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!

Mistakes with “get” and “become”, or : “I want to become a sausage.”

There is a legend in English teaching circles of a young man from Germany called Hans. Hans was a lively young man and decided one fine day to go for a walk in the forest. The forest was magical, as they often are in such stories, and soon poor Hans got lost and met a witch, as you often do in such stories. Hans was very hungry and, seeing the witch, abruptly asked her where her gingerbread house was.

“Young man” said the witch, quite annoyed at his rudeness, “I’m not that kind of witch! But if you ask me nicely I’ll get you something to eat. My house isn’t far away. What would you like?” Hans thought for a moment, then said, “I want to become a sausage.” Oops, that’s not something to say to a witch! Needless to say, the witch waved her magic wand and Hans became a sausage.

It’s not suprising that people have such a problem choosing between “get” and “become”. Both words can be used before adjectives: You can “get cold” or “become cold”. Here, the only difference is that “get” is more informal. Both phrases mean, “to gradually change from being warm to being cold”.

Before nouns, however, it starts to get tricky. In the above meaning (to change from one thing to another) you can use “become” but not “get” before a noun. “He became a pilot” means he changed from not being a pilot to being a pilot, but “He got a pilot” is sentence with a different meaning.

“He got a pilot” means he “obtained” or “received” a pilot, for example: “He got a pilot to fly his private jet” or “He got a Lego pilot to go with his Lego aeroplane.” The word “become” is not used to mean “to obtain” in English. Poor Hans didn’t know this, which is why he is now a sausage. “I want to become a sausage” can only mean “I want to change from not being a sausage to being a sausage”.

Here’s an exercise. Which of the two options is more normal? When can you use both “become” and “get” with little difference in meaning? If you’re not sure, double check if the words come before a noun or an adjective, and if the meaning “to receive / obtain” or “to change from one thing to another” makes more sense in the context. (Answers below)

  1. I want to become / get your wife.
  2. What do you want to get / become for Christmas?
  3. I’m becoming / getting tired
  4. The ugly duckling became / got a beautiful swan.
  5. I got some milk / I became some milk at the shops.
  6. I became / got sick after eating the lasagne.

As always, ask any questions below and please leave comments and suggestions for topics.

See you next time!

Answers 1. become (change into) 2. get (receive) 3. both (before an adjective) 4. became (change into) 5. got (obtain) 6. both (before an adjective)

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Present continuous mistakes, or: English for Tinder users

There’s no better place to find English bloopers than on Tinder.

For some reason many users of this app decide to introduce themselves to potential lovers using a language which they, at best, find it difficult to communicate in. Perhaps the most misleading of these errors is the misuse of the present continuous.

Let’s cut to the chase. On Tinder you have two large groups of Tinder users. One group is passing through: maybe on holiday or abroad on business, perhaps a “CEO”, who is heliskiing, mountain biking and lift/bathroom selfieing* his or her way across the country (while saving the planet and curing world poverty, of course). The other group is looking for a long-term relationship. They live here, go on long hikes in the mountains every weekend and, no doubt being in Switzerland, work in a bank or as a management consultant and eat copious amounts of cheese.

Aha! Already we have some present simple and continuous action here!

Tinder user number one is heliskiing, s/he is mountain biking and s/he is selfieing**

to be (is) + continuous form (-ing) = present continuous

Tinder user number two lives in Switzerland, goes on long hikes in the mountains, works as a management consultant or banker and eats excessive amounts of cheese.

Present simple form (3rd person) lives/goes/works/eats = present simple.

Here the tense used is telling us something; Present continuous is used to show that the action is temporary, a change to the normal state of things. Tinder user number one is staying in Switzerland only for a few weeks. After all, the rainforests in Brazil aren’t going to replant themselves.

Present simple, on the other hand, is used to show an action that is normal and unchanging for example, “The Earth goes around the Sun”, or “On Friday nights Tinder user number two fails to get a date and weeps into his or her fondue”.

So, when someone on Tinder writes “I’m living in Zurich” or “I’m working for UBS” (using the present continuous) a native speaker will assume that this is a temporary situation. They’ll think that his person is probably one of those global citizens who spends a few months in each country. If, however, working in Zurich is a normal situation for this tinder user, their job is not temporary and they’re not planning to move to Mongolia in the near future, “I live/work in Zurich” (present simple) and not “I’m living/working in Zürich” (present continuous) is more appropriate.

Let’s do some Tinder-English exercises. What’s the most likely answer “a” or “b”? (Answers at the end.)

  • I am very sporty so a) I’m mountain biking every weekend, or b) I mountain bike every weekend
  • I like a girl who, a) is going to the gym, or b) goes to the gym.
  • a) I’m looking for a woman who, or b) I look for a woman who, owns a Lambourgini
  • a)I travel the world until I find my prince charming, or b) I’m travelling the world until I find my prince charming.

This is quite a tricky thing to get your head around if it’s new to you and you don’t have an equivalent in your language. I can highly recommend this book as a reference and for more exercises. (You can buy it anywhere) If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.

Answers: b,b,a,b

*Yay! I made a new word!

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Mistakes with uncountable nouns

There are some words that I see wrong so often in English texts here in Switzerland that I begin to doubt my sanity.

Maybe you can say “informations”, “feedbacks”, “advices” and “accommodations” in English?

No way! (A quick look in my grammar Bible brings me back to reality). You just can’t. These words are uncountable in English. Uncountable words only have one form. There is no “-s” form, and you can’t use “a” or “an” with them. In other languages, some words that are uncountable in English have a singular and plural form, for example the German translation of the word “advice” is “Eine Beratung” (an advice) and “Beratungen” (advices).

For this reason, teachers across the globe are hammering lists of countable and uncountable nouns into their students brains.

  • Uncountable: baggage, bread, chess, chewing gum, grass etc.
  • Countable: a case, a piece of bread/a loaf, a game of chess, a piece of chewing gum, a blade of grass etc.

Uncountable nouns describe things that are seen (by the English speakers) as a mass, rather than separate objects with clear boundaries. These can include: collections (for example “furniture” or “clothes”), materials (like “glass” and “wood”), liquids or things consisting of a lot of very small grains or dust (like “flour”, “sand” or “grit”) non-physical things (like unemployment or terror).

But it’s not always so easy. We have words like “peoples”. Can you use the word “peoples”?

Yes, sure! You can use “people” and “peoples”, but the meaning is different. Here are some “people” in Grand Central Station in New York:

Here, “people” means just some humans, rather than animals, robots or trees or whatever.

Here are some “peoples”

Above are some pictures representing the different “peoples” of Africa, Russia, Asia and Vietnam.

You can use the word “peoples”, for example, in the sentence, “Peoples of the world unite!” The difference between this and the sentence, “People of the world unite!” is that, in the first sentence, you are putting emphasis onto the fact that you are talking about a collection of groups of people from different cultures and races. Different kinds of people.

Here’s a simpler example: “washing powder” is generally uncountable. You usually put “washing powder” not “washing powders” into the machine. But you can say:

“Not all washing powders are kind to your skin.”

This is talking about different brands of washing powder, for example Ariel, Omo, Persil, or Held, or it could be talking about different types of washing powder, sensitive, with enzymes, without enzymes, liquid detergent, powder. Literally this sentence means, “Not all of the different types of washing powder available are kind to your skin.”

Nouns which are usually uncountable can be used as countable nouns when talking about food and drink, for example, “I love the wines of France.” (the bordeaux, the Chardonnay, the Champagne etc.) “The cake at my friend’s wedding was made up of a variety of cheeses” (Chedder, Double Gloucester, Cheshire etc.) Delicious!

An important thing to remember is that this use of uncountable nouns is unusual. If in doubt, stay away from peoples, wines and cheeses.

See you people soon! Leave a comment and/or a like, and if you have any questions leave them below too.

Images by: Erdenebayar Bayansan, Quang Nguyen vinh, kone kassoum, ianknabel66, Free-Photos, delo and Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

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)

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