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Focus on Language

Text types

Narratives and descriptions
UK version  US version

New word of the month
Festive food and drink

Top Tips for the CD-ROMs
Vocabulary building with
word families



Text Types: Narratives and Descriptions
by Cindy Leaney

Texts are written for a purpose. The purpose might be to get or give information, to discuss a topic, to present an opinion, or to persuade someone to do something. Writers organize texts in various ways to do these particular jobs. They use different grammar structures and vocabulary depending on the purpose of a text.


A narrative tells a story or gives an account (real or imagined) of something that has happened. The events are usually given in the order that they happen. Past tenses are the most common grammar structures in narratives. The main events are usually told in sentences using the past simple and past continuous tenses. The details or extra information about the story are often in the present or past perfect tenses. Direct speech is used to add variety and interest.

Ordering Events: Useful Vocabulary

after that
at first
in the end

Sue Miller, who works as an acrobat in a circus, went into a thrift store in St. Louis. She left her bike at the door. While she was in the store, one of the clerks sold her bike for $20. Ms Miller had paid $1,500 for it. When she came out of the store and discovered what had happened, she was shocked. "At first I thought someone had moved it. Then my knees turned to jelly and I fell down. I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach", she said.


Write a short account of Nelson Mandela's life based on the information below, using some of the useful vocabulary from the Ordering Events section.

Nelson Mandela Timeline

1918 born in a village in the Transkei
1940 expelled from Fort Hare University for leading a strike
1942 joined the African National Congress (ANC), formed the African National Congress Youth League with fellow ANC members
1952 became a lawyer, opened the first black legal firm in the country with Oliver Tambo
1960 Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela detained until 1961
1962 jailed for 5 years
1964 sentenced to life imprisonment while serving the 5-year sentence
1990 released
1990 elected President of the ANC
1993 shared Nobel Peace Prize with President FW de Klerk
1994 became President of South Africa
1999 retired as President of South Africa


A description gives details about what someone or something is like or how something is done. Descriptions often use present tenses, but they also use past tenses to give background information. Fictional and historical descriptions often use past tenses.


When we are describing people and things, we often use a series of adjectives. The usual order for adjectives before nouns is:

other (size, shape,
age etc)
colour origin material purpose x
a strange old red Moroccan leather money bag
lovely fluffy white x x x clouds
several tall gray x concrete office buildings

Describing a Person: Useful Vocabulary

1 Describing a Person's Appearance

he/she is tall/short
he/she has curly/straight/wavy/light/dark hair
he's got a beard/moustache
he/she wears glasses
he/she has wrinkles/freckles/dimples
he/she has a round/oval/long face
he/she looks/seems/appears nervous/relaxed/troubled

My Friend Jane (Part 1)

My friend Jane is fair with short, curly blond hair. She's got an oval face, beautiful green eyes, and a few freckles on her nose. She's about average height for her age — 14. Today she's wearing her school uniform — a gray skirt, a longsleeved white blouse, and black shoes.

2 Describing a Person's Character

he/she has an outgoing personality/easygoing manner
she/he can be stubborn/difficult/charming

My Friend Jane (Part 2)

Jane is sitting at her desk, staring out the window and seems to be thinking about something else. She is not paying attention to what the teacher is saying. She's often very quiet and doesn't say much in class. Her teachers say that she is a good student — hardworking and intelligent — just not very outgoing.

3 Activity

Write a description of a person that you know and/or admire. Write about their appearance and character.

Describing a Scene: Useful Vocabulary

there is/are
in the center/middle
to the right/left
to one side
in the foreground/background
in front of

The View from My Bedroom

The clouds look like dark mountains in the distance. There is a small white house to the right with smoke coming out of the chimney. One of the upstairs windows is open and there is a cat asleep on the porch. The trees are beginning to lose their leaves. An old rusty red pickup truck is slowly climbing the rocky road to the house. There is a long wooden table and several cardboard boxes in the back of the truck.

Describing How to Do Something: Useful Vocabulary

before doing something
when/once you have done something

Hot Peanut Sauce

First heat the coconut milk until it boils. Then add the two kinds of curry paste and stir-fry for three minutes. When the mixture has cooked, add peanut butter, sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, then return to a low heat, stirring continuously.

Next month we'll take a look at two more frequent text types: reviews and discursive texts.