English Grammar Guide for ESL



An Overview of English Spelling

It should come as no surprise that there is a great disconnect between how English is spoken and how it is written. While the spoken language has continued to evolve over the centuries, little has changed in the way words are spelled. The result is that how a word "sounds" is not usually how it is written. For example, while the word kneel has only three sounds (n-i-l), it is written with five letters!


Homophones are words that are pronounced the same, but have different spellings. These differences must be respected when writing. Some of the most common homophones are presented below:

  • there (location), their (possession), they're ("they are")
  • to (preposition) too (excess), two ("2")
  • its (possessive), it's ("it is")
  • see (perception), sea (water)
  • break (pause), brake (car);
  • no (negation), know (verb)
  • by (preposition), buy ("to purchase")
  • our (possessive), are (be)
  • hear (perception), here (location)
  • one ("1"), won (past of win)

You can find a longer list of commonly confused words here.


While not everyone agrees on the rules of punctuation, here are few points to keep in mind:

  • At the beginning of a sentence, use a comma after Cependant, Pourtant, Toutefois, D'abord, Premièrement, Finalement and Par contre.
  • Use a comma before the word but.
  • Do not use a capital letter after a quotation mark, unless it is a proper name.
  • Use a comma after sentences introduced by When, e.g.: When I was sixteen, I went to Edmonton.
  • One does not usually use a comma before the word and.
  • When writing the date, put a comma before the year, e.g.: November 21, 1963.

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