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On 1st March we moved to a new blogging system.

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April 2009

Wednesday, 01 April 2009

Hello again from York!

Thank you for this introduction Dima and welcome back Marcos! I enjoyed reading the posts you wrote in January Marcos, and I look forward to hearing more from you.

As Dima says, I first wrote for the Learning English blog in the summer of 2006, with Antonio from Italy as my student writing partner. Since then, the teachers who followed me have developed many new ways of interacting with students (including those who participate by writing comments). I hope I can keep up the good work.

In 2006, I was working at York St John University, in the UK….and I still am! I am Head of Programme for the MA English Language Teaching at York St John (click here for some more information about me). This is a photo of the students who came to my class on ‘teaching writing’ this afternoon:

I took the photo with a new video camera, which I am still learning to operate….unfortunately I managed to delete the video clips of some of the students introducing themselves, so (Shabana, Shu, Jialing and Sindy) apologies!

One of the issues we are very interested in on the MA is World Englishes (Singaporean English, Pakistani English, Chinese English etc. etc.). In the class on ‘teaching writing’ today we talked about using different varieties of English in writing. Shu asked, ‘what’s the difference between the English of a specific variety and a mistake?’ We agreed (I think!) that the difference was intention; meaning that, if you intend to write in a particular way, it’s not a mistake. We also discussed the risks of choosing a variety with which the audience is not familiar – perhaps they will think (unless you explain!) that you have simply made a lot of mistakes.

One difficulty for me in commenting on your writing Marcos, is this problem of intention. Because we’re not face-to-face, it’s harder for us to talk about what you mean and how you want to express yourself. Do you think that there is a variety of English called ‘Brazilian English’? If there is, is it a variety you sometimes use when you speak or write? If I make suggestions for changes in your writing, and you intended to write in that way, please ignore my suggestions. OK?! I look forward to hearing what you (or any other blog readers) think about this issue of varieties of English in writing.

On the question of my suggestions for your writing, is there anything that you want me to focus on? Any tasks or challenges that you particularly enjoy?

I’m going to try again with my new video camera again soon and hope to be able to introduce you to my students and the historic city of York.

Saturday, 04 April 2009

Financial English

Hello again Marcos (and hello to all the blog-watchers who wrote comments)!

You mention the important topic of the current financial crisis in your post, and ask how we have all been affected by it. In the UK, interest* rates have gone down a lot in the last few months. For people like me, who have borrowed money from the bank to buy a house*, the interest rate fall has been good. I now have to pay less for the money I have borrowed. For my parents, however, who are savers not borrowers, the interest rate fall has been bad. They now get very little in return for keeping their money in the bank. In addition to the falling interest rates, prices have gone up*.

Not as important as the serious effects on many peoples’ lives (as some of the comments show), but interesting for English language learners and teachers, are all the new phrases that have come into use since the beginning of the financial crisis. For example, a more informal version of ‘financial crisis’ or ‘economic downturn*’ is ‘credit crunch*’. Some of these new phrases describe financial or economic things that I had never heard of (like ‘special drawing rights*’). So the financial crisis is a language learning opportunity for me too!

There is more financial crisis-related vocabulary in the BBC LE Words in the News: G20's $1tn deal.

You also mention ‘getting down to work’ Marcos! If you want me to suggest ways of improving your grammar, vocabulary and writing, you’re going to have to make more mistakes! Or by ‘mistakes’ do I mean ‘(un)intentionally use your own variety of English’?! One of the very few ‘mistakes’ you make is the omission of the indefinite article in the phrases, ‘I am [an] economist’ and ‘I work as [an] independent consultant’. For more information about this complex area of grammar, see the BBC LE Grammar Challenge: Articles – Introduction.

Interestingly, research into the English that is spoken as a lingua franca*, sometimes called ‘Globish’ or ‘International English’ has shown that articles are usually omitted, perhaps because they are complex and don’t usually add anything to the meaning of a phrase. So maybe we should stop using them?! What do you think?

I haven’t had chance to take any more photos yet (after I accidentally deleted the ones I took on Wednesday….), so here is a link to a website about York, with very nice pictures:

I look forward to hearing from you again soon!



Words and definitions, using the online dictionary Marcos suggested in his ‘tip’:

* interest - a charge for a loan, usually a percentage of the amount loaned (e.g. ‘the interest rate on the money I borrowed from the bank has fallen from 4.64% to 1.49%).

* borrowed money from the bank to buy a house – another way of saying this is ‘mortgage’ - a temporary, conditional pledge of property to a creditor as security for performance of an obligation or repayment of a debt.

* prices have gone up – ‘inflation’ is another way of saying this - a persistent increase in the level of consumer prices or a persistent decline in the purchasing power of money, caused by an increase in available currency and credit beyond the proportion of available goods and services.

* downturn - a drop in the success of an economy or a business.

* credit crunch - a period of financial difficulty characterized by tight money and unavailability of credit.

* special drawing rights - the right to borrow additional amounts of money from the IMF reserves in order to deal with situations where a country's economy or trade suddenly worsens (this definition is from BBC LE Words in the News).

* lingua franca - a language used for communication among people of different mother tongues.


Some comments on (some of) the comments:

Deepak from India – good idea to read newspapers and watch English language TV!

Lali from Pakistan – I’m interested to hear what you have to say about ‘Pakistani English’ as a variety. Shabana (a student from Pakistan on my MA TESOL programme) wrote a good essay on this subject. I’ll ask her if she is willing to share it!

Robert from York – good point about the famous artists’ mistakes! I wonder if ‘famous’ is the key word here; if you have fame (and therefore power) you get to decide what is a ‘variety’ and what is a ‘mistake’??

Ernesto from Chile – I’m not sure whether British English is always (or ever?) the ‘standard’ for international communication….. I think international communicators probably work out ‘what works’ every time they speak. Sometimes, this might be similar to one of the British English varieties, sometimes it might be ‘better’ to mix in some Spanish, or use some vocabulary from Indian English, or choose not to use articles…………..etc…. This is because ‘better’ could mean ‘easier to understand’ or ‘friendlier’ or ‘supportive of an identity we want to display’. I’d like to hear more about your ideas on this!

Hyoshil from the UK – yes, I do have a student from Korea in my class, I’ll say ‘hello’ to her from you!

Sunday, 05 April 2009

Yorkshire English and Youth English

Hello again Marcos!

I hope you had a good weekend. I've been reading the posts that you wrote in January again and particularly like the one about the Pink River Dolphin!

In my last post I included a link to some information about York. Earlier this evening I asked my daughter, Clara (aged 12), whether she thinks that she speaks ‘Yorkshire English’ and whether the English that young people speak is different from that of adults. I’m still not sure how to use my video camera so here is an audio recording of Clara talking, together with a photo of her (and her brother, Rian, aged 14).

Clara talks about the pronunciation of the words ‘bubbles’ and ‘hello’ and her use of the words ‘like’ and ‘LOL’. I don’t think that ‘like’ (for example, “I was, like, really hungry, so I had, like, a burger…”) is an example of Yorkshire English; I’ve heard people from around the world using it. LOL (laughing out loud - from text messaging) is also used all over the UK. Both ‘like’ and ‘LOL’ are probably examples of ‘youth English’. Clara mentions another feature she thinks youth English has – informality. I don’t know if this is true – she can be formal when she’s talking to a stranger or person she treats as ‘high status’ (for example, a teacher, an older relative etc.)!

What about you Marcos? Do young Brazilians speak differently from older people? What about young people using English in Brazil, do they use slang and other informal ways of speaking?

Talk to you again soon!


Tuesday, 07 April 2009

Multi-word verbs - a challenge!

Hello again Marcos!

Thank you for your interesting comments on the current financial crisis. I agree about the importance of interconnectivity, mentioned by you and some of the readers of your post.

You asked for help with phrasal verbs and indirect/direct speech. I’ll focus on phrasal verbs in this post and come back to indirect/direct speech later. I hope that’s OK with you!

Phrasal verbs are one of three types of multi-word verbs*. All three types of multi-word verb consist of a lexical verb* plus one or two particles*. Sometimes it’s possible to guess the meaning of a multi-word verb; sit down for example. Some multi-word verbs have meanings which are impossible to guess; look after (take care of) for example. Other multi-word verbs have more than one meaning, depending on the context; get back meaning return (she got back from York yesterday) and also meaning regain/re-possess (I can’t live without you, what do I need to do to get you back?) etc.*

Another thing to think about when using multi-word verbs is whether an object is possible, or necessary. For example, get back, meaning return, does not take an object*, whereas get back, meaning regain does*. Finally, if the multi-word verb can take an object, you need to think about whether the particle can be separated from the lexical verb. In the case of get back, meaning regain, the object comes before the particle: get you back, NOT get back you.

This is (another!) complex area of grammar* and rather than trying to learn rules, I think it’s more effective to notice, and try using, sentences or short phrases containing multi-word verbs that you like. So……here is a challenge for you…..! Study the examples of multi-word verbs on the BBC LE Funky Phrasals – Careers page and use as many as possible to tell us something about your job. Or, if you prefer, choose another topic within Funky Phrasals and use the multi-words there.

I enjoyed your information about the orthographic reform of Portuguese. I think it’s a good idea to look at the most common mistakes children make when they are learning to spell and consider changing the spelling of those words! I disagree with your statement about your authority over English though! English belongs to its users, of which you are one. So feel free to reform it to suit yourself (and the people you use it to communicate with)!

Thanks to all the people who made comments on Clara’s audio* (Ana Paula, Deepak, James and Hyoshil); we looked at them together with great interest. It’s fascinating for me to read your examples of how young people use (or don’t use) informal language (including slang) and occasional English words (especially in the blogosphere). Daria mentions the ‘edge’ between innovation and mistake, and I think that’s a good choice of word. We can see in Hyoshil’s story about her discussions (arguments?!) with her son that this ‘edge’ is often quite a sharp one!

There isn’t a single ‘original’ or ‘best’ version of English. This is because everyone reading this blog uses English to communicate messages and make friends in ways that are suitable in a particular situation, at a particular time. As the situations and the people we meet change, so does the ‘best’, most suitable, way to communicate. For Daria, the ‘best’ way to communicate in English could be to include some words in Russian....

Marcos, I look forward to seeing how you get on with your multi-word verb challenge and to hearing more from the readers!


* multi-word verbs = there are three classes of multi-word verbs: phrasal verbs (lexical verb + particle e.g. sort out meaning solve); prepositional verbs (lexical verb + preposition e.g. check into meaning register at a hotel); and phrasal-prepositional verbs (lexical verb + adverb particle + preposition e.g. put up with meaning tolerate). Sometimes the term ‘phrasal verb’ is used to cover all three classes of multi-word verb.

* lexical = verbs that mean something in themselves and are not just being used to help with grammar. Modal and auxiliary verbs are not treated as lexical verbs because they are concerned with grammatical meaning, not content meaning.

* particle = a small group of words including mainly adverbs and prepositions.

* see this page on for more meanings of get back and other multi-word verbs using get.

* if a verb does not need an object, or any other item to complete its meaning, it is known as an intransitive verb (e.g. appear, begin, die). If a verb does need one, or more, objects, it is a transitive verb (e.g. ask, bring, carry). This information is usually available in your dictionary.

* Last time I was the teacher blogger, some very diligent readers of my blog commented on mistakes or over-generalisations in the information I gave. If you notice anything like this, please feel free to comment!!! I will apologise and make corrections!

* I have now (finally) understood how to use my video camera. So will be looking for (willing) victims for my BBC LE videos!

Friday, 10 April 2009

Reading about reading

Hi Marcos!

I really enjoyed reading about your reading….and will look for English translations of the books by Brazilian writers you mention. By coincidence, I have just spent several hours at home today carrying piles of books from temporary storage upstairs to the bookshelves downstairs (actually my son did most of the carrying….). On one of the shelves I have put books written in Indonesian (the only language, other than English, that I can read in). Where possible, I like to read both the original text and a translation in English. It’s interesting to compare the published translation with the one in my head. I notice that Ewa (from Poland) does this too!

One good way of finding out about new writers, I have found, is to look at the lists of books that are short-listed for literary prizes. I’ve just finished reading Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It’s about a multilingual crew on board a ship taking migrants from India. I liked the way the writer shows how people who speak different languages can create their own, ‘new’, language by inventing words and borrowing words from each other.

As a way of giving you a bit more input on phrasal verbs I have re-written the final paragraph of your most recent post, using as many multi-word verbs as I could think of! Here it is, followed by your paragraph so that you can compare the two:

Teacher Rachel asked me about the way that the youth and the older people speak here in Brazil. Well, as in Great Britain, youths use slang to communicate with each other. And when they meet up with a stranger, an adult, an elderly person, a teacher or anyone higher up than them, they speak formally. This adds up to two different ways of talking: formal and informal. However, there is an interesting thing going on here: older people are starting to sound younger! In other words, people who are getting on in age are using more and more slang as a way of being ‘down with the kids’*. Brazilian TV shows are full of young people, and the way they speak has a knock on effect on the way adult listeners express themselves. Maybe, in the near future, the way adults and young people use formal language won’t divide up the two age groups; everyone will only use formal language in formal situations.

Teacher Rachel asked me about the way that the youth and the older people speak here in Brazil. Well, as in Great Britain, youths use slang to communicate to each other. And when they meet someone unknown, an adult, an elderly, or someone as a teacher or any authority, they speak formally. And this is the way that we can separate the ways of the people express here: formal or informal. However, there is an interesting phenomena occurring here: the older people are becoming youth. In other words, the adults and elderly people are using more and more slangs to become closer of the youths. And, as on Brazilian TV is plenty of young people (and TV has to talk the language of its public), it influences the way of the adults express their selves. Maybe in a near future the formal language will be used just in formal occasions, and not as a way to separate groups with different ages.

You mentioned the influence of TV and Ernesto (from Chile) has a lovely example of this in neeeeext (make the vowel as long as you can) meaning boring! Daria (from Russia) makes the good point that multi-word verbs are best memorised in context – I think learning phrases or sentences you particularly like is a great idea. Vijay (from India) asks about sit and sit down - sit down means to take a seat, whereas sit means to be seated. In British spoken English please sit down is used, rather than please sit. Filippo (from Italy) asks about using multi-word verbs in writing – I think they’re fine, especially where you want to create a dynamic, lively* mood. Hyoshil has a brilliant list of idioms and, for Ana Paula, here is a link to a BBC news story about the spelling of English place names: King’s Lynn or Kings Lynn???

I did manage to persuade Clara to make two short videos of our garden in Spring. They’re very shaky, so if you have a headache, don’t watch them! She talks about the flowers and herbs in the garden and, interestingly, when she doesn’t know the name of a flower, says, It’s a kind of……. Very useful vague* language for when we’re not sure about something! Here are the two videos:

front garden

back garden

Marcos – I really like your idea for a BBC LE online book club. It would be very interesting to see what the community are reading.

Catch you later!


* down with the kids = cool, youthful

* lively = full of life, energetic

* vague = not specific, unclear

P.S. Here's a picture of a daffodil in the front garden:

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Red sky at night and more multi-word verbs

Hello Marcos!

Are you getting ready to celebrate Easter? Does your home town of Fortaleza have any special Easter traditions?

For some useful Easter-related vocabulary, here’s a crossword from the BBC LE site:

Easter crossword

On Easter Day (tomorrow) we’re going to my Mum and Dad’s house for a special lunch. My Mum has made an Easter cake which I will try and take a picture of before it gets eaten!

I’m hoping for some nice weather so that we can sit in the garden (possibly while eating cake...). It’s been raining on-and-off all week in York, with temperatures of about 10 degrees centigrade. Tonight there was a reddish sunset, which you can see here in this short video made by my special assistant, Clara (aged 12):

Red sky at night

Staying with the theme of multi-word verbs, I have written down Clara’s actual words in the video and then re-written the paragraph using as many multi-word verbs (MWVs) as I could think of. The verbs are shown in bold, but where the particles should be, I have left a gap. Can you guess what the missing particles are??? I’ve listed them in random order at the end (some of them are used more than once). I’ll give you the answers in my next post…. Your prize should be an Easter egg, but then you would have to come to York to pick it up – which would make it an expensive prize!

Clara’s words:

Don’t know if you’ll be able to see it clearly on the camera, but there are spots of red in the sky and sometimes people say, “if there’s red sky at night, it’s shepherd’s delight” which means it’s gonna be nice weather tomorrow because it’s ‘shepherd’s delight’ and a shepherd, erm, would like nice weather because when he takes his sheep out he doesn’t want it to be raining, or anything*. If it’s red sky in the morning, it’s ‘shepherd’s warning’ which just means that it’s not gonna be nice weather erm for the day. I’ll try and (pause…) we don’t get this a lot, but it’s…

With added MWVs:

I don’t know if the camera will pick this ____, but you might be able to make ____ some spots of red in the sky. A traditional saying in English is, “red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”, which means that we can look ____ ____ nice weather tomorrow if the sunset is reddish in colour. The saying continues, “red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”, which means that we are going to have to put ____ ____ rain. I suppose that shepherds need to look ____ ____ bad weather because they can’t let their sheep ____ to graze if it might pour ____. I’ll try and pick ____ the reddest part of the clouds (pause…) we don’t get this a lot, but it’s…

The missing particles are: to up forward out with for down

OK…good luck and talk to you again soon!


* another example of ‘vague language’; useful when you would like to continue a list (perhaps to avoid a pause), but don’t have anything specific to say, or when you prefer to make a general point (perhaps because general points are easier for listeners to agree with).

P.S. here are a couple of comments on the comments…..

Bahirlake570 (from Ethiopia) – it’s true that books are expensive,,,,have you tried reading online? Project Gutenberg has books in about 60 different languages. When I checked the electronic books published in English, there were 76 authors from Aanrud to Adams and then I stopped counting! There must be thousands of complete books in Englsih here which you can read online, or download and read later, or print. I tried downloading the audio-books (in MP3 format) too, which worked fine.

Project Gutenberg

Mauricio (from Brazil) asked about the flooding in our back garden. I’m afraid that Clara was exaggerating when she made a ‘waist high’ gesture in her video! York is very low-lying and parts of it (including the lowest part of our back garden) flood regularly, but usually only by a centimetre or two.

The red sky tonight, from our back garden:

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Simnel cake

Hello Marcos!

Easter Monday is a national holiday here; if you have had a holiday in Brazil, I hope it’s been a good one!

I mentioned my Mum’s Easter cake in my last post. I did manage to make a short video of it yesterday (after it had already been cut, but before we had eaten any!). Here’s the video:

Simnel cake

And here is a recipe for the cake from the BBC Food website:


You asked for some information about direct and indirect speech in English. In this post I want to give you a ‘script’ of a conversation (it’s me and my family talking about the Easter cake in the video above). I’ll use this script in future posts to show some different ways in which we can quote and report speech in English. Our conversation was unplanned, so you will hear lots of overlapping and interrupting. I haven’t written down every detail of the conversation, but I hope you’ll be able to listen to the video and generally follow what we’re saying.

There are four people talking:

R: Rachel
V: Vicky
M: Mum
D: Dad

[Background noise]
R: So what, what, what are these things for, these things?
D: They’re traditional aren’t they?
M: They, erm, they…
R: What do they mean though?
V: There should be twelve.
M: It’s the disciples*, the eleven disciples, not Judas.
V: Oh, I thought there should be twelve.
M: No you don’t put eleven on you don’t put Judas on, for Easter.
R: So have you got eleven, on there?
M: Yes, yes, course I have!
R: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, oh yeah here ten
M: There was eleven!
R: Was there?
M: Yes!
V: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, yes eleven. V: You can’t count Rachel.
R: Sorry!
M: Oh dear, I was panicking there.
R: That’s why I’m an English teacher, not a Maths teacher.
M: Every piece of marzipan* was weighed, so all the balls are the same size.
V: Really?
D: I would never have thought of that.
M: Yes, it’s not easy you know!

OK, so that’s it for today. I’ll talk about direct and indirect speech in my next post.

Bye for now!


Disciples = Here, the 12 followers of Jesus; including Judas, who identified Jesus to the soldiers who arrested him.

Marzipan = A yellow paste made of almonds (a kind of nut), egg whites and sugar.

My Mum's Simnel Cake on Easter Day, with eleven balls of marzipan:

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Reporting speech - an introduction

Welcome back Marcos!

I’m sorry to hear that you have had to work hard over the Easter holiday (and VERY sorry about the photo of my Mum’s cake!!!) but happy that your report is finished and you can relax a bit.

Thanks for the information about the variety of ways of celebrating Easter in Brazil. There is some interesting information about other religious festivals in the comments too.

In this post, I’m going to make some basic points about the reporting of direct and indirect speech in writing. Apologies if there is nothing new for you; I’ll go into more detail in future posts. I will also give the answers to the red sky at night multi-word verb gap fill task, as well as answering a couple of questions asked by the blog readers.

In this section, I’ll use our Easter Day conversation about the cake (see my previous post for a complete script of the conversation) to create examples of direct and indirect speech. OK, the way that we report our own or other peoples’ speech in writing can be either direct (when we recreate the exact words the original speaker used, including the same pronouns and verb forms) or indirect (when we don’t try to recreate the exact words spoken, and use different pronouns and verb forms as a way of showing the relationship between now and the original moment of speaking).

Direct speech: Rachel pointed to the marzipan balls on the Easter cake and asked, “What are these things for?”

Indirect speech: Rachel pointed to the marzipan balls on the Easter cake and asked what they represented.

In direct speech, there are two clauses; the reporting clause (Rachel….asked,) and the reported clause (“What are these things for?”). The reported clause is separated from the reporting clause by a comma (usually) and speech marks (either single or double inverted commas).

In indirect speech, there is a reporting clause (Rachel…..asked) and a reported clause which is more fully integrated as the object of the reporting verb and which is usually not separated by punctuation.

I’ll come back to some of these points in future posts to add more detail and give some more examples…

Well done to the blog readers who answered the MWV gap fill task (including Ana Paula, Cheikh Vall, Adek, Toni, Daria and Hyoshil). Cheikh Vall, you were the only person to get all the answers correct, so extra well done to you! The MWV that provided the most problems was make out, which in this context means distinguish, discern or see (with difficulty).

Here is the complete text:

I don’t know if the camera will pick this up, but you might be able to make out some spots of red in the sky. A traditional saying in English is, “red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”, which means that we can look forward to nice weather tomorrow when the sunset is reddish in colour. The saying continues, “red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”, which means that we are going to have to put up with rain. I suppose that shepherds need to look out for bad weather because they can’t let their sheep out to graze if it might pour down. I’ll try and pick out the reddest part of the clouds (pause…) we don’t get this a lot, but it’s…

Have you tried using online visual dictionaries/thesauri? Here’s a good one (you should be able to see make out as an example – but beware, make out also means kiss passionately and there are some taboo, in some situations, words in this visual definition!).

Visuwords – make out

More on reporting speech later….

Don’t work too hard Marcos!



Comments on the comments:

James (from Taiwan): Celsius and Centigrade are two names for the same temperature scale (which was invented by Anders Celsius).

Hyoshil (from the UK): Thanks for remembering that my Dad was exploring our family history! He’s still doing it and has got back to the early 1700’s, and found relatives in Canada and Australia. A few generations of his father’s family made wheels, while on his mother’s side there were several generations of printers.

This map only has limited coverage, but you can see how often your surname (family name) occurs in certain countries – try it!

World Names Profiler

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Said and told

Thanks for the link to Paulo Coelho’s blog Marcos. Very interesting!

Any plans for the weekend? The weather forecast here is good, so I should make the most of it and do something outside. On my way home from work today, I noticed a mackerel sky, which you can see in this very short video:

Mackerel sky

Mackerel sky

The clouds look a bit like fish scales and mackerel is a kind of fish. The traditional saying is:

Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, not long wet and not long dry.

I think it means that the weather is likely to be changeable (some rain, followed by some sunny spells*, or vice versa*). So perhaps I should have some indoor activities planned for the weekend too……

In this post I’m going to say something more about the representation of speech in writing. Speech reports can be of what people might say, or of what they intend to say (Next time she asks for my help, I should say that I’m too busy. I’ll just say, “Sorry, I….”). Here we won’t focus on this type of speech report; instead we will look at reports of real, past speech using the conversation about the Easter cake I posted on April 14. Today we will think about reporting verbs (the most frequent reporting verbs and speech acts).

Most frequent reporting verbs

As you know, the most frequent reporting verb (in British English) in direct reports is said:

Vicky said, “There should be twelve!”

In indirect reports, the most common reporting verbs are said and told:

Mum said that there should be eleven marzipan balls on the cake.
Dad told us that they are traditional.

Told is not (usually) used to introduce direct reports:

Vicky told her, “There should be twelve!”

Said focuses on the words that someone says, told focuses on the content of what someone says, the message.

Said is used with an optional prepositional complement and an object (which is the reported clause):

Vicky said [to her: optional prepositional complement], [“There should be twelve!”: object]

Told usually has an indirect object and a direct object:

Dad told [us: indirect object] [that they are traditional: direct object]

Speech acts

Other verbs add detail or help to emphasise the communicative function of direct or indirect speech:

“They’re traditional,” Dad suggested.
Mum pointed out that there were eleven balls of marzipan.
Mum claimed to have weighed all the balls.
“I would never have thought of that,” confessed Dad.
Mum protested that it wasn’t easy to make the cake.

Although there are two examples of reporting verbs indicating a speech act used with direct speech (both involving Dad), these verbs are most frequently used to introduce indirect reports (like the ones involving Mum).

OK, I’ll stop there for now. In the next post, I’ll look at tense and aspect in the reporting verbs (so far I have only used said and told – so I still need to talk about say/tell and is saying/is telling…).

If I haven’t sent you to sleep yet……here is an interactive exercise to practise said/told and speech act verbs:

Take the challenge

Enjoy your weekend!!


* (sunny) spell = a short period of a specific kind of weather: a dry spell, a hot spell etc.
* vice versa = also in reverse order, the other way around.


Comments on the comments:

Marianna (from Slovakia) – thank you for your interesting story about your career!

Filippo (from Italy) – On Easter day my Mum cooked roast chicken and Yorkshire Puddings. More about Yorkshire Puddings another time!

Rabail (from the UK) – The online dictionary I am using at the moment is one suggested by Marcos recently. It’s

My Dad mainly uses a website called for his family history research. It has census results going back to the 1800’s and lots of suggestions for how to go back further.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Says, is saying, will tell and has told...

Hello again Marcos!

I hope you had a relaxing weekend. The weather was good here (and it’s a sunny day again today) so I’m not sure what the mackerel sky I pointed out in my post on Friday meant after all. Maybe it was signalling a change from wet to dry weather, rather than dry to wet…..

Anyway, I’m going to continue with the topic of representing speech in writing that you asked about. Do let me know when you have had enough! We’ve been talking about said and told – so today I am going to look at say, is saying, will tell and has told.

In a previous post I said that said and told (in the past simple tense) are the most common reporting verbs. The past simple tense is usually used when a writer is referring to a single occasion of speech in the finished past. For example:

Mr Musharraf said his appeals for reconciliation with his opponents had fallen on deaf ears.

I counted six uses of said in this report: BBC LE - Words in the News: Musharraf resigns

Other possible verb forms are say(s) (the present simple tense), is saying (the present progressive tense), will tell (for a future event) and has told (for something that was said in the recent past, possibly with important consequences for the present).

Reporting verbs in the present simple are used when the writer believes that the reported speech is: always true, relevant or commonly said (present tenses are often used to suggest something permanent) and for dramatic effect. For example:

His officials say he [Gordon Brown, UK Prime Minister] wants to listen as well as lead in London.

Full report here: BBC LE: Leaders gather for G20 summit

In this report say creates a feeling of events happening at the time of writing; this is a ‘dramatic’ effect often used by news reporters to highlight the newsworthiness* of their report. The use of say here transforms a very ordinary (and slightly meaningless??!!) phrase into News. This reporting of a slightly meaningless phrase as News could be seen as benefitting Gordon Brown’s image….what do you think?

In contrast, a writer who uses the present progressive (is saying) to report speech, creates the impression of a temporary opinion (which might change) or of something that is being said right now. For example:

The Chancellor is saying that an increase in tax is necessary.

I couldn’t find an example in a BBC News report of is saying, so perhaps this is not a very common usage in written English. More about the frequency of these different ways of reporting speech in my next post….

Next are two forms of the reporting verb tell: will tell (for a future event) and has/have told (for something that was said in the recent past, and/or which was said in the past but has an effect on the present):

He [Gordon Brown] will tell the assembled Senators and Congressmen that they have the chance to work with the 'most pro-American European leadership in living memory'.

Full story here: BBC LE - Words in the News: Gordon Brown addresses Congress

The jury in the Phil Spector murder case has told the judge that it cannot agree on a verdict.

Full story here: BBC LE - Words in the News: Spector jury deadlock on verdict

Tell focuses on the (in this case, important) content of the message, rather than the actual words. Has told emphasises the effect in the present of this past event; because the jury can’t decide, there may need to be a re-trial.

OK that’s it for now. I’ll come back to the topic of frequency in my next post – with a tip about how to do your own research into frequency using search tools and concordancing.

Hope you have a good week!


newsworthiness* = something that is interesting enough to be covered in the news.


Comments on the comments:

Jose (from Spain) – welcome to the blog!

Daria (from Russia) – yes, it’s my voice on the Mackerel sky video in my previous post. My trusty assistant, Clara (age 12), wasn’t available at the time, so I had to do my own work! I am still trying to persuade Rian (age 14) make a video, but he’s a little more camera shy than Clara. I’ll keep trying!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Pointing out the tourists

Hi Marcos!

Sorry to hear that you were ill, but glad to hear that you’re feeling better now!

You’ve written a very long and interesting post about your weekend, your education and career choices. I agree with the people who commented on your post – your writing style is clear, coherent and very readable. Perhaps your experience of writing regularly for an audience is partly responsible for your increased fluency and confidence? This may sound like a strange comment to make, but I find that one way of understanding words, phrases and ideas is to USE them in writing. It should be the other way round; that I understand BEFORE I write, but, in fact, often it isn’t. Sometimes, by trying out words, expressions and ideas, I realise more about what they mean WHILE I write. I wonder if this is one of the benefits of the BBC LE blog – that it provides an opportunity for regular writing for an audience? The really great thing about the BBC LE blog is that you don’t need to be the student blogger to have this opportunity, because anyone can write a comment!

On the topic of your job, I agree with Rabail (from the UK); you’re lucky (though it probably wasn’t luck, but hard work and being well organised!) to have a career that interests you and that provides benefits for society. Marianna (from Slovakia) mentioned photos of Sobral. Did you take your camera? If so, can we see the pictures??!

You asked for comments on your writing. I’ve already said how good I think it is!! Here’s a very small tip that I mention not because I can’t understand what you mean (I can), but just because you use this word twice in your post. You use touristic in these two phrases: touristic infrastructure and touristic places. Perhaps you’re thinking that these two phrases are adjective + noun. In fact, I think they are both noun phrases; as in infrastructure and places FOR tourists, not infrastructure and places that are LIKE tourists. Another example: a beautiful (adjective) place (noun), is a place which is like the concept of beauty, not a place FOR beauty. A beauty salon is not beautiful; it is a place FOR beauty.

Two more issues here: tourist attraction is more common than tourist place, it’s just a fixed phrase; and, infrastructure is FOR business (tourism) not individuals (tourists), so tourism infrastructure is better.

If you put touristic attraction into an Internet search engine, you will find people using it in other varieties of English, so this is just my, UK-based opinion!

OK, a little bit more on representing speech in writing. I want to say something about the frequency of said and told in the past simple tense and some of the other tenses I mentioned in my last post. I’ll also say some thing two-word reporting verbs, in answer to your question.

Right, said and told (in the past simple tense)………….in a previous post I said that these were the two most common reporting verbs, but are they?? I decided to check (perhaps I should check first in future!), so I typed said into the search box in the top right hand corner of this page. Try it! I got really excited (sorry, I am a linguist after all…:)) when I saw that I could compare how many times said occurs on the BBC LE website, compared to BBC News and the rest of the BBC. Also, when I tried comparing said with told, tells, says etc. I decided to concentrate on the BBC News search and found that these reporting verbs occur as follows:

said 1,003,041
told 1,496
saying 102,916 (but some of these might refer to the noun saying)
telling 18,751
says 294,846
tells 22,724
explains 10,288
explained 20,298
claimed 66,712
pointed out 189 (but some of these might refer to out or point)
suggested 34,860
protested 5,588

Now, the texts which are being searched for these words are a very specific text type – news reports - and you may not be interested in this type of writing. In case you are NOT interested in reading or writing news reports, in my next post I will talk about how to create your own searchable collection of texts. Of course, if you are interested in general usage, you can just use your regular search engine to search all of the texts on the Internet!

Looking at the list I made above (and if you try this, your numbers will be different because the BBC News website is being updated all the time) there are some interesting facts to note. Said (in the past simple tense) IS the most frequently used reporting verb, but told is very infrequently used. Says is quite common (perhaps to create a dramatic effect suitable for news reporting) and claimed (though far less frequent than said or says) is also fairly common (perhaps because politicians are always making claims for their policies!).

So, if you want to find out the most common way of saying something, try an Internet search!

Marcos, you asked about two-word reporting verbs, like point out. Here are a few more that are (near) synonyms of tell: to make (something) known; to call upon; to fill (someone) in; to give (something) out; to let (someone) know (something); to let (something) slip; to open up; to reel (something) off; spit (something) out.

OK, that’s it for now. More on representing speech (until you tell me you’ve had enough!) and on creating your own database of texts next time!


Saturday, 25 April 2009

Some DIY for the weekend!

Hello Marcos!

I hope you’ve had a good week and have got interesting plans for the weekend. Just in case you haven't, here is an idea for a traditional British weekend activity, DIY (do it yourself)!

I’ve had a very quiet week. I’ve been on leave from work and Rian and Clara have been at school (after a two week break for Easter). As a result, I haven’t been able to find victims (sorry, volunteers) to make videos for me all week. Next week, I’m back at work, so hopefully my students will be willing victims/volunteers…..

I mentioned in my last post a way of finding out how often, and in what context, speech reporting verbs (or any word or phrase) are used. We looked at how to search all the texts on the Internet, or all the texts on one website (like BBC News, for example). If you are interested in a particular TYPE of text, it’s easy to create a searchable collection of texts (a corpus*) using (free-of-charge) software. The software will search your text (or collection of texts) and make a list of all the words (and numbers) in the text, in alphabetical order (this is called a concordance*). You can then check the concordance for the words that you are interested in, for example the speech reporting verbs.

There are several different softwares (is software becoming a countable noun??) available. One that I like is created by the Université du Québec à Montréal; it’s the:

Compleat Lexical Tutor v.6.2

I’m going to show you how it works using an example of some minutes* from a York St John University Student Union Council meeting held on the 19th January 2009 (in which there was a discussion about whether the University library should be open 24 hours a day or not). The minutes are available on the Internet:

York St John University Student Union Council meeting minutes

I decided to use meeting minutes because I think that, like some news reports, minutes are texts which are designed to report what people say. You can use any text type you are interested in learning how to write: academic essays, reports, emails…..

OK, so back to the software. When you click the Compleat Lexical Tutor link above, you will see a screen with a box saying, “Enter your text here.” Either type your text, or copy and paste it from an existing document (which could be web-based like my example) or PC-based (for example a report you wrote).

I used the York St John University Student Union Council meeting minutes, which, after copying and pasting, looked like this:

Next click the Submit button on the bottom right hand side of the screen (I have added a red circle on the picture above to make it easier to see) and you will get something that looks like this:

The software lists all the words and numbers in the text, starting with the numbers, in alphabetical order. Scroll down the page looking at the words in the centre until you see a word that you’re interested in. You can see how many times your interesting word is used and in what context. I was interested in the word asked, so here it is:

My concordancing exercise showed that in the meeting minutes, the following speech reporting verbs were used (the number on the left hand side is the frequency of the word):

1 according to
1 ask
7 asked if/where/why
3 pointed out that
1 proposed by
2 replied that
3 reported that
4 said that/it would be
5 stated that
1 suggested that

So……… no uses of tell or told and more uses of ask and stated that than said. It looks like these meeting minutes use speech reporting verbs in a different way from the news reports that we looked at in my last post. The good thing about searching your own collection of texts is that you can find out on your own (without looking at grammar books!) about the type of texts YOU are interested in. Many of the newer grammar books are based on large collections of texts, but not necessarily of the type that you are interested in….

If you want to know more about software and other technical resources for creating searchable collections of texts, there is a useful list (and lots of background information) here:

Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research (CALPER) at the Pennsylvania State University

OK, that’s it for now. Hope you have a great weekend Marcos and don’t work too hard!


*corpus = collection of texts for analysis (plural = corpora).

*concordance = a list of all the words in a text or collection of texts (for example, Shakespeare’s works, or the Bible) showing where they can be found and what context they occur in. In corpus linguistics, a concordance is a list of all examples of a word in our corpus showing the immediate context of the word. Concordancing software helps us to create lists like this from collections of texts.

* minutes = an official record of the discussion at a meeting of a society, committee, or other group.


Comments on the comments:

Ana Paula (from Brazil) - best of luck with your exams! Let us know how you get on.

Marianna (from Slovakia) – I’m hoping to recruit some of my students to help with the blog next week!

Hyoshil (from the UK) – very useful comments about writing! It has certainly worked for you, your writing is great!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Deictic expressions and running for some biscuits

Hello Marcos!

I hope you had a good weekend and didn’t have to work all through it…

For some strange reason I suddenly felt like writing late on Saturday evening, so stayed up until 3.30 am writing about ‘assessment’ for a book I’m working on with colleagues from York St John and another university in Texas, USA. Weird (my writing moods, not the book). Actually, I did spend some of the time trying to sing along to pop videos from the 1980’s on YouTube…

On Sunday, our friends, Bob, Chandy and their cute baby Emma, came over to York from Leeds, where they have an English Language School.

We all met many years ago in Indonesia, where we were working as English language teachers. Just before they arrived at our house, Clara ran* to the shops to buy some biscuits for us to eat with our coffee. Of course, I asked her to take the video camera with her (killing two birds with one stone…). At the end of my post I have put a picture of the sky yesterday (my third ‘sky’ picture since starting this blog, I’m not sure why) and here is her video:

Clara’s walk to the shops

Right, let’s get down to some work. Today I’m going to talk briefly about how ways of talking about time, place and persons (the technical word for these is deictic expressions*) can change when we report speech. Because we are often in a different time and place from the original speech, and often reporting someone else’s words, the deictic expressions need to change to make the difference clear to our reader (or listener).

Look at this example:

“Can you go and buy some biscuits before they get here*, Clara?” Rachel asked.

We can rewrite this as:

I've asked Clara if she will go and buy some biscuits before they get here.

The reporter (Rachel) is the person who spoke and is at the same place where the original question was asked (here), very soon after the question was asked and before any action has been taken (Clara hasn’t been to the shops yet). Perhaps Rian offered to go and buy some biscuits, and I said, "It's OK thanks, I've asked Clara...".

Rachel asked Clara if she would go and buy some biscuits before they got here.

The reporter is a different person (not Rachel) to the person who spoke and is at the same place where the original question was asked, but the time the question was asked is now in the past. Perhaps Clara has already gone to the shops.

She asked me if I would go and buy some biscuits before they got here.

The reporter is Clara and she is at the same place where the original question was asked. The time the question was asked is now in the past. Maybe Clara is talking to the shop assistant.

She asked Clara if she would go and buy some biscuits before they got there.

The reporter is a different person (not Rachel) to the person who spoke and is in a different place (there) from where the original question was asked. The time the question was asked is now in the past.

I asked Clara if she would go and buy some biscuits before you got here.

The reporter (Rachel) is the person who spoke and is at the same place where the original question was asked (here). The time the question was asked is now in the past. Rachel is talking to Bob and Chandy (you).

OK, I’m going to try and upload this post before midnight. Hope you have a good week Marcos!


* deictic expressions = ways of pointing to time (for example, tenses and words like yesterday and ago), place (here, there, this shop, that university) and persons (she, they) at the moment of speaking.

* run = to make a quick trip (informal).

* get here/there = arrive


Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Showing emotion in writing

Hi Marcos! How are you? I hope everything’s OK.

Today I’m going to write briefly about showing HOW something is (or was, or might be) said, when you want to report how the original speaker is (was or might) feel. This is probably not something you will need to do if you are writing the minutes of a meeting or an academic essay! Minutes and essays are usually written in a neutral style that focus on WHAT was said and not HOW it was said. But if you are writing in your diary, or writing a story, you might want to describe the emotions of the people whose speech you are representing.

So, here is a list* of some reporting verbs you can use to dramatise your writing:


call (out)












shoot back









I searched the BBC for three of the reporting verbs on this list: mumble, mutter, murmur (because they’re quite close in meaning, I think). The search method I used was the one I described in a previous post (using the search box on the top right hand corner of this page). Here are the three examples of these verbs I found:

…there was a suspicion that he might … mumble something incoherent and then disappear again.

Michael Jackson: Still King of Pop?

And maybe not even then, I mutter under my breath…

Phoney War

"It might suit you, you know," he tentatively murmured.

60 felt too young to go into a home

Right then, I’m off to work now to meet some students for tutorials about a group presentation they are preparing on different language teaching methodology topics. I’m looking forward to seeing what they are planning to do.

Hope your week is going well!


* I copied this list from Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English, a Comprehensive Guide: Spoken and Written English, Grammar and Usage. It’s a very useful grammar book that I am using a lot at the moment.


Comments on the comments:

Marianna (from Slovakia) – it’s good to hear that you are a fellow coffee drinker (especially after a night of insufficient sleep!).

Hyoshil (from the UK) - Wow!!! You really are a master blogger. I will definitely support your claim to a BBC LE t-shirt!

Adek (from Poland) – Erm……what I didn’t tell you was that I bribed Clara to go to the shops (and take the video camera) with extra pocket money for a magazine she likes to read…..

Mahjabeen (from Pakistan) – Thanks for your comments!

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