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The Word Detectives

In the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship held in the USA, the joint teenage champions had to spell words such assdrucciola, holluschick, thymelici, encaenia, terreplein and stichomythia in order to win. Whether or not they understood the meanings of the words, it is an impressive feat indeed that they managed to spell words such as these correctly upon hearing them used only once.
Traditionally, especially when I was at school, spelling was taught by our teachers giving us a list of words on Monday, which was followed by a spelling test on Friday. This has been the case with spelling for many years, but I bet the teenage champions at the 2014 National Spelling Bee learned spelling in a completely different way.
Most spelling follows expected patterns, teaching how and why certain patterns are used helps you to develop your spelling. For example, various words containing the /ay/ sound are grouped by their spelling pattern into lists:
List 1 would contain the ‘ai’ words (rain, bait, brain, wait, grain, aim, aid…).
List 2 would give the ‘ay’ words (play, away, stay, pay, pray…).
List 3 would give the a-consonant-e spelling pattern (gate, trade, game, make, grade…).
List 4 would contain the single vowel ‘a’ spellings (rang, bank, thank, sang…).
List 5 would contain the ‘unexpected’ spellings of /ay/ (eight, weigh, great …).
Another way to investigate and understand the patterns is to group words beginning with the same letter. For example, the letter ‘C’ would contain words beginning with a ‘hard-c’ such as cat, or a ‘soft-c’ as in cell, and once these words are grouped together you will start to discover that ‘c’ is usually hard when followed by consonants and the vowels ‘a, o & u’ (cat, cot, cut etc…), whilst it is usually soft when followed by ‘i. e & y’ (circus, celery, cycle etc.).
There are always exceptions to these rules, but it’s a good way to learn spelling patterns which will eventually help amplify your vocabulary and improve your English!

Don’t recommend it, suggest it instead

I recently had a query from one of my students which went a bit like this…
I have understood all the corrections you’ve made, but I have a doubt with the verb “recommend”. I thought it could be used as I did in the writing “I recommend you to read this book” now I know that I have to say “I recommend that you read this book” but my doubt is: in which cases can it be used with the form “recommend+object+to+infinitive”?
Ah ha…  good question I thought.  This is a perfect example of why I recommend (!) that my students avoid using the verb ‘to recommend’, at least at certain levels of their understanding.  I suggest that they use ‘to suggest’ or even advise them to use ‘advise’ as alternatives.
The student had written…
“For all the aforementioned reasons I strongly recommend you to read this masterpiece, so if you have the chance, don’t hesitate to read it!”
I had subsequently corrected it to…
“For all the aforementioned reasons I strongly recommend that you read this masterpiece, so if you have the chance, don’t hesitate to read it!”
So when they queried this my response was that the error was not with `recommend`, it was actually with `to read`. Whilst it is sometimes suggested that ‘recommend’ can be followed by ‘to + infinitive’, it really shouldn’t.

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Whilst the following structures related to the verb 
recommend are often noted as grammatically correct….

(1) verb + object + to-infinitive –> I recommend you to use 

(2) verb + -ing form (without object) –> I recommend using

(3) verb + present subjunctive –> I recommend *(that) you use

(4) verb + should + bare infinitive –> I recommend (that) you should use

* that is optional in this case

… my opinion is  that “I recommend you to read” is bad English. We say “I advise you to…”. With “recommend” it just sounds wrong (to me).

I always think it is best for some levels of ESL students to actually use ‘advise’ or ‘suggest’ than ‘recommend’ in the their writing and so you avoid the problem! Yes I know that some teachers would say that you should ‘resolve’ the problem but I really cannot explain how ‘it just sounds wrong’. So best, for now, to work around it! (Until I find a better explanation!)