Archive for August, 2010

grammatical expression: of all (things), (people), (places)

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There’s another very common short expression that native English speakers use a lot in conversation that I’d like to go over today: “of all”. It can be used in the following expressions: “of all things”, “of all people” and “of all places”. It is used to emphasize surprise or displeasure about certain things, people or places. For example:

I asked my girlfriend what she wanted to do on Saturday, and she chose to go skydiving of all things! I couldn’t believe it!

My husband gave me a present yesterday and, of all things, it was a kitten! I was so surprised!

A: Who did the boss give the promotion to?

B: It was Jack of all people! He’s only been with the company for six months! Everyone was surprised, including Jack.

I ran into someone at the supermarket yesterday and, of all people, it was my ex-boyfriend! It was very awkward!

My husband and I are trying to decide where to go on vacation and, of all places, he wants to go to Israel! I have no idea why he wants to go there!

In January, my boss is sending me on a business trip to Canada of all places! It’s going to be so cold there in January!

So, in the example sentences, the people are basically saying that of all the possible things, people or places in the world, this particular thing, person or place was chosen, and they are very surprised about that. The feeling is usually a little negative when people use this expression.

adjective: clumsy

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Wednesday is adjective day. So today, I’d like to write about the word “clumsy”. In English, it has two meanings:

1. a person who has trouble controlling their physical movements and who drops things or falls down by accident. For example:

My sister is really clumsy. She’s always hurting herself by accident. Sometimes I worry about her.

I’m sorry for spilling wine on your carpet. I’m so clumsy today.

A: Who’s the clumsiest person in your family?

B: It’s my father. My mother won’t let him wash the dishes now because he often drops the glasses.

2. something that is badly constructed or made. For example:

The artist’s earlier paintings are quite clumsy in comparison with his later work.

Many of the sentences in your essay are clumsy and too long. I’d like you to rewrite them.

The construction company got a bad reputation because they did clumsy work on many of their previous buildings.

When we talk about a person being clumsy, sometimes it’s a general condition (as in the first and third example sentences), and sometimes it’s a temporary condition (as in the second example sentence). I think most people are clumsy sometimes, but only a few people are clumsy all the time.

grammatical word: tried

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I have noticed a common misunderstanding among my students with the word “try”. As most people know, this word means to attempt to do something. However, when we use it in the past tense, it can have two different meanings. If we follow the word “tried” with an infinitive (to + base form of a verb), it means that we failed to do something that we were attempting to do. However, if we follow it with a gerund (-ing form of a verb), it means that we successfully did the thing we were attempting but that the result was not what we wanted. For example:

It’s really hot in this room. I tried to open the window, but I couldn’t.

It’s really hot in this room. I tried opening the window, but it didn’t work.

In the first sentence, the person made an effort to open the window, but it didn’t open. In the second sentence, the person was able to open the window, but it didn’t cool the room down. Here are some more examples:

I tried to quit smoking last year, but it was too hard for me.

I tried to call you yesterday, but the line was busy.

We tried to get a reservation at the new Italian restaurant downtown, but we couldn’t. It must be very popular.

I have a headache. I tried taking this medicine, but I still have it.

I need someone to work for me on Friday. I tried asking Bill, but he said no.

I have a lot of ants in my house. I tried using this bug spray to kill them, but it didn’t work.

Some verbs can be followed by either the infinitive or the gerund forms of other verbs with no change in meaning. For example, this is the case with words like “like”, “love”, “don’t like” and “hate”. However, other verbs can only take one form or the other, but not both. This is the case with the verb “enjoy”. We can say, “I enjoy exercising.”, but we CANNOT say, “I enjoy to exercise.”

the difference between words: see, look at and watch

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Today I want to write about another confusion for many non-native English speakers: the difference between “see”, “look at” and “watch”.  Basically, the word “see” means that we can perceive something visually with our eyes; the term “look at” means that are focusing on something with our eyes; the word “watch” also means we are focusing on something but that it is moving, and we are following the movement with our eyes. Here are some example sentences:

I can see the sign for a Chinese restaurant down the street. Let’s have lunch there.

You were supposed to stop the car. Didn’t you see the stop sign?

I saw a really nice coat in the window of ABC department store. I want to buy it.

You should come and look at this picture. It’s really nice.

Don’t look at my face! I have a lot of pimples right now!

Just look at this room! It’s so dirty! We have to clean it up.

I watched a DVD with my friend last night.

I like to sit by the window at this cafe and watch people walking around outside.

My science teacher asked us to watch an experiment he was performing.

However, the verb “see” has a few other meanings which some people don’t realize. Here are some of them:

1. to date someone. For example:

I’m seeing someone now. We’ve been dating for six months.

2. to have a meeting with someone you already know. For example:

I saw my best friend last night. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant.

3. to find out some information that you don’t have. For example:

I don’t know when the delivery date is. I’ll go and see if my boss knows.

4. to watch a public performance. For example:

My friend and I saw a movie last night. We went to the new movie theater downtown. It was really nice!

So, if we watch a play or a movie in a theater, we use “see”, but if we watch a movie at home on TV or DVD, we use “watch”.

idiom: no strings attached

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I have another good idiom for you today: “no strings attached”. It is used when we want to say we will do something for another person without expecting to receive anything in return. For example:

My friend lent me his car last weekend with no strings attached. He’s such a nice guy!

A: I can help you move this weekend if you’d like me to.

B: Really? What do you want in return?

A: Nothing. No strings attached. I just want to do something nice for you.

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A: The boss just gave me the day off tomorrow. No strings attached!

B: Really? That’s amazing! Why did he do that?

A: He said it was because I’ve been working really hard lately.

In the case of this expressions, the “strings” represent the conditions under which someone will do something for you. So, if there are “strings” in the first example, the friend might expect to borrow something else from the person in exchange for the use of their car. In the last example, the boss might expect the employee to work on another day when they aren’t supposed to work. However, in these cases, there are “no strings”, so nothing is expected.

inseparable phrasal verb: go by

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The phrasal verb for this week is “go by”. It is inseparable which means that the object (either a noun or a pronoun) will come after the word “by”.  It has three meanings in English.

1. to use as a name (usually a shorter form of someone’s real name). For example:

My name is Michael, but usually I just go by Mike.

My friend Takahiro goes by the name Taka with his foreign friends.

2. for someone to believe something that someone else tells them (often used in the negative). For example:

I never go by what a salesperson in a store tells me. They’ll say anything to make a sale.

If I were you, I wouldn’t go by anything Ian tells you. He tells a lot of lies.

3. to let a chance pass. For example:

My father let his chance for success go by, and now he’s very unhappy.

I have a great opportunity to make some money, and I can’t let it go by.

In the case of the last definition, “go by” is intransitive which means that there is no object in the sentence.

grammatical expression: for good

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I have a short and simple entry for you today about another common expression: “for good”. This basically has the same meaning as the word “forever”. For example:

Next year, I plan to move back to my hometown for good.

I have a part-time job on Sundays for the moment, but I’m not planning to keep it for good. I want to quit it in about a year.

When I get married, I want to stay married for good. Too many of my friends are divorced.

A: Is your brother going to stay in Australia for good?

B: I think so. He just married an Australian woman and says he wants to settle down there.

The expression “for good” is more casual than “forever” and is used to describe personal situations. The word “forever” sounds more formal and is usually used in less personal situations. For example:

The dinosaurs died out thousands of years ago, and now they are gone forever.

We could say “They are gone for good.”, but it sounds too casual for this situation.

adjective: skeptical

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Today I’d like to write about the adjective “skeptical”. It is used to talk about a person having a doubt about someone or something. For example:

I’m very skeptical that the prime minister will lower taxes like he said he would.

Jack said he would help me move this weekend, but I’m pretty skeptical that he’ll actually do it. He usually breaks his promises.

Some people are skeptical about global warming, but I think it’s true.

A: I don’t think Henry will do a good job on this project.

B: Don’t be so skeptical. I have faith in him.

As I mentioned before, “skeptical” is used about people having a doubt, so we say a person is skeptical about someone or something. We DON’T say the situation is skeptical, so we CANNOT say that “Global warming is skeptical.”; we must say, “I’m skeptical about global warming.”

By the way, for the record, I’m NOT skeptical about global warming. I think it’s true.

grammatical word: even

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The word “even” is used very often in English, but most students don’t use it. I think that is because they are unsure of how to use it properly, so they avoid it. In today’s blog entry, I will explain it.

There are two basic ways to use this word as an adverb. The first one is used with comparative adjectives such as “better”, “worse”, “louder”, “more interesting”, etc. In these cases the word “even” means that the thing or person you are describing has become more intense than before, or something that is more intense than something else. For example:

My mom’s lasagna was always very good, but last week she added mushrooms to the recipe, and now it’s even better.

Your grades in high school were bad, but mine were even worse.

My old neighbors were very loud at night, but my new neighbors are even louder than the old ones. I’m going to make a complaint.

I loved the first season of that TV show. In the second season, the producers made some changes, and now it’s even more interesting than ever.

The second way we use “even” is when we are giving an example of an extreme situation and explaining that something that most people consider simple or normal is not a factor in that situation. For example:

My friend doesn’t know how to cook at all. She can’t even fry an egg.

Victor doesn’t like alcohol. He says even one sip of beer makes him feel sick.

I’m sorry, but we’re sold out of wine. There’s not even one bottle left.

My father hates travelling. He won’t even travel to his hometown one hour away.

So, in the first example, many people can’t cook, but most of them can still fry an egg. We use “even” to show that my friend is an extreme example of a person who can’t cook. In the second example, many people don’t like alcohol, but most of them won’t get sick after one sip of beer, so Victor is an extreme example of a person who doesn’t like alcohol. In the third example, we’re emphasizing that there are no bottles of wine left by saying that there’s “not even one bottle left”. In the fourth example, many people hate travelling especially long distances but most of them are willing to drive one hour. However, my father is example of a person that won’t do that simple thing, so we use “even” to emphasize this fact.

the difference between words: will and would

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Recently one of my readers sent me an email asking about the difference between “will” and “would”, so that’s what I’d like to write about today. When we use “will”, it indicates an intention to do something in a situation that is really possible or likely to happen. However, when we use “would”, it indicates an intention to do something in a situation that is only in our imagination or that is very unlikely to happen. For example:

If the weather is nice tomorrow, I will go to the beach.

If it wasn’t raining right now, I would go to the beach.

If I win some money at the casino, I will buy a new stereo.

If I won the lottery, I would buy a new car.

If I get sick this winter, I will go see a doctor.

If I were sick now, I would go see a doctor.

If I get a car this year, I will drive to my hometown.

If I had a car, I would drive to my hometown.

So, as you can see, the pattern with “will” is:

if + present tense verb + will

And the pattern with “would” is:

if + past tense verb + would

It’s important to note that when we use the past tense with “would”, we are NOT talking about the past. We use the past tense only because the grammar demands it.

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