A weird sentence

Let's look at the following sentence:

Prices have increased since 10 years ago.

Do you think it is correct? Yes. No. Maybe. If you are perplexed, you are not alone!

I heard it this morning on National Public Radio, spoken by a native speaker. And I knew right away that there was something amiss with it but it took me a few minutes to figure out what it was. The tense used is the Present Perfect (have+Past Participle). So far so good.  And the use of since is fine too. It is when we get into the time phrase 10 years ago that things go awry. Because you see the word ago is pretty much always used with the simple past. For example, I went to Venice 10 years ago. So to make the sentence correct, the speaker had a few choices. I'll mention two.

Prices have risen since 2006.

Prices rose 10 years ago.

Which of these would you have used? I think the speaker probably meant #1 but you never know!

 

 

The (wretched to me) serial comma

Don't you love that term "serial"? Since I hear it most often with the term "killer", that might explain why I dislike it so much. But seriously. When I was in graduate school, my use of the serial comma or more accurately the lack thereof,  was constantly being corrected. And here is why. It works differently in Irish English. In "my" English the following is correct:

I love chocolate cake, brown bread, coffee and pasta.

Note: there is no comma after coffee. And this is wrong in American English. In American English you put the comma after all the items in a list. Or as I like to think of it. Put the comma before the and. Look at this example:

This week I hope to meet with my colleagues Margi, Maggie, Patti, and Amy.

See. There is a comma before the and.  Although I have lived and written for many years in the US, I have to admit that I still make mistakes. And I am still being corrected. When the English Over Easy site was being proofread, guess where the mistakes were. Yes. You guessed correctly. The wretched serial comma. But I try. I really do. What I think is that my high school English teachers in Dublin must have been fierce indeed for this rule to be so firmly implanted in my brain. 

The American Rule: When you have a list of 3 or more items in a list, put a comma after each element including the last one on the list. ( The item that precedes the and)

When writing, make sure to check your spelling, the use of the serial comma, and your tense usage!

For fun



The Simple Present Tense: Actually nothing simple about it at all!

I have a wonderful private student who has mastered all kinds of tricky English tenses like my favorite, the Present Perfect. But the tense that is causing her the most angst is the inaptly labelled Simple Present. It is neither simple nor present. Well the latter is a bit of an exaggeration but only a little. We don't use the Simple Present to describe things happening in the present. We use the Present Progressive for that.

For example: Bridget is eating a huge ice cream cone. If this is something Bridget does everyday we would use the Simple Present: Bridget eats a huge ice cream cone every day and she is getting very fat! Notice I have used both Simple Present and Progressive.

So when exactly do we use the Simple Present? We use it for describing things we do regularly. Nora gets up at 6:30 am. Nancy teaches every Tuesday and Thursday. Amy often goes to car shows at the weekend. We also use it to describe things that are true all the time--or at least most of the time.  Chez Panisse is one of the best restaurants in Berkeley CA. Full moons sometimes cause people to do crazy things. And for personal attributes. Patti has long silky hair. Nick thinks a lot about grammar issues.

And if this weren't tricky enough we also use it for fixed appointments in the future. The future. Yes. You read it correctly. Class starts at 6:30 p.m. The meeting begins at 4:00

Not to mention the 3rd personal singular S. Poor English learners have to remember to add that. No wonder they are confused! I hope you now have lots of sympathy for your non native English speaking friends

For your viewing pleasure: Pics of my new business cards


Present Perfect Tense: the first few comments

Who knew that the Present Perfect tense would become a party topic of conversation. It has. And not just with my nerdy grammar friends either. Ever since I mentioned it in my bio on the English Over Easy site, I have had lots of comments, questions and requests. Surprise. I have a lot to say so I will write a few posts. But today let's begin with cookies. The edible variety.

Look at the picture of the cookies. Read:

Jim: I have eaten 2 cookies.

Ellen: Were they good?

Jim: Delicious.

Now notice that Jim used the Present Perfect tense and NOT the Simple Past. By using the Present Perfect he told you a few things. The first thing Jim is letting  you know is that his eating of the cookies was relatively recent. Maybe in the last hour say. The results of his eating ( pigginess?!) are still in his stomach. And he is signaling that there is a possibility that he will repeat the action. In other words, he might have another cookie. He is telling us that there are in fact more cookies so he can in fact have another one or two or .....If he had used the Simple Past saying " I ate 2 cookies" all we would know was that he had eaten the cookies. Nothing more. Isn't that cool? So in the next few days listen. Listen carefully and pay attention to all those secret bits of information you are being given.

Pronunciation: B versus V

The and V distinction is particularly troublesome to Spanish Speakers---even for those whose English is almost at the native speaker level. And for my poor students who have a B or V in their name it is especially troublesome. Veronica for example often tells people her name is Beronica, while Elbia often introduces herself as Elvia! What to do? it all about the lips and the teeth people. For B, lips are together softly. Try: Bob, bingo, babble, bramble. How did it feel? Often students clamp their lips shut and not only is it uncomfortable, but it also looks strange. And who wants to look strange? So lips together softly for the B

For V the upper teeth need to be lightly behind the lower lip. Yes. I said lightly behind the lower lip. Try: very, valuable, vexing, vintage. The mistake a lot of students make is clamping their teeth in the middle of the lower lips which looks very ugly indeed. And ugliness is not a look we are going for now, is it? So the mantra for the correct pronunciation of and is soft and relaxed. If your lips are soft, relaxed, and in the right position, you will not only get the pronunciation correct but you will look good too. A winning combination. Really.

Big, bigger, biggest

I was asked to do a post on comparing adjectives. So here goes.

1

Single syllable adjectives are a breeze. You just have to add -er. -est or -iest

Big, bigger, biggest

Small, smaller, smallest

2

And 3 or more syllables are also not a problem. You add more, most.

Beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful

Interesting, more interesting, most interesting

3

It is the 2 syllable adjectives that are the pesky ones. If the adjective ends in Y we use -er, -est,  or -iest.

Pretty, prettier, prettiest

Lucky, luckier, luckiest

(And note that we are dropping the Y and adding -iest)

But for other 2 syllable adjectives, we use more, most

Modern, more modern, most modern

Peaceful, more peaceful, most peaceful

And sorry. There is  another confusing issue. People think that by using more it makes the adjective stronger. So for example, you will often hear more tasty. What do you think? Do you think more tasty feels stronger than tastier? Have fun next week practicing. And isn't the image below fun?





In praise of colons

I love colons. I also love lists so perhaps those two ideas are related. Colons are kind of showy too and as i explained to a student this morning, I think if you use one in a paragraph, it elevates your writing to a more sophisticated level. And really who doesn't want to be seen to be sophisticated.  Read on to learn how to use a colon correctly.

Colons

The most common usage of the colon is to introduce a list. Remember, a list has at least three items. But here is the trick. Each list item has to be parallel. Parallel you say. What the heck is that? It means that each item has to have the same grammatical construction. Don't panic. I explain more below. 

Let's take a look at a few examples

1  This is my usual workout when I go to the gym: I lift weights. I run on the treadmill. I do a lot of leg lifts and pushups.

Notice that each item after the colon has a subject and a verb. In other words, each item is a clause---an independent clause in fact. And because each part is an independent clause, we use a capital letter to begin and a period at the end of each list item. Each item is parallel.

Let's look at another example

2 Here are some qualities I admire in my brother: his kindness, his sense of humor, his dependability. 

Notice here that each item in the list is a pronoun and a noun or noun phrase. Not a verb in sight! So we use a lower case letter to begin and a comma to separate the items in the list.

Here's an important point to remember. The first item in the list sets the pattern for the rest of the list. Let me explain with an example from "life". Women,  when you choose one earring, then that tells you what the other will be and most likely what necklace to choose. Men, your shirt and jacket choice sets the pattern for what tie you will wear. The same is true of a list after a colon. The first one sets the pattern. Now go forth and use colons with confidence!

And just for fun, another cartoon from the fabulous Dan Piraro of Bizarro Comics. I always giggle at his take on life. Last week my brother was here and as his wife is Scottish, he is the proud owner of many kilts which he loves to wear whenever the occasion demands.

 

restroom cartoon



Order of adjectives

The order of adjectives has always been one of my favorite things to teach. Don't ask me why but it is just fun playing around with them, changing the order, scrambling them. and seeing what sounds good.

A point to remember is that the English language likes the number three. We like to have at most 3 clauses. And the same holds true for adjectives. Of course we sometimes use more adjectives but in general 3 in a row is quite fine. 

Look at the pictures below.  Which one do you think is correct and can you make a "rule" about adjective order? Say them aloud. If you said, "Pretty, little,  things" you are correct. Now add a color. Let's use the word "green". Where would that word go? And if you put it at the end, you are correct again. "Pretty, little, green, things". So what are the  guidelines? Well, we put global adjectives first: pretty, fantastic, wonderful etc. Then size: big, little, tiny. And our third adjective is color. So for the next few days try playing with adjectives and see what other guidelines you can come up with.  And please, don't take it too seriously!

Welcome/Pronunciation tip/Thank you

Welcome

Welcome to the English Over Easy Blog. In this space I plan to do a little of everything: give some tips on writing, grammar, listening, and pronunciation, and TOEL. You may see tips on books, movies, and tv shows that will help your English. 

Pronunciation tip: Months

This tip is worth thousands of dollars. Well I am joking but it is a good one all the same.

We use the word "months" a lot. As in "I'll see you in a few months." " I was in Berkeley for 6 months."

It is hard to pronounce correctly because  you have the N, TH, and S all coming together. The solution that most non native speakers employ is to forget about the S. But people that is not a good idea. The final S in English is always important. I repeat. The final S is always important.

So....What to do? My solution is to forget the TH sound.  Pronounce it MONTS. Really. No one will ever hear that you have omitted the TH. And by leaving the TH out you don't have to do acrobatics with your tongue! Try it. MONTS. Now doesn't that feel good! 

Thank You

Thank you to Nancy Friedman of  Wordworking for naming help. To my students all over the world who gave advice and encouragement. To my teaching colleagues from whom i have learned so much. To Jim B for help in deciphering the ins and outs of SquareSpace. This was my first attempt at creating a web site and much to my surprise it was actually fun. To Emily Jan for design advice. To Anna S for layout and content suggestions. To Nora C-B, Eoin C-B, Ralph E, Joanna D. for editing help. And to Dan Piraro  of Bizarro fame for allowing me to use this totally perfect cartoon.

bizarro comic.jpg