Friday, May 30, 2008


I heard someone say "She is tensed" and I immediately realized where the mistake came from. We never describe a person as "tensed;" a person is always just "tense." Why is this?

I think the confusion stems from the word "tense" as a verb and "tense" as an adjective. When we describe a person's state of nervousness (which is usually the way we use the word), we use it as an adjective: "She is tense." As an adjective, we do not add "ed."

Now, when "tense" is used as a verb, we mean "to make something stiff" or "to add tension." Think of all the workout videos and their teachers who shout: "Are you ready to do the workout? Feel the stretch! Tense those arm muscles!" In this example, we are being told to add tension to our muscles. Hence, "tense" is used as an action word. If the word is being used as a verb, then you can add "ed" to indicate the past: "He tensed his muscles too much during that weight-training session."

It's Friday already so don't you get too tense now!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In, On, and Months

My old friend who calls herself "ahoy" left a question for me about the use of "in" and "on" where months are concerned. I think this will be my third post on these two little words. I'm not surprised about this as these prepositions are really very tricky. So, here goes.

If we talk about what we did (or we're going to do) during the month as a whole, we use in: "In May, we're going to the beach." Or "I went to the beach in May." I'm not sure about the logic of this but I think it has something to do with the lack of specifics. Remember, we use in when we're talking about being surrounded by something. If you don't have any specific dates or times, then it's like saying you're surrounded by (or immersed in) a general time frame.

However, on is used when we're talking about specific dates and times: "On May 14, I was in Boracay." Where specifics are concerned, you have some kind of control, just like controlling the surface of a table, for instance: "I put my papers on the table." If you're talking about a specific date or time, you have some measure of control over that date or time. Remember, on is used for two-dimensional spaces, so specifics are important.

Speaking of "in" and "on," I heard this the other day: "I'm on a car." This is strange because we're in a car but on (or in) a bus and on a plane. This just goes to show how tricky prepositions are. It's best to remember that prepositions don't always have rules that make sense. What learners (and confident users) of English have to know is what these little words mean. The rules themselves can be rather arbitrary, in other words, they don't always follow logic. Often, we use prepositions in certain ways because they've been used in those ways for generations.

Isn't English such a difficult language?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Will Think Of That

I came across this a couple of days ago: "I will think for that". I'm sure many of you will spot the mistake right away.

A word about the preposition for. I think I wrote about this a couple of posts ago. For has many meanings but it is commonly used to refer to talking about direction of all forms. For example, we use it to say "I'm taking the cake for her," "would you like to go for a hotdog?" In the case of the error above, we don't think for something (thinking is something we do, not a direction); therefore, for is the incorrect preposition to use.

To correct the error, there are two ways. The first is to use the preposition of: I will think of that. As a preposition, of also has many meanings but in this case, it means "to focus on something." When we think of something, we are focusing on it; hence, of is the preposition of choice.

The second way of correcting this is to use the preposition on: I will think on that. I've mentioned before that on describes location but it is also used to talk about the focus of a non-physical action like thought or thinking. When we say "I will think on that," we are talking about the focus of our thinking.

I notice that many Filipinos mistake for and of. That is something to think on.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Pinoy Cunning Linguist

Please visit my new blog, The Pinoy Cunning Linguist. It's on I can't believe I started a new blog considering I can barely maintain this one! I just started writing tonight so it might take me a few days to get some posts up.

This promises to be fun! Check it out!

Agree With That

Lately, I've been hearing a lot of people say "I agree to that." I'm worried that this mistake will be considered correct just because so many people have been using it! I'm hoping to prevent this by writing about it.

Remember the rule: we go to something but we agree with something. If someone's opinions echo your own, then we say "I agree with you." I think the confusion stems from the situation where two people agree to do something. An example would be: "Two teachers have agreed to share materials." In this instance, both teachers have agreed and are thus moving to applying what they agreed on. This is not the same as one person having the same opinions or ideas as another.

So, it's "I agree with that." I hope you all agree. Have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Write Them Down In Five Sentences

I was walking around school the other day and I heard someone say, "Write down your answers at for least five sentences." This is yet another manifestation of the confusion between for and to (I think I've blogged about something similar before. I must check my archives! I'm forgetting what I've blogged about!). Thing is, prepositions are really quite tricky. Most of the time, the rules that govern them are just born out of usage and not much logic. The best way to deal with prepositions is to memorize how they are used which is very unpleasant, if you ask me.

For is a difficult preposition because it has so many uses. We use it to indicate ownership ("I bought that for you"), direction ("I'm heading for school in a bit"), some kind of goal ("I've been waiting for this chance"), some kind of character ("For someone who works so hard, she doesn't look stressed"). It's really quite confusing! One thing that for does not do, however, is it does not indicate boundaries. That is what in does.

In several previous posts, I've mentioned that in is used to talk about something being surrounded by something. In other words, whatever is in something is surrounded; it's bounded by something ("in school," "in the office," "in my bag"). Similarly, on non-physical levels, there are boundaries as well: someone is "in pain" (the person feels surrounded by pain), "in doubt," "in anger." In the sentence mentioned above, in is the correct preposition to use because whatever needs to be written, is bounded by five sentences. The sentences then serve as the boundary for the idea that needs to be expressed. Hence, "Write your answers in at least five sentences."

By the way, this blog is almost a year old and I'd like to start another one. It will also be an English or language related blog, I'm just not sure what I want it to contain as of yet. Any suggestions?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

We Will Go

Here's something I heard the other day: "we will going to." What made this error even more painful to me was that it was made by an English teacher. I don't blame the teacher in any way. Likely, no one has ever taught her the right expression. Also, the standard of education here in the Philippines is so low, especially in provincial public schools (where this teacher is from) that all I can do is applaud her efforts at self-improvement instead of making fun of her mistake.

Her error, "we will going to" is a common one. Correcting it is simple: "we will go." It's just a question of removing "going to." If you insist on keeping the progressive form of the verb, then make it "we will be going to." However, to simplify, when you want to use the future tense (will + verb), remember that the verb remains in its base form. Here are some examples: "we will use the phone," "we will buy the food," "we will drive the car."

I'm so sorry my posting has been erratic. Since taking on a class of foreign students, I've been even more swamped with work. Have a nice day!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Addicting and Addictive

Hi there! It's been a very long and stressful week. I have some new classes which have turned out to be more challenging than I expected. Still, I'm rising to the challenge!

My reader from Canada asked me to discuss the difference between the words "addicting" and "addictive". Both are used interchangeably now. Still, there is a key difference between them.

"Addicting" and "addictive" both mean "causing addiction." The key difference lies in what part of speech the words belong in. "Addicting" is a transitive verb while "addictive" is an adjective. What's the difference?

Like any verb, a transitive verb is an action word. It's a word that talks about doing or causing something. Unlike other verbs, though, a transitive verb requires an object. In other words, something receives the action. To use "addicting," we would have to say something like: "That brand of pet food is addicting to my cats." In the sentence, my cats receive the action. It's a bit had to explain transitive verbs. It's best to think of them by asking "who did what to whom?" In this case, the pet food caused an addiction in my cats.

The adjective "addictive" simply describes a substance that causes addiction. Hence, we say, "alcohol is addictive," "chocolate is addictive," "video games are addictive." When Pinoys (and people in general) use the word "addicting," they really mean "addictive."

One last word, if you search the Net, you will find a lot of links to "addicting" products. In a way, the mistake of using "addicting" as an adjective is a result of changes in English and the way people tend to accept a mistake and take it as a fact. Where these two words are concerned, use "addictive" if you're writing or using it in a more formal situation. "Addicting," as a colloquial way of using English, I think, is all right when speaking to friends and acquaintances. Still, it helps to know the correct way of using it.

My Canadian friend, thanks for the question. It was quite a challenge answering it. To my other friend Manny, thanks for your kind message. Really, sometimes I wonder whether people learn anything from me. Oh well, no point in getting paranoid!

Keep the questions coming! I love them!