niedziela, 12 sierpnia 2012

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

Today, let's look at meals.  In the English-speaking world, we have about six terms to designate certain kinds of regular meals in relation to the time of day.  These are: breakfast, lunch, supper, dinner, tea and brunch.

Generally, these are used without an article (a, an, the), as in the following examples:

It's one o'clock--time for lunch!
I had dinner yesterday with my best friend.
First he has breakfast, then he goes to work.
Would you like to meet Sunday for brunch, say, around 11?
What time do you eat supper?
Who's going to make breakfast?
Come over tomorrow for tea.

We use an article if we are talking about a very specific experience, or a special event, associated with one of these meals.  Examples:

Do you remember the breakfast we had together in New Orleans ten years ago?
I've been invited to a special dinner at the Ritz Hotel.
The lunch I had yesterday was really exceptional.

Breakfast is usually the first meal of the day, no matter what English-speaking country you are in.  Traditionally dinner, similar to Polish obiad, was served in the middle of the day and was the main meal.  In England, tea is a light meal served at the end of the work or school day.  The traditional English sequence was breakfast, dinner and tea.

However, in America the term supper was generally used for the evening meal.

Modern living has introduced some changes in the meal schedule.  With most people working or going to school all day, it is more common for them to take a light meal in the middle of the day and the main meal in the evening.  The light midday meal is usually called lunch, and the main evening meal dinner (although some continue to call it supper).  In the US, most people have lunch between 11 am and 2 pm, depending on their work schedules.

The most recent addition to the meal schedule is brunch.  This is a combination of breakfast and lunch and is usually a big meal (bigger than either breakfast or lunch taken separately) served between 11 am and 1 pm, generally on a Saturday or Sunday.  

In Poland, we often have what is called second breakfast (drugie śnadanie), but in the US this would be called either lunch or a mid-morning snack.  A snack is a small meal taken between normal mealtimes.

The same grammatical rule used for breakfast, etc. is applied to dessert, when we speak of it in a general way and we're not thinking of anything specific.  See these examples:

Okay, we've finished dinner--let's have dessert.
What's for dessert?
Jane never has dessert--she's trying to lose weight.


This cake makes an excellent dessert.
I learned how to make a great dessert from a cooking show.
The dessert I had at Wierzynek was very rich.

niedziela, 8 lipca 2012

First and next

There are three expressions in English that incorporate the word first:

first      at first     firstly

These expressions are often confused.  Each of them has a particular use.

We use first when we are talking about a sequence of events.

First, we opened the door.  Then, we let the dog out.  Finally, we brought the furniture outside.

We use at first to mean something like in the beginning or originally.

At first I didn't like her, but as time went on, I realised she was actually very nice.

Firstly is generally used to indicate the first, most important point in an argument or discussion.

Firstly, I think it's a bad idea.  Secondly, I don't think it will work.  Thirdly, we can't afford it.

Firstly can be replaced by first and foremost or the popular First of all.

Now, as long as we're on the subject ... When we are talking about a sequence of events, we usually use the word then (where Polish would use potem), NOT next or after.

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.

Next is more commonly used in instructions, such as recipes or directions how to use a device or piece of equipment:

First, mix two eggs.  Next, heat some water in a pot.  Next, ... 

niedziela, 3 czerwca 2012

Politics and Politicians

Something else that often gets confused in the transition between Polish and English is the subject of politics and the people who work in this field (notice that in English we say field and not branch).  Politics is generally treated as an uncountable noun, which means we say politics is (NOT are). It refers to a sphere of activity, usually connected with governing something, such as a country or organisation.  

Like most abstract nouns, we do not use an article (a, an or the) with politics when we are talking about it as a general subject.

I think they're arguing about politics.
There are three subjects one should never discuss in mixed company: religion, sex, and politics.

We sometimes use the when we are talking about a specific kind of politics:

The politics of international environmentalism can be very complex.

The word politic without the s is an adjective, NOT a noun.  It means something (an action or a statement) that seems sensible under the circumstances:

He made a very politic gesture to the Russians.

Or it can be a verb, meaning to engage in political activity. 

The senator is out politicking again.  (Note the added letter k.)

The people who are involved in the activity of politics are called politicians--NOT politics.  Because Polish uses polityk as the word for a person who is involved in this activity, it is very easy to assume that politic is the English equivalent.  But this is a mistake--the word is politician.

I don't trust politicians--they're only interested in money.
A group of German politicians came to Poland for a conference.

The adjective we use to refer to the activity of politics is political.

I think this is really a political question--not an economic one at all.

wtorek, 1 maja 2012

Relax and Relaxation

Here's another example of confusion between parts of speech--in this case, the verb to relax and the noun relaxation (uncountable).

Polish students often say that something--a vacation, a day in the pool--is a wonderful relax.  However, we cannot use relax as a noun in English.  We need the noun form: relaxation.  Still, we cannot say that something is a wonderful relaxation, because the noun is uncountable and thus a relaxation is incorrect. Normally, then, we say something is a wonderful form of relaxation.

To relax is a regular verb.  We say I relax, you relax, she/he/it relaxes, adding an extra syllable for the -es ending.  The other forms are relaxing and relaxed (the -ed ending is NOT pronounced as a separate syllable).  We can also use relaxed as an adjective.

Here are some examples of sentences we might use:

You work too hard.  You need to relax more.
He has a very relaxed way of teaching, so nobody gets too stressed.
For me, reading is the best form of relaxation.
John?  He's relaxing out in the yard.

This is probably a good place to point out that many nouns end in -ation, such as relaxation, examination, demonstration, etc.  In many cases, these nouns are associated with verbs that end in -ate, such as demonstrate (demonstration) and calculate (calculation).  However, there are also many of these nouns associated with verbs that do NOT end in -ate.  One example is relax/relaxation.  Here are a few others:


niedziela, 15 kwietnia 2012

Jeśli chodzi o ...

One of the most common idiomatic phrases in Polish is chodzi o ... or some variation.  Phrases like this are called "discourse markers."  They don't give us new information; instead, they give us cues and clues as to where the speaker is going with his speech--for instance, what the subject is, or what we should pay special attention to.

I have had elementary level students who tried to translate the Polish phrase directly into English:

To chodzi o obiad  ----->  It walks about dinner.

As with most idioms, translation is not the best solution.  There are many better ways to translate the various forms of this expression.  Here are a few of them:

To chodzi o X              It's a question of X   OR   It's about X   
                                       OR  I mean X   OR  I'm talking about X

Chodzi mi o X             (same as above)

O co chodzi?               What's it all about?  

Jeśli chodzi o X ...       If it's a question [matter] of X  OR  If it's about X   OR  If you mean X

Nie o to chodzi            It's not about that  OR  That's not what I'm talking about 
                                      OR  That's not what I mean   OR  It's not a question of that.

Wiesz o co chodzi       You know what I mean  OR   You know what I'm talking about

Here's a short dialog that shows how some of these are used in English:

She:   I need to talk to you.
He:    Okay.  What about?
She:   I'm tired of your games.
He:    What are you talking about?  If it's a question of golf, I'll never give it up.
She:   It's not about golf.  I'm talking about us.  You know what I mean.
He:    If you're talking about my secretary, there's nothing going on ...
She:   It's not a question of something "going on."  It's about honesty.

niedziela, 11 marca 2012

True vs The Truth

Now that we know the difference between a verb, a noun, an adjective, etc., let's take a look at a confusing issue.

We have two words in English that students often confuse.  One is truth and the other is true.

Using them correctly is fairly easy once we realise that truth is a noun (which can be countable or uncountable) and true is an adjective.

In other words, something can be true (or its opposite, false) just as something can be black or white, large or small, beautiful or ugly.

Is the story about John true? 

But we don't always use the adjective true.  Sometimes we use the noun truth, as in the following examples:

Tell the truth.  (Whatever you say should be true.)

I'm looking for the truth.  (I want to find out what is true in this situation.)

Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?  (This is used in courts of law in the U.S.  When the court "swears in" a witness, it wants that witness to talk about the incident in question--to say what is true, to leave nothing out, and not to add any false statements.)

We cannot say, Tell me the true, or This is a truth story, because we would be mixing up the functions of a noun and an adjective.

poniedziałek, 5 marca 2012

Nouns, Verbs, etc.

Before we go any further, it might be a good idea to look at some of the technical terms we use when talking about English grammar.  Take a look at the glossary below.  The English word is on the left, the Polish equivalent on the right.

noun                  rzeczownik
verb                   czasownik
determiner       zaimek wskazujący
conjunction     spójnik
pronoun           zaimek
adjective          przymiotnik
adverb              przysłówek
preposition      przyimek
article               przedimek

You don't have to know these words--either in English or in Polish--to use English correctly.  But if you need help using English, it's sometimes a lot easier to use these words than to give 1,000 examples.  We'll be using these expressions in future posts.  

sobota, 25 lutego 2012

We want him to ...

Here's an example where English uses a different grammar structure than we might expect.

Most Polish students tend to say something like this:

We want that he doesn't give us homework.

This is a translation of Polish grammar, and it seems to make sense.  How else would we say it?  Unfortunately, it's not correct. The structure we use in English goes like this:

We don't want him to give us homework.
We want him not to give us homework.

When we speak in English about our wants, desires and intentions for other people, we use the form

I want, you want, he wants, etc. + object pronoun (i.e., me, you, him, her, it, us, themor noun + infintive verb

So we can say any of the following:

I want her to marry me.
She wants me to leave her alone.

They want their elder son to set a good example for his siblings.
He wants them to let him live his own life.

We want you to go to university and get a good education.
You want us to stop interfering with your decisions.

Negatives can be made either by changing I want, etc. to I don't want, or by adding the word not before the infinitive verb.

We don't want you to drop out of school.
We want you not to drop out of school.

The first structure is a bit less awkward, but sometimes we need to use the second.  Very often, though, instead of using a negative version of this structure, we prefer to use a different structure:

We'd prefer you didn't drop out of school.

piątek, 6 stycznia 2012

I don't think so, do you?

Happy new year!  Here's a simple but important one.  I hear many Polish students of English answering questions like this:
I think yes.
I think no.
I think I won't pass the exam.

All of these are clear enough--but not natural English.  In the case of the first two examples, native speakers are more likely to say:

I think so.
I don't think so.

Note that we say this only in isolation, that is, if we're only going to make a short response to a question, or a fact or opinion that was already stated.  For example:

--Is it getting colder outside?    --I think so.
--I bet he's got a lot of money.    --I don't think so.

We do not use this form when we're introducing an opinion or a fact.  We don't say:

I think so that it's getting colder outside.

In that case, we'd just take out the word so and say:

I think that it's getting colder outside.  

When we are expressing a negative opinion, that is, saying that we disagree, we are more likely to use this form:

I don't think I'm going to pass the exam.

instead of:

I think I'm not going to pass the exam.

In other words, we move the negative (not) so that it applies to the verb think.