Saturday 29 October 2011

There is or there are?

The rule is quite clear...or is it? We generally use 'there is' or 'there are' to talk about the existence (or not) of something, and the general rule is that we use 'are' with plural subjects.

There is a girl from Greenland in our class.
Can you believe that there aren't any messages for me on Facebook?
There are supposed to be five of us. Who's missing?

However, in informal speech, we often use there is with plural nouns:

There's some children coming to play trick or treat tonight; have we got anything to give them?

In fact, to my ears, saying 'there are some children coming' actually sounds odd, even though it's grammatically correct!
So, could we say 'there is going to be some changes around here'? I'd say, informally, yes.

Are there any grammarians among us to refute what I've just said?

But, there's worse.

What do we do when there are multiple subjects?

There is a Korean girl, a Danish man, and an American Indian in my class.
There are a Korean girl, a Danish man, and an American Indian in my class.

Which would you use?

I know which one I would use. Using there are sounds positively awkward to my ears.

However, I would say:

There are two Korean girls, a Danish man, and an American Indian in my class.


The reason is because ellipsis is present in these case. What we really want to say is:

There is a Korean girl, there is a Danish man, and there is an American Indian ...

In other words, we use the verb that coincides with the first subject... in speaking anyway. The reason is, perhaps, we hear the words 'There are a Korean girl', and we wince because we haven't heard what is to come later. However, in writing, when we see the plural verb, we skim across, and we see that there are more subjects, so the brain accepts it.

The best way to avoid these situations is to use the plural subject first! In the case of multiple singular subjects, I'd tend to avoid ellipsis, and repeat:

There is a Korean girl...there is a Danish man...and, there is even an Indian American ...!

Any comments from the experts?


Friday 28 October 2011

Practice or Practise?

Practice or Practise? Both sound the same: /ˈpræktɪs/, but one is a noun and the other is a verb. The Americans don't make it better by spelling both the same way: practice.

The way I remember it is very simple. Noun comes before Verb in our alphabet, and similarly, C comes before S; therefore, the N corresponds to the C, and the V corresponds to the S; in other words, practice is the noun, and practise is the verb!


Either...or... + singular or plural verb?

First of all, I'd like to point out that in British pronunciation, both
/ˈaɪðə(r)/ and /ˈiːðə(r)/ are acceptable. The US tend to use the latter version.

Either usually means 'one or the other':

Either you choose me, or her. You can't have both!

The reason why a lot of people have doubts over whether  either...or... carries a singular or plural verb is very simple - both are acceptable! The same goes for neither ...or...

Having said that, however, a singular verb is more common, and is certainly preferred in formal usage.

Which restaurant shall we go to? 
Either Fuji or The Golden Lotus is fine. I like the sushi in Fuji, but I prefer the duck in the Golden Lotus.

Do either of you know how to get there?

Can you believe that neither my father nor my mother drive?

I wasted my journey. Neither James nor Melanie was in.


    Or buy from

Thursday 27 October 2011

Used to + infinitive or -ing?

There are two forms of 'used to'.

When we talk about past habits and states, especially when they are no longer true, used to is followed by a verb in the infinitive form and 
always refers to the past.

When we want to convey the meaning of 'accustomed to', used to  is followed by a verb in the -ing form; this version exists in all the tenses: present, past and future. In addition it has to be preceded by the verb 'be', 'become' or 'get'.

Past habits and states

I used to have long hair, but no-one believes me!
She used to be so shy, but just look at her now!
Didn't they use to play for Barcelona football club?
My wife never used to like technological gadgets, but now she can't live without them.

Accustomed to

I am used to staying on my own now but I used to be terrified.
After all these years, Jason still hasn't got used to driving on the right.
Don't worry, you'll soon become used to everyone stopping you on the streets to say hello.
It took her a long while, but she eventually became used to eating with chopsticks.

It is worth pointing out here that the 'to' in this 'used to' is a preposition. One way of knowing if it's a preposition is to substitute what comes after it with a noun. If it sounds good, it's correct!

I am used to spicy food. (I am used to eating spicy food)
Jill hasn't got used to her Mac yet; she still misses her old PC.

For the difference between 'would' and 'used to' see:


Tuesday 18 October 2011

Grammar Blog of the Year Deadline Extended

Best grammar blog 2011

It has been such a frantic weekend that decided to extend the deadline by 3 days, after disqualifying the 'top' two blogs. The official deadline now is Thursday, 20th October, 23:59 PST (Pacific Standard Time), and the winner will be announced on Friday 21st October.

So, I don't have to say it - we're currently leading, so keep it there! Oh, please do be careful - it's one vote per person, although it's still unclear how they are going to control that. Thanks to EVERYONE who has voted and who has been keeping the campaign going on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere in the cyber world! 

Thank you!

Saturday 15 October 2011

Compound Adjectives: To Hyphenate or not?

What are compound adjectives?

These are adjectives which are made up of more than one word, and there are many possible combinations.

  • adjective + noun: last-minute, shoulder-length
  • noun + adjective: lead-free, goal-hungry
Very often, a -d or -ed is added to a noun to make it a past-participle construction.
  • adjective + past participle: loud-mouthed, red-haired
  • adjective/noun/adverb + present participle: evil-looking, awe-inspiring, never-ending
  • number + noun: twenty-dollar, ten-kilometre
Whether these adjectives should be hyphenated or not is a difficult decision. The best advice would be to consult a good dictionary.

Generally, if there isn't any risk of ambiguity, or the compound adjective is a common one, hyphens aren't necessary.

Consider these:

He's just gone out for an early-morning run.
He's just gone out for an early morning run.

Both mean the same.

Brad is a Chinese martial arts practitioner.
Brad is a Chinese-martial-arts practitioner.

Is Brad Chinese or isn't he? Does he practise Chinese, Japanese or Indonesian martial arts?

However, there are certain compound adjectives that are always hyphenated, unless they can be written as one word.
  • Numbers: fifty-dollar bill, one-man show, thirty-five-year-old woman, 21st-century technology
  • Present participle construction (see above): good-looking actor, deeply-boring lesson
  • Past participle construction (see above): tongue-tied child, old-aged pensioners
  • Colours: yellowish-blue skirt, light-purple top
  • Comparatives and superlatives: highest-ever inflation, lower-paid sector
These are general guidelines. When in doubt, consult a dictionary, or ask in Twitter with the hashtag #grammar. Be sure to follow me!


Friday 14 October 2011

Best Grammar Blog 2011

Best grammar blog 2011

We're getting into the final countdown, and there seems to be a strong surge in voting. A CLIL To Climb is currently lying in second place, with fans of the third-spot blog frantically voting to move it up, while the top-spot contender is also strongly defending its position. And the pig in the middle?

I'm getting a fair number of visits from the nomination page, but are you voting for me? ;-)

Regardless of my final position, I'd like to thank each and every one of you who has voted! I'm honoured to be up there especially taking into account the fact that this is a one-man show, sustained by little more than pure love of sharing.

Tricky Words: Affect or Effect? What are the Differences?

If one of our peers can make the mistake, then they must indeed be rather difficult to distinguish, so let's analyse them.

In the first instance, both affect and effect have their verb and their noun forms, but it's safe to mention here that affect as a verb is more common than effect the verb, and, likewise, effect as a noun is heard more often than affect as a noun.

affect, verb /əˈfekt/

If something affects someone or something else, it changes or influences them.

How will the new cutbacks affect us?
Even the threat of rain does not affect his decision to go for a run.

It is often used to talk about causing physical damages.

Northern Japan was badly affected by the enormous seaquake and tsunami.
How badly has New Zealand been affected by the recent oil spill?

We also used it to refer to strong feelings or emotions.

The kids have been deeply affected by their father's death.
There is no telling how their parents' divorce will affect them.

effect, verb /ɪˈfekt/

This is a formal verb and isn't used much. It means to achieve, to produce, to make something occur.

Seeing how badly their divorce has affected their children, they are trying to effect a reconciliation.

affect, noun /ˈæfekt/ (Notice how the pronunciation differs from that of the verb)

This is even rarer than effect as a verb, and is most often used in psychology and psychiatry to refer to feelings or emotions. We are more likely to hear affection /əˈfekʃ(ə)n/, which refers to a feeling of caring about someone or something.

effect, noun /ɪˈfekt/

This is used to refer to a result or an influence.

They are studying what effects the oil spill has on the ecosystems around the area.
Do you think technology has adverse effects on us?

For more meanings on affect and effect, consult a good dictionary.


Thursday 13 October 2011

When to use Who or Whom?

 I was rather surprised to see this tweet, and was even more surprised to see it being retweeted. 

So, when do we use 'whom'? To be honest, it is rarely used in informal spoken conversations, and you're more likely to see it in written form, but let's take a more detailed look at 'who' and 'whom'.

As a question word

Who is used without a following noun to ask about people.

Who is that boy standing over there?
Who was your favourite teacher?
Who said that?

Note that here we are using who to ask for the subject.

We also use who as an object in questions.

Who is she going out with?
Who does she love?
Who are they following?

Whom is possible here, but sounds rather stiff and formal.

With whom is she going out? (We prefer to use prepositions before whom)
Whom does she love?
Whom are they helping?

As a subject of a defining relative clause

Last night I saw the teacher who teaches us technology.

Who is the subject of the relative clause:

I saw the teacher. The teacher teaches us technology.

We cannot use whom, nor can we remove who.

As an object of a defining relative clause

That's the teacher who I saw last night.

Who is the object of the relative clause:

That's the teacher. I saw the teacher last night.

In this case, we can use whom (more formal) instead of who, or leave it out altogether.

That's the teacher who/whom/- I saw last night.

As a subject of a non-defining relative clause

Non-defining relative clauses are more common in a formal style, especially in writing.

I saw Mrs. Potter, who teaches us technology, last night.

We cannot remove who nor can we use whom instead.

As an object of a non-defining relative clause

That's Mrs. Potter, who I saw last night.

Since non-defining clauses are more formal, and we prefer whom in formal styles, we often replace who with whom here.

That's Mrs. Potter, whom I saw last night.

In cases where a preposition is present, we prefer it before whom.

He is very angry with Paris, who he had an argument with last week.
He is very angry with Paris, with whom he had an argument last week.

Valerie, who I told you about just now, is getting married.
Valerie, about whom I told you just now, is getting married.

Here's a group from the Swinging Sixties, Juicy Lucy, performing a Bo Diddley tune, 'Who do you love?'


Wednesday 12 October 2011

How to insert an image from Flickr to your blog/website

First and foremost, if an image is protected by copyright, you won't be able to download nor use it. In my Useful Resources page, you can find several links to sites where you can obtain copyright-free images. One of the most useful sites for teachers is the ELTPICS group in Flickr, where images are photographed and uploaded by teachers.

Each week, on Twitter, teachers are invited to send their own pictures for a theme (although they can upload photos for the other sets, too).

There are several ways you can search for an image. If you enter on the above link, you'll find the latest photos which have been uploaded, and on the right of the page, you'll find the latest sets. If you wish to look at all the sets, you can click on this link. You can also search by tags.

If you want to look for a particular teacher's photos and know his user name, you can use the search box. Don't forget to select "eltpic's Photostream":

When you've found your image, it will most likely be a thumbnail. Click on this to see a larger version. If you then want to use the image, remember to mention where you got it from! Now, you'd need the html code to insert it to your blog or website.

As you can see from the image above, you'd need to click on the Share button and select 'Grab the HTML/BBCode". The HTML Code will pop up.

Select the size you want, and copy the code. If you just want the url, copy only the part which is underlined in red. You may need to copy and paste it somewhere else first, such as Notepad, before you can do it.

Friday 7 October 2011

Saxon Genitive: Steve Jobs's or Steve Jobs'?

I was surprised, to say the least, to see this on Twitter yesterday.

I immediately responded with this tweet.

The apostrophe 's to denote possession is also known as 'Saxon genitive', which originated from Anglo-Saxon, also known as Old English. The fact that English is the only language to use this form of spelling makes it difficult for learners. The purpose of this post is not, however, to explain the rules governing the use of the possessive 's. For that, I'd suggest looking at your favourite grammar book.

Here, I'd just like to touch on the spelling bit.

Singular noun not ending in '-s'

This is straightforward. We just add 's to a singular noun.

my wife's bicycle
my friend's computer
Max's mobile phone
Spain's economic crisis

Regular plural nouns

This is also straightforward. We add the apostrophe at the end.

their sons' school
her parents' business
the girls' boyfriends

Irregular plurals

These get an 's just like singular nouns.

the children's video games
women's rights
people's choice

Nouns ending with -s

Here, we can either add 's or just an apostrophe at the end. It is said that adding 's is a more common procedure. Some follow the rule of adding 's if it's a singular noun and only ' if it's a plural noun.

Charles' wife OR Charles's wife
Steve Jobs' death OR Steve Jobs's death
Doris' iPad or Doris's iPad

It is worth pointing out the pronunciation rules though. The ending '-s is pronounced just as in that of plurals.

Alice's /ˈælɪsɪz/
Jobs's /ˈdʒɑːbzɪz/
St. James's Park /seɪnt ˈdʒeɪmzɪz pɑːk /
Socrates' /ˈsɒkrətiːziz/


Thursday 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs 24 Feb 1955 - 5 Oct 2011, R.I.P.

This is indeed a sad day for many, and whether you're an Apple fan or not, I'm sure it must have affected you.

There's nothing I can add to what has been said before, and what is still being said now, so I'll let Steve speaks for himself.



Saturday 1 October 2011

All I want is OR are...?

ELT EFL ESL CLIL Grammar Doubts: All I want is or are
I recently stumbled upon a tweet by @beth0513: "Which is correct? All I smell is burning tires *or* are burning tires".

This is quite interesting. Intuitively, I'd say 'is' because I remember the song,"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth"! But, remember my "Lay down, Sally" post? So, I decided to check up on cleft sentences, as these structures are grammatically called.

Michael Swan in Practical English Usage (3rd Edition 130.1-130.5) says "We can emphasise particular words and expressions by putting everything into a kind of relative clause except the words we want to emphasise... The words to be emphasised are joined to the relative clause by is/was and an expression like the person who, or what".

What I smelt was burning tyres.
What I wanted for Christmas was my two front teeth.

'What' can be substituted by 'all' in these cases, and it means "everything" or "the only thing". More examples:

All the students asked for was less of grammar and more of situational dialogues.
All we did at the weekend was swimming and reading.

Michael Swan went on to say "A what-clause is normally considered to be singular; if it begins a cleft sentence it is followed by is/was. But a plural verb is sometimes possible before a plural noun in an informal style."

In other words, @beth0513, we can also say, albeit informally,

All I smell are burning tyres!

I love a grammar challenge, so if you have one, send it to me!