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American history   .

 A short intermediate level English resource.

Alcohol, prohibition and Al Capone

A hundred years ago, you could not buy or consume alcoholic drinks in the United States. It was the age of "prohibition", and a time when criminals controlled a whole industry. The most famous gangster was Al Capone.
The untouchables
The "Untouchables" - from a 1950s TV series. They fought to bring the big criminal gangs to justice. They could not be "bought"
 America is the land of Liberty.  You can think what you want to think, and you can say what you  want to say; but you cannot always do what you want to do —  without breaking the law.
  Today you cannot use hard drugs, because it is against the law. The law has decided that drugs are dangerous,  and most people believe that the law is right. Today, in many places, you cannot smoke a cigarette in the street. But today, you can sit in a  bar and drink a beer — just as long as you are not below the age limit;  a hundred years ago, you could not. America was dry. Alcohol was  illegal. You could neither drink it nor make it, nor buy it, nor import it, nor sell it.
     lf you did, you could go to prison.
     Alcohol became illegal in the year 1919; it remained illegal for fourteen years. However, it never disappeared! Before 1919 alcoholic drinks were very popular in the United States. There was a big drinks industry, which employed a great number of people. Suddenly, in 1919, the industry had to stop!
     Of course, it could not stop. It stopped officially, but it continued to prosper -  unofficially.  In place of big business, there was big  crime. The Mafia took control of  the distribution, and the bosses of  the Mafia replaced the bosses of  the breweries and the distilleries.
A Capone
Al Capone, after he was arrested
     The biggest gangster of them all was  Al Capone, who came from New York and operated in Chicago.  Capone controled a vast  empire of crime. He was so powerful that he could control anyone he wanted to. He could "buy"  policemen, he could "buy" politicians. He was "untouchable". In his fortress at Chicago, he was quite safe, because he was a friend of the Mayor, "Big" Bill  Thompson.
       Big Bill liked Capone,  because he liked his drink. Bill and his drinking friends in the authorities made sure that Capone did not have much trouble. Capone had lots of enemies, but most of his enemies were frightened of him. They knew that Al could kill them, and would kill them, if they were not careful.
     Most policemen were very careful not to get in the way of Al Capone, unless they had to. Most policemen, but not all.  A small group of policemen,  known as "the Untouchables", were determined that Al Capone would not escape from justice for ever.  They took several years to do their  work, but in the end they succeeded. Al Capone was finally sent  to prison.
     However, he was never accused of killing, nor of selling alcohol. He was too clever for that. No evidence could incriminate him for that. He  was sent to prison for not paying  taxes.


Word guide
as  long as - on condition that - remained: continued to be - to prosper:  to do well - brewery: a place where beer is made (brewed) - have trouble: have difficuty get in the  way of: obstruct - incriminate him:  show that he had done something. 

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Student Worksheet

Alcohol, prohibition and Al Capone

Interactive multiple-choice exercise.  Can be completed on screen or on paper :

Here is an extract from the article. Choose the correct answer from the options given in each case. Click the down arrow  v  to show the options, then select the one that you thing is right.  😉 Try to do this exercise without looking back to the article
To save your answers, take a screenshot when you have finished doing the exercise

     Big Bill liked Capone,   he liked his drink. Bill and his drinking friends in the authorities    sure that Capone did not have  trouble. Capone had   of enemies, but  of  his enemies were frightened of him. They    that Al  kill them, and  kill them, if they were not careful.
     Most policemen were  careful not to get in the  of Al Capone, unless they  to. Most policemen, but not  . A small group of policemen,  known  "the Untouchables", were determined  Al Capone  not escape from justice for  . They took  years to do their  work, but in the  they succeeded. Al Capone was finally sent     prison.

For Teachers

This text exploits a number of grammar points. Pay attention in particular to
Modal verbs
Quantifiers and intensifiers
Expressing negatives

There are several modal verb and quantifier items in the multiple choice exercise.

  As for negatives, this text illustrates many different ways in which a negative idea can be expressed.  As well as just the basic use of not with a verb , as in You cannot or You are not,  there are negative forms of adjectives and adverbs, such as illegal ( = not legal) unofficially ( not officially) or untouchable (not touchable) , and several examples of the use of neither ... nor.  There is also the word never, as well as an interesting negative infinitive, in not to get in the way of.
  For a full guide to the different ways of expressing negatives in English see Descriptive Grammar of English, section 4.5, pages 166 - 169

The Multiple Choice exercise.
This exercise is also available as a separate file : click here.  This Multiple choice activity  has been carefully prepared to test comprehension, grammar, memory and logic.  All the multiple choice options suggested are plausible, so all require thought from the student. In some cases suggested answers may be plausible but ungrammatical, in other cases they may be plausible but illogical; and in others they man be plausible, grammatical and even logical or at least possible.

This teaching resource is © copyright Linguapress
Fully revised and extended 2022 . Originally published in Horizon, the Low-intermediate level English newsmagazine.
Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised

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Intermediate level EFL resource
Level -  Intermediate.
IELTS Level :  4 - 5
Flesch-Kincaid  scores
Reading ease level:
74 - Fairly easy
Grade level: 6

A reference grammar  recommended as "a welcome treat"  in IATEFL's  flagship Voices Magazine,.

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