Goodbye and hello
My blog today has two parts; the first is to the departing student blogger, Ana Paula, and the second is to the new victim… oops, I mean the new student blogger, James.
Dear Ana Paula,
Before I bid you farewell, I’ll quickly give you the answer to the final nasty questions. Just as a reminder, I asked you to find the grammatical problem in these sentences:
‘Just like you, I love coffee and books (and of course, films is among them), actually I think they make a perfect partnership, though I’ve never read a book sitting at a café beside a river.’
‘You mentioned my poetic mood in your blog, in fact, I felt like this because yesterday I read an article about a new temporary exhibition at Língua Portuguesa Museum (Museu da Língua Portuguesa) inspired by Clarice Lispector’s works.’
A few days ago, if you remember, we were discussing clauses and how we use clauses to build up sentences. We make sentences with one clause, like this:
‘Ana Paula likes books.’
We can also make two-clause sentences, like this:
‘Ana Paula likes books, and she also likes films.’
Of course, we can also make three-clause sentences, four-clause sentences, twenty-seven clause sentences, and so on. However, when we use two or more clauses in a sentence, it’s important to connect them together properly. Please have a look at this example of a WRONG two-clause sentence:
‘Alex likes tea, he prefers tea.’
Why is this wrong? It’s wrong because a comma is not strong enough to connect two clauses. We need to add an extra word here, in order to connect these two sentences properly.
‘Alex likes tea, BUT he prefers coffee.’
If you look back at the two sentences above, you’ll find that both of them contain clauses which are not properly connected. In the first example, we can fix the problem by adding an extra word, like this:
‘Just like you, I love coffee and books (and of course, films is among them), AND actually I think they make a perfect partnership, though I’ve never read a book sitting at a café beside a river.’
In the second, it sounds more natural to break it up into two sentences, like this:
‘You mentioned my poetic mood in your BLOG. IN fact, I felt like this because yesterday I read an article about a new temporary exhibition at Língua Portuguesa Museum (Museu da Língua Portuguesa) inspired by Clarice Lispector’s works.’
Yes, those were particularly evil questions. But if I’d given you easy questions, you would’ve been disappointed, wouldn’t you?
I’d just like to say thanks very much for all your hard work. I’ve enjoyed reading and responding to your blogs very much indeed – they’ve made me laugh, they’ve made me cry, they’ve even made me sick. Good luck in your future studies, and don’t forget to connect your clauses properly! And to look where you’re going while you’re reading! And keep in touch – we still want your comments, please!
And here’s the second part…
Hi! Good to meet you. I see you’ve been very busy in the last couple of days – thanks for your blogs, and for the questions you’ve asked. Paul will have to answer some of these questions, but I can answer a couple of them here.
You asked about different ways to say ‘hello’ to all of us. As you know, there are many different ways to do this. Some of them are more formal (like “Dear English learners of the world”, for example), and some are more informal (like “Hello everyone”). I think you made a good choice. “Hello there” is a friendly, informal greeting, and these blogs are friendly and informal, so this sounds good to me.
In your second blog, you asked how you should address Paul Scott when you speak to him on the phone. In this situation, you have three options. Firstly, you could be formal and polite and say, “Hello Mr Scott”. Secondly, you could be less formal and more friendly, and say “Hello Paul”. Finally, you could avoid the problem by just saying “Hello”. In fact, Paul is a very relaxed, friendly guy, so I’d suggest “Hello Paul”. “Hey man” is probably too informal, even for Paul.
I’m sorry about this, James, but the difficult questions are going to start straightaway. I’d like to take a look at a sentence from your first blog, and make some corrections. First, though, I’d like to tell you the same thing I told Ana Paula – mistakes are good! It’s very important for students to make mistakes! If you don’t make mistakes, you will never expand or improve your English.
So, let’s have a look at some mistakes. First, let’s have a look at this sentence.
‘I have learnt English since I was 12, quite a long time, but I have not being abroad to learn English.’
I can understand what you mean, but you have to be careful with the verb tenses here. In this sentence we need to use the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous. The present perfect simple looks like this:
‘I have been to France many times.’
We normally use the present perfect simple to describe an action which is finished, but we don’t know when it happened. In the example, this action is finished – I’m not in France now, I’m at home in London writing my blog. Do you know when I went to France? No, I haven’t given you this information.
The present perfect continuous looks like this:
‘I have been living in London for three years.’
We normally use the present perfect continuous for an action which started in the past but is still continuing now. I started living in London three years ago, and I still live in London now. We very often use the present perfect continuous with ‘for’ or ‘since’.
So, let’s make some corrections to your sentence.
‘I have learnt English since I was 12, quite a long time, but I have not being abroad to learn English.’
The first part of your sentence uses ‘since’, so here we should use the present perfect: ‘I have been learning English since I was 12.’ The second part requires the present perfect simple, like this: ‘I have not been abroad to learn English.
So, the sentence should look like this:
‘I have been learning English since I was 12, quite a long time, but I have not been abroad to learn English.’
Does this make sense? I hope so, because I’ve got some nasty questions for you. How would you complete these sentences, using the present perfect simple or the present perfect continuous?
1. James __________ the student blogger for just a few days.
2. Alex ___________ the teacher blogger for a month already.
3. James __________ two blogs this week.
4. Alex ___________ has written two blogs as well.
To depart means to leave or to go away.
In Britain, if we notice that we’ve made a mistake, we say ‘oops!’
‘To bid you farewell’ is a slightly old-fashioned and formal phrase; it means, ‘to say goodbye to you’.
‘Reminder’ is the noun from the verb ‘to remind’. A reminder isn’t a person; it’s a message which reminds you to do something.
Straightaway means immediately.
PS As JJ from HK rightly pointed out, in my last blog I wrote ‘embarassing’ when I meant ‘embarrassing’. How embarrassing!
posted on Wednesday, 02 May 2007 | comment on this post
Grammar, grammar, and more grammar...
Dear James, and everyone else out there,
I’d like to start with an apology today. I made a mistake in my last blog, and I have fess up and admit to it. Again. It’s not the first time, and it probably won’t be the last time.
The mistake was in the present perfect questions I asked at the end of my last blog. As usual, I planned to write some nasty, tricky questions. However, as I re-read them today, I noticed I’d made question 4 a little too easy. I’ll explain in a moment – but let’s start from the beginning. I’ll talk about the four questions in detail, and I hope that this will answer Lucia’s question about the present perfect simple as well.
1. James __________ the student blogger for just a few days.
Let’s think about this. James started writing the student blog a few days ago, and this isn’t finished; he’s still the student blogger now. Also, this sentence uses ‘for’, so we should use the present perfect continuous, right? ‘James has been being the student blogger for just a few days’? Logical, but wrong, I’m afraid!
Normally, if something started in the past and it hasn’t finished yet, and if we use ‘for’ or ‘since’ in the sentence, we use the present perfect continuous. For example,
‘He has been studying English for many years.’
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Firstly, there are certain verbs which we normally don’t use in the continuous (-ing) form. These verbs are called ‘state verbs’, and they normally refer to mental or emotional states. ‘To like’, ‘to love’ and ‘to know’ are common examples of state verbs (I won’t write out a full list of state verbs here – if you want to see a full list of state verbs, you’ll be able to find one in a grammar book or on any decent grammar website).
So, for example, we cannot say this:
‘I have been liking coffee since I was a teenager.’
This started in the past, it’s not finished, and the sentence uses ‘since’… but ‘to like’ is a state verb, so we normally don’t use it in the continuous tense. Instead of the present perfect continuous, we need the present perfect simple:
‘I have liked coffee since I was a teenager.’
OK so far? Good, because I’m afraid we haven’t finished yet. The verb ‘to be’ is also an exception to the present perfect continuous rule. ‘To be’ is not a state verb, but nevertheless, we prefer not to use ‘to be’ in the present perfect continuous tense. If we say,
‘James has been being the student blogger for just a few days.’
-this isn’t wrong, exactly, but to a native speaker of English, ‘has been being’ sounds unnatural and ugly. If we choose the verb ‘to be’, even if the sentence describes something which is not finished and uses ‘for’ or ‘since’, we choose the present perfect simple instead.
So, the answer to question 1 should be:
‘James has been the student blogger for just a few days.’
Now that we have the answer to the first question, the second one should be easier, as it follows the same grammatical pattern:
2. Alex ___________ the teacher blogger for a month already.
Again, we read this and we think to ourselves, “Aha! This sentence describes a situation which started in the past and isn’t finished now. Also, the sentence uses the word ‘for’. So it must be present perfect continuous.” But then we think, “No! Wait a moment! All that is true, but in this sentence we need the verb ‘to be’. When we use the verb ‘to be’, we don’t use the present perfect continuous, we use the present perfect simple instead.” And then we understand that the correct answer must be like this:
‘Alex has been the teacher blogger for a month already.’
Now we come to the third question.
3. James __________ two blogs this week.
This is about James writing blogs this week. Is it finished? No, it isn’t – this week isn’t finished yet, and maybe James will write another blog before the end of the week. Do we see ‘for’ or ‘since’ in the sentence? No we don’t. Therefore, we choose the present perfect simple:
‘James has written two blogs this week.’
And finally, we reach the last question. As I said, I made a mistake here, and made the question a little too easy. I intended to write this:
4. Alex ___________ two blogs as well.
The answer, of course, would be like this:
‘Alex has written two blogs as well.’
Can you see the mistake I made? I’m sure you can. I forgot to remove the words ‘has written’ from the sentence. Duh!
Because of my mistakes, it isn’t necessary to add anything at all to this sentence. However, as you suggested James, you could add the word ‘also’. And as Paco suggested, you could add my surname (Gooch) – that also makes a good sentence.
By the way, James, “I have been blogging too many on my blog” is almost exactly right. Just change ‘many’ to ‘much’, and the sentence is perfect. Well done!
Phew, what a lot of grammar today! Tiasha asked for a story, but I’m afraid I don’t have enough time to write one today; next time, Tiasha, I promise!
One more thing before I go. You asked about the phrase ‘celebrity teacher’, James. Yes, this is grammatically correct – but am I really a celebrity? If I’m a celebrity, James, you must be a celebrity too! Have any of our fans recognised you on the street yet, and asked for your autograph? I’m sorry to say that this hasn’t happened to me yet. But I’m looking forward to it.
OK, now I’m going to check this blog really really carefully for mistakes before I submit it. I challenge you to find errors!
All the best,
At least there’s not too much vocabulary today...
‘To fess up’ is an American phrasal verb. It’s only a few years old, and in Britain we really only using it when we’re mocking Americans (we mock Americans quite a lot, I’m sorry to say). It means ‘to confess’, or to admit that you’ve done something wrong.
‘Tricky’ is a slang word for ‘difficult’.
An exception is something which doesn’t follow the normal rule or pattern. For example, most British men are interested in football, but I’m an exception – I find football incredibly boring, and I have no interest in it at all.
In this context, the adjective decent means ‘good enough’.
Finally, duh! is the sound we make when we realise that we have said or done something extremely stupid. I make this sound quite a lot.
posted on Friday, 04 May 2007 | comment on this post
Work, work, and more work.
Hi James, and everyone else,
This is just a quick message to say hello, and sorry I’ve been so quiet for the last couple of days. This weekend is what we call a ‘bank holiday weekend’ in Britain, which means that on Monday the banks, and quite a lot of other shops, are closed (although the shopping never stops on Oxford Street, of course).
Many of my friends have taken the opportunity to get out of London for a couple of days. Not me, though – I have to move out of my house next week, so I’ve been spending the weekend packing up my belongings and lugging boxes around. Unfortunately, I’m going to be homeless for a while, as I haven’t found a place to rent yet. Accommodation in London is horribly expensive, and I’m just a poor teacher (please imagine sad violin music in the background as you read this), so it’s difficult to find a decent place to live. Fortunately, I have a very generous friend called Lottie, who has offered to let me stay in her spare room until I find a place of my own, so at least I won’t be sleeping on the streets!
Of course, I’m glad to see that you’re working hard too, James I’d like to have a look at your four example sentences in detail:
1) (The present perfect simple): I have been a good student since I was little. (We don’t know when it happened.)
This is a very good sentence – well done. However, you commented that ‘we don’t know when it happened’. I’d like to ask a question – are you a good student now? Yes, of course you are! So this sentence describes something which started in the past but isn’t finished yet. It also uses ‘since’. In this situation we normally use the present perfect continuous. However, we normally don’t use the present perfect continuous with the verb ‘to be’ – we use the present perfect simple, exactly as you did.
2) (The present perfect simple): I have tripped many countries (we don’t know when it happened.)
Again, you’ve chosen exactly the right grammar here. However, there is a vocabulary problem here. If we’re talking about travel and journeys, we can use the word ‘trip’ as a noun, but not as a verb. ‘To travel’ would be a good verb to use here, so we need to change ‘I have tripped’ to ‘I have travelled’. Also, we need the preposition ‘to’ after the verb, so the sentence should be like this:
‘I have travelled to many countries.’
Let’s look at the next one:
3) (The present perfect continuous): I have been knowing Junior Bush since he was a president of American, but he has not been knowing me. (It is still happening)
Remember what I said last time, about ‘state verbs’? These are verbs which we normally don’t use in the continuous form. ‘To know’ is a state verb, so in this case we wouldn’t choose the present perfect continuous, we’d choose the present perfect simple instead, like this:
‘I have known Bush since he became president of America…’
Note that we also need to use the verb ‘to become’ here, because ‘becoming the president of America’ is finished.
And finally, on to the last one.
4) (The present perfect continuous): I have been eating 3 meals a day. (It is still happening)
This is another good sentence. When we use the present perfect continuous, we very often use ‘for’ or ‘since’ in the same sentence, to show the period of time we’re talking about. So, a very natural sentence would be something like this:
‘I have been eating 3 meals a day since I was a child’.
However, we don’t always follow this rule, and I can certainly imagine situations in which your sentence would sound natural and appropriate.
I’m going to give you some formal homework today, James – but don’t worry, it’s only a very small amount of homework (and other readers are welcome to have a crack at it too). On Sunday you wrote this sentence, James:
‘I have to practice to expand many sentences.’
After the verb ‘to practice’ we use the –ing form, so the correct sentence is this:
‘I have to practice expanding many sentences.’
Also, you wrote,
‘As my dictionary, a celebrity is someone who…’
In this case, you need to use the phrase, ‘according to’, like this:
‘According to my dictionary, a celebrity is someone who…’
This means, ‘my dictionary says that…’. We can also use ‘according to’ with a person’s name – for example,
‘According to James, the 28th of September is Teachers’ Day.’
This means, ‘James says that the 28th of September is Teachers’ Day’.
Your homework is to write two more example sentences for me, on different subjects. One sentence should include the verb ‘to practice’ with the –ing form, and the other sentence should include ‘according to…’.
By the way, I’m very curious about Teachers’ Day. What happens on Teachers’ Day? Is it celebrated in any special way? We don’t have anything like that in Britain, I’m sad to say.
Well, I’d better say goodbye and go and pack some more boxes. Enjoy your homework, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from you soon.
All the best,
A little more vocabulary:
Your belongings are your possessions; the things that you own.
‘To lug’ is an informal British word meaning ‘to carry’.
If something is appropriate, it is good in this particular situation. It means almost the same as ‘suitable’, which I discussed in my blog the other day.
Finally, another British slang phrase: ‘to have a crack at something’ means ‘to try to do something’.
posted on Monday, 07 May 2007 | comment on this post
Friday (yes, I know it's Wednesday today, but read on...)
Hi James, and everyone else,
Well, I’m officially homeless now. Yesterday I took most of my possessions to a big storage depot, where they’ll stay until I’ve found a new and more permanent place to live. Until then, I’ll be living out of a suitcase at Lottie’s flat. In fact, there are three of us sharing this flat now – Lottie, me, and Friday the cat.
I could say that Friday is Lottie’s cat, but I don’t think that’s really accurate. Cats are such independent, free-spirited creatures, I’m not sure if humans ever really ‘own’ them. Friday comes and goes as she pleases, and does pretty much exactly what she wants, and Lottie feeds her, takes her to the vet, and so on. It might be more accurate to say that Lottie is Friday’s human.
I’m writing this blog at Lottie’s computer, and Friday seems very interested in the process – in fact, she keeps trying to ‘help’ by standing on the keyboard, and I keep having to shove her off the desk. Maybe she wants to write something. Let’s see. OK, Friday, what would you like to say to James and all the nice people out there?
There, that’s Friday’s comment, made by pressing her paws on the keyboard until she got bored and went off to terrorize some birds in the garden. I have no idea what ‘’’’[[‘oplllllllllllllllllllllllllllll88888888 means. If you’re curious, I suggest you ask a cat.
Anyway, let’s move on and talk about some grammar. Thanks to everyone who tried the homework questions. Jameel from Jordan’s answers were so good that I’d like to use them here as examples:
1- Practice: The BBC site advises foreign learners of English to practice listening to native speakers so as to improve their listening skills.
2- According to many people on this planet, appropriate measures should be taken in order to reduce CO2 emissions. Other wise, one day we will have to pack up our belongings and go to a new planet.
(Jameel, please note that I’ve made one small vocabulary change.)
Today I’d like to talk about a particular kind of grammatical error which is very common among students who speak Chinese (or related languages) as their first language – I guess this is because the grammar of Chinese is so different to English.
In order to make my point, I need to start by reminding you about clauses. As I explained to Ana Paula a week or two ago, every sentence in English must have at least one clause. For example:
‘I live in London.’
This sentence has one main verb (live), and therefore one clause.
‘Friday is chasing birds in the garden, but she hasn’t caught any yet.’
This sentence has two main verbs (is chasing and hasn’t caught), so it’s a two-clause sentence.
I’m sure this is quite familiar to you so far; certainly it’ll be familiar to anyone who’s been reading the blogs regularly.
Now, every clause has a main verb and a subject, but some clauses also have objects (note to grammar buffs - I’m talking about both direct objects and indirect objects). For example:
‘I like coffee.’
In this sentence, the noun I is the subject, the verb like is the main verb, and the noun coffee is the object. Now we come to the important point. A noun can be the subject of a main verb, or it can be the object of a main verb, but it can’t do both jobs at the same time. I’ll give you an example of the kind of problem I’m thinking about:
‘I live in London is a big city.’
Of course, this sentence is WRONG. I could say this:
‘I live in London.’
In this sentence, the noun London is the OBJECT of the main verb live. OR I could say this:
‘London is a big city.’
In this sentence, the noun London is the SUBJECT of the main verb is. However, the noun London CANNOT be the object of the verb live and the subject of the verb is at the same time. We can correct the sentence by adding the word ‘which’, like this:
‘I live in London, which is a big city.’
Now, please have a look at these sentences, James. You’ll notice that they both contain the kind of mistake I’ve been talking about.
1. ‘There were some westerners taught English in urban cities like Taipei.’
In this sentence, the noun westerners is trying to do two jobs at once – it’s trying to be the object of the verb were and the subject of the verb taught. It isn’t allowed to do two jobs at the same time!
2. ‘And there were no foreigners except priests taught English in my hometown.’
Here the problem is with a longer ‘noun phrase’ - no foreigners except priests. This noun phrase is trying to be the object of the verb were and the subject of the verb taught simultaneously. Again, this word isn’t allowed to do both these jobs at once.
Can you correct these sentences, James? I’m sure some of our other readers will be willing to try and help you.
By the way, thanks again to all the readers for your many comments, and particular thanks to everyone who sympathized with my housing problems and gave me their encouragement. As usual, I’m sorry I don’t have time or space to answer all your comments and questions, but here’s a quick note to Anna from Poland: Anna, in old-fashioned English (from several centuries ago), the standard ending for a third-person singular verb in the present tense was –th / -eth (instead of –s / -es in modern English). So, I would say, ‘Anna lives in Poland’, but my ancestors would have said, ‘Anna liveth in Poland.’ I hope that answers the question.
All the best,
A depot is a building where things are stored in large amounts.
The phrase living out of a suitcase is quite logical and easy to understand. If you’re carrying a few possessions with you in suitcases or bags, and you don’t have access to the rest of your things, then we say you’re ‘living out of a suitcase’. For example, we normally live out of a suitcase when we’re travelling.
‘Pretty much’ is an informal phrase meaning ‘more-or-less’. We use it with adjectives or adverbs.
‘To shove’ is an informal verb meaning ‘to push’.
If an animal has claws, then its feet are called paws. Friday has claws. I am certain of this, because last night while I was sleeping she attacked my feet.
To terrorize someone is to threaten them or make them feel frightened. It’s closely connected to a word which we see in the British media a lot at the moment, ‘terrorist’.
The informal noun buff is used for a person who knows a lot about a particular subject. We most often use it in the phrase ‘film buff’ – a person who knows a lot about films. I suspect Ana Paula is a bit of a film buff.
‘To sympathize with someone’ means to show that you understand that person’s problems, and you ‘suffer with’ that person.
posted on Wednesday, 09 May 2007 | comment on this post
Thanks for all the information you gathered about Teachers’ Day in different countries. I’m starting to suspect that Britain is the only country in the world which doesn’t have a Teachers’ Day at some time in the year. This seems extremely unjust to me – if other teachers in other countries get flowers and presents and a day off, why don’t I?
In fact, maybe I’ll just invent a Teachers’ Day for Britain. Maybe I’ll tell my students that next Friday is British Teachers’ Day. “Yes, that’s right everyone, it’s Teachers’ Day on Friday. How do you celebrate Teachers’ Day in your countries? Yes, yes, that’s very interesting. In Britain, on Teachers’ Day, the teachers don’t do any work at all, they just relax and read the newspaper while the students prepare fine foods for them and massage their feet. Also, it’s traditional for students to give teachers a present on Teachers’ Day. Flowers? Yes, I suppose you could bring me flowers, but the traditional gift is cash, extremely large amounts of cash. At least a thousand pounds.”
Hmmm, I wonder if they’ll believe me.
Thanks also for telling us about Luis, and how he comes to be your houseguest. I’m impressed that he’s learned so much Chinese so quickly. Once, several years ago, I took a few lessons in Chinese. I did this because I was teaching a lot of students from China and Taiwan, and I wanted to put myself in their shoes, at least a little bit. I’m afraid my attempt to learn Chinese was a complete failure, though – in particular I found the pronunciation nigh on impossible. I take my hat off to any Westerner who can learn Chinese – and of course to you, James, and any Chinese speaker who can learn English, or any other Western language! I know what a difficult task it is.
Let’s move on to the subject of homework. A couple of days ago, I asked you to write two example sentences, one using the verb ‘to practice’ with the –ing form, and the other using ‘according to…’. Thanks for putting so much work into this, James – you wrote not just two sentences but a whole paragraph:
‘In Taiwan, there is one and half hour of lunch break. According to the weather forecast, Today is a shinny day, and I got to prepare writing my today’s blog, so, during the lunch break, I were out to buy a book which Teacher Nick mentioned, its name is “Angela's Ashes” that written by Frank McCour. I hope the book can inspire my writing. But I can’t find the book in Yilan city with the population of ten hundred thousand, and, according to the clerk of book shop said, there is no Chinese version of this book, therefore, I prepare surfing on the internet to buy one.’
Let’s start with ‘according to…’. Your first example with ‘according to’ is very good; well done. ‘According to the weather forecast,…’ is exactly the kind of phrase that native speakers often use. In the second ‘according to’ sentence, the idea is good but I’m afraid there’s a grammar mistake. You wrote:
‘According to the clerk of book shop said, there is no Chinese version of this book.’
After ‘according to’ we need to use a noun or a ‘noun phrase’. ‘The clerk of the book shop said’ isn’t a noun phrase, it’s a clause. We need to remove the verb ‘said’ and make a sentence like this:
‘According to the clerk of book shop, there is no Chinese version of this book.’
Now we come to the second part of the homework, sentences with the verb ‘to practice’ followed by the –ing form of the verb. Um… er… Please read your paragraph again, James. Can you see the mistake here? I’m sure you can. You didn’t actually use the verb ‘to practice’ at all; you used the verb ‘to prepare’ instead. Oops!
‘To prepare’ has a different meaning from ‘to practice’, of course, but it also has different grammar. We normally use the verb ‘to prepare’ with to + infinitive or for + noun, meaning to get ready for something or to make oneself ready for something. For example, as I sat on the bus this morning, I was looking at my teaching notes and reading exercises in my textbook. I could say,
‘I was preparing for my nine-o’clock class.’
Or I could say,
‘I was preparing to teach my nine-o’clock class.’
Also, we sometimes use the verb ‘to prepare’ followed only by a noun. I wrote a sentence like this above:
‘The students prepare fine foods for them and massage their feet.’
This means that the students make fine foods for them. Please note that in modern English, ‘to prepare’ + noun is most often used when we’re talking about food (and we don’t say ‘prepare my homework’ – this is a mistake that I’ve heard thousands and thousands of times!)
So, anyway, I’m sorry James but I’ll have to ask you for another sentence or two with ‘to practice’, when you have the time.
I thought Friday might have another message for her many fans, but she’s fast asleep on the windowsill so I guess not. I’ll post a picture of her instead. Isn’t she beautiful?
All the best,
The adjective unjust means unfair. It’s related to the noun ‘justice’.
Cash is an uncountable noun meaning money in physical form (i.e. notes or coins).
Hmmm is the sound we make when we’re thinking. In particular, we use it when we’re not sure about something.
The noun houseguest is pretty easy to understand – it means a person who’s staying at your house, normally for a long period of time.
To put yourself in someone’s shoes means to put yourself in another person’s position or situation, or to imagine that you are that person.
Nigh on impossible is one of those old-fashioned phrases that I like to use. It means ‘almost impossible’.
posted on Friday, 11 May 2007 | comment on this post
Hi James, and everyone else,
I have to admit that your last blog frightened me, just for a moment. You see, I’m a horribly disorganised person, particularly when it comes to remembering birthdays and other important anniversaries. So, when I read your blog, I thought, “Mothers’ Day? Mothers’ Day? AAAARGH! I completely forgot! AGAIN! OK, I’ve got 24 hours, there must be some way I cn get my mother a card…”
Then I paused and thought, “hold on, I’m sure I remember wishing my Mum a happy Mothers’ Day just a few weeks ago.” And then I remembered that in Britain we celebrate Mothers’ Day on a different day from most other countries (typical of the British – we always have to be different). I just did a quick internet search, and I can tell you that British Mothers’ Day is near the end of March – it changes according to the Christian calendar, but this year it was on the 18th of March. I know that now, but I’m sure that by next year I will have forgotten again.
(By the way, look at the verb form in that last sentence again – ‘will have forgotten’. Who can tell me which tense that is?)
Sorry James, I didn’t notice that you had edited your May 9th blog and corrected the mistake. In the corrected version, you used the verb ‘to practice’ very well, with appropriate meaning and correct grammar. However, as usual I’m going to go through your answers in detail and point out a few small but significant mistakes.
1) James are planing to practice writing everyday on May.
I can understand exactly what you mean, of course, but James is only one person, so James is. When a verb ends with a vowel (A, E, I, O, or U) and then a consonant (B, C, D, F, G, etc), we normally double the last consonant before adding –ing (in British English anyway; this rule works differently in American English). So planning should be planning. We have the adjective ‘everyday’ in English (meaning ordinary, normal, something which we see every day) – however, in other situations ‘every’ and ‘day’ are two separate words. Finally, when we use the name of a month, we use the preposition ‘in’ not ‘on’. So the sentence should look like this:
‘James is planning to practice writing every day in May.’
?2) When Luis fist came to Taiwan, he practiced using chopsticks all the time, practice makes perfect, he is proficient in it now.
This sentence is almost perfect – there’s only one mistake, and it’s a mistake which we discussed a few days ago. This sentence has four clauses. The first two clauses are connected by the word ‘when’, but the third and the fourth clauses lack connection. I suggest this:
‘When Luis fist came to Taiwan, he practiced using chopsticks all the time, and practice makes perfect, so he is proficient in it now.’
3) Luis practices using chopsticks to eat rice, and rice is just a kind of food but not the name of the lady.
This is a very good sentence – simply remove the word ‘but’ and add a comma instead, and it’s perfect (obviously the Taiwanese sense of humour is just as strange as the British sense of humour!)
4) James practices cutting down his blog.
In this case, I want to ask, “when?”. I think you probably mean right now, at the moment, and in that case the sentence should be in the present continuous:
‘James practices cutting down his blog.’
In case anyone doesn’t know the phrasal verb ‘to cut down’, it means ‘to reduce’ or ‘to shorten’. I think this is a good thing for you to practice, James, and in order to explain why, I’d like to say a little about writing. Some students of writing think that accuracy is the most important thing. These students take very great care to avoid making any kind of mistakes in their writing work. Of course, it’s good to avoid mistakes, but these students sometimes avoid mistakes by writing very short, simple sentences with very basic grammar and vocabulary. Generally they write only a few sentences in their homework, but they spend a very long time writing and checking these sentences.
On the other hand, there are some students who emphasise complexity rather than accuracy. These students often write many, many pages of homework, using long, complex sentences. It’s good to write complex sentences, of course, but these students sometimes write very inaccurately, and occasionally it’s difficult to understand what they’re trying to express.
In fact, it seems to me that students have to learn to balance accuracy and complexity. When a student is concentrating a little too hard on accuracy, I often tell them to write more, and to experiment with more complex and difficult grammar. I also tell them not to worry if they make mistakes; mistakes are fine, as long as you learn from them.
When a student is concentrating too much on complexity, I normally give them the opposite instructions. I tell them to write less, and to spend more time checking that their grammar is accurate – and if possible to make less mistakes.
Naturally, most students are somewhere between the two extremes. At the moment, James, I think you are paying a lot of attention to complexity. As I said, this is good, increasing complexity is an essential part of learning to write. However, I’d like to encourage you to balance this with a bit more accuracy. For this reason, I think it’s a very good idea for you to cut down the length or the frequency of your blogs a little, and to spend the extra time making sure that you write accurately and use your grammar well.
I remember reading a letter from the Irish writer Oscar Wilde to one of his friends; he wrote something like, “I’m sorry this is such a long letter, but I just don’t have enough time to write a short one.” I’ll copy your style, James, and finish this blog with another quotation, this time from Shakespeare:
Brevity is the soul of wit.
‘To hold on’ is a phrasal verb, meaning ‘to wait’. It’s quite informal, as many phrasal verbs are. In this case, I’m telling myself to wait, to stop and think for a moment.
British people say ‘Mum; Americans say ‘Mom’.
Significant means important or worth noticing.
‘Accuracy’ is the abstract noun related to the adjective ‘accurate’, which means ‘correct’ or ‘without mistakes’.
Similarly, ‘complexity’ is the abstract noun related to the adjective ‘complex’. We use ‘complex’ to describe something which is complicated or has many parts.
One more abstract noun: brevity is related to ‘brief’, meaning ‘short’. In the Shakespeare quotation, soul is used in a poetic way, meaning something like ‘the most important part, and wit means something like intelligence or cleverness. So Shakespeare is saying that short comments are the most intelligent comments.
posted on Sunday, 13 May 2007 | comment on this post
The Day After Yesterday
Dear James, and all our other readers,
‘The day after yesterday’ doesn’t really exist as an English phrase. I can only remember hearing it once before, in a film called ‘Sideways’ which came out a few years ago. The protagonist of this film was a would-be writer (called Miles, if I remember rightly). At one point in the film he’s trying to impress a woman by telling her about his unpublished novel. As he describes it, it’s easy to see why it’s unpublished. Finally, she asks him what the title is.
“The Day After Yesterday,” he proudly says.
She looks nonplussed. “What,” she says, “you mean ‘today’?”
That’s American humour, not British. Maria asked about the book which made me laugh so much on the bus the other day, and where she could get a copy. The book was called ‘Lint’, by Steve Aylett. Like ‘Sideways’, it’s the story of an imaginary writer, Jeff Lint. Actually, I doubt very much whether this book has been translated into any other languages. Jokes are notoriously difficult to translate, partly because they often depend on linguistic double-meanings and partly because different cultures often have very different senses of humour – and this book is particularly bizarre and English in its sense of humour. I’ll give you a few examples of lines which made me laugh (I hope this won’t break any copyright laws; I’m sure Paul will let me know if it does).
“I was so scared of that huge spike-ball… I locked myself in the cupboard and tried to suffocate myself with the dog.”
“We’re just haunted beef, really.”
“Lint’s was a career haunted by death, including the suspicious death of his rival Herzog, and the mysterious ‘Lint is dead’ rumours, which persisted even after his death.”
Do those quotations make any sense to you? If not, don’t worry – they don’t really make all that much sense to a native speaker, but I find them all very funny (I admit that I have a particularly dark and strange sense of humour, even for an Englishman). If I haven’t put Maria from London off, she can find the book on the sci-fi shelves of most of the big bookshops in central London.
I’ve always found it very interesting how different nationalities and cultural groups have different senses of humour. I remember I once had a high-level class, and I asked them to think of a joke in their own language and translate it into English. There were students of many different nationalities in the class (including two Korean guys), and they all racked their brains for a long time – until finally one Korean guy raised his hand and said, “I’ve got a Korean joke I can tell you.”
“Okay,” I said, “tell us a Korean joke.”
The student paused for a moment then said, “it’s very cold in here, isn’t it?”
And immediately the other Korean guy burst out laughing, while I looked at the other students and we all shrugged our shoulders; none of us could see anything funny about the words, “it’s very cold in here isn’t it?” – except the two Koreans, who were weeping with laughter.
That’s all from me for today. If anyone can translate a joke from their own language into English, I’d very much like to hear it.
Lots of lovely vocabulary today!
The protagonist of a story is the main or central character, sometimes called the ‘hero’.
A would-be writer is someone who is trying to be a writer, but hasn’t had much success.
The adjective nonplussed means confused, and suggests that you’re so confused that you’re speechless.
If something is imaginary, then it’s not real, it doesn’t exist – someone imagined it. For example, the unicorn is an imaginary animal. Be careful not to confuse this word with the word ‘imaginative’, which is used to describe someone who has a strong imagination.
‘Notoriously’ means ‘famously’, but in a negative sense.
‘Copyright’ is a noun in this example. It means the legal right to reproduce a picture, a piece of music, or something like that.
To suffocate someone is to prevent them from breathing, so they die.
We most often use the word haunted to describe a house. It means that ghosts live there.
To persist in this context means to continue.
‘Sci-fi’ is a very common abbreviation for science fiction.
If you racked your brains, you think very hard about something.
Finally, to shrug your shoulders is to raise your shoulders and lower them again. In Britain and in many other cultures, this means, ‘I don’t know,’ or, ‘I don’t care.’
posted on Tuesday, 15 May 2007 | comment on this post
Dining in the Dark
Greetings, one and all!
Just like James, I’m afraid I’m going to have to write a very quick blog today, as I’ve just got home from work and I have just a few minutes to change my clothes and go out again. I’m going out for dinner with a few friends tonight, to an unusual restaurant called ‘Dans le Noir’, which (as all you French speakers out there already know) means ‘In the Dark’. This restaurant is unusual because apparently the food is served to the diners in absolute pitch darkness, so you can’t see what you’re eating. I’ve never been to a place like this before, so I don’t really know what to expect, but what the heck, it sounds like fun to me (though I’ll probably have to get my suit cleaned afterwards).
In the meantime, I’d like to doff my cap to Maru from Argentina, Nia Komalafuri from Jakarta, Kirsti from Finland/France, Clara from Romania, Leila from Finland, Adriana from Brazil and Ha_na from Paris, all of whom took up the gauntlet and translated jokes from their languages into English. Well done guys! Some of the jokes were good, some were not so good, some were downright awful, but I enjoyed reading them all.
James, your blog today was excellent. Yes, it was short, but it was very accurately written; I noticed very few grammatical errors as I read it, and it certainly wasn’t ‘torture’. I’m impressed! And thanks for the picture of the Taipei 101 tower. Architecturally, it looks completely different from anything I’ve seen in Europe, and the clouds in the picture make it look all the more intriguing. Did you take the picture yourself?
I asked you all about the grammar of the sentence,
‘…but I’m sure that by next year I will have forgotten again.’
As James and several other readers said, will have forgotten is the future perfect simple tense. James gave us another nice example of this tense:
‘James will have finished his homework by ten o'clock this evening.’
OK, that’s all for today folks, I’m going to go and put my suit on, so I can spill food all over it. More from me on Friday!
All the best,
And here’s today’s vocabulary:
We use the adverb apparently when we want to make it clear that we’ve heard this information, but we don’t know for certain that it’s true. In this case, I’ve been told that the dining-room in this restaurant is completely dark, but I’ve never been there so I don’t know for certain yet. I’ll know in a couple of hours!
The verb ‘to dine’ means ‘to have a meal’; it’s a formal word, and it’s often used when talking about restaurants. Therefore a diner is a person who’s having a meal, normally in a restaurant. Be careful not to confuse this word with the word ‘dinner’, which is the name of the meal.
‘Pitch darkness’ means complete, absolute, total darkness.
To doff your cap is a rather old-fashioned way of saying ‘to take off your hat’. As I discussed a little while ago, if I say, ‘I take off my hat to you,’ or, ‘I doff my cap to you,’ it means that I want to express respect to you.
Next, here’s another old-fashioned phrase which has survived in contemporary English. To take up the gauntlet means to accept a challenge.
The adverb downright means ‘completely’ or ‘absolutely’. It’s normally used with negative adverbs, so we might say, ‘downright terrible,’’downright disgusting’, etc.
The adjective ‘intriguing’ combined the meanings of ‘interesting’ and ‘mysterious’.
posted on Thursday, 17 May 2007 | comment on this post
'Dans le Noir'
Well, I promised to tell you about ‘Dans le Noir’, the pitch-black restaurant, and so I shall. When we arrived in the well-lit foyer the restaurant, the first thing we had to do was take all our valuables out of our pockets and put them into lockers. If we dropped our wallets or our house-keys in the darkness of the dining-room, the waitress explained, it would be very difficult to find them. Then she explained the menu; in this restaurant, you don’t order the particular dishes you feel like eating; instead, you just choose between four ‘surprise menus’ (one with meat, one with fish, one with both, and one with neither). When we had chosen our menus and also ordered ‘surprise cocktails’, the hostess introduced us to our waiter (who was, I think, blind). The waiter told us all to stand in a line and put a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us. Then he lead us, very slowly, into the darkness.
At first, as we shuffled through the dark restaurant towards our table, I felt disorientated and slightly panicky. However, this soon passed, and within a few minutes we were all laughing and joking about how cheap it must be to decorate a restaurant like that.
It was really very, very dark in there; you could close your eyes and open them again, and you wouldn’t notice any difference at all. Most of us found it impossible to use knives and forks in the darkness, so we ate with our fingers, and one of my friends took great delight in describing, in disgusting detail, how she was holding a big slab of meat in both hands and gnawing it like a hungry cavewoman.
The whole experience seemed to pass very quickly, and I think the lack of light must have altered our perceptions of time; we spent about an hour and a half in the darkness, but it felt like about fifteen minutes, and of course none of us could look at our watches.
To be honest, I don’t really think ‘Dans le Noir’ gave me a deeper understanding of blind people’s lives. I was only‘blind’ for a very short period of time, and I didn’t have to do anything more difficult than pouring wine into a glass. In fact, that wasn’t really the reason I went there anyway – I went because I enjoy ‘weird’ new experiences, and ‘Dans le Noir’ was satisfyingly weird.
Anyway. Again, good work on the blogs, James – your grammatical accuracy has improved significantly. You also have very good taste in cats. You asked if I could send Friday to you through the internet – well, the USB port in this computer is quite small, but I’ll try and fit her in there. Please send her back soon, though – Lottie is away at the moment (in Namibia, photographing elephants, the lucky cow), but she’ll be back tomorrow and she’ll be cross if she comes back and discovers that I’ve emailed her cat to Taiwan.
All the best,
PS Well done Adek, you got me, bang to rights. We use ‘downright’ with adjectives, and occasionally with adverbs. Well done!
Ooh, look at all this lovely vocabulary!
The entrance hall of a cinema, a hotel, a restaurant, etc., is sometimes called the foyer.
‘Valuables’ is a plural noun which means, simply, the valuable items which you own or which you are carrying.
If you go to the swimming pool, you probably leave your clothes in a kind of metal cupboard called a locker.
The word dish has several meanings; here, I’m using it as a noun to mean food cooked to a particular recipe, maybe as part of a meal. As I mentioned a week or two ago, my favourite dish is Thai prawn soup.
Cocktails are drinks (normally alcoholic drinks) made by mixing several drinks together. We can also use the noun ‘cocktail’ in a more general sense, just meaning a mixture of different things.
If you lose your sense of direction and feel confused about where you are, you feel disorientated (unless you’re American, in which case you feel ‘disoriented’).
The noun ‘panic’ means a sudden feeling of fear which is so strong that you can’t think straight. The adjective from this noun is panicky.
To take great delight in something means to enjoy doing something very much.
A slab of something is a large, flat piece of something.
The verb ‘to gnaw’ means to bite or chew repeatedly. For example, dogs like to gnaw bones.
Long ago, in prehistoric times, our distant ancestors lived in caves. We call people from this earlier stage of human development ‘cavemen’. Obviously, the female version of a caveman is a cavewoman.
Cross is another word with many meanings; here it’s an adjective meaning ‘angry’.
‘Bang to rights’ is a phrase you might hear if you watch British gangster movies. When the criminal says to the policeman, “you’ve got me bang to rights,”he means something like, “you’ve caught me, I’m obviously guilty, and I can’t deny it.”
posted on Sunday, 20 May 2007 | comment on this post
Adventures in Paris
Hi James, and everyone else,
I'm worried that you didn't receive Friday, James. I wonder if I emailed her to the wrong person by mistake. If any readers have received a small, cruel, but very beautiful cat as an email attachment, please shove her into the socket in the back of your computer and email her back to me pronto! If I have to tell Lottie that I've emailed her cat to a stranger, she'll be livid.
Sorry to hear that you were so short of money in Paris, James, but glad to hear you had a good time there anyway. Your story reminded me of the time I first visited Paris. I was nineteen years old, and I was spending a month travelling around Europe on the train with a group of my friends. Of course, like most nineteen year olds, we were pretty skint. Paris was the first city we visited, and we soon realised that we didn't have enough money for a meal and a bed for the night; we had to choose one or the other. We chose to spend our money on food, and after our meal we decided to spend the night at one of the main railway stations in Paris, the Gare du Nord, because we had to catch a train from that station the next morning. Admittedly, spending the night on a railway station was a pretty stupid plan, but we were nineteen-year-olds from a provincial English town, and we were quite naïve. Of course, I woke up in the morning to find that my rucksack had been stolen, with all my clothes and other belongings inside it. It was a pretty bad moment. But the rucksack and its contents were insured, so I just went out and bought a new rucksack and some new clothes, and we continued our trip and had a wonderful time.
In fact, every time I go to Paris, terrible things happen to me - either I get robbed, or I have terrible transport problems, or something like that. These days I avoid Paris. Note to Parisians: please don't misunderstand me, I don't dislike your beautiful city at all. However, for some reason, your city dislikes me. If anyone can explain this strange phenomenon, I'd be very grateful.
Ana Paula, I'm glad to hear you're enjoying 'Waiting for Godot' so much - it's hilarious, isn't it? You and Leila both asked a question about a particular word which appears in this book, and I'll try to answer it, though I'll have to be careful as this is the BBC and the word is a little, ahem, salty. The word is 'ballocks'. That's actually the Irish spelling; in Britain, we would replace the 'a' with an 'o'. Normally it's a plural noun; a man has two of these items, and a woman doesn't have any. However, like most salty words in English, it can have many many different meanings, and I can't say exactly what it means in the sentence you quoted unless you give me a bit more context. If you write the whole sentence in a comment, I'll try to give you an accurate definition.
By the way, Leila, there’s no need to apologise for your question. It’s important to learn this kind of English too!
Romana from Italy asked about my use of the phrase so I shall. This is another example of one of the slightly old-fashioned turns of phrase which I sometimes like to use. In contemporary English, the word ‘shall’ is really only used for making offers or suggestions, in questions such as,
Shall I open the window?
Shall we go to the cinema tonight?
However, in my last blog I wrote this sentence:
Well, I promised to tell you about ‘Dans le Noir’, the pitch-black restaurant, and so I shall.
In this rather antiquated usage, ‘and so I shall’ means something like, ‘and I will do that.’
Ruth from Jilin in China asked me what I ate at ‘Dans le Noir’. The starter was some kind of shellfish, the main course was also fish (I think it might have been tuna) with vegetables and rice, and the dessert was a little bowl of ice-cream. Amazingly, it all went into my mouth, and none of it ended up on my suit.
Alexey from Russia asked about other strange places in London – sadly, Alexey, there aren’t very many. For our next night out, my friends and I are planning to go to a ‘Punk Rock Karaoke’, where members of the audience can get up on stage and sing (or scream) old punk songs in front of a live band (I’m planning to sing ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead – do any of our readers know that sweet and beautiful song?). I liked your idea of ‘swimming pools with strange water’ very much, Alexey. What do you think they should put in the water?
Once again, I’d like to say thanks to everyone for all your comments. Please keep ’em coming!
All the best,
To shove means to push.
Pronto is a word we’ve borrowed from the Italian language. We use it to mean ‘immediately’ or ‘very quickly’.
The adjective livid means furious or very angry.
Skint is also an adjective – this time an informal one. If you’re skint, you don’t have money.
Provincial is another adjective. The word ‘provincial’ is often used to describe towns, and it means that this town is far from the centre of a country’s cultural life. It’s rather a negative word; it suggests ‘unsophisticated’ or even ‘small-minded’. We can also describe people as ‘provincial’.
Naïve is yet another adjective. If you are unrealistic, and you believe too easily that the world is a sweet, happy, friendly place, then you could be described as naïve.
Your belongings are the things which belong to you.
Salty is, of course, the adjective related to the noun ‘salt’, and we can use it to describe taste. However, when we describe language as ‘salty’, this means that it’s rude or impolite. I believe this is because, in the old days, sailors had a reputation for using bad language.
A turn of phrase is really just an alternative way of saying ‘a phrase’.
The adjective antiquated means very old, or old-fashioned.
Finally, ’em is a common informal abbreviation of ‘them’.
posted on Tuesday, 22 May 2007 | comment on this post
In a Bad Mood
Hello again folks,
I hope you're all well and having a good day. London is oppressively muggy today, and I wish I could go and jump into a swimming pool this afternoon - but alas, I have to teach a lesson on prepositions instead. Therefore, I'm in a bad mood today. This is bad news for James, I'm afraid, because I'm going to point some grammatical mistakes in his last blog.
I should start by saying that, in general, I'm very impressed by James' improvement. His blogs are noticeably more accurate now, and they're always informative and fun to read. His grammar isn't perfect, but on the other hand, perfect grammar is almost impossible to achieve (for native speakers as well as language students).
But today I'm feeling cruel, so I'm going to pick out a few of his sentences, look at them closely, and suggest corrections. Firstly, James wrote this:
'So, Nakasi is a style of live band accompaniment, and customers sing a song to a live electric piano accompaniment. It’s just like that teacher Alex are going to.'
The first sentence here is fine, but there are a couple of problems with the second one. Firstly, the word that isn't quite right here, or not alone anyway. We could say, 'it's just like what...', but this sounds a little awkward to me. It's better, I think, to say, 'it's just like the event that...', or something like this. Also, teacher Alex is only one person, so we need to change are to is. Hence, the correct version might look like this:
'So, Nakasi is style of a live band accompaniment, and customers sing a song to an live electric piano accompaniment. It's just like the event that teacher Alex is going to.'
There's another 'that' problem in the following sentence:
'They are a form of recreation that people (customers) can sing their favorite songs and enjoy their performance by themselves with the audience.'
Again, the word that doesn't quite fit in this sentence. I suggest replacing it with in which, to make a sentence like this:
'They are a form of recreation in which people (customers) can sing their favorite songs and enjoy their performance by themselves with the audience.'
We could also replace that with where in the above sentence, but I think in which suits the slightly formal tone of the sentence better.
Thirdly, have a look at this phrase:
'No matter your singing is good or bad,...'
Here James is using a special structure, and he's got it almost exactly right, but he's missed out one word. Can you see which word is missing? Yes, of course you can ¨C the missing word is if. In its correct form, the phrase would read like this:
'No matter if your singing is good or bad,...'
This means that it doesn't matter if your singing is good or bad; the result will be the same. We could also use whether here, but if is more commonly used.
Finally, please look again at this sentence:
‘In other words, Karaoke means that the orchestra which plays music in the empty box of speaker.’
This is actually the only sentence in James’ last blog which I simply can’t understand. Sorry James, but could you try and rewrite this?
In my last blog I mentioned the sweet and heart-rending song 'Ace of Spades' by Motorhead. James replied that he had never heard this song, and suggested that maybe I should record myself singing it and post the recording on here. Well, James, I'm cruel but I'm not that cruel. I don’t think our readers deserve such terrible punishment (although maybe Hyoshil’s son does).
James asked about a sentence from my last blog:
‘The first thing we had to do was take all our valuables out of our pockets and put them into lockers.'
Actually, I omitted the word ‘to’ from this sentence. We sometimes do this in informal writing. If I replace the word ‘to’, the sentence looks like this:
‘The first thing we had to do was to take all our valuables out of our pockets and put them into lockers.'
Does this make it any clearer? We could paraphrase that sentence like this:
‘First we had to take all our valuables out of our pockets and put them in our lockers.’
Finally, Ana Paula has another question about the rather uncouth term ‘ballocksed’. Ana Paula, in the context you found it in, this word means something like ‘doomed’ or ‘in very serious trouble’.
See you in a couple of days!
We use the adjective oppressive to describe something which feels like it’s pressing down on us. It’s always used in a negative sense.
Muggy is an adjective to describe the weather. It means hot and humid. Therefore, oppressively muggy means that the weather is so hot and so humid that it’s really hard to bear.
Alas is an old-fashioned and formal word meaning ‘oh no’ or ‘what a shame’.
The adjective heart-rending means something like ‘sad enough to make your heart break’.
posted on Thursday, 24 May 2007 | comment on this post
Various mistakes, and the Mystery Student
I hope my last blog didn’t discourage you; when I said that your writing was improving well, I meant it very sincerely. All your hard work is certainly paying off.
In general, of course, students have to make mistakes in the process of learning English (or in the process of learning anything). Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. The advanced students who I teach at the moment certainly make mistakes (I’ll say more about this later). Normally, we have to learn from our own mistakes. However, James, you have very bravely and generously agreed to be our student blogger – this means that you make your mistakes in public, and everyone has the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.
All this reminds me of a sketch by a comic called Peter Cook, who in my humble opinion was possibly the funniest human being in the entire history of the world. In this sketch, Cook played a failed restauranteur who was being interviewed on TV (if I remember rightly, his restaurant served only two dishes – frog à la pêche and pêche à la frog). After questioning Cook about his disastrous failure in the restaurant business, the interviewer finally asks him, “do you feel you've learnt from your mistakes?”
“Oh certainly,” replies Cook. “Certainly I have learned from my mistakes. And if I had to start all over again, I'm sure I could repeat them exactly!”
(I tried to find a link to a recording of this sketch, but I’m afraid I couldn’t. However, you can watch another classic Peter Cook sketch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2siVbVti9I - note that the raven is a kind of bird.)
Anyway, changing the subject, the weather has got a little more normal today, so my mood has improved. However, I’m a little worried today. I’m worried because one of the students from my ‘advanced’ class has apparently discovered this blog. He or she left a comment, but did not reveal his or her name, so let’s call him or her the Mystery Student. Hi there, Mystery Student! I’m not worried about the Mystery Student reading this blog; of course, I’m very happy for him or her to read and leave comments if he or she wants to. No, I’m not worried about that; I’m worried about something else. In his/her comment, the Mystery Student wrote this:
‘I have met my teacher, Alex, writing a blog in the BBC site. I'm one of her students in the Oxford House College…’
One of her students? I should explain that the Mystery Student sees me quite regularly, for about three hours a day, five days a week. I should also explain that my head is completely bald, my voice is deep, and I generally don’t wear makeup or a skirt while I’m teaching. However, this student apparently thinks I’m a woman. I don’t know if I should worry about the Mystery Student, or if I should worry about myself. But I’m certainly worried. What do you think I should do?
All the best,
The verb ‘to discourage’ is, very simply, the opposite of ‘to encourage’.
We normally use the phrasal verb ‘to pay off’ (no object) when we’re talking about some kind of work, or something which requires a lot of effort. If your work or effort pays off, that means it gives you the result which you hoped for.
The word sketch has a few different meanings; in this context, it means a short section of a comedy program on TV.
Comic is another word with more than one meaning. Here I’m using it as a synonym for ‘comedian’ – a person whose job is to make people laugh.
The adjective ‘humble’ is the opposite of ‘proud’. In emails and sms text mesages, the phrase in my humble opinion is sometimes abbreviated to ‘imho’.
Restauranteur is a word which we’ve borrowed from the French – it means a person who runs a restaurant. A lot of our ‘posh’ food vocabulary comes from French – ‘frog à la pêche’ and ‘pêche à la frog’ are jokes which mock this feature of English.
The word apparently causes quite a lot of problems. In fact, it means something like, ‘this seems to be true’, or, ‘someone has told me this is true’. The sentence, ‘this student apparently thinks I’m a woman,’ has the same meaning as this sentence: ‘this student seems to think I’m a woman.’
Finally, if someone is bald, they have no hair on their head. Baldness is a sign of intelligence, and it’s also very attractive to women.
posted on Saturday, 26 May 2007 | comment on this post
Still banging on about grammar
I'm going to follow James' example today and write a fairly short blog. I don't want to write a long one, as your comments on the last blog haven't appeared yet; however, I want to write something today, as it's almost my last opportunity. On Thursday I'm going to bid you farewell, and after that another teacher is going to take my place.
I guess the comments haven't appeared yet because Monday was what we call in Britain a 'bank holiday' - in other words, a national holiday when the banks and some of the shops are closed. Some of my students asked me why Monday was a bank holiday, and I was embarassed to admit that I didn't have a clue. Do any of you readers know why we had a bank holiday in Britain on Monday? I wouldn't be surprised if one of the readers is able to answer this. I find that my students often know more about British culture than I do. For example, a few days ago, one of my students told me when the Queen's birthday is. I didn't have the foggiest.
James, your idea about kilts was a good one, but actually I've never worn a kilt in class either. Maybe I'll wear one tomorrow, to celebrate my final day as BBC teacher blogger.
James wrote, "if Teacher Alex had taught something on [the] teacher blog, I would learn and use them on my next blog to practice." I've noticed you doing this, James, and I think you've made some very good improvements. We only have a couple more days to go, but I'm afraid I'm going to keep banging on about grammar, right up until the last moment.
Today I'd like to say a few words about singular and plural forms. I'm sure I don't need to remind you about the difference between singular and plural; the basic grammar rules are very easy to understand, but they can be much more difficult to use, especially if your native language doesn't have singular and plural forms (I believe that Chinese doesn't have singular and plural forms - is that right, James?).
In his last blog, James wrote,
'I often made a mistake with ‘he’ or ‘she’.'
How many mistakes? More than one, probably. Therefore, the word mistake should be in the plural form, like this:
'I often made mistakes with ‘he’ or ‘she’.'
Also, James wrote,
'As a teacher, it’s not easy to correct student’s mistake in a proper way.'
Again, how many mistakes? Again, more than one, so again we need the plural form, mistakes. Also, how many students? Again, we're talking about more than one student here, and we need to reflect this in the grammar of the sentence. The easiest way to do this is by using the plural form. When we have a noun ending in the letter s, and we want to make it possessive, we just add an apostrophe, like this:
'As a teacher, it’s not easy to correct students' mistakes in a proper way.'
However, there's another option here. When we're making a general statement about students, we can also use the singular form of the word student. However, we have to be careful here, because student is a singular noun, and singular nouns ALWAYS need an article (unless there's another word doing the job of an article, such as 'this', 'his', 'her', etc.). In this case we need the indefinite article. So, we could also correct the sentence this way:
'As a teacher, it’s not easy to correct a student’s mistakes in a proper way.'
Here's one more example. Earlier I quoted another line from one of James' blogs:
'If Teacher Alex had taught something on the teacher blog, I would learn and use them on my next blog to practice.'
In fact, this sentence also contains a singular/plural mistake. The word something is singular, but the word them is plural. We need to change them to it, like this:
'If Teacher Alex had taught something on the teacher blog, I would learn and use it on my next blog to practice.'
So, James, here is my challenge to you. When you write your final blog tomorrow, concentrate particularly on singular and plural forms, and see how close to perfect you can get these.
OK, that's all for today. I'll be back tomorrow, one last time.
All the best,
PS The Mystery Student has yet to reveal his or her identity. The tension is mounting!
'Not to have a clue' and 'not to have the foggiest' are informal expressions with the same meaning - we use them to say that we absolutely don't know something. Note that both expressions are always used in the negative, never in the positive.
If you keep banging on about something, you talk about it and talk about it and talk about it until everyone is sick and tired of listening to you.
An apostrophe looks like this ' .
'The Mystery Student has yet to reveal his or her identity,' means, 'the Mystery Student has not revealed his or her identity yet, but I expect that he or she probably will do this sometime in the future.'
To mount, in this case, means to increase. When we use 'to mount' in this sense, it collocates with the noun 'tension'.
posted on Wednesday, 30 May 2007 | comment on this post
Well, the vioins are playing sadly in the background, and it's time to say goodbye. First, though, I'd like to say well done to James one more time - you rose to my challenge very impressively, and wrote a final blog with almost perfect singular and plural forms.
Have you guys ever watched the Oscars? If so, you've probably seen tearful film stars making long, emotional acceptance speeches, in which they say 'thank you' to God, to their parents, to their wives/husbands, to their managers, their producers, their directors, their hairdressers, their piano teachers, their piano teachers' wives/husbands, their hairdressers' parents, etc etc etc, until everyone gets completely bored and stops listening.
In exactly the same way, I'd like to say thanks to a long list of people. Please imagine me as a film star at the Oscars (you can imagine that I look like Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp, only balder and therefore more handsome). I'd like to say thanks first of all to James and Ana Paula, for working so hard and writing such useful and entertaining blogs, and for having the courage to make mistakes in public. I'd also like to thank Paul for giving me the job of teacher blogger in the first place, and Carrie who has the thankless task of editing these pages. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I'd like to thank Ana, Anna, Jameel, Maria (I hope you enjoyed the book), Leila, Adriana, Ha_na, Alexey, Romana, Hyoshil and her unruly son, Antonio, Adek (well done for spotting that mistake), Jill Huang, Mellisa, Marianna, Wisarut, the Mystery Student, and all the others who have read these blogs and taken the time to comment on them. It's been great fun reading your comments - sorry I couldn't respond to all of them!
I think I'll leave the last word to Friday the Cat, if I can persuade her to come over here and type a final message to all her fans around the world. Friday says:
That says it all, doesn't it?
All the best,
If someone challenges you to do something, and you actually manage to do this thing (especially if it's difficult), we can say that you rise to the challenge.
The Oscars are famous awards for the best films, actors, etc. They are handed out once a year, in America, and the ceremony (also called 'The Oscars') is often shown on TV.
If someone is tearful, they are crying, or they have tears in their eyes.
Acceptance is, obviously, the noun form to the verb 'to accept'. When film stars win awards at the Oscars, they normally come up on the stage and make 'acceptance speeches'.
Courage is an abstract, uncountable noun, which means the same as 'bravery'. If someone is brave, we can say that that person has courage.
If you do a job but normally nobody says 'thank you', we can call this job a thankless task.
If someone or something is unruly, this means that their behaviour is difficult or impossible to control.
posted on Thursday, 31 May 2007 | comment on this post