środa, 12 lutego 2014

Two similar structures

English has at least two pairs of structures that are maddeningly similar, but mean very different things.

The first pair is: in case of vs in the case of; the second is: I used to vs I'm used to.

Let's look at the first one first.  

Part I

In case of (without the) is followed by a noun or noun phrase like fire or by a verb phrase.  Here are a few common examples:

In case of emergency, call 911
There's a fire extinguisher on the wall in case of sudden fire.
I carry a heavy sweater in the car in case I get stuck during cold weather.

In other words, if a certain situation occurs, something specific should be done or a certain piece of equipment should be used.

We sometimes use the phrase just in case without a specific noun or verb phrase; the idea of an emergency or some other extraordinary or special situation is understood.

Why do you carry that flashlight all the time?
Just in case.  [Just in case I need it.]

Here are some more examples:

Let's take the car just in case the busses aren't running.
If I were you, I'd bring her flowers, just in case she's still angry.
It's better to be careful, in case of a riot.

In other words:
In case of x = if/when x happens

We can substitute the event for case, but we cannot use the case, which is used only in the similar but very different structure that follows.

Part II

In the case of ... (or, sometimes, in a case of) means the same thing, and is used in the same situations, as the Polish phrase w przypadku czegoś.   It is sometimes contrasted with this case or that case, for example, in the following:

In this case, the director sacked the employee.  However, in the case of Henry Jones, the employee got only a reprimand and kept his job.

The formation In the case of, the words the and of can be replaced by using a possessive or other determiner:

In Bob's case, the deal fell through, but in Mike's case, they honoured the contract.

but we can also say

In the case of Bob ...     in the case of Mike ...

Some more examples:

In the case of public demonstrations, the police are less likely to use force.

The policy you're citing is only true in a case of employee insubordination.  This case is something else entirely.

wtorek, 10 grudnia 2013

Realising how to use realise

Before we get further into the speak/talk/say/tell issue, let's take a brief look at the English word realise (or realize).  Many Polish students assume it means the same thing and is used the same way as Polish realizować.  Well ... it's not that simple.  SOME meanings of realise are the same, but others are different.  And the English and Polish versions are not always used in the same way.

First of all, the most common meaning of realise today is closest to Polish zdać sobie sprawę--that is, as the Concise Oxford English Dictionary puts it, to 'become fully aware of as a fact; understand clearly.'

I didn't realise that the door was locked until I'd spent five minutes trying to push it open.

Finally she realised that I didn't speak Polish.

Realise can also mean to 'cause to happen', to 'achieve', to 'fulfil', to 'give actual or physical form to (a concept or work)'.  In these senses it is very similar to Polish realizować.  However, in many cases when we want to express one of these meanings, we will use another word.  For example, we don't generally realise things like research, experiments, or construction projects; we prefer terms like carry out, conduct, or complete.  The verb implement is frequently used for things like policies or strategies, meaning to put something into practice.

Very often Polish will use a phrase like realizować inwestycję, where English would naturally say 'complete a (construction) project'.  It's also important to understand that realise can also mean to 'convert (an asset) into cash'.  In this case, if we were to translate the Polish phrase realizować inwestycję into English realise an investment, it could be read as meaning 'convert an investment (in, for example, stocks) into cash (by selling the stocks)'. 

Once again, we're opening up a can of worms here; in the future, we also need to look at the words project and investment.  But for now, the most important thing to remember is that most people, most of the time, use realise to mean zdać sobie sprawę.

wtorek, 5 listopada 2013

Tell him, say to him

In yesterday's post, we introduced a phrase including two common errors:

One of my teacher told to me ... 

We discussed the first error yesterday; the phrase should run

One of my teachers ... 

The second error involves the verb tell used with the preposition to. In most cases we don't use to after tell:

One of my teachers told me ... that I was failing his course.

Generally, when we use the verb tell to mean command, instruct, give information, etc., we do NOT use to.  Instead, we use the verb plus an indirect object, which in this case is usually a person's name, a noun, or a pronoun:

Tell John to get over here right away.
You should tell them to try another restaurant.
He told her what had happened.
Somebody needs to tell that obnoxious dog to stop barking.

On the other hand, when we use the verb say instead of tell, we should use to:

I said him that I was sick.  (WRONG)
I said to him that I was sick (OR I told him that I was sick.)

This opens up a whole can of worms (to use an English idiom!).  In other words, this introduces many new problems, such as the difference between speak, talk, say and tell; the different meanings of the verb tell; situations when we DO use to with tell; and what we should do with other verbs, such as explain, call, apologise, etc.  We'll look at these problems in the near future.

poniedziałek, 4 listopada 2013

One of these days

I very often hear my Polish students introduce a topic by saying something like:

One of my teacher told to me ... 

We've got two errors here, but right now we're only going to talk about one.  The correct phrase in English is:

One of + plural countable noun.

So the phrase should be One of my teachers, using the noun teacher in its plural form.  We can think about this in several ways. 

I have many teachers.  I'm going to talk about one of them.  One of my teachers ... 

Or let's take a similar phrase in Polish.

Jeden z moich ulubionych miejsc ... 

In Polish, the word miejsc is in the plural form--plural genitive, to be sure, but still plural.  This is one of those rare situations in which the logic behind Polish and English grammar is the same!

Here are some examples of how people use this phrase:

One of these days, I'm going to cut you into little pieces (This aggressive example is from a Pink Floyd number!)

This is one of my favourite books.

Pollution is one of the worst examples of mankind's influence on the environment.

Are you one of those stupid people who throws trash in the street?

One of those children is my son.

(Here, we remember that some nouns - person/people, child/children - have irregular plural forms that do not end in s.)

It's one of those films that makes no sense the first time you see it.

Not one of them is any good!  or None of them is any good!  (note that we use a plural pronoun here, and in the second example we use none, meaning not one).

One of us is crying, one of us is lying ... (from an ABBA song)

Next time we'll look at the other error in the original sample sentence.

środa, 16 października 2013

And here's another thing ...

Here's another determiner to watch out for, because we use different forms depending on whether it goes with a countable singular noun, on one hand, or an uncountable or countable plural noun on the other.

This determiner is ... well, in singular form, it's the second word in the first paragraph.  Another. 

When used with an uncountable or plural noun, it's other.

Another is actually an other, put together to form one word.  Since we can only use an (which basically means one) with singular countable nouns, we can only use another with the same group.

I'll have another glass of beer.

She's not talking about The Sun Also Rises.  She's talking about another book.

The problem usually appears when we use an uncountable or plural noun, in which case the word is not another, but other.

We need to find other sources for our raw materials.

Laura is relying on other information.

Let's try some other restaurants next month.

Note that for plurals, and sometimes for uncountables, we can use some other instead of just other alone.  We can also use a few other, several other, etc.

Next time, we'll look at the difference between other and different.

wtorek, 15 października 2013

These and Those

Generally, English, unlike other languages, does not change its adjectives to match singular or plural forms.

a good book
good books
a delicious meal
several delicious meals

Note how good, delicious, etc. are the same for singular and plural nouns.

However, there is a class of words called determiners which are similar in some ways to adjectives.  Some of these do change.  Here's an important example, which in my experience many Polish student of English are unaware of.

I like this book.    I like these books.

I don't know that man.   I don't know those men.

The plural form of this is these.  The word these rhymes with sneeze and please. 

We use this with countable singular and uncountable nouns, such as this money, this tree, this information, this milk, this television set, this stupid reality show.

We use these with countable plural nouns, such as these trees, these bananas, these crazy students, these days, these films, these drunken football hooligans, etc.

The rule is similar with that and those.  The word those rhymes with froze and chose.

I'm in love with that girl.   I'm in love with those girls.

I can't stand that idiot.   I can't stand those idiots.

Notice that we use this and these to identify things which are nearby, or are under consideration at the moment, while we use that and those to identify things which are more distant, or which we have already discussed and rejected, or which we view unfavourably.

I think you should take this one (here) and leave that one (there).

We shouldn't waste any more time on that solution.  This one is much more logical.

poniedziałek, 14 października 2013

It's October

While we're at it [an English way to say, przy okazji], the same principle we wrote about in the last blog entry applies to time expressions like days, months, or years.  We don't say,

We have October


It's October.

It's Monday.

It's 2013.

It's autumn.

And remember--the same applies when we're talking about our age, height, or weight:

I'm thirty-eight (years old), NOT I have thirty-eight (years)

I'm 194 cm [tall].   I'm 88 kilos  OR  I weigh 88 kilos.