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.)