules are a lot less strict. An example would be:

Using Parallelism in Writing

A tutorial on how to use parallelism in you writing effectively and how to revise faulty parallelism

Using parallelism means using matching words, phrases or clauses or sentences to express equivalent ideas. The reason for using parallelism is that it adds unity, balance and force to your writing.  On the contrary, when your writing lacks parallel structures, your writing style may seem awkward, which, in turn, could obscure the meaning of what you are trying to express. In other words, lack of parallelism could create confusion.

Using Parallelism Effectively

Parallelism emphasizes the relationships between equivalent ideas because it highlights the correspondence between:

  • Items in a series
  • Paired items
  • Elements in lists and outlines

Items in a series

When presenting items in a series, you should present them in parallel form. Like in these examples:

Baby food consumption, toy production, and school construction are likely to decline as the population of the Netherlands grows older.

Three factors influenced his decision to seek new employment: his desire to relocate, his need for greater responsibility, and his dissatisfaction with his current job.

Paired Items

Paired points or ideas should also be presented in parallel form because it emphasizes their equivalence and connects the two ideas. Here are two examples:

Roosevelt represented the United States, and Churchill represented Great Britain.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Items linked by correlating conjunctions (such as not only/but also, both/and, either/or and neither/nor should also be parallel.

The design team paid close attention not only to color, but also to texture.

Thirdly, parallelism highlights the contrast between paired elements linked by than or as, like here:

Success is as much a matter of hard work as a matter of luck.

Items in a list

You should also  present Items in a list in parallel form, like in this example:

The Irish potato famine had four major causes:

  1. The establishment of the landlord-tenant system
  2. The failure of the potato crop
  3. The inadequate financial support by England
  4. The passage of the corn laws

Revising Faulty parallelism

Faulty parallelism occurs when equivalent ideas in a sentence are not presented in parallel form, like in for instance:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and their healthcare facilities are inadequate.

After revision, this sentence could look like this:

Many people in developing countries suffer because the countries lack sufficient housing to accommodate them, sufficient food to feed them, and sufficient health-care facilities to serve them.

Faulty parallelism when pairing items can be revised by making sure you use matching elements. This means that you have to pair nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, and phrases and clauses with similarly constructed phrases and clauses.

The following is a sentence with paired elements that should be revised:


Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifters, and jogging.


Popular exercises for men and women include spinning, weight lifting, andjogging.

Sentences are often clearer and more emphatic if you repeat certain keywords (articles, prepositions, and the to in infinitives, for example) in each element of a pair or series, as illustrated here:


Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, increasing the speed of production, and improving efficiency.


Computerization has helped industry by not allowing labor costs to skyrocket, by increasing the speed of production, and by improving efficiency.

When repeating relative pronouns, the relative pronoun constructions who(m) … and who(m), and which … and which are always paired and always introduce parallel clauses. When you revise, check to be sure a relative pronoun introduces each clause. To illustrate, let’s look at this example:


The Thing, directed by Howard Hawks, and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.


The Thing, which was directed by Howard Hawks and which was released in 1951, featured James Arness as the monster.

Revising Unwarranted Shifts

A tutorial on how to revise unwarranted shifts in writing to avoid awkward or confusing sentences

Verb tense in a sentence, or in a group of related sentences, should not change without a good reason. A good reason could be to indicate a change of time, for instance. Like in this example:

Pulp Fiction is a classic film that was made in 1994.


Unwarranted shifts in tense, like in the following sentence, can make your text confusing.

I enrolled in the business course because I wanted to take over my father’s business. However, after a few months I start losing interest.

This would be an unwarranted shift from past to present and a revised version of this sentence would look like this:

I enrolled in the business course because I wanted to take over my father’s business. However, after a few months I started losing interest.

The verb start is now in the same tense as in the related sentence.

Unwarranted shifts don’t only occur from past to present, but also the other way around.


Shifts in voice can also occur, for instance from active to passive, or from passive to active. The following example shows an unwarranted shift from active to passive:

Walter Isaacson wrote a biography of Steve Jobs, and later a biography of Leonardo da Vinci was written.

This awkward change in voice could be revised like this, by making the passive voice (was written) active (wrote):

Walter Isaacson wrote a biography of Steve Jobs, and later wrote a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.

There are instances where a shift in voice from active to passive within a sentence may be necessary, however, like here:

Although the students protested, the legal drinking age was raised.

In this case the shift from active (protested) to passive (was raised) keeps the focus on the students and the fact that they protested. Saying who raised the drinking age (for example, the government), in an active sentence would change the emphasis of the sentence here.


Mood indicates whether the writer is making a statement or asking a question, which is called the indicative mood. Issuing a command or making a request is a called the imperative mood, and expressing a wish or a hypothetical condition is called the subjunctive mood.

Shifting between moods also leads to awkward sentences, like in this example, where the sentence shifts from the imperative to the indicative mood for no reason.

Next, place the slide under the microscope, and you should make sure to refocus the lens.

A revised version of this sentence would look like this:

Next, place the slide under the microscope, and be sure to refocus the lens.


Person indicates who is speaking (for instance first person I or we), second person (So, who is spoken to (you)), and who is spoken about (he, she, it and they), which is third person. Unwarranted shifts in person often occur between third and second person, like in this sentence:

When someone buys a house, you should compare mortgage rates.

Here is the revised sentence:

When you buy a house, you should compare mortgage rates.


Number indicates shifts between singular (for instance, words like it, business,  or cell) and plural (they, them, businesses, or cells). Singular pronouns should refer to singular antecedents and plural pronouns should refer to plural antecedents, which is not the case in the following sentence

If a person does not exercise regularly, they will not remain physically fit.

Here plural they refersto a singular noun, a person. The revised sentence should be this:

If a person does not exercise regularly, he or she will not remain physically fit.


Direct discourse reports the direct words of the speaker or writer using quotation marks and an identifying tag (for instance she says), like in this sentence:

My teacher said, ‘I want you to report to the principal’s office.’

Indirect discourse summarizes the words of the speaker of writer and no quotation marks are used. To introduce the reported words, that is often used in case of a statement. For questions, who, what, why, whether, how, or if are used. Here is an example:

My teacher said that he wanted me to report to the principal’s office.

Shifts from in direct to direct discourse often cause the sentence to be confusing. Like here:

During the speech, Jake Anderson strongly emphasised the regulations and said I am in charge.