Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why Are You

I was in class the other day and I heard one of the students say, "Why you are nervous?" Now, this is a common error. The placing of the verb "are" can be confusing.

We do know that in general, verbs are placed close to the subjects of sentences. Hence, we say "She is going to school" and "We are eating out tonight." However, where questions are concerned, the position of the verb can change. In the error that the student committed, the correct form is "Why are you nervous?"

The reason for the shift is simple. The subject, actually, is the answer to "why." In other words, the subject is not "you" but "why." Consider:

Student A: Why are you nervous?
Student B: I'm nervous because I'm presenting my report today.

In this dialogue, the subject of the sentence is the anticipated answer to the "why" question ("because I'm presenting"). I think the rule is the same for other "w" questions. Let's continue the dialogue:

Student C: Where is your presentation going to be?
Student B: In classroom C.
Student A: What are needed for the presentation?
Student B: I'll need a laptop, LCD screen, and maybe a laser pointer.

This rule also applies to "how" questions, which is why we say "How are you?" and not "How you are."

I hope you are all doing well!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


This is once again a repeat post. I wrote about the Pinoy mistake of saying "in abroad." Allow me to write about this again and talk about the dangers of literally translating one language into another.

I often hear my students saying "I want to work in abroad." At first, I didn't know where this expression was coming from. However, when I thought about it in Filipino, it made perfect sense. In Filipino, we say, "gusto ko magtrabaho sa ibang bansa." "Sa" is then literally translated into "in" which is why so many make the mistake of saying "in abroad."

I am really wondering what to do about this error. It occurs so often that sometimes, I'm not sure how to correct it as my students are so used to making the mistake. As with learning a new language, memorization is really the key. Students just have to get used to saying the proper, "I'd like to work abroad."

Now, literally translating one language into another is knows as transliteration. It doesn't work. Languages are, after all, very different from one another and although some words in one language do have equivalents in another, that is not always the case. If you insist on transliteration, you are liable to make mistakes. I mean, is there any English word for "pitik"?

Manny left me a question about my previous post. He wanted to know if certain sentences he came up with were correct (if you want to read them, check out the "comments" section of my post called "For a Total Purchase Of"). Manny, once again, thanks for the question. Both sentences are correct but I would not use either one. For something as simple as the mechanics for getting discounts, I would not use words like "accumulatively." Remember, English is not just about knowing words, it's also about knowing when to use the words. "Accumulatively" is too formal for something so casual. As for the second sentence, the expression "total spending" is correct; however, I think it's used for something larger than an individual's shopping habits; as in "the total spending of the Philippine government." Don't get me wrong, though. As I said, both sentences are correct. They're just inappropriate for that particular situation. I hope I answered your question?

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For A Total Purchase Of

Hi everyone! No, I haven't been in Boracay this whole time. I got back to Manila Friday night and immediately started work Saturday. I've been working ever since and I've been so exhausted! Today is my first kind of free day. Do you know the feeling when you sometimes need a vacation from your vacation?

When I got back, I saw a flyer from my credit card company advertising freebies if you made a "cumulative spend of" a certain amount. Here are some samples: "For a cumulative spend of P5,000 FREE P500 Nike Gift Cheque" and "For a cumulative spend of P2,000, get P300 REBATE on regular-priced items." Now, where, may I ask, is this "cumulative spend" coming from?

I was really irritated while reading the flyer. In the first place, "spend" is not a noun. It's a verb! We don't say "spend" when we talk about the total amount we spent shopping. We use "spend" when we talk about the act of using up something: "I spend P500 on my monthly cellphone bill" or "I spend some time with my mom everyday." We don't do "a cumulative spend" on anything!

I think the ad company that designed the flyer was trying to be creative and tried to use words that would make their flyer distinct from the rest. Still, that is no excuse to mangle the English language! I do work hard to teach correct English; it irks me to know that people are just taking liberties to change it without any good reason.

So, why don't we just stick to the more traditional expressions of "For a total purchase of P5,000, get a P500 gift cheque" or "For a cumulative expense of P2,000, get a discount card!"
After all, "purchase" and "expense" are nouns that mean the totality of what we spent on.

One final word, I'm not against ad companies or writers inventing words or using words in new ways. This is just part of the creative process and the growth of English. Still, I think there's a reasonable need to change the language within the parameters of what the language is now. In other words, don't break cardinal rules such as the differences between nouns and verbs.

That's all for today! Don't spend too much!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

She is Outgoing

I heard someone say, "She is outgoer." As with many errors in English, half the time, we can actually figure out the meaning of what was said. Still, the error remains. In this case, it's clear that the person wanted to say, "She is outgoing."

When we want to describe someone as being warm and friendly, we use the adjective outgoing, which literally means "someone warm and friendly." Outgoer is simply incorrect.

I'm leaving tomorrow for a vacation in Boracay with my in-laws. Yahoo! I'm finally going out-of-town for fun and not for work.

See you all when I get back!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

It's On Behalf Of!

Much as I don't like to repeat myself, I had to post on this topic again. The improper use of "in behalf of" is starting to irritate me.

Yesterday, Casey and I were in Megamall for some errands and we stopped by Toy Kingdom, my husband being a toy collector after all. Toy Kingdom had a voice over the PA announcing birthday celebrants who were shopping in the store. The announcer kept saying, "In behalf of Toy Kingdom, we would like to greet...." After the announcement, all the employees would clap and this rather annoying birthday jingle would play. My irritation at the music aside, I kept wincing every time I would hear "in behalf of Toy Kingdom." How many Toy Kingdom shoppers had their birthday yesterday anyway?

One of my earliest posts was on this topic. When we are representing someone else, we say "on behalf of". "In behalf of" is used when we're doing something for the benefit of someone else. Hence, it's "On behalf of Toy Kingdom" (the person over the PA is representing everyone in Toy Kingdom) and "We collected goods in behalf of the flood victims" (the speaker collected charity for the benefit of the flood victims).

Now, I do know that English is a living and evolving language. In fact, "on behalf of" and "in behalf of" are often interchanged now. Still, I think it's important to know how to use English correctly just the same.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

At A Young Age

A student of mine was talking to me about her daughter. She said, "In her young age, my daughter already likes computers." She was a wonderful lady but I had to gently correct her by saying, "At a young age, most kids today are interested in computers."

Honestly, this error is really very slight. There's no real reason why we say "at a young age" instead of "in her young age." It's just a question of idioms and the way English has been used all these years. This, though, is my own explanation of why we say "at a young age:"

Remember my early posts on the preposition at? I pointed out that it is used to indicate a specific point in time and space as opposed to in, which is used to talk about being surrounded by time and space. When we talk about a person's age, we're talking about his/her location at a specific point in time; hence, we use at.

Here is something quite confusing though. When we're talking about an elderly person, we say, "in his/her old age." The way I see it, we say "in her old age" because old age is really more a state of being rather than a point in time. When kids are young, I don't think they're in any state of being yet. After all, they haven't carved their identities yet and life for them is just starting. We can use in to talk about old age because age does surround us, so we're literally "in" being old. Also, as I grow older, I realize that my literal age doesn't matter as much as my emotional age or my age in terms of how wise I've become. So, as we get older, age and everything it means starts surrounding us.

Someone who introduced him/herself as a "fan from Canada" left me two comments which made me feel so good. Whoever you are, I'm glad to be able to meet you. You found me through "Remembrance of Things Gone Awry"? That's a great blog run by Toto Gonzalez, who is an uncle of my husband. You're right about "brought/bring" and "take." The problem seems to be a feature of Philippine English. I actually just found out about it myself. Thank you for reading!