The basic unit of English grammar is the clause:

[An unlucky student almost lost a 17th century violin worth almost £200,000]

[when he left it in the waiting room of a London station.]

[William Brown inherited the 1698 Stradivarius violin from his mother]

[and had just had it valued by a London dealer at £180,000.]

Clauses are made up of phrases:

[An unlucky student] + [almost lost] + [a 17th century violin worth almost £200,000]

[when] + [he] + [left] + [it] + [in the waiting room of a London station.]

[William Brown] + [inherited] + [the 1698 Stradivarius violin] + [from his mother]

[and] [had just had it valued] + [by a London dealer] + [at £180,000.]

We can join two or more clauses together to make sentences.

An unlucky student almost lost a 17th century violin worth almost £200,000 when he left it in the waiting room of a London station.

William Brown inherited the 1698 Stradivarius violin from his mother and had just had it valued by a London dealer at £180,000.




Hello! Please tell me which is correct:

1. He preferred that she leave.
2. He preferred that she had left.
3. He preferred that she left.

The situation: at some event in the past, one person preferred that the other person not be there any longer.

I hope I just correctly answered my own question by using the subjunctive. I prefer answer 1. I think 3 is incorrect. I am not sure about 2. I think that "He preferred that she would have left" is another way to say "He preferred she leave".

He preferred that she leave, but she didn't.

Hello Alice Wang,

I agree with you that the first option is the best. The present subjunctive is called 'present' because of its similarity to the present indicative form, not because it necessarily has a present time reference. You can use the present subjunctive perfectly well with a past time reference, as in your example.

The second option is possible if the woman had already left and the man is considering if her staying or leaving was preferable. We could expand the sentence then to say 'He preferred that she had left to her staying'.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much.

Could you please recommend an English grammar book for highly advanced learners?

I use the Oxford English Grammar, the Longman Advanced Learners' Grammar, and the Oxford Advanced Learner's English-Chinese Dictionary. I prefer a traditional, academic approach. I want to go one step further from what is available on this excellent website.

Hello Alice Wang,

I'm afraid the British Council does not recommend particular books as we have to remain neutral with regard to publishers and so on. Most grammar books have online versions these days so you can sample their explanations to see which are most helpful for you, and of course you can also compare different books in a good bookshop. I suggest looking up the same grammar point in several books to see which explanation you find most useful, and also checking to see how easy it is to find particular things in the books using the index. Finally, some books have exercises as well as explanations and most have DVDs or downloadable software as well - be sure to compare these for functionality.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir,
Please, I want a piece of advice to write correctly as a british writer.

Hi suliman ali 2000,

Writing is a very large area! Each kind of text has its own conventions and appropriate style so it's not so much a question of becoming a good writer as learning to write in different ways to suit different goals and different audiences.

You can find some advice on improving your writing on our Frequently Asked Questions page. You can also look at our section on writing, which has a lot of material on certain types of writing, though some of it is aimed at quite high-level learners.

You can also use the search facility on the site to look for certain text-types. For example, you can type in 'email' and see all the pages which refer to that.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

May I know which is the correct structure for the following?
He knew neither how to swim nor dance.
He neither knew how to swim nor dance.
Thank you

Hello Leenmum,

'neither' and 'nor' usually go directly before what they modify, though in many situations there is some flexibility. Both of the sentences you ask about are correct, but the first sounds better to me.

Bear in mind that 'neither ... nor' is fairly formal. In a more informal situation, something like 'He didn't know how to swim or dance' would be much more commonly used.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


'What, do you think, is she going to do?'

'What do you think she is going to do?'

Which one is correct?

Thank you in advance.

Hello JakiGeh,

Neither is incorrect. The second version (without commas) would be the most common. The version with the commas adds some dramatic emphasis but does not change the meaning. The choice really depends upon the context.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team