Thursday, August 30, 2007

Vocabulary: What a Solipsist!

For some strange reason, the time settings on my blog are acting up. This is yesterday's post and today's post is below this. Suddenly, blogger made yesterday today and today, yesterday. Let me try to fix this. Thanks for reading

When I started this blog, I said that would be featuring English vocabulary as well as grammar and pronunciation. So far, I've been focusing on grammar, which is a more problematic area of English language learning. Here, though, is my first entry for vocabulary.

Reading through Time magazine the other day, I came across the word solipsist. One of the good things I like about a magazine like Time is that many of their writers use good vocabulary and I find myself taking out my trusty dictionaries to look up new words.

So what does solipsist mean? The word is derived from solipsism which is a philosophical belief that the self or the individual is the only reality. A solipsist is someone who practices or believes in solipsism. It sounds deep, right? Fact is, if you sift through the philosophy part, what the word clearly means is that a solipsist is a selfish, individualistic, self-centered person. After all, if you think reality revolves around you, wouldn't that make you selfish?

I'm not surprised that Time used this particular vocabulary item. The article I was reading was entitled "China's 'Me' Generation."

It's not always proper to use big words, though. It pays to use them in the proper context. But, if you're feeling particularly mad a someone, you can call him/her a solipsist and he/she will probably not understand you.

Isn't learning new English words neat?

Have a nice day! And remember, don't be a solipsist!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Verb Tenses: The Double Past, Good Grammar or Bad Grammar?

This is my first post on verb tenses which comprise another problematic area in the English language. This post is specifically on what I call the "double past." This question is an example: "What did she said?"

The question above commits the error of the double past because it uses both did and said. The reason for the mix-up is the seeming simplicity of the past tense rule: if it happened in the past, use the past tense. However, in this case, there are two verbs (did and said). It's seems natural to use the past tense for both because whatever happened did happen in the past.

The thing is, for a case like this, the verb is do (did) and say (said) is not a verb. Instead, say is a noun, a name for whatever the "she" in the sentence wanted to communicate.

No one likes someone with a double life. English doesn't like this case of the double past either. Have a nice evening!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Are There Fewer Calories in That Cake?

The words less and fewer mean the same but they're not used in the same way. Nowadays, these words are often interchanged but there is a difference between the two.

Less is used when you're talking about something that cannot be counted: "Can I have less sugar in my coffee?" or "Will you give me less juice, please."

Fewer, on the other hand, is used when you can count what you're talking about: "I'd like fewer students this semester" and "They have fewer desserts in this restaurant."

The problems come in, though, when it comes to calories and money. You say fewer calories and less money. This is doesn't make sense because it's hard to literally count calories (although many try) and at the same time, we always count money (as many of us know too well).

Where less and fewer are concerned, it's best to follow the rule I mentioned. When in doubt, though, consult a dictionary. Or better yet, ask the Internet.


I'm Walking!

Here's another English grammar issue: sometimes, people commit this mistake: "I walking to work." In this instance, the mistake lies in the missing word am. The correct form is "I am walking to work."

I understand why this grammar can be confusing. It is correct to say, after all, "I walk to work everyday." What's the difference between the two sentences? If you say "I walk to work everyday," you're giving a general fact: you do walk to work everyday. Whether you're walking at the moment is irrelevant. Consider the following dialogue:

Friend: "How do you go to work?"
Me: "I walk to work everyday."
Friend: "Really? That's great. I need to drive to work."

Compare that with this example:

Mom: "Are you leaving now?"
Me: "Yes, I am walking to work now."

In the second example, the speaker is talking about a current action. Hence, the use of "I am walking." If you want a short cut, you can say "I'm walking." Grammar likes to walk all over us sometimes.

Why not take a walk today? It's good for you.

English Pronunciation: I'd Like to See the Menu

This is my second post on pronunciation. I've been checking out various file hosting sites so again, please be patient if the pronunciation files don't load right away. I'm currently using zshare and it's a bit slow. Also, it takes a while before the volume of the audio file gets loud enough to be heard. If anyone knows of a good file sharing website, please let me know.

It seems that many Filipinos mispronounce the word menu. Often, I hear people pronouncing it as meNOO. This is incorrect. The correct pronunciation is MENyu.

I think meNOO is the Filipino way of pronouncing an English word and we use this when we're speaking in Filipino or Tagalog, as in "pakita nga nung meNOO." The problem occurs when we speak English and we still use the Filipino pronunciation. Just remember, when you're speaking in English, say "I'd like to see the MENyu, please."

S-V Agreement: The Grammar for "None"

I've found myself stumbling over the correct grammar to use for the word "none." Is it "None of you wants to go" or "None of you want to go." In other words is none singular or plural?

The good news is proper English grammar says that it can be both singular and plural. For example: "None of the t-shirts I bought is red." Here, imagine that I bought several t-shirts and not a single one is in the color red. The meaning is the same as "None of the t-shirts I bought are red." In this case, imagine again all the t-shirts I bought and they're all in other colors apart from red. Here are other examples: "None of the students were late" and "None of the students was late."

Supposedly, the only difference between using the singular and the plural where none is concerned is that the singular is more formal. In other words, use it when you're writing a formal document, an English academic paper, or when you're speaking at an official function.

Won't it be nice if English were always this forgiving about rules?

Call Me!

Ana left a question for me the other day. She wanted to know the correct way of using call.

Now, like many words in the English language, call has many definitions but I'm assuming that Ana is asking about usage where the telephone is concerned--"Use the phone and call me." In this instance, call me is correct. So, you can say "He called me" or "Call her tonight." The explanation for this is simply usage: call is the verb and me (or him, her, etc.) is the object, the one who received the action. There is no need for the word up.

Call up, though, has uses as well. Technically, call up means very close to "bringing out information, a memory, or a discussion." You say "Well, they sure call up old times with their stories," or "That's a new company policy. Shall we call it up before everyone?"

Ana, I hope I was able to answer your question and thanks so much for reading. English is really a tricky language to learn as many rules are arbitrary but learning it is very enjoyable and rewarding.

S-V Agreement: Don't and Doesn't

I heard this mistake the other week: "I hope your students doesn't see you dressed like that." This is clearly wrong; "students" is a plural subject, therefore, a plural verb is needed. In this case, the correct sentence should be: "I hope your students don't see you dressed like that."

Remember the rule: a singular subject requires a singular verb, a plural subject requires a plural verb. I don't know why I often hear people confusing doesn't and don't. I have a feeling that this happens because of the "s" sound in doesn't. We do associate the "s" sound with multiple items, people, ideas, etc.

Don't forget this rule.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I'm All Snug and Secure

We all use the word secure to describe the feeling of "being safe." We say, "I feel safe and secure in my home," "my wallet is secure in my bag." However, problems occur when people say "I feel secureD."

What's happening here is a confusion between two uses, the use of secure as an adjective and the use of the word as a verb. When we use the word to mean "being safe," we are using it as an adjective, which means, it's describing how safe your home, your wallet, your car, etc. is. If you're using it as an adjective, you do not add the "d" at the end (an adjective does not have a past tense). So, even if you're describing something in the past, you don't say "I felt safe and secured when we were at the house." Instead, you say, "I felt safe and secure." The verb which indicates the past tense is "felt."

When you use secure as a verb, to you mean "to make safe;" you're doing the actions that will make something safe. For instance, "I secured the windows against the rain yesterday" or "Let me secure the windows right now." If it's a verb, then you can use the past tense.

Monday, August 20, 2007

He Is A She

No, this isn't a post about gender-bending; rather, I'd like to deal with the case of the switching pronouns, an error I encounter almost every day of my English work.

I've heard variations of this many times: "She's a good cook. His specialty is paella." The mistake is clear: the subject (the good cook) is female and the proper pronouns are she and her. Why the switch to he which is the pronoun for a man? Switching pronouns is clearly a no-no. You do not want people to think you're talking about more than one person. Here's another sample: "My father wants a new cellphone. He wants a model like her wife's, my mother." Did you notice the switch? It should have been "like his wife's."

My explanation for this lies in the Filipino language. If you think about it, Filipino is not a very gender-sensitive language. We don't really make too many gender distinctions. Consider my first example translated into Filipino: "Magaling sya mag-luto. Ang specialty nya ay paella." You see, there is nothing in the Filipino sentences that show gender.

S-V Agreement: Has vs Have

This post is going to be the first is a group of related posts dealing with subject-verb agreement. I will be placing "s-v agreement" on all posts connected to it to make it easier for you to find all entries on this topic. This is an extensive part of English and one that confuses many (myself included) so I will be dealing with it one entry at a time.

We all know the basic s-v agreement rule: if you have a single subject, you use a single verb. If you have multiple subjects, you use a plural verb. This is confusing because there are many roads leading from this rule. Let's start with the use of has and have.

I've been hearing people say "he have a good collection of movies" or "she have a hard time with Math." Clearly, these expressions are wrong. Have is the plural form of the verb has as such: "they have a good collection," "she has a hard time with Math."

S-V rules are confusing, which is probably why many make mistakes here. If you noticed, earlier, I posted "you have." We do not say "you has." Where subjects and verbs are concerned, it's best to memorize the rules.

Is It That Time Already?

I've also been asked about the proper use of already. My cousin from Connecticut mentioned that he and some of his friends have noticed that Filipino-Americans seem to often use already, as in, "we ate there already" or "we've gone there already." Actually, these two examples are not wrong. I guess what is going on here is an overuse of the word. Let's look at already:

is really an expression of time. When you say "it's already 3 o' clock," you're either stating a fact or expressing impatience--"It's already 3pm and she's not here yet! How long will we be waiting?" If you say "we've already gone to the place," you're telling a friend that you've gone to a place he/she is planning to go to (you did it in the past). You could also say "are you leaving already?" If you say that, you mean, "why do you have to go so soon?"

"We ate there already" can be considered correct if there's a clear time in question: maybe the speaker's friend wants to eat in a restaurant for lunch and the speaker is saying "I ate there a few days ago."

So, if you want to use already, be sure to do so if there is a time issue: I have to stop blogging for the day, it's already time to sleep.


I've been planning to add pronunciation lessons to this site and I think I've finally figured out how. Bear with me on this "dry run," please!

I've been hearing a lot of people make mistakes on the pronunciation of the word "chores." People tend to pronounce it with a "k" sound, "kors" as opposed to the correct "ch" sound. Now, the "k" sound is used for words like "chord" (pronounced "kord"), think of the popular band The Corrs. However, here is the correct pronunciation of "chores" .

The word "choir," though, might add more confusion. Listen to how it's pronounced here .

"Chord," "chores," and "choir" all use "ch" and I honestly don't know why they're pronounced differently but I do know that when it comes to English pronunciation, memorizing the sound can really help.

Have a nice day!

Fill 'Er Up

Chris left a question for me about common expressions attached to the word "fill." In particular, he asked about "fill in," "fill out," and "fill on." Of the three, the first two are used. I've never heard "fill on," though. The third member of this trio is "fill up."

The word "fill," at its most basic, means to put something into something. You can use many things to fill something up, whether you're using objects ("fill the jar with cookies"), liquids ("I need to fill the tank with water") or more figurative things like words and more spiritual things ("fill my heart with song," "fill your soul with prayers"). It's a word that carries so many meanings and uses that it's not surprising that it can be confusing.

In response to Chris's question, the correct way of using the three expressions is this: fill in and fill out are generally used to add information onto something. So, it's common to read "fill in the blanks" and "fill out the form." Normally, you fill in something that's incomplete, hence, the blanks in the first example. Fill out means something similar: there's something missing you need to supply. The more particular difference between the two is fill out can be used to describe someone who gained weight: "he looks like he filled out" or "she filled out that new blouse really quickly." It's not very nice to use fill out in this sense.

Fill up, on the other hand, means "to make full" as in "fill up the glass."

Think of the three expressions this way: fill in and fill out mean completing something. Hence, you "put in" ("fill in the blanks") words and you sort of "bring out" ideas ("fill out the form"). Then, you fill up containers with nothing in them--when you pour water into an empty glass, you see the liquid going "up." The title of this post uses fill up. "Fill 'er up" means to fill a car (normally thought of as a "she") with gas.

Chris, I hope that answered your question and thanks for reading and responding. Do let me know if I can help you with anything else.

By the way, starting tomorrow, I will be posting in the late afternoons and evenings. I think it'll be easier that way as I'm usually rushing in the morning.

Have a nice day, everyone!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Take Care!

Another mistake I've been noticing in the writing of my students is the use of the idiom taken care of. Mostly, they tend to write taken careD of when talking about the past. This is definitely not right.

I think the reason for the confusion lies in the verb. In this case, "care" is thought of as the verb, which is why it's converted into the past tense. The truth is, the verb is "take;" therefore, the correct expression (if talking about the past) is took care of.

Here are examples: "I have just taken care of my work" (the speaker just finished maybe a few minutes before talking) and "I took care of my work yesterday" (the speaker finished her work the day before).

Take care of yourselves today. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

If I Were a Rich Girl

Now, this is a tricky rule! Looking at my title, you might ask, shouldn't it be "If I was a rich girl?" Actually, the answer would be "no" despite it sounding contrary to fact (were is plural, "I" is singular, which uses was). The answer to this anomaly lies in what is called the subjunctive. The subjunctive is actually a verb that deals with feelings or attitudes that may not exactly be true. In short, it's a verb that's used when discussing a hypothetical situation (something that isn't true). Consider the lines from the famous song: "If I were a rich man... I wouldn't have to work hard... I'd build one long staircase just going up... and one even longer going down... ."

By reading the lyrics of the song (it's from the musical The Fiddler on the Roof, by the way), you immediately see that the man talking is not rich and that he does work hard everyday. Since he's singing about a hypothetical situation, the subjunctive is used. This is also the reason why we say "if I were you" and not "if I was you."

According to some grammar resources though, you do not use the subjunctive if you're talking about something true. Here's a sample: "If she was studying, then she would not have wanted to play music." The student referred to here is really most likely studying. This is different from "If my sister were a good student, then she would be studying" (the sister is definitely NOT a good student).

Then again, I've read that the subjunctive is actually very formal and rather old-fashioned; so it's not often used anymore. There are other ways of expressing fantasies: "if I had a million bucks, I wouldn't work, I'd just travel and live all over the world."

You've Got My Number!

When it comes to talking about numbers, here's one very easy rule: if you use the expression the number, you always use the singular form of the verb. If you're using a number, you use the plural form. Let's examine this further.

The number is singular because you are talking about one particular number: "The number of students who come in late is increasing." Think about it as having a number in your head-- "Twenty-one students were late yesterday. That number has increased today."

A number is plural because you are talking about the subject/s being counted: "A number of students were late yesterday." In this case, you are almost counting in your head--"Twenty-one students were late yesterday. Thirty students are late today."

For the number, you're referring to a particular number (25, 45, 1,000) while for a number, you're referring to what the number is referring to (25 students, 45 teachers, 1,000 schools). Both expressions can be used interchangeably. They do mean the same thing. The difference between the two only lies in the verb.

Sorry For What?

Wow, the weather is awful! I can barely see outside my window and it's almost eight o' clock in the morning. The Internet is unstable here at home so I am once again rushing this post.

Luisa asked in my comments section which was the correct expression, sorry for or sorry about. I decided to answer her question right away as it's linked to my previous post which also discusses the proper use of about.

Now, this is a tricky question. The word sorry carries with it several definitions from describing something despicable (a sorry state of affairs) to even a difficult person (now, he's a sorry excuse for a human being). However, Luisa is asking about the more common use of the word which means contrition and guilt.

When we say I'm sorry, we're usually apologizing for something that offended ("I'm sorry for what I did") or didn't work out ("I'm sorry about what happened"). What's the difference between using for and about? I did a lot of reading on this because I have never thought of this difference and I had to think about it for a bit. Here's my take on it:

The Oxford Guide actually says that sorry for/sorry about have no real differences when expressing apology for something that happened. Consider this: "I'm sorry for being late for class yesterday" and "I'm sorry about being late for class yesterday;" "We're sorry about our daughter's actions" and "We're sorry for our daughter's actions." When expressing sympathy for an event that went wrong, you can also say "I'm sorry for the party turning sour" and "I'm sorry about the party turning sour."

The crucial difference occurs when sorry is used to express compassion: "I feel sorry for the typhoon victims." In this sense, it's attached to the verb to feel: "I feel sorry for them," "I felt sorry for them," "I will feel sorry for them." Then again, you can also say, "I feel sorry about their plight."

Something to take note of, when you're apologizing for something in the present, use "I'm sorry to have given you grief" or "Sorry to have made a mess."

I hope this answered your question, Luisa. Do let me know if you want me to write about something else. I'm also studying how to add audio to my blog so I can tackle some pronunciation issues.

Stay dry and safe, everyone!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stop Teasing Me!

I'm posting early again. I have a busy day tomorrow.

When Pinoy friends tease other friends about falling in love or liking someone, they say "I'll tease you to him!" I suppose this expression came about because of the meaning of the word "to" which carries with it connotations of "moving toward" or "going toward." It's kind of like going toward the person you love. However, one of my very first English teachers told me when I was eleven years old that the correct expression is actually "I will tease you about him." It's a lesson that I've remembered all these years.

"I will tease you about him" does sound more correct. The word "about," after all, can mean "relating to something" (It's about my favorite song). So, if you get teased about a guy/girl, it means that your friends want you to "relate" to him/her.

Enjoy your Friday!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuck In!

The power is still unstable here so I'm posting my entry for tomorrow right now, just in case we lose power again.

Most people use the expression "tuck in" to talk about securing a shirt or blouse into a pair of pants. But I just discovered that the expression can also mean "eating a lot." Here's an example: "We had dinner at a hotel and I tucked in the entire dessert menu!" When you say a person tucked in food, you mean that he/she ate with gluttonous abandon (this was often used in the Harry Potter books).

I think that both expressions came about because the verb "tuck" means "to secure," whether by folding, or confining items into a safe spot (tucked in my bag), or keeping a person warm and snug (tuck her in, please). When it comes to eating a lot, perhaps it's because the voracious eater will keep a lot of food safe in his/her belly.

Now, there is no such thing as to "tuck out." Pinoys tend to use this, especially when describing how a shirt will be worn--"I'm wearing it tucked out." It's an honest mistake. It does seem to be the opposite of "tuck in;" however, based on the meaning of the word "tuck," "tuck out" is clearly illogical. Instead of "tuck out," try "my shirt will hang loose" or "I'll wear my blouse untucked today."

The Reason is Because is the Reason Why

Apologies for the late post. I normally post first thing in the morning but the horrible weather here in Manila caused a major power outage in my area. Four transmitters flanking my street blew! Power was just restored two minutes ago. I'm posting this in a hurry as I might lose power again and I also have to charge my UPS.

Anyway, among the comments on some of my earlier posts was a message from my good friend Justine ( who wanted me to write about an English anomaly she encountered: "the reason is because." Obviously, this is a redundancy. "Because" and "the reason is" mean the same thing, i.e., the person wants to explain something. I think people make this mistake because they talk faster than their minds think (I do that too!). Imagine, a student talking to his/her teacher: "Ma'am, the reason I was late is... (thinking, thinking...what's the best excuse?)... because... (should I say my dog ate my homework and I had to do it again? Or my mommy washed my pants late and I had nothing to wear?)... is... is... because I didn't wake up when my alarm clock rang!"

Despite the exaggerated example, I'm sure many of you can relate to desperately wanting to explain something but running out of words or ideas to use. When you find yourself in that situation, DON'T panic! Just keep quiet for a few moments. Or, you can be honest (and humble) and say, "I'm sorry, can you give me a few moments to compose my thoughts?" You could also use the more common "um" between words but that can be very annoying if you do it more than twice. It's best to just be quiet and take a deep breath (it's good for the blood pressure too).

Quincy John and Jaki, thank you for reading. I loved all your comments! They made me feel really good about this blog. Quincy, your grandfather sounds amazing and Jaki, I'm glad to be your teacher, even if only on the Net.

I've got to go. The rain is starting again and I don't want to lose power while online. Stay dry, everyone, wherever you are.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I've often encountered Filipinos using the expression "discuss about" for the simpler (and correct) "discuss." Consider this sample: "I was asked to discuss about my family's vacation" as opposed to "I was asked to discuss my family's vacation." The second example uses "discuss" correctly. Why is this? The word "discuss" means to "talk about" or "explain" or "examine." As such, it already assumes that the subject will be talked about. Therefore, to add "about" is redundant.

Simplify your lives! Just discuss them!

Thanks to Tatz, for her/his encouraging comment. Wherever you are, I am glad I can help you. If there's a particular English question you want me to deal with, just let me know via the "comments" section.

Thank you for reading, everyone!

Friday, August 10, 2007

It's "10!" No, it's "ten!"

It's Sunday night here in the Philippines and I'm posting my entry for Monday earlier as I may not be at my PC tomorrow. I still cannot figure out why the date and time logs are wrong (I've corrected them several times). For the record, this entry is for tomorrow, 13 August 2007. I hope you all have a good week ahead!

Most student writers ask me when to spell out numbers and when to just put the symbol of the number. The rule, which I learned from my boss in my first ever job, is very simple. If the number is between zero to ten, spell it out. If it's after ten, use the symbol. An exception would be if the number is the first word of the sentence. If that's the case, then, you have to spell it out, no matter how large the number is. Check this out: "There are two cupcakes on the table but she made a total of 40 cupcakes. Four hundred cupcakes were prepared by her staff for delivery."

The rule may have changed since I learned it in 1996. However, it's easy to remember it this way. Now, isn't that a perfect ten?

Are you on time?

Linked to my last post is the use of "in," "on," and "at" where time is concerned. These three words are confusing too. The most basic differences I discovered are:

"At" would generally refer to a specific time: "There's a meeting at 2pm."

"On" would refer to a general amount of time: "There's a meeting on Friday afternoon."

"In" refers to longer periods on time: "There will be a meeting in September."

Now, what about "in time" versus "on time?" "On time" is used when you're talking about a specific point in time ("I made it on time for the party") while "in time" is used for a longer period of time ("Will you arrive in time for the December holidays").

The logic of all this can be a bit confusing. You could argue that "in time" can be used for a party. Some bacchanalian feasts do last several days. Also, you could ask "will you be on time for the December holiday?" as some unlucky people only get one day free in December (too bad for them).

Have a happy Sunday!

Are you in, on, at, or what?

These three little words can be very confusing: "in," "on," and "at." I often confuse the proper way of using all three words. The rules, however, are simple enough:

"At" refers to a particular point in space. So, "I'm waiting at the entrance" and "He's at the computer."

"On" refers to a surface: "The cat jumped on the counter," "She placed her phone on the sofa."

"In" refers to being surrounded: "That was in my bag," "She is in the theater."

One of my favorite references, "Oxford Guide to English Grammar" by John Eastwood, simplifies the differences between the three by saying that "at" is one-dimensional (a point in space), "on" is two-dimensional (a surface), and "in" is three-dimensional (surrounding something). But this is more complicated that it sounds. It is, after all, correct to say both "She's at the university" and "She's in the university." In both cases, "university" can at once surround a person as well as be a point in space.

Eastwood says that "at the university" can mean "doing something"-- "She's at the university giving a speech." "In the university" can mean "inside a building"-- "She's in the university laboratory."

Sometimes, the simplest things can be the most confusing.

Thanks to my young friend, Justin, who is showing his appreciation for this blog by determinedly using all the words I teach in a monster sentence. It's also great how, through this blog, I heard from an old friend, "Shiro," who pointed out that "for a while" is a direct translation of the Tagalog expression, "sandali lang." I also saw Alex's post: he is someone I've never met! Thank you, Alex, for the kind words. I hope I can keep this blog interesting for you.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Come with us!" Or did you mean, "Go with us?"

My cousin Gene from Connecticut asked me about the difference between "come with us" and "go with us." I know that both are used interchangeably but he wanted to know which was more correct. I did some reading on this and this is how I understand the difference between the two:

"Come" obviously means "to go to a certain point." The expression, "come with" seems to indicate moving toward the destination point with someone leading the way. So, if you want to talk about going to a place and inviting someone to go with you, then, "come with me" or "come with us" is more correct.

"Go" means something similar, which is "to move to a certain place." However, according to some Internet sources, it seems that the expression "go with" is informal speech for dating--"I'm going with..." or deciding on something--"I'm going with that color."

There's also the expression, "go away from me," which uses "go" to mean "move away."

Now, both "come" and "go" have many meanings. Some of them are colloquialisms already, such as the more vulgar use of "come." Their definitions may change depending on what is being talked about.

As to cousin Gene's question, I think the more proper is "come with us."

If you've got any questions for me, do let me know! Thanks to Kat who said that she learns a lot from my blog.


In behalf of, on behalf of, or something else

I often read or hear people using "in behalf of" to mean "on behalf of." What is the difference between the two? "In behalf of" means "for the benefit of;" for instance, "we gathered old clothes in behalf of the victims of typhoon Reming." "On behalf of," on the other hand, refers to representing someone or a group of people. So, "on behalf of my fellow teachers, thank you for this award" or "I'm accepting this award on behalf of my boss who was not able to come today." The thing is, usage seems to have made "in behalf of" acceptable for "on behalf of" that so many writers and speakers now use both expressions interchangeably.

What's my take on this? Well, if you want to be persnickety or picky about it, then use "on behalf of" and "in behalf of" correctly. Or, you could just skip either expression and say: "we collected old clothes for the typhoon victims" or "since I'm accepting this award for my fellow teachers, I'd like to say, 'thank you' for all of us."

Thank you to "Anonymous" who posted a comment on "Cope Up With." I agree with you, it is a common mistake. After all, whether you say "cope up with" or "cope with," people will still understand what you mean.

Thanks too to Justine and GM Tristan for the comments and encouragement.

Have a nice day, everyone!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

"Cope Up With"

An expression that many of my students have trouble with is "cope with." More often than not, they say (and write) "cope up with" which, in my view, overdoes the whole thing. The word "cope" means to "deal with" something. If it's more serious, it also means "to struggle with" trouble, trials, etc. Using the word "with" already means facing the situation. To add "up" is like doubling the struggle. After all, we do not say "deal up with."

I've corrected my students many times yet they still persist on using "cope up with." I think it's really just a question of remembering the right expression. Say it with me now: "cope with," "cope with," "cope with," cope with," "cope with," "cope with," "cope with!"

The (In)Famous "For a While"

No blog which deals with how the Philippines uses English will be complete without the expression, "for a while." Commonly used when answering the phone, I myself did not know there was something wrong with this expression until recently. In the first place, "while" can mean a "short amount of time," which is what the expression really means, literally, "wait a bit."

Purists of English, however, would say that this expression should not exist. Normally, "while" should come with some sort of modifier like, "stay a while," or "I'm using your pen for a while." If it's a question of telling a person to wait a bit, it's best to just say "hold a minute (if you're on the phone)" or "just a second" or "one moment please" or just be direct and say "give me five minutes to do this."

In the Philippines, "for a while" is very clear but if you're talking to a foreigner who is not familiar with the expression, you might get blank stares. As for me, I still find myself using it sometimes. That's the beauty of varieties of English: if you're talking to someone who uses English the same way you do, there's no real problem communicating.

Monday, August 6, 2007

About the title, "Forming a Straight Circle"

I've heard this joke many times: "My teacher wanted us to form a circle and she said 'Form a circle! And make it straight!'" I don't know if this ever happened but it's a good starting point for this blog. The teacher in the joke, if he/she ever existed, obviously wanted an organized-looking circle but was not able to express him/herself properly. Since this is a blog which teaches English, I thought this joke would be the best place to start. There are, indeed, many confusing circles in the language and understanding them is the first step to straightening them out (at least in our minds). My subtitle, "Teaching Practical English Skills Online," more directly states my purpose.

Blogs, English, the Philippines, and Me

The trickiest thing for a beginner blogger such as myself is finding something to blog about. I've never really believed in blogging about my personal life, after all, reading the soap opera that is one's life can be boring to people other than family and friends. I knew at once that I wanted a truly informative and helpful blog, which is why I settled on a blog that teaches English. As an English teacher, I have encountered so many instances of good and bad English and I would like to feature both. I think samples of good English should be emulated and enjoyed, but poor uses of English should be addressed and corrected.

A word about English and the Philippines first, though. English is truly a global language, which means it is owned by many people and not just by the so-called "native" speakers of English. As a global language, its usage varies depending on where the speaker is. So, apart from British English, American English, and Australian English, we also have Singaporean English, Indian English, Jamaican English, and of course, Philippine English. It is not my intention to look down on these varieties of English. I do love the idea of world englishes and the changes that the language undergoes as it hits different parts of the world. These only prove that it is indeed a living language. However, there are still occasions when proper English is important. What I want to do is to help those who need to speak the language properly improve their English skills.

My plan for this blog is simple: every day, I will post an entry on a certain usage of English, whether on grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, etc. In some occasions, I will focus on a common mistake that I encounter and what can be done to correct this mistake. Since I'm Filipino, most of the material I will be using will be from the Philippines and how Filipinos (including myself) speak English. However, I do hope that this blog can benefit everyone.

Part of the reason behind this blog is a personal one. Although I am very comfortable with using English, I do want to learn more about it. It does not follow that someone who uses English constantly actually uses it well. It helps to know and understand the rules of the language to truly use it correctly. I'd like to be sure that my skills don't remain static and that through the work I will be putting into this blog, my understanding and use of English will improve as well.