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Lessons in “for” and “since” from Sam Smith, BB King and friends

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Confusion with “for” and “since” is a very common problem for English learners. Often, even when people understand how to use each word correctly, there are slip-ups. The difference in the use of these two words is one of those things that is specific to the English language and therefore difficult to remember. Thankfully songwriters throughout the ages are experts in the subject, and there’s nothing more memorable than a good tune.

First, here’s a song sung by BB King and Katie Webster. Just listen to the chorus at 1.43 if you don’t have time for the whole song:

Let’s look at the lyrics of the chorus sung by BB King (If you’re not too chilled out after listening to that):

  • Since I met you baby my whole life has changed
  • Since I met you baby you’ve made a new man out of me
  • Since I met you baby I’m as happy as a man can be.

Here’s another beautiful song. This time from Chris Delmhorst. If you don’t have time for the whole song listen to 0:13 to 0:40:

OK, stop weeping! Let’s look at some of the lyrics of this song:

  • Seems like to me the stars don’t shine so bright
  • Seems like to me the sun has lost its light
  • Seems like to me there’s nothing going right … since you went away

Next please! Here are the champions of the English language, The Beatles. Non Beatles fans can skip straight to 02.25

This time in the chorus at the end: I’ll never dance with another, since I saw her standing there

The word “since” is used before a word or phrase expressing a point in time in the past. For example, in the sentence “I have lived in Zurich since 2007.” 2007 is the point in time in the past. Since is another way of saying “from … until now”

Back in BB Kings song, meeting his lover for the first time is the point in time in the past. He then lists the things that are true in his life from then until now.

I met you = at a point in time in the past

My life has changed, I’m a new man, I’m really happy = have been true from that time and is still true now

In Chris Delmhorst’s song:

You went away = at a point of time in the past

The sun has lost its light, the bird has forgotten his song, the stars don’t shine so bright = These things have happened from then until now.

In The Beatles song:

I saw her standing there = at a point of time in the past

I’ll never dance with another = has been true from that time until now and will be true for ever and ever (gotta love The Beatles)

So, you use “since” before a point of time in the past. But what about “for”?

Let’s ask Sam Smith. Skip to 1:29 if you wish to avoid the dramatics at the beginning.

Apart from accusing us of calling him crazy and calling him baby, he sings:

For months on end I’ve had my doubts I have loved you for many years

The last word is going to go to Phil Collins. Don’t tell me you don’t know this one! Skip to 0.36 if you don’t have time for the whole song.

Phil sings: I’ve been waiting for this moment for all of my life

As these songs show, the word “for” is used before a length of time.

“Months on end”, “many years” and “all of my life”

“I have lived in Zurich since 2007″ and “I have lived in Zurich for 13 years” mean the same (In 2020), but “since” is used before a point in time and “for” before a length of time.

And finally ….there are also songs that show you how not to do it. For example this one, that has been covered many many times.

If you weren’t too busy worrying about their hair catching fire to listen to the song, you might have noticed the hook: “Since you’ve been gone”.

Can anyone spot a problem here? The word “since” is before “you’ve been gone”. While our other examples always used the past simple, to express a point of time in the past, “I met her”, “You went away” “I saw you”, this song uses present perfect “You’ve been gone“. The present perfect, “have/has been” plus the past participle (gone), is not used to describe a point in the past that is finished. It’s used to describe something that started in the past and is still true now, so you shouldn’t use it after “since”. It should really be “since you went away” like in Kris Delmhorst’s song or “since you left

But I suppose that’s rock-and-roll for ya!

Please leave any comments are suggestions below. Have a good week!

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Mistakes using “by” and “until”

Hi English enthusiasts! I’ve decided to start a blog correcting errors that I hear from students and other speakers of English as a foreign language day after day here in Switzerland. I hope you will join me on this journey into the foul swamps of split infinitives and false friends.

Let’s start with that old blooper:

“by” and “until”

So, you’re at work. Your boss comes in,

“I need the sales report. Have you finished it yet? I need it at four!”

You say: “It’s nearly finished, I’ll give it to you ***** four o’clock.”

What’s missing, “by” or “until”?

If you answer is “until”, we need to talk.

Let’s go to another situation. You’re in the pub with Dave. You’re talking about your bucket lists*

You say: “I’d love to go bungee jumping!”

Your friend Dave says: “I want to go bungee jumping until I’m 50.”

Really Dave?

Jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping and jumping……The WHOLE time up to your 50th birthday! Bouncing and eating, bouncing and sleeping. That doesn’t sound healthy!

No Dave, the word you need is “before”.

“I want to go bungee jumping before I’m 50,” means that you want to experience this thing one time.

At least I hope this is what you wanted to say…

So, back to the office

When you say “It’s nearly finished, I’ll give it to you until four o’clock.” It means you will spend the entire time up to four o’clock “giving it” to your Boss. I don’t know, maybe it’s got A LOT of pages…

No! Giving doesn’t take that long! If you use “until”, you mean that you will be doing the activity from right now when you are speaking up to the time, date, day etc. that you mention.

The right answer is, “I’ll give it to you before four o’clock.” You’ll finish it, and then you’ll give it to your boss ONCE some time before four.

TIPP: For this reason, verbs describing short activities such as: “to give”, “to start”, “to stop” “to enter” etc. are seldom used with the word until.

Here are some more examples. Are they correct or incorrect? (Answers at the end)       

1. I’m going to study until I get my degree.

2. I’m going to do the proficiency exam until I go back to Switzerland.

3. I’m playing tennis until four o’clock.

4. I’ll finish my tennis game until four o’clock

5. I’m going to make an appointment with my dentist until Christmas.

6. I have to renew my passport until 2030

7. I have until this Friday to apply for the job

Please leave a like or comment if you’re part of the blogging community. I’m also on the lookout for new topics, so if there’s anything you’d like me to try to clear up for you, please let me know. Let’s bash out those bloopers!

Take care

Sally

Answers: 1. Correct 2. Incorrect 3. Correct 4. Incorrect 5. Incorrect 6. Incorrect 7. Correct   

*Lists of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime. (Oxford)

Image 2 by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Simon Mayo’s confessions

Simon Mayo has a radio show that you can write to with your confessions. He’ll read your letter out and then he and his team will decide if you are forgiven or not. There are some great stories, and it’s interesting to hear the team deciding whether to condemn the “sinners”. Have a listen. Would you forgive them? These are extracts from a radio show, so feel free to skip the bits at the beginning if they are not relevant to the story.

Confessions on Scala Radio

1. The New Car (From 1:15)

Synopsis: Jezza’s Boss had a new car. It was his pride and joy. The team went on a residential course together. One evening they went to Burford to go on a pub crawl. The Boss “Len” took his lovely new car. Driving back, Jezza Was sick all over the dashboard. He offered to pay to get it professionally cleaned. His boss had it cleaned and it seemed ok. One day, Len used the air blowers in his car and “particles” flew into the car. Len couldn’t clean it out of the ventilation system and had to sell the car.

2. The Jeans (From 1:03)

Synopsis: Emma liked REALLY tight jeans. One day she went to go an buy a new pair and was trying them on. She tried them on in the fitting room while the shop assistant gave her new ones to try on and took away the ones that didn’t fit. Without realizing it, Emma lost a pair of knickers in one of the pairs of jeans she had tried on and given back to the shop assistant. The shop assistant had put the jeans back on the shelf. They closed the shop to look for her underpants but they never found them. Someone must have bought a pair of jeans with her knickers in.

Do you forgive?

3. Chutney (1:15)

Synopsis: Louis loved Chutney. He ate it every day. His wife used to make Chutney from the pears from her father’s favorite tree. The tree fell down at about the same time as her father died and the family decided to make one last special batch of chutney together to remember him by. Louis was left at home to stir the Chutney while the others went for a walk. He was hungry and wanted to cook something so he decided to move the big pan and put it outside for a little while so there was space on the cooker. He heard the family returning and quickly put the Chutney back on the cooker. Finding two massive Slugs on top of the Chutney, he quickly put them in his pocket and stirred in the slime. He never told anyone. They made 24 jars of Chutney in memory of his father-in-law that we divided up amongst the whole family. He told his family he had gone off Chutney and hasn’t eaten it since.

Do you forgive him?

4. The cat flap kid (1:23)

Synopsis: Emma was pregnant with her 4th Child. Her toddler was at home with her in a new house. She took George for a walk and they  had a lovely time. When they got back, she realized she had locked herself out. Her car keys were also in the house and she had to pick up her other son soon, so she was frantic. She sent her son through the cat flap telling him to get the keys. He changed his mind but she pushed him through.  He got in, passed them to her and got a lolly. When she told her sister, she was horrified.

Do you forgive her?

5. The Play (1:12)

Synopsis: There was a performance of Pinocchio by a GCSE drama group. The plan was that when Pinocchio changes from a puppet to a boy there would be a smoke bomb going off for dramatic effect. When it started, the play seemed to be going ok but there was a lot of giggling backstage. The smoke bomb was accidently set off early and the kids had made it far too big. The whole room was filled with smoke and the audience rushed out. The boy who was playing Geppetto said “Oh what a foggy morning”.

Do you forgive them?

The Window (1:52)

Synopsis: Dan was 14 and his friend Will was very forgetful. One weekend, they went to hang out at Wills house. Will had forgotton his key, again. Dan noticed that the bathroom window on the first floor was open, so he used a bin to climb up the wall and onto a low roof to squeeze through the window. This way, both boys managed to get into the house. As Will was always forgetting his keys, afterwards he would often come into the house this way. One day will climbed in to get his keys and then both boys went to the Fish and Chip Shop. When they came back the police were there. The neighbor had seen them climbing in and called the police, who were searching the house for clues. Will confessed and took all the blame. Wills Mum went nuts. He had to apologize to the neighbor and was grounded. Dan feels bad that it was his idea to get into the house through the window.

Do you forgive him?

Radio 2 confessions 

DIY Debacle (1:09)

They had recently moved into a new house. They had a 2-year-old and she was pregnant. One afternoon they took the kids to a DIY Megastore. Dougal was potty training. Dougal used the toilet in the megastore. It was a display toilet… Soon it would be discovered. They ran away.

Do you forgive them?

Exploding brie (7:13)

He was a fighter pilot. Once there was a party in an aircraft hangar in France. People drank a lot. His navigator produced a box of bangers. They put a banger into a fish on the nearby table. It blew up. They started blowing all the fish up. When they began to run out of fish, he put one in a brie and threw it into the air. It exploded and everyone was covered in cheese.

Do you forgive them?

Brian’s Film (14:15)

Brian was in a cinema club a long time ago, where they used to show old films. The films came in sections (reels) of 20 minutes that the projectionist would tape together. One day the film seemed strange. The plot veered out in a strange direction and nothing made sense.  Brian’s film club colleague pulled him out of the film to talk to him. Somebody had mixed up the reels. They were from the same film but in the wrong order. “Should they stop the film?” No one was complaining but they looked puzzled. The two film club members decided to leave it as it was. They showed the same film in the wrong order the next day too.

Do you forgive them?

The Windmills (21:14)

Grandpa took his five-year-old grandson on Holiday to the seaside. The boy loved to look at the windmills out at sea. One day when they went for a walk to the beach the windmills were hidden by fog. Grandpa told his grandson that he knew why, but only because he was a top-secret member of the Sheffield coastguard. He said that the windmills went underwater, so that the boats wouldn’t knock into them at night. The next morning the boy told his Mum what his grandfather had said about the windmills, and said that it was top secret. She believed him! She asked Grandpa and he jokingly said he hoped he wouldn’t get into trouble. Just then, by coincidence, the coastguard arrived outside. The boy and his mum immediately hid under the table. Grandpa went out, pretended to talk to the coastguards and then came back in to tell them that he was in trouble but he thought it would be OK.

The same boy is now 11 and wrote an essay for school about renewable energy. He asked his grandfather if he could write what he had told him about the windmills. He and his mother still believe that they go under the sea at night!

Do you forgive him?

I Hope you had fun with these stories! There are loads more. Have a look on youtube.

Take care

Sally

Tekamolo v.s. Svompt: Word order

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Sometimes two languages can live inside one person peacefully, they complement each other and don’t get in each other’s way. Unfortunately, sometimes the opposite is true and we get …

L1 interference!

Sounds nasty, but it just means though that you use rules that apply to your native language, and apply them to your foreign language. If German is your native language and English your foreign language and you have problems with l1 interference, your English sounds kinda German.

A very common problem for German speakers is when they apply German word order rules to English. In English we have Svompt as a general rule:

Subject, Verb, Object, Manner, Time, Place

In German there is tekamolo as a general rule:

TEmporale Angabe, KAusale Angabe, MOdale Angabe, LOkale Angabe

(Time, Reason, Manner, Place)

So if I say “At two o’clock I rushed to the dentist.”, unless you want to emphasize “two o’clock”, this sentence sounds a bit strange.

In German “Ich bin zum Zahnarzt um vierzehn Uhr geeilt.” is also a bit weird.

So look out for this. Getting it right will help your English to sound more natural, oder? -talk about l1 interference!

Take care and see you soon

Sally

Watching out for “look” “watch” and “see”

Hello my dears. I hope this post finds you well. Today I’m going to write about those pesky words “watch” “look” and “see”.

Photo by Shvets Anna on Pexels.com

Literal meaningsa recap

“See” simply means to use your eyes.

“Look” means “to turn our eyes in a particular direction to see something”. (Cambridge)

“Watch” means “to look at or observe attentively over a period of time.” (Oxford)

So, let’s say, as I am right now, you are sitting on your balcony. You “see” everything that is in your field of vision. Just the stuff that the light going into your eyes has bounced off. I can see my laptop, for example, and the words on this page.

Let’s say you hear some music. Maybe you turn your head and look at the house opposite, where someone is standing on the balcony playing the banjo. You watch them closely. Isn’t that Dave, YOUR boyfriend? You watch for a bit longer. A woman comes out, she looks at him, he looks at her. You gasp, he looks in your direction and sees you … OK you get the picture!

Soooooooo…

You say “I’m watching TV” when you are enjoying the latest episode of Tiger King, NOT “I’m looking TV” or “I see TV”, because you are looking at the screen “attentively and over a period of time.”

But…watch out! You CAN say “I’m looking at the TV” if you’re examining the audio visual equipment itself, for example: “I’m looking at the TV to see if I can fix it.”, and you can say “I can see the TV“, as in “I can see the TV. I’m not blind, woopeee!”.

Unlike with the word television you can use “watch” and “see” with films and TV programmes. The same applies to spectator sports, for example: “I saw Liverpool vs Manchester last night.”

Idiomatic meanings

Oh baby, there is a lot of confusion with idioms and other phrases with “look”, “watch” and “see”! Usually people don’t realise they need to use these verbs and use the wrong word.

They use: “pay attention” instead of “watch out” or “look out”

If you want to let someone know they are in imminent danger DON’T say “Pay attention!”.

“Pay attention” is something you say to a dreamy schoolchild who’s not listening to the teacher. It means “concentrate” or “wake up”, for example: “Pay attention Johnny! Stop looking out of the window”

This is not appropriate to say to someone facing a life threatening situation. For a start, it’s got far to many syllables. You can’t say it fast enough.

“Pay attention Harold, there’s an arrow coming towards your *splat* … Ah never mind.”

Image by Paul Barlow from Pixabay

The best choice here is “watch out!” or “look out!” – much more efficient!

They use: “search for” or “search” instead of “look for”

Now, I admit, “search” does mean to look around hoping to find something, but it’s so much MORE.

First of all you usually “search” for something in a specific place, for example, “The police searched the house for drugs”, whereas “look for” goes before the thing you are looking for, for example, “I looked for some chocolate

“Search” is also much more thorough than “look for”. If someone says “I searched the house for chocolate” they mean that they looked in every corner of the house, inside the sofa cushions, up the chimney, under the floorboards etc.

On the other hand, if police officers on the tail of a suspected drugs baron go up to their superior officer and say, “we looked for drugs in his house, but we couldn’t find anything”. They could be accused to not taking things seriously. On hearing this, their sergeant might say. “Had a look!?! I wanted you to search the house from top to bottom”

Maybe, if you lost your keys and couldn’t find them after looking for them for a long time and were desperate, you could scream “I’m searching the house for my keys” (as you race around the place like a rabid squirrel), but it’s generally not necessary. If you’re not dissembling furniture and making holes in the wall to find something “look for” will generally do.

They use “look for” instead of “look after

If you work in childcare and get these two mixed up you have a big problem.

“To look after” is to care for something or someone, for example “I look after my brother’s cat when he’s away”.

“To look for”, as we discussed earlier, is to look around for something you need.

Imagine this scenario: You’re doing a temporary job at a nursery. A mother rings up, “Hello this is Mrs Beans, who is this?” You say, “This is (insert name here), I’m looking for your daughter today.” Maybe you will have time to realise your mistake before the search dogs and rescue helicopters move in, maybe not, either way, don’t be surprised if the parents start to get trust issues.

Arghhhh there are so many “look” and “watch” and “see” idioms and set phrases. I’ll have to revisit this topic some time soon.

Anyway look out for yourself (there’s one!)

See you soon!

The biggest mistake

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So, you want to know what the biggest mistake is? As I’m writing this blog post Switzerland is nearing the end of the third week of partial lock down because of COVID-19. People are getting from frazzled to nuclear burn out. We’re not used to a world with so many restrictions and so much global stress. Many people have a lot of time on their hands, but is now a good time to learn English?

If you’re anything like me you’ve noticed that your brain is not working as well as usual. Things that were easy before are getting harder. No wonder -who can sleep peacefully right now? Stress erodes our capacity to think clearly, it mucks up our memory, it turns mountains into molehills. When we’re stressed we make our biggest mistake: we beat ourselves up for not being good enough. When you’re learning a language this can be fatal.

Learning a language is like learning to play an instrument. When you start off you are bad, you are terrible – how many people can stay in the same room as a beginner violinist without breaking a sweat? The first time you use your new language in public you will falter, you will stutter, you will make mistakes. Get used to it. You’ll keep making mistakes, even when you’re at an advanced level! -including some potentially very embarrassing ones-

Who cares! You must admit, they can be hilarious. Remember:

Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” (Dr Seuss)

(Unless, of course, you’re doing an English examination, in which case all bets are off.) I would say that 99% of the time your English is not being examined, except by you! Give your inner examiner a break and do something fun with English this week:

Discover a sitcom on youtube:

Visit the Queen in Buckingham Palace:

Go for a walk around London or New York on Google Earth

When your brain is ready for some action, bash out some Quizlets or do some grammar exercises, but remember: a language is as big as the entire consciousness of the people that speak it. Don’t expect to understand things straight away. It’s a process. You’ll come across the same forms again and again, and each time you meet them you’ll get to know them better. You’ll make mistakes, especially in speaking, until this knowledge has filtered through into your subconsciousness and become second nature.

Get to know your weaknesses and correct your mistakes when you can, but don’t beat yourself up about them. If you beat a horse it might go faster for a while, but at some point it’ll be too worn out to go any further.

So that’s the biggest mistake!

Hope you are well and safe and as happy as possible.

Take care and see you soon,

Sally

Some very deadly false friends …

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Hello, I hope this blog post finds you well. Last week a student directed me to an article with some lovely false friends. I thought I might share the deadliest with you today and add a couple of my own.

Undertaker – Unternehmer

This is my favourite of all the false friends. An “undertaker” is: “a person whose business is preparing dead bodies for burial or cremation and making arrangements for funerals.” (Oxford). Although he or she can set up their own business, that’s not what “undertaker” means. Someone who sets up one or more businesses hoping to make a profit is called an “entrepreneur” in English. Yes, I know. It’s exactly the same as “undertaker” but in French, zut alors!

Body bag – Body bag

An undertaker might have a use for a body bag, but generally it’s not a fashion item. Let’s have a look at some amazon reviews for a body bag:

 “Can’t say I’m looking forward to trying it out”

“Super compact. Lots of handles, so will work very well as a stretcher.”

“I like that there’s no zipper on the inside. #zombieproof”

“First of all, this bag is NOT soundproof at all, but the seller didn’t advertise that it was, so I won’t subtract any stars for that, just make sure you plan accordingly.”

Taken from https://www.amazon.co.uk/Primacare-Heavy-Disaster-Pouch-Stretcher/dp/B001BX7YQS

Yes, a body bag is a bag to put a body in, not a bag to put on your body.

a gift – Gift

We all know to be careful not to mix up our gifts with “Gift” -a particularly deadly mistake and one that will get you straight onto Santa’s naughty list and probably behind bars!

Public Viewing – Public Viewing

Maybe the undertaker might want to sell some body bags at a public viewing. Chances are though that only the star of the show will need one. A public viewing is when friends and relatives of a deceased person can view the body!

OK I wish you a healthy and fun week. Look out for those false friends.

Take care

Sally

“Someone’s been drinking my beer!” Present perfect continuous to describe ale theft.

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The kids can’t go to school because of the pandemic, so this week I’ve been “homeschooling” and It’s not so easy to find an undisturbed minute to write. On the plus side it’s a great time to use the present perfect continuous! Everyone’s routines have been turned upside down. Some people, especially in the medical profession, have been working flat out and having to deal with exhaustion, frustration and overwork. Other people have found themselves at home with nothing to do, or have found out that, in fact, it’s not their kids’ teacher’s fault that their offspring can’t do advanced calculus yet.

Whatever we are doing, we can all play a role in achieving the best possible outcome for all of us. Even us thumb twiddlers and Skypers stuck at home are stopping the virus from spreading. In true English style let’s keep our upper lip stiff, put the kettle on and look on the bright side of life. Worse things happen at sea you know! Enough idioms, it‘s time for some grammar.

Two weeks ago we found out that you can use the present perfect simple to show off. You can talk about your achievements, you can seek attention or talk about life experiences, as long as you don’t use a finished time, like “yesterday”. Let’s look at some recent achievements:

  • Scientist have cured two cases of HIV by using a stem cell transplant
  • For the first time ever, a non-English language film, “Parasite” from South Korea, has won best picture at the Oscars.
  • The number of Africa’s critically endangered black rhinos has risen by nearly 800 over a six-year period.
  • The fires in Australia have gone out.

With present perfect simple we are interested in the present result of the action: two people are free from the HIV virus, the Black Rhino is no longer in such danger of becoming extinct, Australia is recovering from the bush fires and you don’t have to speak English to win “best film”.

Present perfect continuous, on the other hand, does not focus on the result of the activity, but the activity itself. We can use it, for example, to talk about how people have been dealing with the business, venue and school closures in Zurich and abroad:

The present perfect continuous here doesn’t express a finished result. These activities are seen as ongoing and in progress from the past until the present. We don’t know if the teachers have finished their lessons or not, and it is possible that the lady from America has decided to stop making cakes, but that is not important in these sentences.

“Where’s the beer?” I hear you ask. Let’s have a look at the present perfect simple vs present perfect continuous beer demonstration:

Someone has been drinking my beer!!

(Photo by Michelle Riach from Pexels)

Someone has drunk my beer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Photo by Marcelo Chagas from Pexels

“Has drunk” means that your beer is definitely gone. “Has been drinking” means that at least some of the beer has gone. Maybe (but obviously not in the first picture) it has gone, but that’s not important. The horrifying fact that someone has been drinking your beer without your permission is the only thing you are interested in when you say “someone’s been drinking my beer!”.

A good clue that you can use present perfect continuous is if you can clearly see the results of the activity in the present.

In my flat the kitchen is sticky, I’m sticky, and feel strangely full, so I can say “My son has been cooking flapjack”.

The door handle of our flat keeps on falling off. I can say “I have been doing some DIY.

Native speakers usually use present perfect continuous when talking about “how long”. For example, “I’ve been writing this blog since the kids went to visit their dad”. The exception to this is if it refers to a state. For example, “I’ve been here for three minutes”, not, “I’ve been being here for three minutes”, and “I’ve known her for three years” not “I’ve been knowing her for three years” (Though of course we all know that stative verbs should generally not be used with continuous tenses *ahem*)

OOOooooo I could write about the present perfect continuous forever more, but I think that’s enough for now. It’s a difficult tense to pin down, because you can often use present perfect simple or continuous with a microscopic difference in meaning, if any. I have a feeling I might come back to it in the future.

Until next time, I wish you and your family good health and happiness, and don’t forget: If you leave the house, someone might decide to drink your beer. Don’t risk it!

See you soon!

Death and Americans: present perfect simple, part II

Soooo I promised you a part two to my present perfect simple blog post. Here it is, but you’re going to have to work for it. Look at these sentences:

  1. Queen Elizabeth the second is a wonderful leader.
  2. She has been an inspiration to the people of Britain for many years.
  3. She lived in Buckingham Palace in London.

So, everything OK here? Of course not! Number three is wrong. The Queen hasn’t moved house or sold up to go and live in the Bahamas. She lives in Buckingham Palace. It should be present, not past. What about here?

  1. Genghis Khan is a terrible leader
  2. He has caused many deaths across Asia.
  3. He was the first emperor of the Mongol Empire

Yes, you may think I’m going crazy here but: Number one? No no no, thankfully the “is” here is wrong. Genghis Khan was a terrible leader. It’s obvious! He’s not rampaging around these days. We have other things to worry about. What about number two? Trust me, number two is just as silly as number one! As soon as we use present perfect “has caused” we are saying the time period, his life, is still going on. With Queen Liz the second that’s fine. She is Queen now, so you can use has been when talking about achievements in her life like, “she has been an inspiration” because her life is in the present.

Genghis Khan is dead. This Emperor is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘he’s expired and gone to meet his maker! Hes a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! He’s off the twig! ‘He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-EMPEROR!! So his life is finished. Finished time, past simple not present perfect. Easy as that.

Many learners of English don’t understand the true scale of this kind of present perfect / simple past mistake. You just don’t talk about dead people’s lives using the present perfect. As soon as you say, “Elvis has sold a lot of records” your listener will think “Eh, Elvis back from the dead? I always knew he was chilling on the beach in Goa all this time.” “Elvis sold a lot of records” is the right grammar here.

So, that was death, how about the Americans?

Last week I said the present perfect simple has two different uses:

  1. To say “how long” something has happened for, (Something that starts in the past and continues to the present) for example: “I have lived in Zürich for 12 years”.
  2. To show off, for example: “We have made new jobs”, “I’ve broken my leg” or “I’ve written my tenth blog post.”

For use number two, Americans sometimes use the past simple when they consider the action to be finished. In order to make this past tense seem more recent they often add words such as “already”, “just” and “yet”.

For example an American might say: “Mom, I brushed my teeth already!” or “Did you put the trash out yet?” or “I just did my homework. Can I go play basketball with my homies?”.

Whereas a Brit would say: “Mother dearest, I have brushed my teeth!” or “Have you put the rubbish out (yet)?” or “I‘ve (just) done my homework. Can I go and play cricket with my chums?”

Americans do use present perfect like the British, like Trump in last week’s blog post, but they have this second option to use the past simple.

A short one this week! I’m gathering up strength for the present perfect continuous next week. I’ve been meaning to write that one for a long time! So be lovely to one another, have fun and see you then.

I’ve done it! -using present perfect simple to show off.

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Yes! I’ve done it! I’ve started the third month of my blog! Woo, go me! This week we’re looking at the present perfect simple TO SHOW OFF!

There are two reasons to use the present perfect simple

  1. To say “how long” something has happened for, (Something that starts in the past and continues to the present) for example: “I have lived in Zürich for 12 years”.
  2. To show off, for example: “I have started the third month of my blog.”

There are different ways to show off using the present perfect simple:

  1. Attention seeking: I’ve hurt my finger! I’ve broken up with my boyfriend. You’ve run over my foot with your car!
  2. Talking about achievements, (Look at me, aren’t I clever, fit etc…) for example: “I’ve just passed my driving test!”, “I’ve climbed Mount Everest! or “I’ve hoovered the floor, washed the dishes, made the dinner, fed the cat and put the bins out!”
  3. Talking about life experiences (when you don’t mention a time in the past): I’ve seen the milky way in Tanzania. My Dad’s met DJ Bobo. I’ve eaten crocodile flavoured crisps. I’ve seen a film in 4XD.

In these cases, by using the present perfect simple, (have/has + past participle) you are directing the listener to the present result of the completed action (what you, or others, have done or what has happened). You want the person you are talking to to be aware of the current situation. As always, here present perfect is making a connection between the present and the past.

In the film of The Lord of the Rings, Merry says “I think I’ve broken something” to make Frodo aware that he has a problem and needs help. Have a look!

Classic attention seeking grammar! The present perfect here, “have broken”, is used to make Frodo (or insert Hobbit name here) think, “Argh present perfect, what is the present result of this break? Do I have to carry the little ***** all the way to Mordor now”.

In the next video POTUS Donald Trump uses the “present perfect simple to show off” like a Boss. Everything’s great! He’s great, the economy’s great!!! He’s talking about his achievements. The connection with the present time (when Trump is in power) shown by the present perfect, makes clear that it’s all due to him and his minions. (The video is copyrighted by Bloomberg, so you’ll have watch it on the YouTube site, I’m afraid. It’s worth it!)

Here are some highlights:

“We have launched an economic boom. A boom that has rarely been seen before. There‘s been nothing like it!” “We have created 5.3 Million new jobs” “Unemployment has reached its lowest rate in over half a century”

In fact, he also uses the present continuous after this so that we really hear the present results of these achievements:

“Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades”

“The US economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office.”

So what about showing off about life experiences. Let’s ask these fine sailors…

“That’s got to be the best pirate I’ve ever seen!”

“I’ve ever seen” means, of course “I’ve seen in my whole lifetime”. If you are alive, which you probably are if you’re reading this, your lifetime is a present time, therefore you use present perfect when talking about experiences in your lifetime.

Here are some things I’ve done in my lifetime that I like to show off about:

  • I‘ve been to Norway
  • I‘ve never been to America
  • I‘ve drunk a Guinness, or two, in Ireland
  • I’ve shaken the hand of someone who has shaken the hand of someone who has shaken Snoop Dog’s hand.
  • I‘ve met the man who wrote the theme tune to Mr Bean, twice.

Watch out! As soon as you add expressions of past time to experiences, or suggest past time (for example last week, when I was 16, before I moved here etc…) you need to use the past simple. For example, “I went to India when I was 26.” I have a Quizlet about past and present time phrases here and another with some simple exercises with present perfect and past simple here in case you are unsure.

Oh! I guess there will have to be a part two. In part two of “using present perfect simple” I’ll write about:

  • How death changes everything (grammatically speaking)
  • Why the Americans have their own rules
  • Why newspaper headlines have their own rules
  • Why you shouldn’t get too specific
  • The answers to any questions you have

Please leave a comment, a question, a like, a follow, book a lesson or translation or just Netflix and chill -I can highly recommend “Better call Saul”

See you next week for some more present perfect simple.

Take care out there!

Sneaky commas and “that” or “which”?

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Hmmmmmmm……which one, “that” or “which”? Many thanks to Andrew for suggesting this one.

A warning first: We are getting into serious language nerd territory. It’s the kind of thing that native speakers get wrong all the time! *Cough*

It’s all about two types of relative clause. A relative clause is part of a sentence starting with “that, which, who, whose, whom, where or when”, for example: “The man who sold the world.” Here the word “who” links the two sentences, “The man” and “He sold the world”.

The first type of relative clause answers the question “which one?”, or “what kind of …?” This is called an identifying clause.

For example in the phrase, “The Hotel that you recommended”. The relative clause “that you recommended” answers the question “which hotel are you taking about?” and therefore identifies the hotel.

In the phrase, “My sister who lives in Canada” the relative clause “who lives in Canada” answers the question “Which sister?” and therefore identifies the sister. -It’s not the sister who lives in London.

The second, non-identifying clause, gives extra information. You don’t need to know this information to know “which one?” or “who?”, it just helps to build a better picture.

For example, in the phrase, “The Hotel Dolder, which cost us an arm and a leg …” you already know which hotel it is, it’s the Dolder in Zurich. Type that into google maps and you’ll find it no problem. The relative clause “which cost us an arm and a leg” just adds the extra information that you had to sell a kidney to stay there.

NOTICE THAT IN THE IDENTIFYING CLAUSE I USED “THAT” (The Hotel that you recommended) AND IN THE NON-IDENTIFYING CLAUSE I USED “WHICH”! (The Hotel Dolder, which cost us an arm and a leg) -Pardon me for shouting. This is the way things are done in English 99% of the time. (Not the shouting, the grammar bit!)

For the next part you really need to put your reading glasses on (40+ joke). In the phrase “My sister, who lives in Canada” The relative clause “who lives in Canada” is a non-identifying clause not an identifying clause.

Yes, Yes I know!! But have another look. There’s a comma! The comma is powerful, it is the Jedi Master of punctuation marks. It can change the whole meaning of the sentence.

In the phrase “My sister, who lives in Canada” The comma separates out the two parts of the phrase, “My sister” and “who lives in Canada” because they are two separate elements. “My sister” identifies who you are talking about, and “who lives in Canada” is extra information. You do not need more information to identify her, because who she is is obvious to the listener. Either she is the speaker’s only sister, or the speaker had already been talking about her. (Or it’s the sister no one talks about…)

In the phrase “My sister who lives in Canada”, “My sister” and “who lives in Canada” are not separated with a comma because they belong together. Both parts of the phrase identify who you are talking about. It’s the sister who lives in Canada, not the sister who lives in Mongolia! Because you need “who lives in Canada” to identify which sister it is, this means the speaker has more than one sister, and the listener needs more information to identify her.

Wrong placement of commas before relative clauses can be amusing for language nerds:

A:”My boyfriend who owns a Mercedes is coming to the party” B:”Come on! Can’t you get the one with the Lambourgini!”

Anyway, see you next week! Don’t forget to leave a comment or a like!

Take care!