Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Language peeves are sometimes a bit hard to understand - the strange case of hard and difficult

I recently came across this, from a commenter at the linguistics blog Arrant Pedantry:
Schoolwork (homework) is not “hard”; it is “difficult”.

Comment at Arrant Pedantry

Googling around, I found a questioner at Stack Exchange saying that this had been a pet peeve of his grandfather, which led me to a discussion at Language Log, where a correspondent KF had written:
Spelling is difficult; walls are hard.
Many people fail to use the word hard correctly….
But why should anyone think using hard to mean difficult to be incorrect?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Whom confusion

Doing a Google site search of TripAdvisor the other day, I noticed that on the first search page for 'the person whom', this expression was used more often to refer to the subject than to the object, in other words incorrectly, in structures like this:
  • She is the woman whom runs the hotel.
Which should of course be:
  • She is the woman who/that runs the hotel.
I know whom causes problems, but I hadn't realised quite to what an extent.
So I decided to try with a couple of other similar expressions, and compare with Facebook and Twitter.
I realise that many of the contributors to these sites are non-native speakers, and in no way do I want to mock anyone by quoting them, whether English is their first or second language, and I have nothing but respect for people who make the effort to write in a language other than their own. I just want to point out the dangers of using whom unless you really know what you're doing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Random thoughts on that and wh-words in it-clefts

A couple of years ago I posted a lesson on cleft sentences where I said:
The structure is:
It is / was + emphasised noun phrase + who / that / when + rest of the sentence
Notice that the use of pronouns is the same as in defining relative clauses:
  • who or that for people
  • that (NOT which) for things and after prepositional phrases
  • As in defining relative clauses, who and that can be left out when they refer to the object or the object of a preposition.
I'll quickly gloss over the fact that I compared using that and not which to the use of pronouns in defining relative clauses (where, of course, we can use which, despite the naysayers).
The problem was that a commenter, a certain elhamcz, had noticed that while I had ruled out which for things, one of the resources I had linked to included it in their list of allowable pronouns, and not surprisingly elhamcz was rather confused. Furthermore elhamcz wanted to know what other relative pronouns or wh-words, for example whom and where, could be used in it-clefts, and whether there were any sources that could provide an answer to this problem.
Now I am neither a linguist nor a grammar expert, and had based my lesson on EFL grammars that I use regularly, but I wondered if perhaps I was being too categorical in dismissing which for things, and should I have included when? Anyway, I decided to have a root around.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Watching on as an expression takes root

Here are a few quotes from the British media:
  • But detectives watched on as he landed and hid on the plane for two hours, before flying off to escape justice.
    The Guardian, Feb 2008
  • Fulham captain Brede Hangeland cannot wait to return to action on Monday after the unusual experience of watching on from the sidelines.
    The Independent, Dec 2012
  • But watching on from the performance boat it's immediately apparent that our boys are struggling into the breeze
    The Daily Telegraph, Sep 2013
  • Chris Hughton, the Norwich manager, watched on as Gary Hooper scored and Fraser Forster saved a penalty in win
    The Times, Jan 2013
  • The 45-year-old had been watching on from the coastline.
    The Daily Mail, Sep 2014
  • Boris Becker watched on as defending champ Novak Djokovic made light work of Slovakian Lukas Lacko
    The Sun, Jan 2014
  • With Olympic champion and world record holder Usain Bolt watching on from the stands
    BBC, Aug 2014
What's this with watching on? Don't we usually say looking on? A contributor at the language forum Pain in the English wondered about the apparently increasing popularity of this expression amongst sports people (hat tip to 'Hairy Scot'). Not having noticed it before, I decided to investigate.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Relative infinitive clauses - uses and exercises

We can sometimes replace a relative pronoun and finite verb with an infinitive. This is sometimes called a relative infinitive clause, or infinitival relative clause. This happens more often with defining relative clauses, but can also occur with non-defining clauses:
  • The first person to speak at the conference was an expert on ...
    (= the first person who spoke ...)
  • Jenny is definitely somebody to keep an eye on.
    (= somebody who you should keep an eye on)
  • The chemist gave her some tablets, to be taken three times a day.
    (= which should be taken / were to be taken)

When can we do this?

There doesn't appear to be a lot of information about this in standard EFL books, but there seem to be two main contexts where we can use an infinitive in a relative clause.
The first gets some space in advanced grammar books, but the second gets hardly a mention, at least not in the context of relative clauses.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Modal past

There are three main ways of talking about the past using modals or their equivalents:
  • Past modals - mainly would and could
  • The use of other, similar verbs
  • Modal perfect - must have, can't have etc
Brush up your knowledge of modal past by doing a few exercises.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Verb patterns - quick quizzes

When one verb follows another they can follow one of several patterns, for example:
  • verb + to-infinitive
  • verb + -ing form (gerund)
  • verb + to--infinitive / -ing form
  • verb + object + (to-) infinitive
  • verb + object + -ing form
  • verb + that clause
There are unfortunately no hard and fast rules as to what pattern to use, although a to-infinitive often looks forward and/or involves an action - He decided to do it (he decided, then he did it), while an -ing form often looks back or is more about reactions, thought processes or emotions - She enjoys kite surfing (she enjoys the experience).
There's a link at the top of this page to a reference page with lists of verbs and their possible patterns, but the only real way to learn these patterns is through practice and exposure: ideally, 'afford to do' and 'admit doing', etc, should come as automatically to learners as 'sing, sang, sung'.
The exercises in this post (especially the first one), will hopefully help you practise these patterns, so that they become automatic. There are also a couple of quizzes to practise using dependent prepositions after verbs.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Inversion with so, such and as - exercises

Here are a couple of exercises on inversion with so, such and as, and a rather nerdy discussion of inversion after than. You can find out much more about inversion, and about why we use inversion and fronting, at a rather longer post I wrote recently (link below).

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Teacher tools - Word shapes

Note - This is a bit of an experiment and is currently in testing mode
The program turns words into shapes, depending on the look of the letters. I'd seen this idea on a couple of websites offering stuff for kids, and I thought it might be fun to work something out.
You can choose between:
  • Word shape only (could be used with separate picture or definition cards)
  • Anagrams inline with word shapes
  • Words shown randomised in a box above word shapes
  • Pictures randomised in a box above word shapes
  • Word shapes with definitions
  • Pictures + anagrams + word shapes
  • Pictures inline with word shapes

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fronting exercises (with a bit of subject-verb inversion)

These ten exercises are intended to give students some pretty intensive practice in fronting. They cover the more common forms of fronting, and include basic instructions on how it is done. For more detail on how they are formed and why we use fronting you could have a look at my post on 'Exploring Inversion and fronting' (link at the bottom).