Ogden's Basic English
English for Adults
by CHARLES DUFF
A Book for Self-Tuition or Class Use
< Back to Texts
All rights reserved.
This book or parts thereof must not be reproduced or adapted in any
form or in any other language without the permission of the publishers.
First printed 1956
INTRODUCING THE COURSE
THIS book presents a comprehensive Course in Standard
English, It is the first of three Parts and has been specially
designed for beginners or others whose mother-tongue is not
English. Here the special difficulties and problems of strangers
to our language are given paramount importance. Tests indicate
that the resultant material is of considerable help to those
English-speaking adults who desire to start at the very beginning
in " brushing up " their knowledge of the language, and particularly
useful to the foreigner who already knows something of
English but wishes to achieve a higher and more exact standard.
It should be a great comfort to many prospective learners to
know that the grammar is not taught as grammar but as a
" habit of speech " which can be acquired from :Peaking practice
in simple, everyday English. Any adult can use this book; it is
nor for children. Those who can read will be able to use it for
self-tuition, apart from matters of pronunciation. The foreigner,
the person who knows no English, must have a teacher to begin
with, because a good pronunciation can be learnt only by listening
to speech. Pronunciation is perhaps the greatest difficulty for
those whose native language is not English. Good pronunciation
demands for its achievement much practice in mimicking good
habits of speech; and drill with the active help of a teacher, who
should be there to correct every kind of fault.
As this Course differs in many Ways from the conventional,
those who wish to use it for teaching English to absolute
beginners should note the principles on which it is based. Of
these the most important are :
The Course given in these pages follows the above principles,
but not slavishly, because it seems to be a rule of life (as far as
languages are concerned) that rigidity spells dullness. From the
beginning die student is encouraged to think for himself. The
English taught throughout is normal " Standard English ", a
term which includes a good, clear pronunciation and simple
conversational English as used by educated people everywhere
throughout the English-speaking world. The language presented
in these pages is free from localism and dialect. There are few
slang words, but there is a fair sprinkling of well-established
idioms and accepted colloquialisms such as are common to the
language wherever it is well spoken. Learn to speak before
learning to read, and to read before learning to write : that is the
advice I would give to the learner whose mother tongue is not
English. The general aims and scope of this Course are to enable
the absolute beginner to reach a standard at which, with some
wider reading and special study, he can " take " English in an
English, American, or other university. Or, alternatively, equip
himself to read almost any non-technical matter in English, the
only other book required being a dictionary.
- Language is habits of speech whereby man expresses
emotions and thoughts. He makes sounds that have meanings.
If he makes the sounds wrongly, he may not be understood.
- The dominant items in speech-habits are words, with
or without modifications, and used in correct order.
- Words are modified and put together in a certain order
or sequence in accordance with a system (which differs from
language to language) This system is called "grammar", a
convenient word meaning " the rules for good habits in
using a language ".
- Experts in grammar make their rules from the language
as it is used by the best speakers and writers : these are the
final authorities, not grammarians.
- A child learning its mother-tongue lives in an active
environment of speech-habits, learns by sharp and careful
listening, imitating, and then practicing in its individual way
-usually a biologically natural one -- the speech-habits of
those in its immediate environment.
- An adult learning a second language (a non-English
speaker learning English) never finds such perfect circumstances
and opportunities for learning the " foreign " language.
His problems, for this reason alone (and there are
others), are very different from those of the child learning its
mother-tongue. The learner of a language other than his
own must be helped by a native or expert to master the
speech-habits and linguistic background of the foreign
tongue. And he must be prepared to work at learning.
- The best first stage in help consists in a planned Course
to be used with a teacher. This planned Course must be
used with a teacher to get the best results, and it should
take the learner to the point at which he will know enough
to help himself. From then onwards his problems, and
those of the native speaker, can be treated on almost a
Here grammar is treated as of less importance than
pronunciation and vocabulary. Learning the elements of English
grammar is so easy in comparison with learning pronunciation,
vocabulary, and idiom, that I have come to adopt this method.
Although we all know that words are the vital raw material of
language, it is well to realize at the outset that it is not solely by
memorizing lists of words that one acquires a competent working
knowledge of English or any other tongue. Hence, if vocabulary
is given a higher importance, this is merely because it is more
difficult for the stranger to assimilate than our usually simple
grammar. The whole point is that enough grammar is given
here to make the vocabulary work. Incidentally, adult students
are usually anxious to learn grammar ; and they should be encouraged to do so.
As most teachers of English know, over thirty years of patient
efforts have been devoted to the selection of vocabulary for
teaching purposes by scholars and other specialists who have
sought among other things : (a) to establish lists of the most
useful words -- whether on a basis of frequency, structural value,
or range of meaning and applicability to varieties of subject ,
and (b) to establish a rational and practical order in which agreed
words can best be presented to the first-stage learner. I have
availed myself of the results so far achieved, amending them from
my own experience and the experience of many teachers of
English who were my students at the Institute of Education,
London University. I try as far as possible to keep to first things
first, but most teachers will appreciate that in this, as in many
others aspects of teaching English, a too rigid observance of
principle is not necessarily conducive to the best or even the
quickest results in learning a language. Allowing for some
flexibility in the application of method and planning, the teaching
aim in this Course is a lesson-by-lesson assimilation by the
learner of the " most useful " or " all-purposes " words and
phrases in the language. The term " most useful " has to be
kept in inverted commas because there is not yet (if ever there
can be) anything approaching universal agreement as to what are
the most useful words in English. We can be fairly sure of the
first 500--600, and even up to 1,000 there need not be many
doubts; for most practical purposes the same applies up to
1500 words. But the second 1500 is much less certain : frequency
of occurrence in general reading matter, plus a largely empirical
estimate of what words are required to deal with common
situations, have been my main guides in selecting words after the
first 1500. From 3ooo words onwards, we are mostly dealing
with " reading vocabulary " based on modern word-counts, but
the " Classified Vocabulary " at the end of this book goes further :
I have added throughout many words of my own selection,
based on such realities of " reading matter " as public notices,
advertising, government regulations, radio, the cinema, TV,
arid other commonplaces of the world in which we live. A
limit must be set, and I have been content to keep to a total of
5000 words as the " All-purposes " vocabulary at which the
educated learner whose mother-tongue is not English should
aim. He must know and be able to use actively and correctly the
first 1500 words, which I regard as a practical working minimum ;
he should be able to recognize the second 1500 and know their
meanings, which must also be his aim with the 2000 words above
3000. The first 1500 words are the most difficult -- and most
important : they are learned by drill and practice ; all the
remainder can be learned by " mixed practice ", which includes
reading, listening to living speech, as in the theater, and the use
of such ancillary aids as gramophone records, radio, audio-visual
aids, recorders and not forgetting everyday conversation with
English speakers. Listening to speech is of greatest importance.
It can be provided : by a teacher , by intercourse with native
speakers ; by gramophone records1 ; by radio and TV broadcasts ;
by the cinema -- " talking films ". In spite of the utility of all
such auxiliary aids, one must never wander far from the fact that,
for the foreign learner, none of them can replace the good teacher
in the first stage of learning. Pronunciation and " phonetics "
are highly important from the beginning, for in the early stage
the learner's speech-habits in his own language tend to come
through into the new language he is learning, and that tendency
must be eliminated. A great and comforting assurance can be
given about English : there is not one sound in it which cannot
be mastered by careful listening, mimicking, and drill. In
extreme cases an expert phonetician may be required ; to-day
most teachers can do all that is required. I exclude accent
deliberately. Here we must be content with good, clear speech
such as can be understood anywhere. For there are as many
accents, intonations and rhythms as there are divisions and
sub-divisions of speakers in the English-speaking world.
1 Especially Cardinal Vowels, by Daniel Jones (Linguaphone). See
So much for the general questions of method and material. A
few words are necessary in regard to the use of " situations " to
help in learning. In everyday speech we rarely utter words
that do not relate to something of immediate interest to speaker
and heater, This " something of immediate interest " is nearly
always the situation of the moment, or related to it. Thus :
That is a very simple example of the " social functioning of
speech ". There is an object in this apparently trivial exchange,
and it is the important one of re-opening or re-establishing an
interrupted relationship between Jones and Brown. It will be
observed that the opening of the conversation, and its trend, both
depend here on something that goes outside language : namely,
the fact that these two people know each other, and that there is
an old background to their relationship : the " psychological "
background to the immediate situation, which both makes this
situation possible and contributes to it. And so it is with most
exchanges in everyday life : there is nearly always some kind of
psychological background to every situation. We can take
advantage of this factor in language-teaching and language-learning
if, instead of having material which discards situation
and rambles about anyhow, we use situations, creating them
imaginatively whenever necessary, as themes or purposes of
practice in speaking. This, I find, always makes the learner's
task much easier. He becomes interested in the situation : it
stimulates him, and helps in the release of inhibitions which
otherwise frustrate his speaking. Speech invariably comes more
freely when one is thus involved in a situation (if it is not an
embarrassing one l). Hence, by keeping as far as possible to
" situations " in the Practice in Speaking, there is less waste of
time. The learner learns the language in action, he can live in
the situations, and almost without effort lends himself thinking
in the foreign language : the ideal always to be aimed at. Most
of the Practice in Speaking throughout this Course is based on
commonplace situations. But the ingenious teacher and enthusiastic
learner can invent many more to add to those in the text.
There is no limit to such useful exercises. The " model " Practice
in Speaking is intended to make sure that the learner will use as
many as possible of the words given at the head of Lessons.
Jones: Hello, Brown, where have you been lately ?
Brown: I've been in the country.
Jones: Lucky man ! What sort of weather did you have ?
Brown: Quite good on the whole. Have you been here in London ?
The Lessons, it will be seen, are set out in five Sections to each
one. Each Section represents a period of study which may be
divided further to suit immediate circumstances : one hour's
work at a time is enough. Many learn even their own language
very slowly, so those who regard themselves as " slow " learners
must never lose heart : experience shows that quite often the
slow learner ends by knowing much more than the quick one.
The self-taught will make their own pace. The rule for all
learners should be : never mind slow progress so long as you
keep going. It would be misleading to give the impression that
English is an easy language for the foreign learner, or indeed that
any second language can be learnt without good hard work.
Finally, there is the classified Vocabulary in different types, to
indicate Indispensable Words, Essential Words, and Reading
Vocabulary. The Indispensable Words are indispensable for
all purposes. The Essential Words enable a person to express
himself with much greater ease and for further practical purposes.
The Reading Vocabulary is an introduction to the much bigger
Reading Vocabulary which the enthusiastic and ambitious will
wish one day to acquire. The whole Vocabulary is given for
reference, so that learners can tell what is a useful word, and its
grade in terms of utility.
In English for Adults (as in its companion volume French for
Adults) great attention has been devoted to typography, both
from the point of view of " visual memory" and to help learners
who may not be familiar with the Latin alphabet. Absolute
beginners will find the bold type a great help.
London and Singapore, 1955.
I am indebted to the ABC Railway Guide for the extract
illustrating a Time Table on page 73; to my friend Hsiung
Deb-ta for the drawings which appear on page 181 and for the
hand-writing on pages 34-35.
I wish to thank those many friends, some of them experts on
the teaching of English as a foreign language, whom I have consulted
or who have in one way or another contributed ideas of
which I have taken advantage. I am grateful also to the publishers
and printers for their patience and the help they have
given me in matters of typography and in many other ways.
Comments, suggestions, or corrections of any errors which may
have crept into the text, will always be welcomed. They may
be sent to me c/o the publishers.
WHY LEARN ENGLISH ?
It is the most used language in the world, with over 200,000,000
people speaking it as their mother tongue, and as many more
using it for commerce, science, sources of knowledge and scholar-
sihip, culture, diplomacy, or for administrative purposes.
Its grammar and structure are simple and, apart from spelling
and pronunciation, it is not a difficult language for the learner
whose mother tongue is not English.
In many parts of the world -- because of its simplicity -- it is
used in an adapted (though often corrupt) form as a sort of
lingua franca or international language : as, for example, among
sailors of all nations ; among Indians, Africans, and traders ; and,
as "Pidgin English ", in South-east Asia, Melanesia, China,
Japan, and other parts of the world.
It is rapidly becoming the " Traveler's Language ", the
language of hotels, restaurants, airports, liners, and such amenities
ar Pullman cars ; and it is already the chief language of motorists.
More books of all kinds -- many of 'them inexpensive " paperbacks
-- more magazines providing for all tastes, more newspapers,
periodicals, technical journals, and general reviews are
published in English and more widely distributed than those in
In the form of Standard English (as taught in this book) it is
the language of educated English speakers not only in England,
in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the United States
of America, but everywhere that English is spoken.
It is the medium of an old and considerable culture, and of a
wayof life which has played, and continues to play, an important
part in the world.
It is a magnificent language which can hold its own in com-
parison with any ancient or modern language: rich, flexible, and,
when well used, as concise and exact as any other tongue --
qualities which, with its remarkably fine literature, make it well
worth learning for its own sake.
FIRST PRINCIPLES OF SPOKEN ENGLISH
Language cannot be separated from sound ,
and that is the sum of the matter. -- Jespersen.
PRELIMINARY NOTE ON READING, WRITING AND SPEAKING ENGLISH
It does not come within the scope of this Course to teach the
Learner to read and write in his own language. Part I of the
Course is so designed that it can be used to teach illiterates to
speak simple English. But literates, especially those who know
the Roman alphabet, begin by having advantages over the
illiterates: from the outset those who are used to reading their
own language will more quickly learn the print and handwriting
used in English.
To help all Learners, printed alphabets are given on page 24,
and a writing alphabet with an example of handwriting will be
found on pages 34 and 35. The writing alphabet given here is
a simple one, and was designed and written for this special
purpose by a Chinese friend who had to learn English from the
letter A. By using it as a model alphabet, the Learner who
cannot write should be able with practice, and a little instruction
from the Teacher, to write a clear hand. Dictation will help
him to do so.
For those whose mother tongue does not use our Roman
alphabet this quick way of learning it is suggested. Instead of
trying to learn two alphabets at the outset -- the printed and
Written alphabets -- let them begin by learning only one : the
printed alphabet, and of that only the capital letters as given in
Part I of the Course.
Thus, after § 1 of Lesson I has been gone through orally with
the Teacher, let the Learner(s) take a pen and boldly print the
'Words and Phrases at the beginning of the Section, copying the
1c letters carefully, and trying to remember the sounds they represent.
This should be taken slowly. Learners should be encouraged
to do as much copying out of class as their time will
permit, if only to get used to the shape and appearance of the
letters and to be able to recognize them quickly. It should not
be necessary to copy out the Words and Phrases of more than,
say, three or four Sections before beginning to learn the written
alphabet in which both capital and small letters will have to be
mastered. Copying out words helps to Hx them in the memory.
The Teacher should impress upon Learners that, when they
know the alphabet, they will make much better progress than
without it : and that, if the simple instructions given above are
conscientiously followed, they must lead to good results. It is
assumed here that those who cannot read or write will wish to
learn to do so. But if not, they can still learn to speak English --
simple English -- by working through this book. Beyond that
point they must be able to read and write if they wish to achieve
anything beyond an elementary knowledge.
LEARNING TO SAY THE ALPHABET
It is quite unnecessary for beginners to master the order of the letters
in the alphabet until the time comes when a dictionary becomes necessary,
Learning to say the alphabet is no help whatever in learning to
speak English, but it is very useful to know the names of the letters,
and their conventional order. They can be leaned in groups as follows
(reading from left to right) :
| Aa Bb Cc
|Dd Ee Ff Gs
|Hh Ii Ji Kk
|Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp
|QQ Rr Ss
|Tt Uu Vv
|Xx Yy Zz
If the last group is said " X, Y and Zed [or Zee] " the grouping makes
a sort of jingle which is easily leaned, zed being the British (English) and
zee| the American name for this letter.
NAMES OF THE LETTERS
|Letter || Name||Remarks
|Aa ||ay ||long 5 sound
|Bb ||bee ||long ee as in been
|Cc ||see ||hissing ss
|Dd ||dee ||voiced d sound
|Ee ||ee ||long 48 sound
|Ff ||eff ||short é sound
*** Five pages ***
HOW TO USE THE TABLE
The Symbols of the International Phonetic Association are
given for reference by teachers. Learners may ignore them.
The sounds of English should be gone over by the Teacher
to accustom the learner's ears to them. Each sound should be
attached to a word. Thus : e as in pen, and the word pen must
be memorized by the Learner. When a new word occurs with
this sound in it, the Teacher says : " Pronounce as in pen." As
words become longer, the same principle applies.
Thus : " SOMETHING : sŏme as in sŏ, th as in thin, ng as in thing."
IT IS ADVISABLE TO REFER BACK TO THE LIST FROM TIME TO
TIME, AND GO OVER THE SOUNDS FOR PRACTICE.
WARNING TO ADULT LEARNERS
As this Course of English has been planned for adult learners,
there is an important factor of Nature which must never be overlooked
by those learners or their teachers : Because their hearing
is very much better than that of adults, children " take in "
sounds better, and distinguish subtleties in speech better than
adults can hope to. A foreign child placed among English speech-surroundings
will take sounds in fully and soon reproduce them
accurately. Hence, that child will grow up " without a foreign
accent " when speaking English. Not so an adult. Therefore
the adult learner first needs to have all strange sounds well
explained to him. He must not be allowed to pass any sound he
finds difficult until he can reproduce it reasonably well. This is
of great importance throughout the Course. In Part I, it is of
the highest importance. The adult Learner must be told of this
natural handicap, and informed that it can be overcome; but
only with careful attention and practice. The ability to hear
well linguistically declines with adult age. Full allowance must
be made for this fact.
§ 1 . Begging to Speak : the Method
A TECHER is required by the Learner so that the latter can
acquire a clear pronunciation from the outset. The material
which the Learner must assimilate is selected and presented in
such a way that, if a professional Teacher should not be available,
then any intelligent person who can read this text and speak
English clearly may take the place of the professional Teacher.
The Learner must find such a friend. The aim here is to
achieve first a speaking knowledge : speech can be learned
only from the living voice, and not from a book.
Initiation into English need not be difficult if Teacher and
er are patient and " hasten slowly ", especially at first. A
few simple principles must be followed, and they are stated
below. The absolute beginner's hesitations and shyness have to
be overcome, and constant reassurance and encouragement help
better than anything. It is important that every Learner should
understand that there is method in the way he is being taught,
and that it resolves itself into : (a) imitating the teacher's speech ;
(b) memorizing the material and understanding how it works ;
and (c) in realizing that memorizing and assimilation are achieved
by practice and repetition. Hence, before beginning to teach,
let the Teacher explain to Learner(s) :
The approach to speaking English must be almost entirely oral,
and best results are achieved by avoiding translation and by
concentrating on learning to associate the sound or sounds of the
English with the meaning, rather than with written symbols or
words. The material provided here is given so that Vocabulary
is learned first, then Structure, then Pronunciation of words and
Sentences. Pronunciation can be considered as consisting of :
(1) the Sound or Sounds of a Symbol ; (2) the Intonation and
Rhythm of the Sentence. Both can be learned by the student
by listening to and mimicking the Teacher. No attempt is
made here to reduce (2) to a scientific explanation, which is
unnecessary : because no two teachers will use the same intonations
or rhythms. The learner learns from listening. Thus :
*** 20 pages ***
This page is a place holder for future summarization.
Titles before names of Men and Women. These ought not to cause the Learner much trouble. The teacher explains that as a matter of politeness English-speaking peoples -- unless they are fairly close friends, or relations -- usually prefix the name of the (adult) person they are addressing with the title MR. for man, MRS. for a married woman, and MISS for a girl or unmarried woman. Thus : ***
§ 1 . Thinking in Numbers
WORDS and PHRASES
MR -- MISTER MRS -- MISSIS MISS SIR MADAM
HELLO (HALLO) OH
ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE
1 2 3 4 5
HOW HOW MANY ?
MORE THAN MORE THAN
*** 15 pages ***
ACCURACY and FLUENCY
§ 2 . Numbers : The Family
§ 3. The Situation : in the Town
§ 4. The Future in 'LL : Pounds and Dollars
§ 5 . I WANT. I WANT TO : Hotel and Lodging
3 . LESSON III
§ 1 . Our Clothes : (TO) PUT and (TO) TAKE
*** 15 pages ***
§ 1. The Ending -ER : Name-words from Action-words
*** 21 pages ***
§ 1. CAN and COULD : MAY and MIGHT. : Table of Personal Pronouns
*** 27 pages ***
§ 1. WHO , WHOSE , WHO , WHICH , WHAT , and THAT
*** 24 pages ***
§ 1. Simple Word-building
*** 26 pages ***
§ 1. Little Words of Time, Place, and Direction
*** 24 pages ***
THE INDISPENSABLE STRUCTURE WORDS
I . Pronouns : Words Which Take the Place of Name-words (Nouns)
|I || ||WE || ||YOU |
|MY || ||OUR || ||YOUR |
|ME || ||US || ||YOU |
|MINE|| ||OUR || ||YOURS |
| || || || || |
|HE ||SHE ||WE ||IT ||THEY |
|HIS ||HER ||WE ||ITS ||THEIR |
|HIM ||HER ||WE || ||THEM |
|HIS ||HERS||WE || ||THEIRS |
| || ||OWN|| |
|MY OWN || ||OUR OWN ||YOUR OWN|
|HIS OWN||HER OWN ||OUR OWN||ITS OWN ||THEIR OWN|
| || ||-SELF||-SELVES |
|MYSELF || ||OURSELVES|| ||YOURSELVES |
|HIMSELF||HERSELF||OURSELF||ITSELF ||THEMSELVES |
| || || || || |
II . Contractions
*** 1 page ***
III . Simple Structural Action-words (Verbs)
*** 3 pages ***
If Teacher and Learner have followed instructions, certain fundamental principle will have been assimilated. These are :
(1) That, in the first stage of learning, speech -- that is, Practice in Speaking with the imitation guided by the Teacher -- is of paramount importance. Sounds, formed in accordance with speech-habits of good native speakers, convey meaning : they are language , in this case the English language.
(2) The written language is the form in which those sounds are recorded.
(3) Each language not only has its very own system of sounds,it follows certain recognizable patterns in using them to convey meanings. In English, these patterns are made up of words which can often be modified, and the words are put together in an order that can be modified in accordance with the meanings to be expressed.
(4) The Learner has now practiced (1) and has also learned the basic elements of (3). But to achieve perfection in both, and a knowledge of (2) sufficient for general purposes, the Structure of English must be mastered.
STRUCTURE WORDS : INDISPENSABLE WORDS ; VOCABULARY AND DICTIONARY
The Learner should by now have made the acquaintance of 1000 words which he must regard as indispensable. With them and the "structural words" (pages 206-9), with the various ways of modifying and using both, he has a working vocabulary of considerable range and utility. His Teacher knows that in BASIC ENGLISH a vocabulary of 850 words with a dozen rules can be made to do the work of 20,000 words. but in this Course we have been presenting Standard English, which has more rules, more words, and is capable of greater scope for the practical purposes of everyday life in a greater variety of circumstances. In the Classified Vocabulary which follow there are 500 more Indispensable word which, with the 1000 already known are shown in HEAVY TYPE. The Learner will now find a Dictionary helpful, and he may use one of the following : (1) The Basic English Dictionary ; (2) The Pocket Oxford Dictionary ; or (3) The Thorndike-Barhart Pocket Dictionary, which has the advantage of giving both British and American English usages.
CLASSIFIED VOCABULARY OF 5000 WORDS
Although there are approximately 5000 words in this vocabulary, it represents many times that number of words. Take for example the word advance, ***
*** 50 pages ***
Back to: Ogden's Basic English Homepage
or on to: Texts and Sources
About this Page: eng4adults.html - All purpose English for Adults
by Charles Duff.
Drafted on February 23,2017.
Last updated Feb 26, 2017
Contact us at