High or tall

‘How high are you?’ is not the right question to ask if you want to know someone’s height. The right question would be ‘How tall are you?’

The adjective ‘tall’ is mostly used with people, trees, buildings, chimneys and electricity pylons, for example: ‘Look at those beautiful, tall trees’ and ‘The Dubai Tower is the tallest building in the world’.

In other situations ‘high’ is used, for example: ‘My garden has high walls’ and ‘Mt Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan’.

Here is a picture of the Burj Dubai, the Dubai Tower.

burj-tower.jpg

On my own / By myself

I know I’m meant to be the teacher, but can anyone help me?

What is the difference between ‘on my own’ and ‘by myself’?

For example: ‘She went to Bali on her own’, and ‘She went to Bali by herself’.

At night or In the night?

A student asked me a very good question: what is the difference between ‘at night’ and ‘in the night’?

It’s a good question because I never thought about this before. The best answer I can give is nothing. There is no real difference.

However ‘at night’ sounds a lot more elegant, and ‘in the night’ sounds rather clumsy.

I always like to use ‘at night’, and the only time I would use ‘in the night’ is if I am writing something like poetry or the lyrics of a song, when the three syllables of ‘in the night’ seem better than the two syllables of ‘at night’.

But I rarely write poetry, so my best advice is to always use ‘at night’.

Eether or Aither

Yesterday one of my students wrote a  comment about my pronunciation of ‘neither’. She said it sounded like ‘naither’ and she wondered if this was an example of British English. The pronunciation of either is very similar, with two possible styles, eether or aither.

I did a little research and it seems that most (but not all) Americans tend to say eether and neether, and most Brits, Canadians and Australians (but not all) tend to say aither and naither, and many people use both.

I use both, and I can’t explain why.  So use either, you can’t go wrong!

Pizza isn’t very delicious (again!)

 pizza.jpeg

Pizza is tasty. Pizza is very tasty. Pizza is delicious. But pizza isn’t very delicious.

The problem is that the adverb ‘very’ and the adjective ‘delicious’ are not used together.

‘Very’ can be used in front of most adjectives, for example: ‘very hungry’, ‘very cold’, and ‘very nice’, and it is used to show a strong feeling. So ‘very tasty pizza’ is a very nice phrase.

However ‘very’ is not used before all adjectives. Some adjectives, for example ‘tasty’, are known as basic adjectives, and they have a strong adjective as a partner, for example ‘delicious’.

Please look at a short list:

basic adjective – strong adjective

tasty – delicious

tired – exhausted

cold – freezing

nice – wonderful

interesting – fascinating

scared – terrified

hungry – starving

‘Very’ can be used with a basic adjective but it is not used with a strong adjective. So ‘very cold’ is OK, but ‘very freezing’ is not OK. And ‘very tasty’ is OK, but ‘very delicious’ is not.

What can we do? The answer is simple: use ‘absolutely’.

The adverb ‘absolutely’ is used with strong adjectives so ‘absolutely delicious’ is what you can say. But, be careful, ‘absolutely’ is used mainly with strong adjectives, so don’t say ‘absolutely tasty’.

If this is very confusing don’t worry because there is an even more useful adverb: ‘really’. This can be used with both basic and strong adjectives, yippee! So ‘really tasty’ and ‘really delicious’ are both OK.

You may think that ‘really’ is not so easy to pronounce, but all you do is touch the top of your mouth with your tongue when you say ‘l’.

So pizza isn’t very delicious, it’s really delicious, especially with ham and pineapple!

No umbrella

Oh dear I forgot my umbrella.

Oh dear I left my umbrella at home.

Which sentence is correct? Answer: both! This morning, by mistake, I didn’t take my umbrella when I walked to the station.

If you look carefully at the top sentences you can see we use the verb ‘to leave’ when we forget something and we mention the place. We use the verb ‘to forget’ when we don’t mention the place. So we cannot say, ‘I forgot my umbrella at home,’ and we cannot say, ‘I left my umbrella.’

But today I was very lucky, there was no rain, so actually I said, “Great, I left my umbrella at home.”

.

This punctuation mark is a period (American English) and a full stop (British English).

It comes at the end of a sentence, immediately after the last word, with no space. After the period there is one space before the next sentence begins with a capital letter.

However if the period comes at the end of a paragraph, then the next sentence will start on the next line.

A period mark is also found in some other situations:

a) In internet and e-mail addresses, where it is called a dot, for example lojol_2p@yahoo.com.ph (my private e-mail address which you can use at any time).

b) In numbers, where it is called a decimal point, for example 3.7, which is “three point seven.”

c) In money it has a similar use, for example $6.25, which is “six dollars and twenty-five cents,” or “six twenty-five.”

If you know of any other situations please let me know.

Blook

As you probably know the word ‘blog’ comes from the word ‘weblog’. Web is the last word of www, World Wide Web, and log means diary or journal.

It’s not a very nice sounding word, but it has become very popular in a short time, and there are a few related words which are now also used, for example: to blog (the verb), and blogger (someone who writes a blog).

And recently another new word has appeared: blook. This has a slightly better sound. It is a mix of blog and book. Some people are now writing their own books onto their blogs. It’s a nice idea.

One of my friends, who uses the blog name ‘dragonlife’ has just started his blook. The title is ‘The life of a Dragon’ and it is a fantasy story in three parts. You can easily find it in Links, which is on the right side of this blog. I wonder if the writer of a blook is called a blooker?

And I am also writing a book (not a blook). This will be made with paper and ink in the normal way. It is not a fantasy book, it is a book for children, and comes with a CD. I’ll let you know more later.

Singular and plural

Countable nouns can be counted. In English it is important if there is ‘one’ (singular) or ‘more than one’ (plural).

The singular noun is simply the base form of that noun, for example: pen, baby, bus, potato, piano.

If there is more than one then we need to use the plural. Most plurals are formed by adding ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the base noun, for example: pens, babies (don’t forget ‘y’ changes to ‘i’), buses, potatoes, pianos.

Some nouns (but not all) which end in ‘f’ change the ‘f’ to ‘v’ and add ‘es’, for example: wolf/wolves, knife/knives, shelf/shelves.

This should be pretty easy for most of you, but you need to be careful because there are a few irregular nouns, for example:

child/children, foot/feet, mouse/mice, tooth/teeth, person/people, woman/women.

Though I think you probably know most of these too. But don’t forget that some nouns have the same singular and plural forms, for example:

sheep/sheep, fish/fish, series/series, crossroads/crossroads.

And there are some plurals which are very strange, for example:

bacterium/bacteria, cactus/cacti, criterion/criteria, fungus/fungi, medium/media, oasis/oases, stadium/stadia, vertebra/vertebrae.

And finally there are some nouns which have no singular, and are plural only, for example:

clothes, congratulations, goods, manners, police, savings, thanks.

Plus many nouns which are considered to be in a ‘pair’, which are also plural only, for example:

scissors, pants, tights, jeans, binoculars, spectacles and scales.

However we say ‘no pens’ or ‘no babies’, so zero is plural! But six babies are better than no babies, so please look at the sextuplets below.
sextuplets.jpg

Shut up!

No, this is not what I said to my students. This is what one student said to another student.

‘Shut up’ is a great phrase, isn’t it? The words are short and sharp and you can say them with real emotion.

‘To shut’ is a verb, and the past form and past participle (pp) are very easy to remember because they are ‘shut, shut’. Basically ‘to shut’ means the same as ‘to close’. For example ‘The shop closes/shuts at 7pm’, where either is used.

Be careful, don’t confuse the verb ‘to close’ with the adjective ‘close’, meaning ‘near’, the spellings are the same but the pronunciation is different, ‘to close’ sounds more like ‘to cloze’.

‘To close’ is better than ‘to shut’ for slow movements like flowers closing at night, and we also close roads (for repair), bank accounts and meetings. And ‘to shut’ is preferred for quick movements, like ‘shut the window, it’s freezing in here’.

So ‘shut up’ is a really strong phrase, but I’m sure my student had a very good reason to use it and, if you want to be even more forceful next time, you can try ‘shut your mouth!’

I hate X’mas

I like Xmas. It’s X’mas that I hate.

X’mas, Xmas, in English no apostrophe, please.

The word is really Christmas. ‘Christ’ refers to Jesus Christ, and ‘mas’ refers to mass, a holy celebration.

So why is Xmas sometimes used? It’s just a quick way of writing Christmas. Perhaps the writer is in a hurry, or there isn’t enough space for a longer word, or maybe someone needs a cheaper neon sign.

So does X mean Christ? Yes it does. In the Greek language Christ is written XPISTOS (sorry my font is incorrect, but this is pretty close). So X is the first letter of Christ.

An apostrophe is mainly used in two situations:

a) As ‘s, rather like の in Japanese, showing ownership or association, for example: Jim’s car. But be careful, in plural words ending in s the apostrophe comes after the s, for example: the students’ restaurant.

b) in place of missing letters. This often happens when two words are joined together and a letter (or letters) is dropped, for example: He’s my friend, rock ‘n’ roll, Hallowe’en.

But, wait a moment. In the word Xmas the X is the first letter of Christ and there are lots of missing letters. So isn’t X’mas better?

Rose tea

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A red beautiful rose?

No! A beautiful red rose. It’s the symbol of England.
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A hot nice cup of tea?

No, a nice hot cup of tea, which tastes even better with a delicious English scone.

Probably the phrases ‘red beautiful rose’ and ‘hot nice cup of tea’ sound strange to you. They seem really weird to me. It’s because the adjective ‘beautiful’ comes before the adjective ‘red’, not after. And the same with ‘nice’ before ‘hot’, not after.

So you can see that adjectives have a certain order. When there is only one adjective for example ‘red rose’, then there is no problem, but when there are two or three or more adjectives then they should go in a certain order.

Here is a guide:

number / opinion / size, temperature etc / colour / origin / material / purpose

So you could say ‘three beautiful big red home-made artificial decorative roses’, if you really wanted.

I should stress that this is a guide, not a rule. Some people use a slightly different order, some people put adjectives in the ‘wrong’ order for emphasis, and some people just don’t care. But, if you follow the guide, then everyone will be sure to understand you, and will not think you are weird.

By the way, have you ever tried rose tea? If you haven’t, don’t! It’s one awful cold pink American leafy health drink.

Present Simple tense

This is the most used tense in English, but it’s not always present and it’s not always simple! Let’s investigate.

1 Form

S=subject, V=verb

  • a) Positive: S V(s)
  • b) Negative: S do(es) not V
  • c) Yes/No question: Do(es) S V ?
  • d) Wh question: Wh_ do(es) S V ?

‘s’ and ‘es’ are used if the subject is he, she or it.

2 Spelling

The base form of the verb is used, so no problem here, except for the ‘s’ form, which can be made in 3 ways.

  • a) Add ‘s’ to the base verb:

eat-eats, live-lives, play-plays, think-thinks.

Special case: have-has

  • b) Add ‘es’ to verbs ending in -ss, -sh, -ch, -x.

kiss-kisses, wash-washes, catch-catches, fix-fixes.

Special cases: do-does, go-goes.

  • c) Verbs ending in consonant + y, change y to i and add ‘es’.

carry-carries, study-studies, fly-flies.

3. Pronunciation

The ‘s’ form is pronounced in 3 ways:

  • a) /s/ eats, makes, gets
  • b) /z/ plays, sees, goes
  • c) /Iz/ washes, dances, fixes

4 Meaning

There is a long list of situations when present simple is used. Here are the main two, which cover about 90% of situations.

  • a) Long-term situations: situations that are (almost) always true, starting from the past and continuing into the future, for eample: facts, opinions, likes.

eg I like strawberries

Jim works in a bank

  • b) Regular actions: often repeated, for example: habit, routine, custom, lifestyle.

eg She plays tennis

Many people eat with chopsticks.

So you can see the present simple is used for normal situations, even though these things may not be happening in the present.

I am sure she doesn’t play tennis all the time, and I’m very sure that many people don’t eat with chopsticks 24 hours a day. And Jim doesn’t work in a bank at nights and weekends and, although I like like strawberries very much, I am not eating any now. I’m drinking a cup of tea, but this is Present Continuous, which we will look at next……

Why a silent k? I don’t _now.

After class today a student politely asked me, “Could you tell me why the k in knife is silent?” I replied, “I don’t know.”

My reply wasn’t good, but it was the truth. There are a few words like this, for example: knee, knot, knock, knickers, knuckle and, of course, know (plus knew and known). So I decided to do some research and find the answer.

It was actually quite easy to find. I googled ‘Why a silent k’, and Google found 26,200,000 sites in 0.15 seconds. The third site had the answer.

In Old English the k was not silent. So the word ‘knife’ was pronounced in full. But this was a little difficult to pronounce. I guess that humans are always finding easier ways to do things, and sometime during the 16th and 17th centuries the difficult k was dropped.

The only mystery is why it remains in the spelling. Maybe it was in so many books that no-one felt like changing the spelling. And if the spelling of ‘know’ was changed to ‘now’ it would probably be a little confusing.

Some people believe that in Scotland the k is not completely silent and that they can hear a small sound before the n.

So the answer is that the k used to be pronounced, but it was a little too difficult so the k sound was dropped but the letter k wasn’t. Know I now!

k.jpeg