sobota, 26 listopada 2011

Lectures and Readings

Today's entry is about vocabulary confusion caused by something called a "false friend."  That is, a word that looks similar in two languages, but does not mean the same thing.  We've got a lot of these in English and Polish, and we'll be looking at quite a few of them.  Today's example is the word lecture.  It looks like lektura, so many students assume there's no difference, and use one as they would use the other.

However, English lecture does not mean "something we have to read for school (usually something long and boring)."  The word for that is reading--very often called required reading.  For example: in many American schools, the Constitution is required reading.  In this case, reading can be a countable or an uncountable noun.  We might say, for example: I've got five readings to do this weekend OR this lesson contains a dialog and a reading (countable).  But we can also say: My literature teacher assigned a lot of reading for this semester (uncountable).

A lecture is what we call in Polish wykład--that is, somebody giving a talk or a speech, usually about an academic subject.  For example: today a professor at Jagiellonian University is giving a lecture on economic theory.

The words lecture and lektura, by the way, both come from the Latin word for read, but have taken slightly different paths in their evolution.

sobota, 19 listopada 2011

Getting to Know You

Here's another area of frequent confusion.  I often hear Polish students saying things like, "Then I will get to know what really happened."  There seems to be a common misconception that Polish dowiedzieć się should be translated as "to get to know."

Actually, in English we "get to know" people, not facts.

First we meet somebody--we are introduced to them at a party, or we start to talk to them in a business or social situation.  After we have met someone, we usually know his name--perhaps not his full name, but at least his first name--and something about him, for instance, where he works, where he lives, who his friends are, something that he likes.  Still, we can't say we really know this person.  We usually don't say we know somebody until we have spent some time with him and know more about him.

The next stage is getting to know him, or getting acquainted with him.  The words acquainted and acquaintance scare many Polish students off, but they are really not that difficult.  This stage usually lasts from a few weeks to a few months, as we spend more time with him.  We find out more about his personality, his likes and dislikes, perhaps about his past, his family, or his plans for the future.

Also, we use the word acquaintance to mean somebody whom we have met, or whom we know slightly--in other words, we know her name and her face and perhaps what her job is, but we don't really know anything else about her.  In other words, this person is not a stranger, but not exactly a friend either.

Finally, when we have gotten to know someone, or have gotten acquainted with him, we say that we know him and we usually say he is a friend, or maybe an associate (in business).  We use the word friend much more freely and loosely in English than we use equivalent words in Polish and other languages.  We do not have to be intimate with somebody to call that person a friend.  We just have to know her and be on friendly terms with her.

Now let's go back to dowiedzieć się.  If we can't say "get to know," what can we say?

We usually say to find out or to learn.  Here are a few sample sentences:

Jane found out who had stolen her bicycle.
I learned the truth about this incident from the newspapers.
Did you ever find out who sent you that anonymous valentine?
I don't know what happened, but I'm going to find out.
It wasn't until the next morning that he learned the results of the election.

sobota, 22 października 2011

More about Weddings

Last time we looked at marriage, weddings, and related subjects.  Today we'll take a closer look at the wedding itself.  Remember, the wedding can refer to the religious or civil ceremony, or to the party or reception, or both.

Usually both the bride and the groom choose some of their friends or relatives to be part of the ceremony.  The bride's friends are called bridesmaids, while the groom's friends are called groomsmen.  In both of these groups, there is usually one person who has a special position.  For the groom, this is the best man.  For the bride: the maid of honour.  But because maid traditionally meant unmarried woman, if the woman that the bride chooses is married, she is called the matron of honour.

The bride, the groom, the bridesmaids and groomsmen all together are called the wedding party.  Here, party does not mean a celebration, but a group of people (similar to political party).  Very often, the wedding party meets a day or two before the wedding for a wedding rehearsal, in which everybody learns what they are supposed to do and where they are supposed to go during the wedding ceremony.  This is often followed by a rehearsal supper, so that everyone can have something to eat and, if some members of the wedding party are strangers to each other, they can get acquainted.*

In small weddings, the wedding party may also be very small, with only a best man and a maid or matron of honour.

One custom is that the bridesmaids often wear identical dresses--identical, that is, except for size!

Traditionally, the best man proposes the first toast at the reception.  That is, he lifts up his glass and makes a short speech about the bride and groom.  Then, everybody drinks. 

After the reception, the bride and groom, who are now called newlyweds, usually leave for a short trip known as a honeymoon.  The honeymoon used to last a whole month (there is a connection between month and moon), but these days it's more likely to be a week to ten days.

*get acquainted--this and connected expressions will be the focus of the next entry.

niedziela, 9 października 2011

Tying the Knot

We've looked at birth and death--now let's look at marriage.  Here's a topic in which it's easy to make mistakes in English.  We'll look here at present-day customs in England, America and some of the other English-speaking countries.  Of course, not everybody follows these customs.

We start with two people, generally a man and a woman, usually but not always young.  Let's imagine that their names are Mark and Brittany.  They have been going out together for two years, and they've decided to get married.

First, they become engaged.  Traditionally, Mark gives Brittany a diamond ring as a token of their engagement.  Here, we borrow some words from French: Brittany is now Mark's fiancee; Mark is now Brittany's fiance.  Notice the difference in spelling.  Normally, an accent is used over the first e, but we don't have one available at the moment.  In recent years, engagement parties have become popular, as the engaged couple celebrates with their families and friends.

(In older books and documents, instead of engaged and engagement, you may find the words betrothed and betrothal.  These are now considered old-fashioned and are rarely used any more.)

Following the engagement, the couple starts to plan the wedding.  This is the ceremony in which the man and the woman are joined, wedded or married.  This ceremony can be religious or civil (performed by somebody in the government).  The man is called the groom--a short form of bridegroom--and the woman is called the bride.  Sometimes, not long before the wedding, the friends (mostly female) of the bride organise a bridal shower.  This has nothing to do with getting clean--it's a kind of party, featuring a shower of gifts for the bride, who at this point is often called the bride-to-be.

As for the groom, instead of a shower he usually has a bachelor party in which, traditionally, his male friends take him out for an evening of drinking and partying.

Finally, it's time for the couple to get married.  Let's look here at what we CAN say and what we CAN'T say.

Mark is marrying Brittany.  Brittany is marrying Mark.
Correct: to marry somebody.  Incorrect: to marry with somebody.

Mark is getting married to Brittany.  Brittany is getting married to Mark.
Correct: to get married to somebody.  Incorrect: to get married with somebody.

Getting married is sometimes called tying the knot.  This expression is informal but popular.

We can also say that the priest, rabbi, justice of the peace, or whoever performs the ceremony marries Mark and Brittany.  This can sometimes be confusing.

When the wedding is finished, it is often followed by a reception, or party--known as wesele in Polish. However, in the English-speaking countries this party usually lasts only from three to six hours, whereas a Polish wedding is famous for going on all night and into the next day.

When somebody says, "I'm going to a wedding," it is not immediately clear whether they mean the ceremony, the reception, or both.  Both the ceremony and the reception are often referred to as weddings.  Notice that we go to a wedding (NOT on a wedding) and we are at a wedding (again, NOT on a wedding).

Afterward, Mark is no longer a groom, but a husband; Brittany is no longer a bride, but a wife.  Together, though, Mark and Brittany are still a couple.  We do not say they are a marriage.  In English, the word marriage refers only to the state of being married or the relationship between the married partners, not to the people themselves.  We can now say that Mark and Brittany are a married couple.  For the first few years, we can also say they are a newly-married couple or that they are newlyweds.

Incorrect:  A marriage lives next door to us.
Correct:  A married couple lives next door to us.

Here's what Mark might say, twenty years after the wedding:

Brittany and I got married twenty years ago.  She sure was a beautiful bride!  I could hardly believe I was really marrying her.  Our wedding was a wonderful occasion.  The priest who married us was a long-time friend of my family.  The reception was held at a restaurant and everybody had a great time.  Brittany and I have had a very good marriage for twenty years, and even though we're not newlyweds any more, we're still happy together.  Our friends say we're a lovely old married couple.

There are many other words and expressions connected with marriage that we should look at, but we'll save them for another occasion.

niedziela, 11 września 2011

Birth in English

Today, let's turn to a happier subject: birth.  How do we talk about it?  Many Polish students have problems in this area--and no wonder.  English and Polish go about this subject in very different ways.

In Polish we say Urodziłem (urodziłam) się, the same way (grammatically speaking) we would say Ogoliłem się, like something we do to or for ourselves.

But in an older form of English, people would say, A woman bears a child.  They used the verb to bear, which has nothing to do with a bear (an animal), but instead means something like carry.  It is still correct to say a woman bears a child, but it's a bit old-fashioned. 

Nowadays, people prefer to say, A woman gives birth.  Notice we don't say a birth.  In this sense, birth is uncountable.  A woman gives birth to a baby.

Getting back to the verb to bear--this is an irregular verb.  We don't say bear/beared/beared.  Instead, we use bear/bore/borne.  The spelling has changed, but basically when we want to say Urodziłem (urodziłam) się in English, we have to use the passive form of this verb.  The way English speakers think, the baby doesn't do anything.  The baby is passive during the whole process.  The mother does all the work.  So we say that a baby is born (present simple passive), has been born (present perfect passive), was born (past simple passive) and so on.

Most of the time, we use the past simple version, especially when we talk about ourselves:

I was born on 25 February 1943.

She was born in Poland.

They were all born in the maternity ward of a hospital thirty years ago.

We DON'T say: I borned.   We DON'T say: my mother borned me.  Both of these are completely incorrect--and worse yet, if we use them, other people might not understand us.

We can use the present simple version (a child is born) or occasionally the present perfect (a child has been born) to announce news.  A famous American Christmas hymn goes:

Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

We should also remember that we use birth, born, etc. metaphorically, to mean "created" or "become":

A star is born (someone who was not famous has suddenly become famous--a star)

The idea of liberty was born in the hearts and minds of the people.

niedziela, 28 sierpnia 2011

Death in English

We've noticed here that many Polish speakers of English run into trouble when it comes time to speak about death.  This is, of course, a difficult subject even for expert speakers, and never one of the most pleasant.  Still, death happens, and we often need to talk or write about it, so it may be helpful to review a few basic ideas.

In Polish, we very often use phrases such as: On już nie żyje.  This is a phrase we don't recommend translating word-for-word into English.  The phrase "He already doesn't live" is very unlikely to be understood.  The closest acceptable phrase would be: "He's no longer among the living."
In most situations, we use the regular verb to die.  (die/died/died

For some reason, many Polish speakers tend to use constructions like: He die / The man die.  This is incorrect for several reasons.  First of all, if we're in present simple, we need to add an s for he, she, the man, etc.:  He dies / The man dies.  But remember: present simple is used for what generally/usually/often happens, and most of us only die once.  So we don't use this verb very often in present simple, except when we are being philosophical

A coward dies a thousand times; a brave man dies only once.

or when we are making general statements, in which case we usually use a plural subject

People very often die around the holidays.

or when we are using the verb in a metaphorical sense, meaning to suffer greatly, as in this song by the Magnetic Fields:

I die when you walk by.

Most often, we use the verb to die in past simple.  Often we'll give a date or time, or a sequence of events:

My uncle died just before Christmas in 1976.

Piłsudski died in 1935.

She gave each of her children her blessing, and then she died.

In the case of someone who dies in a war, a disaster, an accident, etc., we can also use the passive form of kill:

They were killed in a terrible plane crash.

Theoretically, we can use to die in present perfect, but it's unusual, at least in the U.S., except perhaps in news bulletins:

The mayor of Nowhereville has died in a car accident.

It's more often used in past perfect, as the "past of the past":

He cried when he found out his old girlfriend had died the year before.

Rather than a literal translation of On już nie żyje, we are more likely to use to be + adjective.  The adjective in this case is dead.  The opposite is alive. 

He's dead.  In fact, he's been dead for years.
She's not dead at all.  She's alive--I just saw her five minutes ago.

For some people, the words die and dead are too harsh.  They prefer euphemisms:

He's gone.  In fact, he passed away years ago.

We can use the adjective late in front of a person's name to show that he or she is dead:

The late John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States.
Many people are still mourning the late Princess Di.

but we cannot say

John F. Kennedy is late

because in this structure it means that a person simply isn't on time (for a meeting, school, etc.)

Note that death can be seen as a process, so the verb is often used in progressive, or continuous, form:

The patient is dying.

Here, too, the verb is often used in a metaphoric or exaggerated sense:

Can you open a window?  I'm dying of suffocation in here.

This sense is used quite often in the famous film Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino.

Then, of course, there are the various future tenses:

If we don't do something soon, this man will die.
She's going to die and there's nothing we can do about it.
The prisoner dies tomorrow in the electric chair unless he is pardoned.  (This is an event that's actually been scheduled.)

Since death is usually a sensitive subject, it's a good idea, if you use English, to be prepared to talk or write about it, in order to avoid possible embarrassment.  We hope these tips will be helpful.

poniedziałek, 22 sierpnia 2011

Popular versus common

Here's another example of words that are often confused.

In English, something that is popular is liked by many people.  Examples: a popular song, a popular television show, a popular style of clothing.  Remember: If people don't like it, it isn't popular.

Therefore, we don't normally talk about a popular disease, or a popular insect that eats all our vegetables.  Instead, we use the word common, which means easy to find, not rare, something existing in great numbers, etc.  (Sometimes things can be both common AND popular:)

There is another meaning of common--the opposite of noble. In this sense, it can also be used to mean vulgar.

The common people are not interested in your ancestors.
The princess mustn't marry that man--he's so common.

And if you and I are both interested in the same subject, or come from the same town, we have something in common.

poniedziałek, 15 sierpnia 2011

Vocabulary: accident vs incident

We've been really busy here lately at Editing Perfection, so we haven't had a chance to put a new entry up in some time.  Today, though, we've got a few moments to look at more tricky vocabulary.

Polish students often confuse the words accident and incident, frequently using the former when they mean the latter.  Both accident and incident mean “something that happens.”  But when native speakers think of an accident, they unconsciously assume the following:
1.                  It was not planned, not expected, and it happened unintentionally.
2.                  The results were unfortunate, whether very serious or slight.  Either someone was hurt, or something was damaged.
An incident, on the other hand, does not have to fulfil these conditions.  An incident may or may not be planned, or staged, by at least one participant.  Very often there is some intention involved—that is, somebody decides to act.  It may result in no damage, injury or misfortune whatsoever.  Although incident is often used for violent situations, an incident is not necessarily violent.
If two people meet in the street and begin to fight, this is an incident, because at least one person intends to fight.  However, if the same two people collide, or walk into each other, because they didn’t see each other, this is an accident.
Very often, when native speakers hear the word accident, they think immediately of an automobile accident.  A plane crash is a type of accident.  However, it’s important to remember that an accident can also be as trivial as someone dropping and breaking a dish.
We can also use the words event, happening, or occurrence instead of incident.  However, the words event and happening often refer to something which is planned and publicised in advance—such as a concert, party, etc.
There was a strange incident in the pizzeria yesterday.  A man got up and started to shout at the other customers for no reason.
There was an unfortunate accident in the pizzeria yesterday.  A waitress dropped a whole seafood pizza on the floor.
There was a wonderful event at the pizzeria yesterday.  They were celebrating their tenth anniversary, so they gave out free pizza to everybody who stopped by.

sobota, 9 lipca 2011

Today I want to talk about a common error connected with confusing parts of speech. What are parts of speech? Well ... there's the verb (czasownik), the noun (rzeczownik), the adjective (przymiotnik), and many others.

One problem in English is that it's very hard to tell whether a word is a verb, a noun, an adjective, or something else. (In Polish it's easier. Verbs usually tend to end in ć, for example.)

The example to look at today is the word afraid.  In English, this is an adjective (przymiotnik), not a verb.  Many Polish students are confused by this, because in Polish we use a verb, not an adjective, to express this idea:

Boję się niedźwiedzia.

But we cannot say in English "I afraid of the bear."  Afraid is not a verb, so it makes no sense to say "I afraid, you afraid, he afraids, etc."  Instead, we say: "I'm afraid of the bear," in the same way we would say "I'm hungry, I'm happy, I'm old."  Here are a few sample sentences:

He's afraid of ghosts.
They're afraid of the dark.
Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

As long as we're talking about "afraid," here's something else to think about.

We use afraid of + a noun or a noun phrase, as in the examples above: afraid of ghosts, afraid of bears, etc.  But we say afraid that + a verb phrase.  What's a verb phrase?  Well ... it's a phrase including a verb or verbs, very similar to a sentence.  Here are some examples, with the verb phrase in bold type and the verb or verbs in italics:

He's afraid that the ghosts will eat him for dinner.  
They're afraid that they might get lost in the dark.
Who's afraid that the big bad wolf is going to attack him?

Incorrect: He's afraid of that they will hurt him. (Do not use a verb phrase after of.)

In English we do have a verb that works like bać się in Polish.  That verb is to fear.  It's a bit old-fashioned now and people usually don't use it; they prefer to be afraid. 

I fear bears.
I fear that the bears will move into our house.

sobota, 18 czerwca 2011

Speaking of the word opinion, here is another case involving this word.  It's also one of many situations  in which one Polish word has two different English meanings.  We'll be looking at quite a few of these situations in the future.

The Polish word in this case is zdanie.  Sometimes it means opinion and sometimes it means sentence.

INCORRECT: I agree with Mr. Lis's sentence.
Opinion means “what a person thinks about something.”  We all have opinions—about politics, about the arts, about other people.  See the entry of 28 May for the difference between opinion and reputation.
Each member of the group had a different opinion.
I agree with Mr. Lis's opinion.
Sentence usually means a group of words that work together to express one idea.  A sentence can be a positive or negative statement, a question, or a command.
I’ve read this sentence five times and I still don’t understand it.
But the word sentence has two different Polish meanings!  A sentence can also be a punishment (wyrok).
The prisoner has served seven years of a ten-year sentence.
Sentence can be used as a verb, too.  To sentence means to decide on somebody's legal punishment.  For instance:
The judge sentenced the murderer to life in prison.
This is often used in passive voice:
The murderer was sentenced to life in prison.
This is an example of why we should be careful when finding words in a dictionary--it's not always as easy as it looks!

sobota, 28 maja 2011

Vocabulary: Opinion vs Reputation

In this blog, we'll look at several different kinds of common errors and problems.  Today, we'll start with a vocabulary problem--a problem understanding how to use certain words.  Today's words are opinion and reputation, which are often confused by Polish people using English.


The hospital has a very good opinion in this region.

John has a good opinion.  Everybody respects him.


The hospital has a very good reputation in this region.

John has a good reputation.  Everybody respects him.


Everybody respects John’s opinion about politics.  He is very smart.

In English, the word opinion means what we think about something or somebody else.  We use the word reputation for what other people think about us.  Businesses, people, institutions, restaurants … all can have reputations, good or bad.  A reputation usually depends on people’s experience with this person or thing.  For example, if I go to a restaurant and get a terrible meal, with terrible service, I’ll tell all my friends that I have a terrible opinion of this place.  If other people do the same thing, soon the restaurant will have a bad reputation.

niedziela, 15 maja 2011

The Big Three Differences

There are many areas of difference between English and Polish.  Here are three of the most important:
1.      Different sounds: English uses several sounds that don’t exist in Polish, and vice versa—that is, Polish uses a few sounds that don’t exist in English.
2.      Different spelling system: The English spelling system is hardly a system at all, but a mix of many systems, including Latin, French and German. By contrast, Polish uses a logical system and one can usually pronounce a Polish word just by looking at it. The two systems have some similarities, but also many differences.
3.      Different grammar: English grammar works differently from Polish grammar; that is, the words work together in a different way. For this reason, translating Polish words to English words is not enough. We usually need to change the grammar—sometimes drastically!—to say the same thing.
In the blog entries to come, we’ll take a closer look at some of these differences. We’ll look at some common (and some uncommon!) examples and typical mistakes, and learn what to do about them.

sobota, 14 maja 2011


Welcome to the Editing Perfection Blog!
This weblog (or “blog” for short) is intended to help the users of Editing Perfection answer any questions they might have about the corrections made on their documents.  It will take a look at some of the common problems Polish students encounter when they use English, and will give suggestions and reminders how to overcome these problems.
Many people who want to learn a foreign language think that the new language is basically the same as their own language—that only the words are different.  For instance, if we want to say Ja jestem chory, we can just change each word to its English counterpart: I am ill.  This is sometimes true, especially if the new language and the old are part of the same language family.  In most cases, though, the languages are very different in many ways—like English and Polish.  For instance, if we want to say Mam trzydzieści lat, changing the words to English—Have thirty years—will not work.  The new English sentence is meaningless.
English and Polish are related—they are both members of the Indo-European family of languages—but they are like very distant cousins.  Early English was similar to German, Swedish, Danish, and many other languages of the so-called “Germanic” group.  Later on, English was strongly influenced by French as a result of the Norman invasion of 1066.  Polish, on the other hand, is a Slavic language, related to Russian, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, and others.
The next blog entry will discuss some of the main areas of difference between English and Polish.