Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Word building

Learning vocabulary and building words

You need to have a vocabulary notebook, in which you write all the new words you discover. These could be words that you read, or hear or that someone tells you. Rule up your notebook like this...
(Note these are examples.)
New word Part of speech Meaning Use in a sentence
Jellyfish Noun A small sea animal that
usually or often has a
dangerous sting.
When Peter went
diving in Australia he
thought that the
jellyfish were beautiful
but he avoided them
Beautify Verb To make something
(usually a house or
garden) look better
When Sarah and David
bought their new
house, Sarah bought
lots of new plants to
beautify her garden
Trustworthy Adjective Having the quality of
being worth trusting
Sarah has faith in her
accountant, she knows he
is trustworthy
Word building
Root word = trust (noun)
trustworthy (adjective)
untrustworthy (adjective)
+ another suffix
untrustworthiness (noun)
Now, add either a suffix or a prefix to the following words, to make a new word.
1 point for 1 new word, 2 points if you can think of another...
Question: can you add a prefix to a verb? Yes/No/Sometimes
1. __spoil_
2. peace___
3. danger___
4. risk_
5. __sure__

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Infelicities revisited

The Queens English
Infelicities Revisited and Mistaken Meanings


Yes, there are as always, more infelicities that I have had the displeasure of encountering on radio, television and in print of late. Today, I will also include words used by mistake - words that don't mean what the users evidently think they mean.
Obviously these mistaken meanings are innocent - no one uses the wrong word intentionally, do they? Sometimes though the result can be, ironically, apt.
The first mistaken meaning that springs to mind, was used by Ahmed Chalabi, in 2003. he was speaking on the BBC about his being installed as ruler of Iraq, following the ousting and death of Saddam Hussein.
“I shall be” he said “the nominal leader of the Iraqi people.” *
Almost certainly, he did not mean to say what he was in fact saying - that he would be the ruler in name only, and yet that is precisely what he became. He had lived in America for long enough to have known the English language very well - indeed, he spoke well, with the fluency of a native speaker. Interestingly he may well have known exactly what what he was saying... presciently or cynically.
The second mistaken meaning, is one I came across in an interesting and rather bad tempered book, about the mores of contemporary society, by an American professor of English literature. His mistake is a common American one - when he refers to a passage from the novel Jane Eyre, he calls Jane the titular character. The Collins Dictionary, first published 1902, but my edition 1985, defines titular as: “pertaining to title, in name only”. So we see that the word 'titular' has the same meaning as nominal! Jane is not the titular character of the novel Jane Eyre, she is the title character!
The most common infelicity I have heard recently is one I may have mentioned before, and it involves articles. As we all know, the definite article is 'the', and we say 'the' regardless of whether the noun following the article starts with a consonant or a vowel (a,e i o or u.) however the indefinite article, 'a' or 'an' differs depending on whether the following noun starts with a consonant or a vowel. We say 'a book' but we say 'an apple'. Recently, though I have heard people say “a apple” or the like - using 'a' before a word starting with a vowel. Try it and you'll see - it's neither natural nor easy! So why do people do it? I heard a radio reporter say in a news bulletin 'a extraordinary' (I didn't note what it was she was referring to). But what a tongue twister! The same reporter then mentioned, probably a statistic to do with unemployment or inflation - and she said “this leaped”. It ought to have been leapt! That brings me to the vexed question of irregular verbs - but that's for next time...
* I believe he might have meant "the nominated ruler", unless as I have said, he was more cynical and prescient than he seemed.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Studying in New Zealand

Queens English
Studying in New Zealand

This is something some of my readers will want to do, so here's some advice from me (as a teacher who has worked at half a dozen schools in Auckland).

First, get online and find out what city to go to. There are a number of things to take into account - not least, the cost of living. Auckland is pretty expensive, but the good thing about Auckland is that it's the biggest city in New Zealand, and as there are many overseas students here, the population is well used to seeing you all here.

Then choose your school. That's where my advice could come in handy for you. Choose one close to the city, and ideally, you will find accommodation in the city or nearby, which will save on travel costs. Many schools can organise a home stay for you, and one that I know of has a residence (dormitory) for students.

You will probably have to fight off recruiters for various schools who want to sign you up - but don't make a hasty decision. Look for a school which takes your pastoral needs as seriously as it does getting fees from you. Look for one which has a lot of students from your country, as it will no doubt surprise you how homesick you are. Look for a school which will be firm about putting you in at the right level - sometimes you're not ready for IELTS, and will only be wasting your money if you're in an IELTS class too soon.

Here are the names of some schools, and some comments:

Auckland English Academy
I have worked there, and it is with sadness that I recommend you avoid this school. Students have been put in classes at the wrong level, because the school is more interested in your fees than your future. Many (perhaps most) of the teachers are good, and care about your future, but management doesn't seem to, and that applies to the senior teacher as well.

The same remarks as for Auckland English Academy apply, as they do to Goldstar.

Whitireia International
Highly recommended. The staff are strict, but that is a good thing, and they really care about your future.

AIS St Helens
Also recommended. AIS St Helens is in a suburb out from the city (although not far) and it has a dormitory for students, also it can organise home stays, so that's a worry off your mind. The local community is a friendly one, which is another advantage.

And to finish, a bonus - a remark about an idiom. How many meanings has the word stir? Many! As a noun, it has the figurative meaning of 'prison'... as a verb, it can mean to foment trouble, or to hasten progress in an endeavour.

Friday, 24 June 2011

That is the question

The Queens English
That is the Question
24th June 2011

“To be or not to be/That is the question” or so said Shakespeare's Hamlet. This quotation shows one of the uses of the word 'that' - as a determiner.
The question I will answer here, is: “When is the word 'that' used? When are 'which', 'who', 'whose' and 'this' used?
That is a pronoun, and here is a guide to using it.

1. That as a determiner .
The baby sits in his high chair. He is learning to talk, but he isn't there yet. He is ,looking at an open cupboard, and he wants something he can see on the bottom shelf. His mother asks him a question.
“What do you want? Do you want a biscuit? Which kind?”
“That!” he answers triumphantly. He's pointing. Unfortunately his mother still has to guess, as he could be pointing at any one of two or three different kinds...
So, “that” is being used as an answer to the question “which one?”. What Hamlet meant was, that his question was whether it was better to be (alive) or to not be (to be dead.)
However sometimes the answer to the question is not 'that one', but 'this one'. That is the word used
when we're talking about something distant, even if only by a metre, as far as an open kitchen cupboard is from a 10 month old baby in a high chair.
Another child is 5 years old. She's upset, and she's crying with frustration. Her mother comes into the living room, where the child was colouring in a picture her teacher had given her, of a farm yard.
The mother asks “What's the problem, Susan?”
“The dog took my pencil and she chewed it, and slobbered all over it!”
“Which pen?”
Susan holds up an orange colouring pencil. The end of it resembles a paintbrush.
“This one!”
That as a determiner (also this, who and which) are also used in relative clauses. Again, they answer the question - which woman, which house, which job are you talking about?
• The woman, who lives across the road from the school, is the principal.
• The house, which had been on the market since 2007, has finally been sold for $900,000!
• I left my job, in which I was a supermarket check out operator, when I decided to move to Wellington.
• One of my coffee cups, this red one here, got broken when I was out last night. Can any of you explain how that happened?

That, and which are never used to refer to people, but instead, to things and people, and usually animals (except sometimes pets). For people and for domestic animals as can be seen in the first example, 'who' must be
• The sheep, which had been grazing on swampy land, were found to have foot rot, and could not be cured.
• The doctor, who had immigrated from Sri Lanka, had been working as a taxi driver until his qualifications were recognised and he joined the staff of our laboratory.
• I took my cat, who was coughing all day and all night, to see the vet.
You can see that the relative clause (the one between commas) can be removed, and still leave a complete sentence. Its only purpose is to clarify to the listener exactly what is being discussed.
There are rules about when to use 'that' and when to use 'which', but as these rules are somewhat
old-fashioned, I don't think they're important for you to know. But in case you do, visit this site:
which says...
“In the first one, the clause “that is painted pink” is a restrictive clause, because it limits the scope of the word “house”, indicating that the writer doesn’t mean any house, only the one that has been painted in that particular colour; if he takes that clause out, all that’s left is "The house has just been
sold": the reader no longer knows which house is being referred to and the sentence loses some crucial information. In the second example the clause is non-restrictive: the writer is giving additional information about a house he’s describing; the clause "which is painted pink" is here parenthetical — the writer is saying “by the way, the house is painted pink” as an additional bit of
information that’s not essential to the meaning and could be taken out”
and further,
“Older grammar books make two firm points about the difference between the two types of clause:
• Restrictive clauses are introduced by that and are not separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.
• Non-restrictive clauses are introduced by which and must be separated by commas from the rest of the sentence to indicate parenthesis”

2. That as an intensifier.
This use is pretty informal, but it does exist. For instance, I used it this morning, when listening to the radio, and hearing an interview with a singer. Something she said made me exclaim
“Is she really that arrogant?”
You probably won't find that usage in grammar books, but you will hear people using it.

3. That used to introduce quoted speech.
"Lisa Algurri from Wellington Zoo, said that the penguin would be operated on tomorrow to see whether it had an obstruction in its stomach".
(This usage is not acceptable in American English, but then this blog is not about American English, so that's not a problem is it?)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Wordle is a great thing! Through a series of links sent by a friend, I discovered this tool, which creates 'Word Clouds', and I decided to see what they told me about my blog. So, here is one of them...
Wordle: Debbie's World Cloud

And for a bonus, the other - Wordle: English Usage blog

So, what do we learn from that?
Well, the most prominent words in both of them are Use/Used, Example, Verb and know. Check it out!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Verbs + ing

The Queen's English
Friday 27th May 2011
Debby Kean
There are two ways to use a verb that I will be discussing here.
• One is the infinitive - 'to + verb' example: “I love to walk around when we have a sunny
• The other is the verb + ing - example: “I love walking around in the sunshine”.
There are three times when we use verb + ing.
• As a gerund. (That means, the 'ing' form of a verb used as a noun) Example, “Smoking is
• In the continuous tense. Example, “Tomorrow I will be going to the library, I have a book to
• As an adjective. “Sarah gasped when she saw the shining gems against the black velvet of
the display”.

There are some rules learners can use in order to tell which structure is used.
After a preposition, always use verb + ing.
Example: Are you interesting in going for a swim?
I am looking forward to finishing this course
After certain verbs, always use the infinitive. Some of these verbs are: afford, arrange,
beg, ask, decide, fail, hope, promise, refuse and which.
After certain other verbs, you must always use the verb + ing form. These are: Avoid,
delay, detest, dread, enjoy, forgive, miss, postpone, resent and resist.
With some verbs, either the infinitive or the verb + ing form can be used :
I began working/I began to work.
You will need to consult your dictionary to find out which is which! Although this seems onerous,it is really the only thing to do.

Here is an exercise. Complete the sentence with the correct form, gerund or infinitive
1. I intend _________ to Brazil in August go)
2. I arranged ____________ my vacation during the last two weeks (take)
3. I considered _______ to Venezuela or Argentina first. (go)
4. But I decided _________ them for next year. (leave)
5. The government has demanded me/I ______ a visa to go to Brazil (get)
6. That involves _________ in a long line at the Consulate. Stand)
7. I didn't mind _______ the $45.00 fee. (pay)
8. But I hate ________ in lines (wait)
9. I also detest _________ passport photos. (get)
10. I really wanted _______ the country, so I did it. (see)
11. I haven't begun ______ yet. (pack)
12. I'll start soon, because I can't stand _________ in a rush (pack)
13. I remembered _______ my neighbour to take care of my cat.. (ask)
14. She really doesn't mind _______ behind (stay)
15. But she always loves _______ us come back!(see)
Answers to exercise.
1. To go
2. to take
3. going
4. to leave
5. I get
6. standing
7. paying
8. waiting
9. getting
10. to see
11. packing
12. packing
13. to ask
14. staying
15. seeing/to see (either is acceptable)

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Queen's English May 2011
Debby Kean
This entry is simply based on a number of things I have heard or read recently that make me cringe.
You know that feeling you get when you bite into something very cold? Or someone makes you a cup of tea, you take it gratefully, only to find out, with the first sip, that they have put 3 spoonfuls of
sugar in it?
You suck in breath through your teeth, and try to smile. It's not easy!
So - to begin...
Based off - no! Something is based on something else. It cannot possibly be based off, or worse, based 'off of', something else.
Bias/biased. For this one, I am offering an example and my answer to the man...
“You can't get true information from any articles... . Because they are bias in their results.
Man, you're 'bias'!”
“The word you want is 'biased'. Bias is the noun, biased is the adjective”.
(The person thanked me for the grammar lesson. I think he was probably being sarcastic, but he ought not to have been. I had taught him something!)
I have discovered that it is, sadly, quite common for people to confuse noun, adjective and adverb.

Contradictory versus contradictive and I quote : “Just seems kind of contradictive to me”. There is simply no such word as contradictive!
There/their/they're - there's no excuse for a native speaker to mistake these words.
• There - refers to place “Would you bring me that book over there by the radio?”
• Their - an item or items belong to 'them'. “Sarah and Laura both forgot to take their umbrellas to work today”
• They're means 'they are'. “David and Sarah are going to see the travel agent this afternoon. They're going to Dunedin for Labour Day weekend”
Example of misuse is: “while we watch the ignoramuses Walk there ignoramus strut?”

Your/You're - another mistake for which there is no excuse! “That would be my birthday so I hope your wrong.”
Your - belonging to you. “Hey, did you bring your mobile phone?”
You're - You are. “As a newly enrolled student, you're required to have a copy of the New Headway Intermediate student's book by the time class begins next week.”

Plurals with apostrophes
That is a very big no! It is sadly obvious that many people just don't know when to use apostrophes and arguably more important, when not to use them. Apostrophes have two purposes - to express the possessive
“It is Jim's bag over there”, and to stand in for omitted letters, in a contraction - “I can't (cannot) phone now, but I'll (I will) do it when the line is free”. No other use is permitted! Not this for instance: “so a case of Rules for Radical's here”.
(It used to be known as The Grocer's Apostrophe” as grocers (those selling groceries) would have chalkboards outside their shops, advertising specials, such as “Potatoes 59 cents a kilo”. Well, that's what it ought to have said, but
many times the shopper would see a board like this:
• Potato's 59 cent a kilo
• Carrot's 12 cents a kilo
• Newspaper's and bus ticket's also available.
It was amazing also, the creative ways grocers had of spelling the word Potatoes!
More than enough infelicities for now - sadly, I am sure there will be more!

Present simple and other tenses

The Queen's English
Debby Kean

Present simple:
This use is so called, because it's very simple! No, that's not why it's called Present Simple, but as can be seen, it is simple. Maybe it is the first thing a learner knows - “I am a girl” for instance. A baby learns her name, she learns to say Mama and Daddy, and then she learns “I am hungry”. “Eat!” (she means “I (want to, I am, I have) eat/eating/eaten.
You will have learned that in your native language...
Present simple is used in the following situations.
To refer to a regular repeated habit : “We swim every day”
To refer to a future event, (used in temporal/conditional subordinate clauses): “If she comes I'll stop writing”
To refer to a general truth: “Many flowers blossom in spring”
To refer to a fixed event - 'time table tense': “The plane leaves at 10.00”
To refer to events in the past (often used in vivid headlines): “Whina Cooper dies” (This is known as the “historic present”. Whina Cooper was an important person in New Zealand's recent history. )
Past simple
This is used to refer to an event in the past that happened at a particular time: “She left at 5 o'clock”.
Future tenses
Are also very simple - English does not have a future tense as such. What if we want to talk about the future? We need to use modal auxiliaries such as the verbs to have, to be, and would, should and must/might.
To express a decided intention: “We will go swimming every day”
To express a hope with a condition: “If he sends me a text message with his address then I'll be able to send him a birthday present”.
To express a rule and the means of complying: “In order to sit NCEA level 3 physics, you must be enrolled and pay your exam fee by the 7th of October this year”.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sad errors

The Queen's English

Persistent Errors

These are some errors I have seen and heard just today, from native speakers. Shameful, and I know that learners would not make these mistakes - people learning English as a second or other language are of course too careful, and check that they are correct before they write or speak. So, below, is my catalogue of what not to do:
Apostrophes. As Lynne Trussell said the book she wrote on the subject, * apostrophes are not difficult. But many native speakers get them wrong anyway.
Plurals do not take apostrophes and neither do numbers.
Example: “These CD's were all made in the 90's”. Wrong! Neither of those apostrophes is necessary. The sentence should simply be : “These CDs were all made in the 90s”.
Meet as a noun. (Also spend and other nouned verbs or verbed nouns, that come either from business jargon or American English.) Occasionally you will encounter words you know are verbs being used as nouns, or more commonly, nouns used as verbs. Of course there are many words which can be both nouns and verbs (share, for example) which are not wrong... but a dictionary will help you discern which are legitimate and which are not.
Example: “But both rightfully got high placements in the Mangere meet, and I am glad to see that it carried through to the mediation” (from a political article). He ought of course to have said 'the Mangere meeting'.The writer defended his usage when I pointed it out, saying that his usage has “entered the vernacular”. No, it really hasn't, and it should not. Even if he was correct about that, this blog is not about the vernacular it is about correct English! I have found that students want to know what is correct - they can then break the rules once they know what the rules are, and are confident enough to defend what they're doing.
Could of. Example: “at least they could of renegotiated ..”
We native speakers are all taught by parents and teachers, that the correct phrase is 'could have', however, many people say 'could of' and as I have seen today, they even write it! However, 'could of'' clearly came from mishearing, and has entered into, once again, the vernacular.
“Me and John went to the shop”. In English the only acceptable usage is “John and I went”. In English, the speaker always comes last in a list of people - for example
“My sister, my husband and I all went to the supermarket on Saturday”.
When to use I and when to use me? Simply, I is the first person singular subject pronoun - “You and I need to get ready”. Me is an object pronoun - “She needs to talk to Sarah or me.”
If you want to know which to use, for example in a sentence such as “Mother told Carol and I/me to bring our coats” then take out the reference to the other person. “Mother told I to bring my coat”? No, so you know the right word to use must be 'me' in that case.
“Mother told Carol and me to bring our coats”
But it's never, ever “Mother told me and Carol to bring our coats”!
* The book is: 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' by Lynne Trussell. Highly recommended, because aside from anything else, it's funny!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Phrasal verbs using the verb 'to come'

Phrasal verbs, part 1 - using 'to come'

Definition: Phrasal verbs are combinations of verbs with prepositions, adverbs or other verbs, to make a unit, which is taken for granted by native English speakers. Unfortunately, there isn't a rule by which you can learn them, you simply have to take them one by one, as with collocations and of course, idioms.

Here are some common ones using the verb 'to come'.
Come about - to happen, occur.
“That's how the Second World War came about - because of a network of alliances”.

Come across. - to encounter something or someone, usually unexpectedly.
“I came across Mrs Henry when I was at the shop this morning”.

Come up to - to approach something.
“Bob walked over the brow of the hill, and came up to the church where he knew he would see Maria.”

Come along - to accompany someone.
“Hey, Joe” my sister called “do you want to come along to see the lawyer about buying the house, with me?”

Come alongside - to approach very closely.
“As the bus came alongside my car, I saw the woman I had suspected of following me”.

Come around- to change one's mind.
“At first, Sarah didn't want to study geology, but I knew she would come around sooner or later”.

Come down on- to scold or punish.
“My mother really came down hard on me, for making my sister cry”.
There's also an idiom with the same meaning - “she came down on me like a tonne of bricks about it”.

Come down - to accompany someone to a specific place.
“Would you come down to the Post office with me? I need you to sign the car registration form”

Come on - phrase used to cajole or encourage.
“Come on, Cathy, you can do it!”
“Come on, if you do not hurry up, we'll miss the train!”

Come out - to appear
“The sun came out as Linda left the house, chasing the clouds away and warming her cold hands”
and (figuratively)
To reveal something about oneself.
“Steven came out as a fan of anime, although he was afraid of being laughed at”.

Come through. To triumph after having endured something.
“Fortunately, I came through the accident with only a sprained wrist”

come up with- to produce or supply.
“I didn't think Carol had any ideas about her essay, but suddenly she came up with enough information to make a start.”.

come to (someone)- remember or recall.
“I was so embarrassed... I met a really friendly woman at the shopping centre and I know I know her, I just can't remember her name! Oh well, it will come to me”.

Come to - to regain consciousness.
“Linda was unconcious for 2 days after the car crash, but she came to on Friday morning”

Come with - to accompany. Sometimes used (notably in episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) on its own without any subject - for example “Do you want me to come with?” But the more usual usage is:
“I'm going for a walk, do you want to come with me?”

These are the phrasal verbs using the verb 'to come'. It's possible there are more that I am unaware of - if you know of any more, and want them explained or included, please feel free to let me know!
As you can see, one or two of them have more than one meaning, which must be discerned from the context.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Queen's English The Verb “To Be” 08.04.2011

The verb to be is probably the most widely used
in English. Therefore it stands to reason, it's
To deal with present simple first, well it is very
I am
You are
He/she is
We are
They are
It is
Past simple
I was
You were
He/she was
We were
They were
It was
To express future state or intention, of course we
must use a modal auxiliary (will, shall, may or

I will be
You will be
He/she will be
We will be
They will be.
It will be.

Of course, as is true of all verbs, the verb to be
must agree in terms of number and tense.
Recently, I have heard people say (TV reporters
who presumably ought to know better) such
shocking things as 'they was' or 'he were'.
Mothers and fathers correct their children who
make these mistakes.
There is a sign in the
window of a small shopping arcade in town, and
I regularly go past it. One day when I have time
I shall point out to them that the word premises
is actually a plural noun. (Their sign says 'No
cash kept on this premises overnight.)
Premises plural, are shops and businesses, often
but not necessarily in one building. A premise,
singular is another thing altogether - it's “A
proposition upon which an argument is based or
from which a conclusion is derived... “ (from )
Usage note.
As many people will already know, in spoken
English and increasingly in written English, we
tend to miss out part of words such as 'am', and
'will' as a modal for the future tense of the verb to
When we do that, it is written as follows, with an
I am hungry becomes 'I'm hungry'.
I will be going to the supermarket later on today
becomes “I'll be going to the supermarket later on
Idiom watch.
Below are some of the many idioms using the
variants of the verb 'to be'.
To indicate that you're drunk or that someone else
I'm bladdered
You're pissed as a newt.
Tired and emotional
I'm talking on the porcelain telephone
Talking to my friend Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaalph!
To indicate that you or someone else is ill
I'm sick as a dog (poor canines!)
I feel like shit (very informal, in fact if in doubt, don't use, it's vulgar)
I'm not well at all (when you want to be ironic or
minimise your state.)
I'm wrung out
Had it
There are of course more, and I invite people to
contribute their own

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Different (and other ambiguities)

The Queen's English
There's always something different every day. Something that differs from what has gone before.
There's your clue right there - something that differs from something else. Therefore, "different than" is wrong.
It's more wrong than any other thing that is wrong, because it is completely unjustified. But it is sadly a very popular mistake.

Which is something different that brings me to gas, and other ambiguities. (This is becoming essentially, a rant about the ubiquity of American English, but so be it.)
The liquid that powers cars, is petrol. Not gas. As my father, who was a motor mechanic told me many times, it becomes a gas during the cycle of combustion, but when you put it into your car, it is a liquid called petrol. People who ask for 'gas' to put in their car, run the risk of being thought to have an LPG tank. Gasoline is a nonsense word, and originally a trade name, as far as I know.
Chips. Now we're past calling them fries (are we?) all delicious processed potato products are in danger of being called chips. Even when they are actually crisps.
Pants. These are underwear. (We say, by the way, a 'pair of pants' although the noun is singular, because pants, like spectacles and scissors have two parts.) In American English, pants are outerwear and the underwear (for women anyway) are panties, which sound to me like something a baby would wear. My mother's advice, to make sure we had clean pants on in case of accident, before leaving the house, would now be thought to be advice to make sure we are dressed in the
first place!
Bathroom again. The bathroom is the room where you wash yourself. The toilet is the room where you relieve yourself. For reasons of euphemism, American English uses the word bathroom for the second as well as the first. (Some Americans have told me they are psychologically incapable of using the
word toilet). That's apparently why at least according to the television news, aeroplanes have bathrooms!

Like and as

The Queen's English


Time Flies Like an Arrow, Fruit flies like a banana.

Is the sentence above, funny? If so, why is it funny? As a native speaker, I find it hilarious, rib-tickling, it cracks me up. (IW). But then, I love puns, and consider them to be contrary to what my mother used to say, the highest form of wit and humour.
It is funny because it relies on the fact that the word 'like' has two meanings in English.
When I was a child, our English teachers told us that there were many types of figurative language. They drilled us in the differences between metaphors and similes.
Because I expect that most of my readers are not native speakers, I will define those terms.
A simile compares one thing to another, using like or as: 'Carla looked like a gaudy tropical flower, with her red hair and her bright pink shorts and shirt”. (We see that the word simile therefore refers to comparing one thing to another and deciding that they are the same.)
“David laughed as a child does, high-pitched and helpless with mirth.”

A metaphor however, speaks of one thing as if it is another, without using either word :
“When she entered the room, she was a ship in full sail, imposing and magnificent, although more than a little bit frightening”.

It has been my observation that 'as' ought to be used far more than it is, and 'like' should be much less used, which brings me to the second meaning of like.
“I like to have peanut butter on my toast in the mornings, but I don't like the one with sugar, it's too sweet”. (I prefer peanut butter to any other spread, it's my favourite taste, although in my opinion peanut butter with sugar is just wrong and bad.)
“I like Matt, even though he tends to be a bit flighty sometimes”.

In 2007, an Italian friend asked me about the American TV show, 'Dead like me”. Did the title mean, he wondered 'I morti come me', or 'I morti me piace'? For those who don't speak Italian I will explain - he was asking which sense of the word 'like' was being used. The first sense - 'the dead are similar to me”, (or I to them) or the second one 'the dead like me' - I am to their taste. I was able to tell them that the sense of the show's title was the first - the dead are the same as me.

Many people use the word like in sense 1 - similar to, but their hearers assume sense 2. This can give rise to humour, misunderstanding or both. I remember years ago, laughing until I cried at a bit of dialogue on an Australian TV show. A number of men were in a cave in Crete, during World war 2. One of the men, referring to the fact that he felt very claustrophobic (cramped and uncomfortable) said to his fellows “I feel like a wombat” (sense 1, 'I feel similar to a wombat, which is a burrowing animal native to Australia.)
His friend replied “Where are you going to get a wombat from around here?”
I still laugh when I think of it years later, and also I laugh (although I should not) when I remember a friend apologising to me about something. He said “I feel like a *****” (I feel similar to a bad thing.) I offended him bitterly by laughing and asking “Where are you going to get one of those from around here?”
He was not amused, until I explained, then we laughed ourselves sick. (IW).

I have noticed that some people here in New Zealand, and in American film and TV tend to use 'like' in all possible sentences, causing similar ambiguity, although I no longer find it funny. They use 'like' where they ought to use 'as' or 'as if'... “I feel like I don't know what I am doing these days”.
(Ideally they should say “I feel as if I don't know what I am doing these days”. I could multiply the examples, but I don't think I need to, do I?

This is without mentioning other than in passing, the teen use of like as a filler -
“She was like, 'I want to go and buy some shoes' and I was like, 'okay, what kind do you like?”

Therefore my advice is that you use 'like' only as a verb meaning preference, choice or taste, and for sense 1 as a comparative, whenever possible, use 'as' or 'as if'. That way, you can avoid ambiguity.
For example: "Carla looked as gaudy as a tropical flower"...

Cracks me up: Renders me helpless with laughter.
Laughed (myself, ourselves) sick : I/we laughed until we were at risk of vomiting.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Are really very simple, although for learners whose mother tongue does not use articles, they no doubt seem an unnecessary complication.
A is the indefinite article - a book, that is to say any book.
“I went to Whitcoulls yesterday to look for a book”. I did not care what book it was that I bought.
The, is the definite article, and is also a determiner, referring to a particular book.
“The book I bought was on sale for $5.00, and was well worth what I paid for it.”

An, is also the indefinite article, used before words that begin with a vowel or a vowel sound - which is why it is sometimes used before words that start with the letter 'h'. I was taught by my parents to say 'an hotel', because in former years, the 'h' in hotel was not pronounced. Now, for the most part, it is pronounced, and the tutor who accused me recently of linguistic snobbery for saying 'an hotel' was somewhat justified.
However, facts like this do not excuse the man I heard on the radio this morning who said 'a orange'. He had to insert a glottal stop to say it, but say it he did. Considering the pains I have taken to explain to students that they must say 'an orange', the pain caused to my English brain was considerable.
The, is also of course the definite article to use with countable plurals, for example: “The books in my bedroom are all over the floor”.
For uncountable plurals, we use 'some', 'any', many', 'a lot', for example:
“When you go to the supermarket, please buy me some milk” .
Although we can use 'a or the' when talking about uncountable nouns, if we refer to the container - for example: “the bottle of milk”, “the kilogram of rice” or 'a box of cocoa powder'.
There is a phenomenon over the centuries, where the letter 'n' has wandered back and forth between the article and the word, so that Shakespeare could say 'Marry, nuncle'. (Uncle, of course!)
Some words were altered centuries back.
For example, a newt was once an ewt (earlier euft and eft), a nickname was once an eke-name, where eke means "extra" (as in eke out meaning "add to"), and in the other direction, "a napron" became "an apron" and "a naddre" became "an adder."


Today's word is the verb 'to get', perhaps one of the most widely used in English.
I was amazed to come across an assertion made on a language learning site, from someone correcting another member's written submission, that “in English, you can't use 'have got”. Well, you most certainly can, and do!
It's possible that he meant 'in American English you can't' use it.
Americans use 'gotten' and inevitably, so do New Zealanders. The problem is that New Zealanders use it arbitrarily. They seem not to have noticed that Americans use 'gotten' as past perfect, and not past simple. In British English, 'gotten' is purely archaic. It's not in use any more. Hence the confusion in this man's correction.

Present simple
I get
You get
He/She gets
We Get
They Get
Present continuous
I am getting etc

Past simple
I got
You got
He/she got
We got
They got
Past continuous
I was getting etc
Past perfect
I have got
You have got
He/she has got
We have got
They have got
Future simple
I will get
You will get
He/she will get
We will get
They will get.

American English would use 'gotten' in the past perfect column, but beware, those of you who have learned your American English from TV and movies. They do not use gotten for past simple!
Today, as a bonus, I want to say something about the verb 'to do'...
I hear so many people say 'I done it'. No, you haven't - you have done it. Similarly, you cannot say 'I seen it. You must say 'I have seen it', or 'I have done it'. From my observation, this usage is confined to the comparatively uneducated of all nationalities, but is very common in New Zealand.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mad as hell


Today's word is mad - and its many meanings and implications. In British English, the word simply means 'insane', and that's what it means. In American English, it means angry.. and from what I have seen, any gradation along the line from 'ticked off' to 'mad as hell and not about to take it any more!'
The problem non-native speakers and English learners encounter with Americanisms, is that distinctions of meaning are often lost. Another problem is unintentional ambiguity.
Tonight, I listened to the American TV show 'Supernatural'. Dean and Sam checked themselves into a mental hospital, where they were pretending to be mad (BE usage, insane). By the end of the episode, Sam realised that he had a problem with anger - he 'got mad'! So at the end of the episode, he concluded that he 'was mad' - which stressed my English mind. They had been pretending to be mad (insane) and then Sam had 'got mad' (angry.) To use another Americanism, “enough already!”
Idiom watch:
ticked off: mildly annoyed. Also, 'hacked off', 'brassed off' and 'pissed off' (Beware another Americanism - they say 'pissed' to mean annoyed, which in New Zealand English, means 'drunk'.)
' mad as hell and not about to take it any more' - comes from a popular film from the 1970s, and means 'angry enough to rebel'.
'take it' in this context, means to endure something.
There is another use of take it - but why complicate matters further? After all, you can always ask!


Slowly but surely, New Zealand English is becoming American English, something that is happening to almost all other 'Englishes'. This is what I call 'cultural hegemony', and part of it is Hollywood, and TV - and of course advertising, part of it is simply economic hegemony, and then of course, there's Microsoft Word!
Some of it dates back to the 1940s, but some is more recent.
Today, people use Americanisms they would never have used in previous years. On the news last week, Brigadier General Jerry Mateparai said, about the employment of fantasist Wilce "Dumb decisions were made". Leaving out the passive mood (used in this case for evasion of responsibility), I have to say, "No, Sir. Stupid decisions were made".
Now it seems , dumb means stupid, and smart means clever. But how many people realise that using dumb as a synonym for stupid is offensive to people with disabilities that render them unable to speak?
Calling people 'dumb' when you mean stupid, is a truly 'dumb' thing to do. It makes me think of school yard bullies, dancing around the kid with cerebral palsy and chanting "dummy' at her. Or a shop assistant talking to a carer with a person in a wheel chair and asking in the tone she'd use with a small child "And what would she like, dear?"
She would like you to ask her, and not assume that because she has had a stroke that she is either mute or stupid!
I spoke to my students about this on Friday.
"Some people say "dumb and smart" but those words have other meanings, especially in the Englishes used outside New Zealand and the USA. So to avoid misunderstanding, you must use "stupid" and "clever".
(I also warned them that if they ask for the "bathroom" that there's a 60% chance they will be shown to a room with a shower in it, especially as they all intend to go to countries other than the USA... But that's another story.)