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

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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Goodbye to the land of grapes

Hi Emam,

Thanks for your last few postings with all your great photos. It's been really interesting learning about all the different grapes, sweets and treats from Palestine.

We're moving over to a new blogging system next week, so this will probably be our last chance to blog together.

It's been great getting to know you and I think lots of our blogging audience around the world have been charmed by your postings too.

I thought today we'd have a look at a few vocabulary items, as well as dangling modifiers in this last blog. The examples I've chosen come from your last few postings.

Let's look at this sentence. I hope you don't mind, I've changed it a tiny bit so that we can concentrate on just one item of vocabulary – the word besides .

She was busy housekeeping and working on the farm besides grandpa.

There are two words that look very similar in English but which have quite different meanings:

beside – (preposition) next to
besides – as well as, in addition to

Here's how to use each word in a sentence like yours:

She was busy working beside my grandpa on the farm.

Besides my grandpa, there was only my grandma working on the farm.

Now that you can see both words, which one was it you wanted to use – beside or besides?

Next let's look at these words – nearly and slightly:

I took a photo of my grandpa’s library. It has some old books, which are nearly damaged that he still reads.

If the books are nearly damaged they aren't actually damaged, they're almost damaged.

I think the word you wanted was slightly. If the books are slightly damaged, they are damaged a little bit.

Dangling modifiers
Now let's have a look at this sentence:

My uncle Sareef, is sitting next to a "Beithingan" vegetable, after being harvested.

The problem here is that it sounds like your poor uncle Sareef has been harvested (as if he's a vegetable that's been growing for six months in the fields)! This mistake is quite a common one. It's one that not only students of English make, but one that native speakers make too. So don't worry, you're in good company!

To make sure you don't make this kind of mistake (called a dangling modifier), you need to be sure that the subject of your introductory phrase, (My uncle Shareef), is the same subject as your main clause (after being harvested). In your example, the subject of your introductory phrase is uncle Shareef , but the subject as your main clause is the Beithingan (being harvested).

Have a look at the sentences below. Can you spot which of them contain dangling modifier mistakes? If the sentence is correct, you don't have to do anything. But if you find a mistake, can you see how you could correct it?

1. Turning up at 10, the party had already started.
2. Seeing the beautiful sunset, she took a photo to help her remember the perfect day.
3. Sitting by the window in the cafe, she asked the waiter for a coffee.
4. Being in need of repair, I was able to buy the shoes at a good price.
5. Stacked up on the library shelves, he began to read the books.

All the best,


treats – special things to eat
charmed by – were attracted to or found something very nice or enjoyable
tiny - small
concentrate on – give your full attention to
poor - unfortunate, or unlucky
native speakers – people first language (here, people who's first language or mother tongue is English)

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The carnival's here!

Thanks for posting a few more photos about the chicken dish and your grandma's jam. I'm sure everyone who's following your blog enjoyed them! I know both dishes make my mouth water just looking at them.

You trip to the funfair looked really enjoyable. I can't believe you went on all those rides! You must be very brave.

Your pictures brought back lots of happy memories for me because they reminded me of the time that I worked on a funfair in the USA. That was when I was a student (there's a special working holiday visa that students here can get to work in America for a few months in the summer).

I worked on a game called The Bushel Baskets. It was one of those games that always looks so easy to play but somehow seems almost impossible to win and you never walk away with the amazing huge prize on offer. Did you try any games while you were at the fair in Ohio, and did you have any luck at them?

Here's a picture of me (it was taken a long time ago!) in front of the game, with some of the huge Tommy bears, as they were called. (The boss's name was Tommy. I guess that's one of the perks of being the boss – you get to name the products after you!)

I thought today we'd look at sentence length (again), your word choice and some past simple verbs.

Sentence length
Let's look at this sentence first. It's very long for one sentence. I mentioned a tip for breaking up longer sentences into shorter ones in my last blog. Another good tip when you're thinking about the length of your sentences is to bear in mind that there should be one main idea per sentence. In your sentence you're got three ideas – your sister's fear, Jami's warning, and your desire to get on the ride – so you really should have three sentences. So you first homework task is to try to divide this sentence into three separate sentences.

My sister Asma rode it before three years, she reached the end line with her mouth moved away in her face with the fear, and my brother in law Jamil reached with his standing hair and blown head, therefore, at this time, they warned me and tried to prevent me from riding it, but I had a strong wish to ride it, to have a challenge and to see what will happen with me.

Word choice
Next, I'd like to you look at some of your word choices. I understand almost all of what you're saying here but I've highlighted a few items and I'd like you to decide which of the two options offered would be better.
My sister Asma rode it before three years, she reached the end line with her mouth moved away in her face with the fear, and my brother in law Jamil reached with his standing hair and blown head, therefore, at this time, they warned me and tried to prevent me from riding it, but I had a strong wish to ride it, to have a challenge and to see what will happen with me.

before three years
a) three years ago
b) in the next three years

the end line
a) the end of the ride
b) the end of the queue

with his standing hair
a) with his hair standing on end
b) with his hair standing on end

I'm not quite sure what you mean here:

with her mouth moved away in her face with the fear

I think you might have translated from Arabic. Can you try to rephrase for us? I think maybe you meant something like:

Her mouth was open in a huge scream.

But I'm really not sure at all.

Past simple verbs
In this paragraph I've highlighted some verbs. Most of your story is in the past tense, so can you look at the highlighted verbs and see if you can put them into the correct form? Some of the them are regular verbs and some of them are irregular.

I kept my arms down, my head back, and hold on, the tree lights count down to green, launched to speed of 120 mph in less than 4 seconds, rising my hands and climbed 420 feet into the air, crest a massive hill and spiral 270 degrees, felt as if my legs were separated from my body, in this moment I hold on strongly and closed my eyes then opened them to see the earth from this point, oh god…where I am? Then speed towards the finish line rising my hands again, the entire experience was over in 17 seconds. Yes, it was the Top Thrill Dragster; which is one of the tallest and fastest roller coasters on Earth.

Looking forward to your next posting.

All the best,

make my mouth water – (idiom) food that looks delicious
one of the perks of - one of the advantages of
name the products after you - call tue products the same name as you
tip – piece of advice
to bear in mind – to think about or to consider
per – for each

Thursday, 11 February 2010

If you can't stand the heat ...

Hi Eman,

Thanks for your posting. I don't know about anyone else, but I thought the chicken looked delicious - and I'm a vegetarian! I think we'd all like to hear more about your grandma's jam making and your mum and sister's chicken cooking.

Your oven looks very different from any oven I've seen before. Most ovens I've used are gas or eclectic. This is my boring old gas cooker and electric oven at home:

Your stove looks much more interesting. Is it used every day or only for special dishes, like the chicken dish that your mum and sister made for you?

I thought we'd look at a couple of areas of your writing today – sentence length and pronouns.

Sentence length
I noticed that your sentences are quite long. And although I don't know any Arabic, I wonder if that's a reflection of your mother tongue. Does Arabic tend to have longer, more flowing sentences perhaps? Let's take this sentence as an example:

Today I were out of my office as I had a meeting with my colleagues in Palestine Polytechnic University (PPU) to work on the publicity of the 3rd Palestinian International Conference on Computer and Information Technology (PICCIT 2010) that is focusing on research, innovation and entrepreneurship, and which will be held by PPU on March 9, 2010.

That's a very long sentence. In English, we tend to go for slightly shorter sentences. We'd probably write something like this:

Today I was out of my office as I had a meeting with colleagues in Palestine Polytechnic University (PPU) on the publicity for the 3rd Palestinian International Conference on Computer and Information Technology (PICCIT 2010). The conference, which we'll be hosting on 9 March, is focusing on research, innovation and entrepreneurship.

And though I really shouldn't blow my own trumpet, here's some advice you might find useful which I gave to Jin Lu, a previous student blogger.

A good tip for sentence length in English is to try and say it in one breath (without first filling your lungs to maximum capacity!). When you run out of breath, it's time to put a full stop in your writing. Try reading your sentence above out loud and see how you do.

Have a look at few of your other longer sentences in your blog and see if you can see a way of breaking up their length a bit.

Pronouns are words which take the place of nouns (I, his, theirs, etc.). But in a sentence like this from your blog, you can run into trouble:

Everybody is heading to his job.

If you use his, I feel left out (and so should you!). He or man or mankind, when we mean he or she, people or humans, is considered sexist. And what most people try to do nowadays is make their language as inclusive as possible. So where does that leave us with our his job sentence?

Well, you have a few options. You could say:
a) Each person is heading to his or her job.
b) Everybody is heading to his or her job.
c) Everybody is heading to their job.

Most people, I think would say that sentence (c) is the easiest on the ear and eye. However, the use of their in a sentence like this is not without controversy. You see some grammarians say that everybody is singular but their is plural, and that makes for a grammatical no-no! But actually the singular their has been used in English for hundreds of years (even Shakespeare used it), so I think you can quite safely use it, if you want to!

One more point about pronouns is the use of I in a sentence like this:

I and Ruba are responsible of media coverage

In English, it's considered polite to mention ourselves last, after other people in a sentence.

So can you see a way to change the Ruba sentence above?

That's all for now. Thanks for your blogs so far. And along with all your followers, I'm looking forward to your next posting from Palestine.


a reflection - a sign or result of something
blow my own trumpet – (an idiom) to boast or talk proudly of your own achievements
breath - air that goes into and out of your lungs
lungs - the two organs in the chest with you use to breathe
maximum capacity – the most that you can put in something (here, your lungs) breaking up their length a bit – making into smaller pieces
sexist – language or behaviour that suggest women are less able than men or not as good as them
inclusive – including everyone, making everyone feel welcome
the easiest on the ear and eye – the easiest to hear and see (or here, read)
controversy – something that causes disagreement or discussion
a grammatical no-no – grammatically not correct

Friday, 05 February 2010

Life is interesting, isn't it?

Hi Eman,

How nice to meet you and welcome to the blogs.

Your life in Palestine looks very interesting. It's fascinating to see the way you combine a very traditional way of life with such a modern one too.

Your way of life is very different to mine in London. Although, having said that, when I was growing up in Scotland we sometimes saw our own interesting animals in the Scottish countryside too! Here are a few Highland cows.

But as for horse-riding, the closest I ever got to that was going to some stables with my dad and feeding sugar cubes to the horses and foals.

I thought we'd look at gradable and non-gradable adjectives. I'm sure you know that adjectives describe nouns. So that's words like hungry, happy, and beautiful. But did you know that adjectives can also be divided into two groups – gradable and non-gradable?

Adjectives that describe qualities that can be measured are called gradable adjectives (for example, big, cold, old, ugly). Adjectives that don't have degrees, that are absolutely one thing or the other, are called non-gradable adjectives (for example, starving, gorgeous, impossible).

So why am I telling you all about these two types of adjectives? Well, because the word 'very' goes with one group and 'absolutely' goes with the other. Can you guess which word goes with which group?

Here's a clue. Here are a couple of sentences from your blog but they're both wrong. Can you see why?

1. I am very delighted
2. They prepare very delicious food

Use of –ing
Next, I thought we'd look at a couple of examples of where we use the –ing form in English, rather than the base from or the infinitive.

1. My favourite activity is riding horses

2. People in our area are used to eating and cooking

Word choice
Although I understood practically all of your blog, I thought you might be interested in a few suggestions for making your English sound more natural and informal. In the sentences below, (A) is what you wrote and (B) is my suggestion for making your writing flow better. You'll notice too that these suggestions are a bit more informal and that's because most blogs use quite an informal tone:

(A) I hope that my writings will gain your interest
(B) I hope that you'll find my writing interesting

(A) it is crowded with orchards of grapes
(B) it has lots of vineyards

A) In addition to the development of the residents of this region in various fields of life, particularly in education, but they also cling to their ancestral lands
B) Although we're interested in developing ourselves (especially through education) we also cling to our ancestral lands and traditions

Finally, there was only one small part of your blog I didn't understand:

Albowaireh region in the winter, a pond is mediated it to irrigat the surrounded fields of grapes, this pond is filled now with the rain water

I though you might mean:

It's winter just now in Albowaireh. We have a pond in the middle of Albowaireh which irrigates the surrounded fields of grapes. This pond is filled with the rain water now.

Do let me know if that's what you meant or if you had something else in mind.

Looking forward to hearing more from you.

Best wishes,


fascinating – very interesting
combine – mix together
highland or highlands – areas with hills and mountains
stables – shelters where horse sleep in Winter
practically all of - almost all of

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The 64 million dollar question

Hi Enrico,

Thanks for your posting. You've really given us food for thought with your jackpot question.

I think most of us would agree with you, your wife and your running chums that a nice house, a long holiday and living the life of Reilly would suit us all just fine!

I must admit I have a slightly different reaction to the question 'What would you do if you won the lottery?' but that's because I spent so many years as an English language teacher. You see there's a particular part of English grammar which most EFL teachers spend a long time teaching – it's called 'the conditional'. There are lots of different types of conditionals but the one I'm talking about here is called 'the second conditional'. We use to talk about things that are unlikely (but possible) to happen and to talk about what we would do if that unlikely thing actually happened. So from a teaching point of view, talking about wining the lottery is a perfect way to get students to practise that particular conditional.

You make the second conditional with:

If + subject + past simple, subject + would + base verb

If I won the jackpot, I would buy a big house.
If he won the lottery, he'd go on a round-the-world cruise
If we won all that money, we would invest it.

Here are some other classic EFL second conditional questions. What are your answers to these ones Enrico?

What would you do if you met someone famous?
If you ruled the world, what new laws would you introduce?
If you saw a snake / a spider/ a rat / an animal you were afraid of, what would you do?

I though we'd look at a few sayings or proverbs that you mentioned in your blog. Before we do though I should point out that when we introduce a saying or proverb we often say something like this:

As they say
As the (old) saying goes
It is said

Although I completely understood what you meant here:

Money don’t give you happiness but it calm your nerves

you could make it sound more natural in English by saying:

As the saying goes, money can't buy you happiness

We don't really have an equivalent to the second half of your saying but Callum, in the Learning English office, suggested:

As they say, money can't buy you happiness but it can make your misery comfortable

I'm not sure I really understand what your second proverb was:

Your attention by money and phisical pains are the same , you keeps care of both of them

I thought perhaps you meant:

Money is like an injury, you have to look after it.

Is that right? Let us know.

And finally, I know you've stopped blogging about running but I was thinking of you at the weekend and I dug out a couple of old marathon pictures. Here I am crossing the finishing line in Dublin

And here's me at the end of the Medoc marathon (with my medal round my neck) . That one was through the vineyards of Bordeaux and each vineyard we ran through offered us runners a small glass of wine to enjoy. When you finished the marathon you got a lovely bottle of French wine too. So the sign in this photo says 'The longest marathon in the world' – it wasn't any longer in length than any other marathon, it's just that after you drink all that wine, it seems like the longest marathon in the world! The most enjoyable for sure, but the longest too!

food for thought – serious ideas or topics for us to think about
chums - (informal) friends
living the life of Reilly – having a very easy life without any difficult things to do
suit us all just fine – be perfect for each of us
EFL – (short for) English as a foreign language
sayings (or proverbs) - well-known and wise statements, which often have a meaning that is different from the simple meanings of the words they contain
dug out - found something, after looking for it for a long time
vineyards – fields where grapes are grown to make wine

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Music to run to

Hi Enrico,

Thanks for your latest posting. It was really interesting hearing about the kind of music you like. Music is so personal, isn't it? Do you find running with music makes you bond with certain tracks? Do you make special music mixes for races? I know I did, and to this day, there are some songs that can immediately take me back to a particular run or race whenever I hear them.

When I ran the Dublin marathon it was so long ago that I was using a little Walkman tape recorder to listen to my special marathon mix. As I told you before, I was quite a slow runner so I even managed to run out of batteries during the marathon so I had to stop and go into a little shop to buy some more. I remember there was a young lad in the shop who started making fun of my being in the shop (with my running number on – clearly in the marathon). He said in a really loud voice for everyone to hear 'Oi! This woman's cheating! She's stopped for a rest in here. She's not allowed to do that, so she's not!' I tell you, I paid for those batteries and got out of that shop as fast as I could! I was mortified!

But I still had a great time on that marathon and can remember as clear as day the finishing line coming into sight with Kirsty MacColl blasting 'Us Amazonians' in my ears. I just flew along on the last couple of minutes of the race, thanks to Kirsty!

Let us know what your inspirational running tracks are Enrico.

Today I thought we'd look at a few areas – spelling and apostrophes to show possession (that something belongs to someone).

Here are some words that you didn't spell correctly. I think a few of them might just have been a slip when you were typing, but can you have a look at them and see if you can correct them?

studing (English)

In English, we use an apostrophe before the s to show that something belongs to a person (or animal). For example, if you want to talk about one girl who has one book, you can write:
The girl's book

One student who has one newspaper:
The student's newspaper

One dog with a bone:
The dog's bone.

If you put the apostrophe after the s it shows that something belongs to more than one person (or animal). For example, if you want to talk about three girls and their books, you can write:
The girls' books.

Two students sharing one newspaper:
The students' newspaper.

Fours dogs and their bones
The dogs' bones.

Can you see how you could improve this phrase from your last posting?

The Brazilian godmother of my daughter.

Apostrophes are often difficult for lots of students because there is no equivalent in their own language (in Italian you'd say the godmother of my daughter, wouldn't you Enrico?) So don't worry, you're not alone with finding this area of English difficult!

There is one problem you should be aware of after you've mastered the possessive apostrophe, and that's that you don't overuse it. Usually if the thing that is owned is an object, a piece of furniture or a building, we don't use an apostrophe. Here are a few example:

We write:
The computer keyboard
The back of the chair
The cinema entrance

The computer's keyboard
The chair's back
The cinema's entrance

If you like, here's a little task for you to do which you can post with your next blog. Have a look at these sentences and decide if they are correct or wrong. If they're correct, just write 'correct' next to the number. If they're wrong, re-write them correctly.

1. The girls shoes (2 girls, each with a pair of shoes)
2. The tourist's passports (3 tourists, each tourist has a passport)
3. The boy's pens (1 boy with 5 pens)
4. The book's cover
5. The runner's numbers (25 runners, each with a number)
6. The uncle of my friend
7. The drivers' cars (4 drivers, each with a car)
8. The doctors surgery (1 doctor with her surgery)
9. My kitchen sink
10. The babys toys (one baby with a lot of toys)

personal - relating or belonging to a single person rather than to a group or an organization
mixes – mixtures, varieties of
bond with– have a close connection with
tracks – songs on a CD or record
to this day – even though it was a long time ago
run out of– If you run out of something you have no more of it left (here, my batteries no longer worked, there was no power left in them)
lad – young man
mortified – very embarrassed
remember as clear as day – remember very clearly
blasting - making a very loud noise (here, the music was playing very loudly)
possession - something you own
a slip – a mistake
you've mastered – you are able to do something very effectively
overuse – use too much

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The buzz of running

Hi Enrico,

Wow! You guys train hard! I'm so impressed with your friend Ernesto for running 27 marathons! He must be incredibly fit! How many marathons have you run? Are you getting anywhere close to Ernesto's 27?

I've run four marathons (Amsterdam, Dublin, Berlin and Medoc) back between 2000 and 2003.

I stopped running a few years ago when I injured my knee and although I like biking, I do still miss the buzz of running.

Not matter how long or far I ran I always found the first five or siz kilometres really hard. What part of your training runs do you find hard – the beginning, the middle or the end? I used to find that once I'd got into the swing of a training run, I could run for hours, but those first 30 minutes were always the killer for me.

I was never a particularly fast runner but what I liked most about running was being out and about in the world. I used to run along an old canal and loved the way my mind would just float above the running and I'd start to have really creative and interesting thoughts (well, they were interesting to me!). What is it about running that you like the best? What do you particularly like about running?

I love all the pictures you post. It makes me remember all those long weekend runs when I was in training. And that cup of coffee at the end! I bet that tastes good!

I though we'd look at a couple of aspects of your grammar from your posts: 1) the present simple and 2) keeping your writing in the same tense.

In English we can use the present simple (I run, she/he/it runs, we/they/you run) to talk about habits, things we do regularly or routines. Your Sunday training runs fall into this category because it's something you do regularly, so this is the perfect time to use the present simple. For example, you said:

1) I'm checking my runner shoes
2) We are planning 01:00 hour of basic training
3) We joking all the time

But since you do these things almost every Sunday, it would be better to say:

1) I check my running shoes
2) We plan an hour of basic training

3) Can you figure out what you should say for this one?

In English we usually keep our writing in the same tense in one paragraph unless there's a reason to change tenses. We can move from the past simple to the past perfect to show that one action happened before another one. For example, I was on the bus (past simple) when I realised (past simple) that I had left my umbrella (past perfect) at home. But in general, if we start in one tense, we usually stick with it in one paragraph. Let's look at the verbs one of your paragraphs:

We run in the countryside. Alberto is in front of me with a good pace. Then I took a photo of some amateur cyclists we come across by chance.

There are two past simple verbs and two present simple verbs. Since you're talking about what happened last week, the past simple tense would be better for all of your verbs. Can you see how you could improve this paragraph now?

Looking forward to hearing from you again soon.

All the best,

fit – someone who is healthy and who does a lot of exercising regularly
the buzz – the exciting or good feeling
got into the swing of – got used to something
the killer – the most difficult part of something
out and about – outside (not inside in your house)
stick with it – continue with it, don't change from it

Thursday, 07 January 2010

New Year's resolutions

Hi Enrico,

Happy New Year to you! It looks like you've started January off the way so many people plan to but don't actually get round to doing! I salute you for your endeavours! I'm sure lots of people reading your blog are very impressed by your running schedule.

It's so cold here in London just now I can't imagine many people running the distances you run, or maybe I'm just a wimp!

My way of keeping in shape is to ride my bike to work most days. But since the recent cold snap started, I have to admit I haven't ridden my bike once! Have you got any advice to get me back on it?

Now, let's have a look at your recent blog. I'd like to concentrate on just a couple of areas today – formal and informal language, and noun and adjective agreement.

There are a few times you used quite formal language and in a blog, the tone is usually informal. I think a few of the terms you used were from Italian and although your meaning is clear, I think we could improve on the word choice. I want to zoom in on the word localized and the symbol (+/-) , and so I hope you don't mind I've changed a few other words in the sentence so that we don't get distracted by them.

The town is localized (+/- )18 km from where I live in Rome.

Localized is a very formal word in English (as is the word situated). It would be more natural for us just to use the verb to be, and to say:

The town is 18 km from where I live.

In that sentence you also use the symbol (+/-) which is easy to understand but you could also use the word approximately (rather formal) or the more informal, about.

So you could write your original sentence like this:

The town is about 18 kms from where I live.

The word guys is very informal but we don't usually use it to talk about our children. It's a word we tend to use to talk about our friends or colleagues. To talk about our children, we tend to use boys (if they are young) or sons (to talk about either young or old male children). So instead of saying:

We have 2 guys and a baby.

You could say:

We have 2 sons and a daughter.


We have 2 boys and a girl.


We have 2 younger boys and a baby girl.

In English, we don't have to make adjectives plural when we use them with plural nouns. Dear is an adjective and friend is a noun. So instead of saying dears friends you should say dear friends.

Can you see what's wrong here?

I've known other runners friends.

Thanks for sharing all your lovely photos with us. Looking forward to hearing from you again.

Best wishes,


salute – if you salute someone you think they are doing something very brave or difficult
endeavours – tasks or things that are difficult or dangerous to do
plan – prepare or make arrangements to do things in the future
get round to doing – plan to do something (which you might not want to do because it's difficult or boring)
impressed – amazed
a wimp – a person who isn't very brave
cold snap – short period of cold weather
zoom in on – concentrate on, give full attention to
we don't get distracted by them – we don't give them our full attention (when we should be looking at something, here, the formal/informal language in the sentence)
colleagues – people we work with

From BBC Learning English

Thanks so much to all our teacher and student bloggers for their fantastic contributions in December 2009. It was lovely to catch up with all your news, views and photos!

All the best for 2010!

The BBC Learning English team

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Is it really?

Is it really New Year's Eve again? Yes it is! I'm sure it didn't use to happen as often as this, did it? It won't be long before the clock strikes twelve and we embark on another new year.

It's been a great pleasure to take part in this blog again, and to read contributions from fellow-bloggers old and new. The experience has reminded me just what a marvellous resource this is - I really wish I was learning English, so that I could make full use of it!

Anyway, very best wishes to all of you - for your English, and for all your other ventures in the coming year.


February 2010

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