Double-click any word on this page to check its definition and pronunciation in a dictionary.

Sentence items (cards) in SRS

Q He was asleep before I tucked him in.
A If you tuck someone in, usually a child, you make them comfortable in bed by straightening their sheets and blankets.
On Antimoon, we use the SuperMemo terminology. A Q&A pair is called an item. A collection of items is called a... collection. In Anki, an item is called a card and a collection is called a deck.

Sentence items can be used to learn both vocabulary and grammar. In the question field, there is an example sentence. The sentence has at least one “interesting” word or phrase (where “interesting” means “at least a little difficult or challenging for you”). It can be a sentence from a book, a dictionary, TV, etc.

In the answer field, you can put the definitions and pronunciations (phonetic transcriptions) of the difficult words. The answer field can also be empty.

Examples

Note: Many of the definitions in these items are from the Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary.

Q You're blocking the TV.
A to block the TV = to obscure it from view
Q Four users complained of difficulty using the menus, and one was so stymied that I had to help him.
A If you are stymied by something, you find it very difficult to take action or to continue what you are doing. (INFORMAL)
stymied ['stai mi(:)d]
Q He said he'd be there, come hell or high water.
A If you say that something will happen come hell or high water, you mean that it will certainly happen, in spite of any difficulties that there might be.
Q Aside from that unfortunate business, everything is hunky-dory.
A hunky-dory = fine (informal)
Q And then we're gonna kick back.
A kick back = relax (slang)
Q I've got the hots for her.
A the hots = sexual desire
Q The astronauts are preparing for touchdown tomorrow morning.
A touchdown ['t^tS daun]
= the landing of an aircraft or spacecraft
Q She is an anchor for CNN International's World News.
A an anchor ['@N k..(r)]
= the main broadcaster on a program of news, sports, etc., who often coordinates the reports of the program's other broadcasters
Q Those not attending the meeting may vote by proxy.
A If you do something by proxy, you arrange for someone else to do it for you.

proxy ['prok si:]
Q Over time she internalized her parents' attitudes.
A to internalize sth [in 'te:(r) n..l aiz]

If you internalize a belief or a set of values, it becomes part of your attitude or way of thinking.
Q I admire the way she can just shrug off all her problems.
A to shrug sth off [Sr^g]

If you shrug something off, you ignore it or treat it as if it is not really important or serious.
Q My boss delegated me to approach the local press.
A to delegate ['de l.. geit]

If you delegate someone to do something, you give them the duty of acting on your behalf by making decisions, voting, or doing some particular work.
Q There was a shift in the wind.
A A shift is a slight change from one direction to another.
Q The mayor has the local police in his pocket.
A If you have someone in your pocket, they are willing to do whatever you tell them (possibly because you have bribed them).
Q You are correct that not every family is willing to make that kind of commitment.
A You are correct that...
Q He is reasonably near to you -- in Prague.
A near to you

The above two items teach two grammar structures — “You are correct that...” and “near to you”. The author of these items already knew the vocabulary in these sentences, so the answer fields contain no definitions. The phrases are only repeated in the answer field to make sure you don’t miss them.

More than one sentence

The question field may contain more than one sentence. Notice that:

  • Two short sentences are often simpler than one long sentence. For example, compare “I am ugly, therefore she cannot possibly love me.” with “I am ugly. She cannot possibly love me.” If you want to learn the word possibly, you don’t have to complicate this sentence with the word therefore.
  • Sometimes a word or grammar structure appears only in a specific context. You may need an additional sentence to show that context.

Look at the following items:

Q The restaurant serves only two meals: fish and steak. Most people take the steak.
A

The before steak is correct only if we know what steak we are talking about. So we need to have the first sentence.

Q All right, I'll let you go in. However, you will have to behave well.
A

However is a word which connects two sentences. You cannot show its meaning with just one sentence.

Q “What is he like?”
“He’s very nice.”
A

The conclusion is: Don’t always limit yourself to just one sentence in the question field. However, pay attention to the total length of the sentences. The text in the question field should be short. It cannot make you feel bored or tired!

Simplicity

The question field should not present many words or grammar structures. When repeating an item, you don’t want to think about too many difficult things at the same time. This means that you often have to simplify the sentence. You can also use the sentence to make a few items (not just one).

Suppose you read this sentence in a book:

Days after the earthquake there were still survivors, however it was not possible for the rescue workers to find them.

This sentence is hard if you are a beginner. It has many difficult words and phrases. You can split it into three items like this:

Q Days after the earthquake there were still survivors.
A earthquake ['e:rth kweik] = shaking of the ground
survivor [s..(r) 'vai v..(r)] = someone who continues to live after a disaster, accident, etc.
Q It was not possible for the rescue workers to find the survivors.
A rescue workers = workers helping people who suffered an accident, etc.
survivor [s..(r) 'vai v..(r)] = someone who continues to live after a disaster, accident, etc.
Q There were still survivors, however it was not possible to find them.
A survivor [s..(r) 'vai v..(r)] = someone who continues to live after a disaster, accident, etc.

The first item is the first part of the sentence. It teaches the words earthquake, survivors, and the phrase “Days after...”.

The second item is the part of the sentence after however. The pronoun them at the end of the sentence was changed to the survivors (to make the sentence clearer). This item teaches the words get to someone, survivors, and rescue workers. It also illustrates the phrase “It was not possible for someone to do something”.

The third item presents the word however. The parts of the sentence before and after however have been simplified. The phrases “Days after the earthquake” and “for the rescue workers” have been removed. That way, the learner can concentrate on however when repeating this item. It does not make sense to define however in the answer field, but there is a definition of survivor in case the learner forgets it.

Of course, you should be very careful when changing the original sentence like this, because you might make it incorrect.

Empty answer field

Q I find this book boring.
A

The answer field can also be empty. An empty answer field may be a good idea when you think you will be able to understand the sentence even without the definition. Here, the author thought that phrase “to find something boring” is quite easy to understand without a dictionary definition. But even if you can understand this phrase easily, it may be difficult to say or write this phrase yourself. So this item is useful even without a definition.

Also, remember that copying the definition and pronunciation (even from a software dictionary) takes time. If you think a sentence is relatively “easy”, you can skip the definition. That way, you can add your items much faster. And later, if you forget what a sentence means, you can always look up the difficult word in a dictionary.

How to review

  1. Read the sentence in the question field carefully. Try to understand all parts of the sentence. When reading, stop at interesting (not obvious) things: a new word, how a word was used, a grammar structure, a preposition, an article (a/the), etc. For example, spend a while to think about the fact that the sentence contains the preposition at, and not on. Use the pause and think method described in our article about reading.

    You can also practice saying the sentence aloud or in your mind without looking at the screen. When you do, you can imagine you are in a situation where you say that sentence. Make sure you get all the grammatical details right.

    You should not try to say the definitions in the answer field! These definitions only help you to check if you understood all parts of the sentence. If you forget the sentence, they help you to re-learn it.

  2. Read the answer field (if it is not empty). Quickly compare your understanding of the words, phrases, and grammar structures with the explanations. If you are sure about the meaning of the sentence, you don’t have to read the explanations.
  3. Choose a grade. With sentence items, there is no concrete answer that you should give. Instead, the “answer” is your understanding of the sentence. Therefore, the rules of grading are a little different:
    • 5 (Anki: Easy) — You understood the sentence very well. You feel that it’s easy for you.
    • 4 (Anki: Good) — You understood the sentence, but you found it somewhat challenging. Perhaps you understood it incorrectly at the beginning, and then you changed your mind. Perhaps a tense or preposition in the sentence is a little surprising and you’re not sure if you’d get it right if you were writing the sentence yourself. This should be the most common grade.
    • 3 (Anki: Hard) — You understood the sentence, but it was hard and maybe your understanding was a little incorrect.
    • 2 (Anki: Again) — You “almost” understood the sentence. When you saw the explanations in the answer field, you thought “I knew it!”.
    • 1 (Anki: Again) — You didn’t understand the sentence.
    • 0 (Anki: Again) — You didn’t understand the sentence and you don’t even recognize it.

Comments

Back in high school, when we were learning English intensively, we did not use sentence items — we used mostly definition-word items with lots of example sentences in the answer field. Michal invented sentence items when we were already fluent in English. However, Tom used sentence items to learn German for a few months, with good results. Khatzumoto, the author of All Japanese All The Time, used sentence items to learn fluent Japanese in 18 months.

Make sure you read more about the advantages of sentence items as compared to definition-word items.