Saturday, September 29, 2007

Focus on Pronunciation: Particular

Here's another English word that Filipinos seem to have trouble with: particular. I hear this word often pronounced as "parteekular," which is wrong. I really don't know why this word is wrongly pronounced with a weak "t" and long "e" sound. It might have something to do with the long "e" sound and the short "i" sound that Pinoys also mix up.

Listen to the proper way of pronouncing particular. Notice that the "i" sound is short and the "t" sound is strong.

Now, many English speakers all over the world tend to pronounce certain words differently (think of the differences in British, American, and Australian pronunciation). This is really because we have different accents. Often, the words are still clear and understood. The thing is, there's nothing wrong with knowing the standard English pronunciation of the word.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

I haven't posted anything on English idioms so I decided to start today with the expression "barking up the wrong tree."

Idioms are essentially phrases that use figurative language to communicate a point. They are used to make a point more powerful. Also, they are used to communicate an otherwise complex idea in a few words. They often use imagery.

Let's look at the idiom, "barking up the wrong tree." Consider a dog chasing a cat through a forest. The cat shimmies up a tree quickly. The dog sees this. Upon reaching the top of the tree, the cat jumps onto a branch of another tree. The dog, since he's on the ground, does not see the cat jumping to the next tree. The poor doggie, then, keeps barking up the original tree not knowing that kitty has moved to another tree and is now safe from him. Doggie is still barking up the wrong tree.

In human terms, imagine you're trying to fix a problem with one solution. But, no matter what you do, the problem persists. Unknown to you, the solution is something completely different. If you're experiencing something like this, then, you're barking up the wrong tree. Like the dog who was looking for the cat in the wrong tree, you're trying to solve a problem with the wrong solution.

Instead of describing the situation (which will take some time), you can just say, "I was barking up the wrong tree."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

With or Without You

I heard this error the other day: "My children walk each other." The meaning of the sentence is clear enough but there is an important word missing. That word is with.

The preposition with has several uses but in the case of the sentence above, it is needed to show the connection between the children walking. The sentence therefore should have been "My children walk with each other." Here, with is needed so show that the children are together when they walk.

Without is the opposite of with. If the speaker wanted to say that her children walk separately, then she can say, "My daughter walks to school without her brother on Mondays."

Then again, to simplify the original sentence, you can just say, "My children walk together."

Enjoy your day with your friends and family!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Focus on Pronunciation: Favorite

I'm mostly well now so I'm back to posting regularly. Today, I decided to work on a pronunciation post regarding the word favorite.

I've been hearing people pronounce this word as "peyborit," which is wrong. I think the mistake lies in the way Filipinos confuse the "f," "p," "b," and "v" sounds. So, instead of using the "f" sound on the word favorite, they use the "p." The "v" sound is likewise replaced by the "b" sound.

Here is the proper way of pronouncing the word favorite. Notice that in the proper pronunciation, the "f" and "v" sounds are clear. Also, the "i" sound isn't too sharp.

The English language can be rather forgiving about pronunciation issues but do try to pronounce words properly. If you don't pronounce right, you may be severely misunderstood.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Satisfy Your Cravings

On the way home from work today, I saw this sign: "Satisfy your creamy chocolatey crave" and because of the glaring mistake, I had to blog about it right away.

The mistake is in the word crave. The sign, which was on the tarpaulin banner of a sweets stand, obviously wanted to say that the product the store was selling was creamy and chocolatey enough to satisfy anyone's chocolate desires. However, to use the word crave in this manner is incorrect.

The confusion probably lies in the definition of the word crave. The word crave is a verb which means to desire something intensely--i.e., "I crave for ice cream when I'm stressed." Since it's a verb, it cannot be used as a noun, which is what the sign requires. The noun form is craving, a word which means a feeling of intense desire for something. The sign should have then read, "satisfy your creamy chocolatey craving."

Now, the verb to crave can also take the -ing form: "I'm craving for ice cream right now." Do not confuse the noun with the verb form. If you're using the word as a verb, remember, you must be talking about an action. In the sentence "I'm craving for ice cream," the action is the desire or the want for ice cream that the speaker is feeling. If you're using the noun, you are giving a name for an intense desire (chocolatey craving, intense desire for chocolate).

I hope this was clear. I wasn't supposed to post today as I'm still sick but I just had to write something in response to that sign. It's only 7pm but I feel so bad, I'm already craving sleep.

Good night and don't get sick!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sorry, no new material today. I'm sick with a bad case of the flu! Will post as soon as I'm better.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

S-V Agreement: Pair Nouns

Subject-Verb agreement is tricky when it comes to what is known as the pair noun. A pair noun is a word for something that seems like one item but is actually part of a pair. The most common are scissors, pants, trousers, binoculars. These items can be tricky because the component parts are joined into a whole. So, do they take a plural verb (there are parts) or do they take a singular verb (they're parts joined into one whole).

The answer is pair nouns are plural. We don't say "My pants is old" or "Those scissors is broken." Instead, "My pants are old" and "Those scissors are broken." We can also add a pair of: "Those pairs of socks are going to be given away" (several pairs of socks).

Pair nouns can become singular, though, when you're talking about a part of the pair: "That shoe needs cleaning," "That pajama leg is stained with ink." Remember, though, when you're talking about the entire pair, use the plural.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The/A and a Person's Name

Here's another post on the proper use of articles. Normally, we omit the articles the and a when we're using a person's name. We certainly do not say "I saw the Peter yesterday," or "A Margaret, who is my best friend, was in school with me."

However, there are cases when the/a can be used with proper names. These have something to do with pointing out specific persons who many have the same names as others. Consider these:

"The Peter I know would never cheat in a test." This sentence refers to a person called Peter, perhaps in reference to other persons called Peter (who might cheat on a test). The speaker here is certain that the Peter she knows is not a cheat.

"A Margaret from the office left a message for you." Here, Margaret is one woman from the office. There could be others but this particular woman may or may not be known to the receiver of the message. It could be a specific Margaret who is in-charge of certain messages.

"You met Piolo Pascual? The Piolo Pascual?" Here, the is used to emphasize a famous person.

We can't say "I saw the Peter yesterday" because the speaker is already talking about a specific Peter (there are no other Peters). We can't say "A Margaret, who is my best friend" either because there is already a specific Margaret (the best friend).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Responding to a Loaded Gun

Here's a question that my friend Noel left for me. I thought to reproduce it in full so the context is clear to everyone.

"Great and educational blog, Prixie. Quick query: How should I respond to this - "Aren't you glad to see me?". If I respond in the affirmative, does this mean I'm not glad to see him/her? But if I respond in the negative, would I run the chance of being misunderstood? Or is the original question grammatically correct to begin with?"

Noel's question deals with another important branch of English which is logic. Although logic is not solely the property of English language learning, thinking and speaking logically are necessary for clear English communication. In this case, the error is not in grammar but in logic. In English, questions of that sort are known as loaded questions. Similar to facing a loaded gun (which is pretty sure to kill you), with a loaded question, you lose either way. Loaded questions already assume something negative to be true, which makes it very difficult for the respondent to come up with a good response. Another example is the question, "How long have you been cheating in my class?" (the questioner assumes the respondent is a cheat, giving the latter no room to defend him/herself).

Loaded questions are not generally grammatically incorrect. Instead, they're errors in logic which are also rude and hurtful. It's best not to ask them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

S-V Agreement: Some Nouns are Always Singular

Oops, since posting this, I've realized some inaccuracies. Here's the corrected version. Sorry, sorry...

Subject-verb agreement is really one of the trickiest things to learn in the English language. Fortunately or unfortunately, the rules are often bent. One other case of this is when certain plural-sounding nouns are in fact singular.

The best example of this is the noun news. It sounds plural and we know it talks about many things but it is always singular. We say, "Did you watch the news last night? It was very alarming." Or, "The news about Erap seems very good." Other nouns that follow this rule include subjects and sports like statistics, economics, politics, gymnastics, athletics as well as illnesses like measles and mumps.

This sounds simple enough, right? However, you can use the plural for statistics, politics, and economics. Consider:

"These statistics seem incorrect." (You're referring to specific separate figures, hence, the plural.)
"Statistics is a difficult subject." (You're talking about the subject, hence, the singular.)

"GMA's politics take a very pro-American stand." (You're referring to GMA's political views and not politics as a subject.)

"The economics in this country are messy." (You're referring to everything that falls under economics, like population, fluctuating currency, foreign policy, etc.)

Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite writers, says, "Some genetics are in the soul," which refers to some aspects of genetics like behavior and maybe values.

Confusing, huh? The rule for subjects like economics and politics is if you're talking about the subject, use the singular. If you're talking about specifics that fall under that subject, then you can use the plural.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

S-V Agreement: Singular, Plural and Collective Nouns

Here's a tricky subject-verb agreement point: do you use the singular or the plural when using a collective noun?

A collective noun talks about groups--collections! Some of the more common examples are family, faculty, population, team, group. You can see from these examples that each noun talks about several people in one group. In other words, it's a collection of individuals. So, since we're talking about several people in one group, do we use the plural or the singular (there are several people but only one group).

The good news is the English language is quite forgiving when it comes to this issue. The general rule is you can use either the singular or plural depending what you want to emphasize. You can say "My family is well" if you mean your family as a whole and "My family are well" if you mean all the individual members of your family.

I learned this rule because one of my British bosses once surprised me by saying "The office have called you, haven't they?" British English and American English also differ here. The British tend to go with the plural while the Americans favor the singular. These two major varieties of English don't agree on this point.

The important thing is to decide on what you want to emphasize. Once you've decided, then you'll have to stick to it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What Was That?

My friend Noel from GameFrog Internet Cafe ( was reading a mangga (Japanese comic) the other day and he came across this sentence: "His father disappeared when he was very young." Noel found this sentence confusing because he said it looked like the father disappeared when the father was very young, which does not make sense.

I agreed with him and I said that the problem here is the misplaced modifier. Now, a modifier in the English language is a word/phrase that limits or modifies a noun. By this we mean that a modifier makes the noun clearer. A popular modifier is the adjective; for example, "That's a stylish handbag." "Stylish," the adjective, modifies the noun, handbag. It limits the idea of "handbag." A handbag, after all, can be anything from something ugly to something stylish. Ideally, we place modifiers close to the nouns they are limiting.

In the sentence Noel noticed, the modifier "disappeared when he was young" is placed next to "father," which makes it appear like it was the father who disappeared. This is the correction: "When he was very young, his father disappeared." In this correction, it's clearer who disappeared and when.

In the English language, modifiers are tricky so I will probably be posting more about them.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Vocabulary: Lugubrious

I often encounter the word lugubrious while reading novels. I always look it up in the dictionary but I often forget what it means (maybe I'm getting old!) so I decided to blog about it.

Lugubrious is a very nice word meaning "excessively sad or mournful." It can also mean "bringing out a lot of tears." You can say, "The lugubrious sounds of that organ are reminding of past love affairs." You might also say, "That movie is rather lugubrious," or "She is fond of telling lugubrious stories about her life which may be untrue."

Try using this English word next time you want to talk about something sad!

Friday, September 14, 2007

One Child, Two Childs, Three Childrens?!?!

My title shows a problem that I often encounter. I don't know why these mistakes with the words child and children occur but they do have to be corrected. I think it's just a case of being unsure about the plural form.

Child is singular and unlike other singular nouns, we do not add "s" to talk about more than one. The plural of child is children. Since children is already the plural form, we do not add "s" to it either. The English language does throw curve balls like this. It's best to just check things out in a dictionary. Remember, much of learning English is knowing the rules, even if they don't seem to make sense.

So, it's one child and two (or more) children.

Thanks to Lani who taught me how to fix my date and time problem. I feel kind of sheepish that I didn't fully study the features of Blogspot. Lani, please let me know which areas you would like me to add more examples in and if you have a question, just leave me a note!

Have a good day, everyone!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Focus on Pronunciation: "The"

Ooops! I'm posting this again. My friend Noel pointed out that I made a mistake with the files I uploaded. Sorry!

The date and time on my blog are acting weird again. For the record, it's Thursday, September 13 here in Manila. I do post everyday, despite what the date and time show.

Kaye left a question for me the other day. She wants to know the correct pronunciation of the. The has two pronunciations depending on whether it precedes a vowel or a consonant. If it precedes a vowel, it's pronounced like this. If it's before a consonant, this is what it sounds like.

Often, Filipinos pronounce the with a "D" sound, as in "da" or "di." Both are incorrect. Even worse, others just say "di" all the time which does not show the difference between the sounds before consonants or vowels. The "d" sound for the is also incorrect. Always use the proper "th" sound.

Listen to the difference in the pronunciation here and in a short sentence.

Kaye, I hope I was able to answer your question and thanks for reading. Everyone, keep the questions coming!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

English Vocabulary: Sangfroid

Here's an interesting word I came across while reading a novel entitled "Musashi:" sangfroid. The sentence it was used in was similar to this, "His sangfroid in the face of a fight allowed him to confront his enemy."

Can you guess what the word means?

No, it isn't bravery, although that's very close. Sangfroid means "coolness in a tense situation." So, next time you're facing a test, encourage yourself by saying "I have the sangfroid needed to pass with flying colors!"

There are many cool English words. Remember, the best way to improve your vocabulary is to use the dictionary every time you come across an unfamiliar word.

Happy reading!

The vs A/An

Related to my previous post is the difference between the articles the and a or an when they come before a noun. I mentioned earlier that the is used to specify which item/person/place the noun means. However, it's just as correct to say a house as it is to say the house. What's the difference between the two?

It's very simple really. English grammar rules say that the is used when you're referring to something specific. So, "I saw the book you want at the bookstore at the ground floor." In all cases, the speaker is talking about a specific book, store, and floor. Notice the difference here: "I saw a book you might want to buy. I think it's available in a store located next to the grocery."

Depending on what you're trying to say, the, a, and an can change the meaning of your words. Be sure to use them correctly and don't forget them.

English Grammar: One Use of "The"

On the way to Salcedo Market in Makati a few weeks ago, I noticed this sign "No parking from here to corner." There is a grammar mistake going on here simply because the article the was omitted.

Articles are very short words in English but omitting them when they aren't supposed to be omitted can ruin a sentence. You see, they serve to further identify nouns. In the sign I mentioned above, taking out the from the sentence makes the meaning unclear. If you read it, the "corner" being mentioned is not too specific (what corner? there are many corners in Makati after all). Note what happens though when the is added: "No parking from here to the corner." With the, the specific corner is clear. It's the one closest to what part of the street the sign is on, "here."

The rule for cases like this is simple: the is used to indicate specifically what the noun is talking about. So, "Take the cookies to the house on the corner," "I bought this from the Chinese lady in the store," and "The book entitled "Good Omens" is an excellent read."

I will be writing more about the uses of articles later.

The Verb Be: I Am, You Are

This is related to my previous post, "I'm Walking."

We were lucky enough to get tickets to watch the local production of the musical "Avenue Q" last night. It was good my friend got us tickets way before last night as it was a fantastic show. While watching, though, I heard something that I could blog about.

One of the characters in "Avenue Q" is an Asian-American who speaks with stereotypical bad Asian English. She said "I feeling" and "You feeling." I remembered my earlier post and realized that the omission of the verb be is so prevalent, it requires another post (and maybe even more).

The ordinary form of the verb be includes am and are. If you're speaking in the present tense (like, right now!), you say "I am here!" or "You are there! There are some cases when we omit the verb (more of that in subsequent posts) but never for these two statements. Also, if we are speaking in the present continuous (the action started in the present and is continuing in the present), we use the verb. So, it's "I am feeling" and "You are feeling." In both cases, the feeling began right now and it's continuing. As I'm typing this, I can see that my cat is eating the papaya for my breakfast (I'm not joking)!

Get that cat!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Will or Would: I Will Miss You, Pavarotti!

Not again. Today's post is below this one. For the record, it's September 8 here in Manila.

One of the greatest singers of the world has just died, Luciano Pavarotti. I spent all morning watching and crying over his videos on YouTube. While watching the great maestro, I decided on blogging about the modal verbs would and will and discuss the difference between the two.

English contains many words that mean almost the same. Would and will are examples of modal verbs that mean practically the same thing, but with a very slight difference. People use them to say something or to ask someone to do something. For example, "I will be studying today" or "I would like to study today." The difference between these two sentences is that "will be studying" is more definite while "would like to study" is tentative. In other words, you use will if you're sure of what will happen and would if you're not that sure.

Would is also used when you're requesting for something. It's a bit more polite to say "would you give me a glass of water, please."

Since I'm feeling so bad about Pavarotti, I say "I will miss him!"

If you're interested in some of his videos, check out these links of him singing "Miss Sarajevo" with U2, "Panis Angelicus" with Sting, "Viva Forever" with the Spice Girls, and "Let it Rain" with Bon Jovi. For fans of the musical "Rent," check out this video of Pavarotti singing "Che Gelida Manina." "Rent" the musical is based on Puccini's opera, "La Boheme." "Che Gelida Manina" is the scene in the opera where Rodrigo lights Mimi's candle and sings how cold her hand is. In the musical, this is updated into "Would You Light My Candle" with Roger and Mimi.

I wonder if the world would ever hear a voice as divine as Pavarotti's? Maybe, we will never know.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

English Pronunciation: Country

I've heard the word country mispronounced so many times. Instead of the proper pronunciation, I hear it being said like this.

Listen to the proper pronunciation here.

I think that some pronounce country with an "au" sound instead of the proper "u" sound because they think the "ou" in a word automatically means an "au" or "ou" sound. This is not true. The word country is an example.

Love your country, everyone!

I'm Going Abroad!

Oh gosh, once again, the date and time on blogger are acting up. This was yesterday's post. Today's post is below this one. Geez.

No, I'm not going abroad and leaving this blog. I'm just writing about a common English grammar mistake that I've been hearing lately. It seems that when many Filipinos say "I'm going abroad," they say "I'm going in abroad." Or, I've also heard "I'm going in other country." Clearly, these are wrong. I think the reason for the mess is that the speakers are transliterating the Filipino "pupunta ako sa ibang bansa." Now, sa in Tagalog does not literally translate into in when the idea of moving to another country is talked about in English.

English grammar tells us that the correct sentence for this is "I'm going abroad" or "I'm going to another country." Why is this so? You use in when you want to say that you will be located within a specific place such as "He is in China" or "She's in the theater." Abroad and other country are not places with clearly defined boundaries. Instead, you can say "I'm going to China" and "I'll be in another country by then" (in this case another country refers to a specific country that the speaker knows he/she is going to).

Let's stay in the Philippines!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

English Vocabulary: Mellifluous

While I was reading Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's Good Omens, I came across the word mellifluous and I thought it would be a good word to blog about.

It turns out that I am only aware of one definition of this vocabulary item. For a long time, I have only been aware of one meaning of the word: mellifluous means "a flowing sweet, pleasant sound," often applied to the sounds of music, a musical instrument, or even the sound of a human voice--"She had such a mellifluous voice, I found myself quite attracted to her!"

Now, when I encountered the word in Good Omens and I checked it out in the dictionary, I realized that the word can also mean "flowing with sweetness" or simply put, something "pleasing"--"a mellifluous life."

Mostly though, the word is used to describe a sweet sound. It is an item of vocabulary you can use to describe your favorite song, musician, or composer. Try "I enjoy the mellifluous sounds of Mozart's violin melodies."

I had such a busy day that this is quite the late post. Thank you for bearing with me.