The Articles in English

Let’s get started with a general review of the articles in English. There are three of them: “a,” “an” and “the.” The most basic distinction is between the indefinite articles (“a” and “an”) and the definite article (“the”). We use “a” before a consonant sound, and “an” before a vowel sound. Both of them are used for singular, countable nouns. For example:

 

~ I’ve got a car.
~ He’s never seen an elephant up close.

 

As you can see in both of the examples above, we use the indefinite article before a singular, countable noun. In the first sentence, we are saying that I have ‘one’ car. In the second sentence, we are saying that he has never seen ‘one’ elephant up close.

Here we encounter the first very common mistake made when using the indefinite articles in a sentence. As mentioned before, they’re used for SINGULAR countable nouns. Consider the following sentence:

~ We use the word ‘many’ for a things we can count.

 

This sentence has a glaring error in it. “A things”…the word “things” has the article “a” in front of it, but it’s in the plural! In this case, we simply don’t use an article before the word ‘things’: We use the word ‘many’ for things we can count.

 

Something that needs to be covered when discussing articles is that when we talk about things in general in English, we often put the word in the plural and we don’t put an article in front of it. If the word doesn’t have a plural form, then we use it on its own, without an article. For example:

~ I like dogs.
~ Blood is thicker than water.

 

Notice that we didn’t put any articles before the nouns in either of the above sentences. Now it’s time to look at the definite article, “the.” We use it before both consonant and vowel sounds (the pronunciation is the only thing that changes), and it’s often used to refer to something specific.

~ The book on the table is mine.
~ The house on the left is beautiful.

 

However, there are other situations in which we can use the definite article. If a country is plural in form, but put the definite article in front of its name. To talk about rivers, seas, oceans, and mountain chains, we also use the definite article. Let’s go over some examples:

~ The United States is in North America.
~ The Nile is the longest river in the world.
~ The Alps are great for skiing!

 

Phew! I think we have enough material to chew on for now. To practice what we’ve gone over here, try the practice exercises at the bottom of the page!

 

A. Edstrom

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The Many Uses of the word Settle

Como ya se ha dicho, los Phrasal Verbs bien podrían equivaler a ciertos verbos de nuestra lengua que terminan por establecer una relación especial con determinadas preposiciones, cambiando el sentido de los mismos. Un determinado verbo, unido a diferentes preposiciones, puede expresar significados muy diversos. En este sentido, sirva como ejemplo nuestro verbo estar: “no puedo estar sin ti”, “no puedo estar por ti”, “no puedo estar para ti”, “no puedo estar sobre ti”, “no puedo estar contra ti”…

Somos conscientes de que los Phrasal Verbs constituyen uno de los aspectos gramaticales más difíciles de superar en el aprendizaje del inglés, memorizarlos supone todo un reto. A este respecto, y como sugerencia, Ramón Campayo —plusmarquista mundial especializado en técnicas de memorización rápida—, asegura que la clave para dominar cualquier lengua reside en eliminar la sensación de dificultad, para ello es preciso apelar al “subconsciente mediante asociar imágenes con palabras”.

Con esta última orientación, damos paso al contenido gramatical que se centrará en el Phrasal Verb, To Settle.

Fuentes: 20minutos.es

There are many uses of the word settle in English and we will have a look at a few of them here today. Some of them have very similar uses, but they are just used a slightly different context which gives them a slightly different meaning. But let’s have a look at a few right now.

To come to rest – This is usually used for a something that has been in flight, such as a bird. A bird will fly and then settle on the branch of a tree or on top of something else similar. For example “The bird settled on the branch at the top of the tree.”

To gather or collect – This usually means that something has fallen and come to rest upon a surface. This is commonly used for things such as snow settling on a mountain top or dust settling after being disturbed. For example – “The snow settled on the top of the mountain.”

To come to an agreement or resolution – You can use this to settle or agree upon a price of something or it can also be used to settle or come to a resolution of an argument. For example – “We finally settled on a price of $100.”

To take up residence or to colonize – When you move from one country to another with the purpose of making it a home and not just for a holiday, you are said to be settling in that country. Also in history when a group of people went to a previously uninhabited area, they were said to have settled that area. For example – “The British settled Australia in 1788.”

To pay a bill – This is primarily used when you are in a restaurant and you want to pay for the food you have ordered. You are said to be settling the bill. For example – “Excuse me waiter. I would like to settle my bill, please.”

To arrange or come to a decision – This means that you have come an agreement on a plan or something similar. You are said to have settled on a plan. Or you can settle the arrangements for something like a wedding or similar. For example – “We settled on a trip to The Alps for our holiday.”

To become calm or composed – This means to return to a state of composure after being either angry or restless in some way. Someone might even tell you that you need to settle down or become calm again. For example – “The crowd was very restless and it took them a long time to settle.”

So as you can see there are a lot of uses for the word settle and we have not even got to all of them yet. There are also a few phrasal verbs that include the word settle that are in common use in English. Good luck decoding all the different meanings.

 

K. Charles

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The Phrasal Verbs

A modo de referencia, los Phrasal Verbs podrían equivaler a ciertos verbos castellanos que en presencia o ausencia de una preposición cambian radicalmente de significado (estar ≠ estar en ≠ estar con; pasar ≠ pasar de ≠ pasar por; dar ≠ dar a ≠ dar con, etc.). Por ejemplo: admiro a la Iglesia [= respetarla como institución] ≠ admiro la iglesia [= contemplar con maravilla su construcción arquitectónica].

El uso de los Phrasal Verbs es muy común —más de lo que un estudiante de inglés desearía—, por lo que si ya es un desafío enfrentarse a la larga lista de verbos irregulares, tratar de memorizar estos verbos compuestos supone un reto, ya que un mismo Phrasal Verb puede tener varios significados (put = poner; put out = sacar, quitar, extender, apagar, dislocar…) y, como verbos que son, diferentes tiempos verbales.

Con estos apuntes como avance, damos paso al contenido gramatical de los Phrasal Verbs.

Fuentes: CVC

As we saw in this week’s Tip of the Week, we’re looking at something that tends to strike fear into the hearts of English students- phrasal verbs. But the phrasal verbs we’re going to go over share a common theme: they all mean ‘to continue.’ Without further ado, let’s jump right in.

The first phrasal verb we’ll talk about is ‘to carry on.’ When we use it with the meaning of ‘to continue,’ we normally follow it with the gerund. For example:

~ I’m not going to carry on explaining things if you won’t listen.

~ People don’t carry on working: they retire.

However, it’s possible to use ‘carry on’ with this meaning without a gerund. Let’s consider the following examples:

~ If you carry on like that, nobody’s going to want to be around you.

~ To carry on in this way…spells disaster.

The next phrasal verb that means ‘continue’ is ‘to go on.’ Just like the previous phrasal verb ‘carry on,’ we generally follow it with a gerund. For example:

~ When he goes on running even after the play has finished, I know he’s strong.

~ You better not go on watching TV when mom gets home!

Continuing in this pattern of phrasal verbs with ‘on,’ we find ourselves with the next one- ‘to keep on.’ As we’ve seen with the first two, we also follow ‘keep on’ with a gerund to give it the meaning of ‘continue.’ For example:

~ Keep on fighting, boys!

~ You need to keep on studying in order to get better.

We’re going to change gears a little bit now, as the next phrasal verb we’re going to go over doesn’t contain the word ‘on’- ‘to keep up.’ This means ‘to continue’ as well, but we normally don’t use a gerund with it, and we can only use it for payments and hobbies. Let’s take a look at a couple examples:

~ I couldn’t keep up the payments on my car, so it was repossessed.

~ She used to collect coins when she was younger, but she hasn’t kept it up.

We should also note the expression ‘keep it up,’ which means ‘continue this way.’ It’s common to use this when you want to motivate somebody, to let them know that they’ve been doing something well and should continue. For example:

~ Good job on the last exercise, John. Keep it up!

Although phrasal verbs can appear to be a headache for learners of English, once we sit down and learn a few of them calmly, like normal vocabulary, we see that they aren’t that bad. To practice what you’ve learned today, try the exercise below!.

 

A. Edstrom

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The Present Perfect Tense

El Present Perfect es una combinación de presente y pasado, es decir, expresa acciones ocurridas en el pasado que continúan teniendo relevancia en el presente. Su estructura es sencilla, como ejemplo citamos tres piezas musicales que utilizan este tiempo verbal en su letra:

• Frases afirmativas: sujeto + Presente verbo auxiliar (to have) + Participio Pasado del verbo. (Eva Cassidy: “You’ve changed”).

• Frases negativas: sujeto + Presente verbo auxiliar (to have) + not + Participio Pasado del verbo. (U2: “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for”).

• Frases interrogativas: Presente verbo auxiliar (to have) + sujeto + Participio Pasado del verbo…? (Bryan Adams: Have you ever really loved a woman?).

Con esto como base, damos paso al contenido gramatical propiamente dicho: The Present Perfect.

This week’s blog is about the present perfect tense. The reason I have decided to talk about this tense is because I find that students often make mistakes when using it and sometimes don’t use it when they should.

Before I talk about its different uses, it is important to know how we form the present perfect tense. We form this tense by using the word ‘have’ and a past participle. For example we say “I have eaten two sandwiches today”. Here we can see the word ‘have’ and the past participle of the verb to eat, which is ‘eaten’.

We use the present perfect tense when the action is finished but the time is not finished. For example, if we say “he has played football this week”, it means that he isn’t playing football now, but he did play it at some time this week. The action is finished but this week is still in progress, therefore we use the present perfect and not the past simple. If we say “we have been to the cinema today”, it means that we aren’t at the cinema now but because today is not finished we use the present perfect and not the past simple.

We also use the present perfect to talk about our experiences. For example if we say “I have studied Spanish”, it means that I have the experience of studying Spanish. If we say “they have been to Barcelona”, it means that they have the experience of being in Barcelona. We don’t say “they were in Barcelona”, because we are speaking about their experiences. If we use the past simple tense, we are referring to an action that happened at a specific time in the past. For example if I say “I ate crisps for lunch”, it means that the action and the time are both finished. I am referring to an action that happened at a specific time in the past, but I am not talking about an experience.

We also use the present perfect to talk about the duration of an action up to now. For example, “I have been here for twenty minutes” means that I came here twenty minutes ago and I am still here now. If we say “she has lived in this city for four weeks” it means that she came here to live four weeks ago and she is still living here now. If we say “you have watched television for two hours”, it means that you started watching television two hours ago and you are still watching television now.Either of these explanations could potentially describe the origin of this phrase.

We also use the present perfect to speak about the result now of a past action. For example if we say “everyone has left the room” it means that the room is empty now. The result now is that there is nobody in the room, because they left in the past. If we say “I have become tired” it means that I am tired now because of what I was doing earlier, maybe it was working or doing exercise, but as a result of those things I am tired now.

The most important thing is to know how to form the present perfect tense and when to use it. We use the present perfect tense when the action is finished but the time is not finished, when we are speaking about experiences, when we are speaking about the duration of an action up to now and when we are speaking about the result now of a past action.

I have explained the different uses of the present perfect tense and now you should practise them.

 

G. Harman

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Common Idioms – Episode VII – The Idiom Awakens

La GC, al parecer, juega un papel relevante en el proceso de adquisición de la Fraseología; de hecho, el cognitivismo está dando inicio al desarrollo de estrategias aplicadas a las unidades fraseológicas (UF) como podrían ser la metonimia, la metáfora, etc. Aunque la GC es una disciplina con un basto campo todavía por explorar —cuya investigación se centra, entre otras cosas, en la interpretación y aprendizaje de las UF—, parece indudable que nuestra capacidad de conceptualizar la realidad es de naturaleza metafórica. Esto explicaría las similitudes notorias entre las distintas lenguas en lo referente a idiomaticidad.

Es a esto último a lo que invitamos: a descubrir semejanzas con nuestro idioma entre los ejemplos de fraseologías en inglés que se desarrollarán en el contenido gramatical que sigue.

*Cognición: (del latín, “cognitio”) facultad de procesar información a partir de la percepción, la experiencia o el aprendizaje; estando íntimamente relacionada con los conceptos abstractos.

Fuentes: Reyes Llopis García, experta en GC y ELE. – “El enfoque cognitivista en la fraseología”, Mª Ángeles Recio Ariza (USAL)

Over the past few months we have been looking at many different idioms and to be honest we have barely scratched the surface. English is full of common sayings and idioms that can be very confusing for the average language learner, but once they have been learnt and interpreted, they can be extremely useful.

So let´s look at a few more.

 

Barking up the wrong tree – This literally means that you are either asking the wrong person for information or you have come to the wrong place. It can also mean that your idea of what is the right thing is incorrect. If you had a problem with your taxes, you would be barking up the wrong tree complaining about it at the bank. Even though your taxes come out of your money. Here´s another example –

John – “I need someone to fix my computer. Can I give it to you?”
Mark – “Nah mate, you are barking up the wrong tree coming here. We only do electrical appliances like fridges and freezers.”

 

Don´t give up your day job – This means that someone thinks that you have done something very badly and it infers that you shouldn´t do it to earn money. Basically, if you wanted to do this to earn a living, it would be a bad idea and you should stick with your current job. For example –

Mary – “What do you think about my new painting?”
Steve – “I don´t want to be rude, but I wouldn´t give up my day job if I were you.”

 

Wouldn´t be caught dead – This means that there is something that you would never do or wear because you think it is terrible. You would normally use it with the structure of “I wouldn´t be caught dead wearing (or doing) that. It is ridiculous.” Let´s look at another example –

Sam – “What do you think about my new suit?”
Harry – “Personally, I wouldn´t be caught dead wearing a yellow tie with that suit, but you do what you want to.”

 

Missed the boat – When we say that someone has missed the boat on something, it means that they have missed an opportunity or it is too late to do something. For example, I really missed the boat for learning a language at an early age and now it is hard for me to catch up. Here is another one –

Joan – “There were some Barça tickets available this morning, but they are all gone now.”
Anna – “Yes. I really missed the boat on that one.”

 

As you can see, there are a lot of idioms in the English language and some of them can be quite tricky to figure out the meaning of without any kind of context attached to them. Hopefully when you hear an idiom you are not familiar with, you can work out the meaning from the context. But, it is not always possible to do so. So, good luck.

 

K. Charles

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The Past Continuous

THE PAST CONTINUOUS

En este espacio gramatical daremos consideración a la formación verbal del “Past Continuous”.

Como avance, diremos que el “past continuous” se utiliza para describir:

Acciones prolongadas del pasado, pero aún sin saldar en el presente por: inconclusas, inacabadas o interrumpidas.
– Acciones ocurridas en un tiempo concreto del pasado.
Dos acciones simultáneas en el pasado.

Para su formación se emplea el verbo auxiliar “to be” (was/were) y el gerundio del verbo principal. La estructurasería

1. Frases afirmativas: Sujeto + verbo auxiliar “to be” + gerundio.
2. Frases negativas: Sujeto + verbo auxiliar “to be” + not + gerundio.
3. Frases interrogativas: Verbo auxiliar “to be” + sujeto + gerundio?

Ejemplos de este tipo de construcción los encontramos en composiciones musicales* como:

– “Jealous Guy” (Jhon Lennon): I was dreaming of de past…
– “Love Story” (Taylor Swift): I was begging you…
– “Hotel California” (Eagles): I was thinking to myself…
– “You were there” (Eric Clapton): Where I was going to…

Tras estas breves notas introductorias a modo de preámbulo, damos paso al grueso del contenido gramatical que profundizará en este tiempo verbal: The Past Continuous.

*(Un estudio reciente de la Universidad de Carolina del Sur (EEUU), revela que el cantar en otro idioma favorece su aprendizaje. De hecho, la educación musical es clave en el desarrollo de una lengua extranjera; es sabido que los músicos tienen más facilidad para aprender idiomas debido a que su oído está educado para escuchar un rango de frecuencias muy amplio).

Fuentes: 20 minutos.es – La bitácora de Arístides.

The past continuous – also known as the past progressive – is formed by using the verb ‘to be’ in the past tense, plus the ‘–ing’ form of a verb (known as the present participle). For example: running, writing, eating, watching, etc.

The past tense of the verb ‘to be’ changes, depending on the person we are referring to:

I was
You were
He was
She was
It was
We were
They were

e.g. ‘I was reading’; ‘you were playing’; ‘she was dancing’; ‘they were learning’; etc.

The past continuous can be used in several ways. Let’s look at them in turn.

Firstly, and perhaps most simply, it can be used to describe an action that was in progress at a particular time in the past. Note that the action had not finished at that time – it was still continuing. It started before the time we mention and finished after it. Unless we are answering a question in which the particular time has already been mentioned, we need to state a time when using the past continuous, otherwise it has no meaning. If I say ‘I was walking’, it doesn’t really mean anything. When was I walking?

Example: I go to sleep at 11pm. I wake up at 8am.

So:

At 2am I was sleeping.

In the example above we used ‘2am’, but of course we could also have said 12am, 1am, 3am, 7.59am, or any point in between 11pm and 8am. The point is that at the time we mention, that action was occurring. Another example:

I was eating dinner at 9pm.

Do we know when I started my dinner? No. Or when I finished? Again, no. But we do know that at 9pm – at that particular time – I was eating dinner.

Imagine you are suspected of involvement in a bank robbery. At the police station, the detective asks you what you were doing at 1pm yesterday. The structure of a question in the past continuous is simple enough: as with most English questions, move the subject after the first auxiliary verb, as below:

I was speaking ….. Was I speaking?
They were watching a film ….. Were they watching a film?
You were doing at 1pm yesterday …. What were you doing at 1pm yesterday?

You would need to use the past continuous to communicate your innocence. “I was watching TV/working/studying English…”

At this point, it might be useful to look at how we construct a negative sentence in the past continuous. It’s easy: put the word ‘not’ before the ‘-ing’ word, as in the examples below:

I was eating ice cream ……. I was not eating ice cream
He was smoking …….. He was not smoking
I was robbing a bank ……. I was not robbing a bank

You may have noticed something about the spelling of the word ‘smoking’. Look again. How is it different from the infinitive ‘to smoke’? That’s right – we drop the letter ‘e’. We do this with most verbs that end in the letter ‘e’ when we add the suffix ‘-ing’, e.g. dance – dancing; leave – leaving; crave – craving, etc. (There are exceptions, but don’t worry; this is the general rule. Note that we don’t change a verb that has the letters ‘ee’ at the end, for example: agree-agreeing.)

Two more spelling rules to note:

a) when a verb ends in a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel, we double the final consonant before adding ‘-ing’, e.g. run-running; tap-tapping; plan-planning, etc.

b) when a verb ends in the letter ‘y’, we don’t remove the ‘y’ – we simply add ‘-ing’ to the end of the verb, e.g. study-studying; try-trying; etc.

Let’s move on to another use of the past continuous – when one action was in progress and then something else occurred. For example: I was watching TV when the phone rang.

Note that the first action (‘I was watching TV’) is in the past continuous, whereas the second action is in the past simple (‘when the phone rang’). This means that I was watching TV before the telephone rang. Maybe I continued to watch TV after the telephone conversation finished: we don’t know. But we know what I was doing when the telephone rang.

You could reverse the sentence without changing the tenses or the meaning, but it would seem a little strange: The phone rang when I was watching TV. Generally the past continuous goes first in the sentence, i.e. I was doing A when B happened.

Another example:

We were sitting in the classroom when the teacher walked in.

One more use of the past continuous is when two (or more) actions were in progress at the same time in the past. In these cases, instead of using past continuous – past simple, we simply use past continuous – past continuous, like below:

I was watching TV whilst my wife was cooking dinner.
They were playing football while the girls were playing hockey.
Mary was reading whilst James was playing on his Xbox.

There is no difference between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’ – they both mean ‘at the same time as’.

Check out our blog to see how you manage with the past continuous.

A. Porter

The Past Continuous

Acciones prolongadas del pasado, pero aún sin saldar en el presente por: inconclusas, inacabadas o interrumpidas.
– Acciones ocurridas en un tiempo concreto del pasado.
Dos acciones simultáneas en el pasado.

Para su formación se emplea el verbo auxiliar “to be” (was/were) y el gerundio del verbo principal. La estructurasería

1. Frases afirmativas: Sujeto + verbo auxiliar “to be” + gerundio.
2. Frases negativas: Sujeto + verbo auxiliar “to be” + not + gerundio.
3. Frases interrogativas: Verbo auxiliar “to be” + sujeto + gerundio?

Ejemplos de este tipo de construcción los encontramos en composiciones musicales* como:

– “Jealous Guy” (Jhon Lennon): I was dreaming of de past…
– “Love Story” (Taylor Swift): I was begging you…
– “Hotel California” (Eagles): I was thinking to myself…
– “You were there” (Eric Clapton): Where I was going to…

Tras estas breves notas introductorias a modo de preámbulo, damos paso al grueso del contenido gramatical que profundizará en este tiempo verbal: The Past Continuous.

*(Un estudio reciente de la Universidad de Carolina del Sur (EEUU), revela que el cantar en otro idioma favorece su aprendizaje. De hecho, la educación musical es clave en el desarrollo de una lengua extranjera; es sabido que los músicos tienen más facilidad para aprender idiomas debido a que su oído está educado para escuchar un rango de frecuencias muy amplio).

Fuentes: 20 minutos.es – La bitácora de Arístides.

The past continuous – also known as the past progressive – is formed by using the verb ‘to be’ in the past tense, plus the ‘–ing’ form of a verb (known as the present participle). For example: running, writing, eating, watching, etc.

The past tense of the verb ‘to be’ changes, depending on the person we are referring to:

I was
You were
He was
She was
It was
We were
They were

e.g. ‘I was reading’; ‘you were playing’; ‘she was dancing’; ‘they were learning’; etc.

The past continuous can be used in several ways. Let’s look at them in turn.

Firstly, and perhaps most simply, it can be used to describe an action that was in progress at a particular time in the past. Note that the action had not finished at that time – it was still continuing. It started before the time we mention and finished after it. Unless we are answering a question in which the particular time has already been mentioned, we need to state a time when using the past continuous, otherwise it has no meaning. If I say ‘I was walking’, it doesn’t really mean anything. When was I walking?

Example: I go to sleep at 11pm. I wake up at 8am.

So:

At 2am I was sleeping.

In the example above we used ‘2am’, but of course we could also have said 12am, 1am, 3am, 7.59am, or any point in between 11pm and 8am. The point is that at the time we mention, that action was occurring. Another example:

I was eating dinner at 9pm.

Do we know when I started my dinner? No. Or when I finished? Again, no. But we do know that at 9pm – at that particular time – I was eating dinner.

Imagine you are suspected of involvement in a bank robbery. At the police station, the detective asks you what you were doing at 1pm yesterday. The structure of a question in the past continuous is simple enough: as with most English questions, move the subject after the first auxiliary verb, as below:

I was speaking ….. Was I speaking?
They were watching a film ….. Were they watching a film?
You were doing at 1pm yesterday …. What were you doing at 1pm yesterday?

You would need to use the past continuous to communicate your innocence. “I was watching TV/working/studying English…”

At this point, it might be useful to look at how we construct a negative sentence in the past continuous. It’s easy: put the word ‘not’ before the ‘-ing’ word, as in the examples below:

I was eating ice cream ……. I was not eating ice cream
He was smoking …….. He was not smoking
I was robbing a bank ……. I was not robbing a bank

You may have noticed something about the spelling of the word ‘smoking’. Look again. How is it different from the infinitive ‘to smoke’? That’s right – we drop the letter ‘e’. We do this with most verbs that end in the letter ‘e’ when we add the suffix ‘-ing’, e.g. dance – dancing; leave – leaving; crave – craving, etc. (There are exceptions, but don’t worry; this is the general rule. Note that we don’t change a verb that has the letters ‘ee’ at the end, for example: agree-agreeing.)

Two more spelling rules to note:

a) when a verb ends in a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel, we double the final consonant before adding ‘-ing’, e.g. run-running; tap-tapping; plan-planning, etc.

b) when a verb ends in the letter ‘y’, we don’t remove the ‘y’ – we simply add ‘-ing’ to the end of the verb, e.g. study-studying; try-trying; etc.

Let’s move on to another use of the past continuous – when one action was in progress and then something else occurred. For example: I was watching TV when the phone rang.

Note that the first action (‘I was watching TV’) is in the past continuous, whereas the second action is in the past simple (‘when the phone rang’). This means that I was watching TV before the telephone rang. Maybe I continued to watch TV after the telephone conversation finished: we don’t know. But we know what I was doing when the telephone rang.

You could reverse the sentence without changing the tenses or the meaning, but it would seem a little strange: The phone rang when I was watching TV. Generally the past continuous goes first in the sentence, i.e. I was doing A when B happened.

Another example:

We were sitting in the classroom when the teacher walked in.

One more use of the past continuous is when two (or more) actions were in progress at the same time in the past. In these cases, instead of using past continuous – past simple, we simply use past continuous – past continuous, like below:

I was watching TV whilst my wife was cooking dinner.
They were playing football while the girls were playing hockey.
Mary was reading whilst James was playing on his Xbox.

There is no difference between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’ – they both mean ‘at the same time as’.

Check out our blog to see how you manage with the past continuous.

 

A. Porter

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“Chewing the fat”

Según cálculos del Instituto Cervantes, existen alrededor de 560 millones de hispanoparlantes en el mundo; con todo, hablar un mismo idioma no equivale a emplear las mismas palabras, lo que origina interesantísimas variantes léxicas entre los países que componen esta comunidad lingüística. Sirva como ejemplo de ello las dos expresiones siguientes: “Amárrate las agujetas (cordones de zapatos) o te vas a dar un ranazo (trompicón)” – México. “No tengo ni para cotufas (palomitas): estoy en la lona (sin blanca)” – Venezuela.

Este tipo de diversidad léxica y semántica, como cabría esperar, abunda de igual modo en los países angloparlantes, singularidad que nace de una identidad cultural propia y concreta, y que supone un signo diferenciador en las sociedades que comparten un mismo idioma.

El siguiente contenido gramatical, en línea con entradas anteriores, continuará adentrándonos en estas peculiaridades lingüísticas distintivas de los países anglófonos.

‘All you need to do is study hard and Bob’s your uncle! You’ll pass your exam, for sure.’

What on earth does ‘Bob’s your uncle’ mean? And where does this idiom come from?

It’s another example of a strange expression that has seeped into English language usage, despite its obscure origins (see also: ‘Devon Loch’). It means ‘there you go’, in the sense of ‘and so it is’. For example, if you are telling someone how to prepare a certain dish, you would give them the instructions and then – when you are about to finish – you would say ‘Bob’s your uncle!’ as though to say ‘that’s that – done!’.

There are several theories about where the phrase came from, but perhaps the two most compelling involve a music hall performance and an old song. In 1924, Scottish newspaper The Angus Evening Telegraph published the bill for a musical revue in Dundee, Scotland, called ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’; it was also the name of a song written by John P Long, published in 1931, which was called ‘Follow Your Uncle Bob’, and included the following lyrics:

Bob’s your uncle
Follow your uncle Bob
He knows what to do
He’ll look after you

Either of these explanations could potentially describe the origin of this phrase.

Let’s move on. English is a famously flexible language, taking in influences from many other languages, from German (schadenfreude) to Maori (boomerang,) to Inuit (anorak, kayak). So what could we mean by ‘Pardon my French’?

This expression is used when people use profanity in their speech. So if, for example, somebody could say “Excuse my French, but this film is sh*t!” It often goes before the swear word, i.e. the speaker knows they are aboutn to say something offensive and want to warn the listener beforehand.

This expression dates from the 19th century, when it became fashionable for highbrow English speakers to use French words in their speech. They would often apologise for any confusion on the listener’s part, since many people could not speak French: hence the idiom, “Excuse my French” (‘excuse’ and ‘pardon’ meaning the same thing in this context).

When people engage in conversation – often relaxed, social chat – we might say they are ‘chewing the fat’, e.g. “I’m looking forward to seeing my friend tonight. We’ll chew the fat over a few beers.” This idiom refers to the tradition of sailors relaxing and conversing whilst chewing on salt-hardened fat. (This is known as ‘chewing the rag’ in American English.)

Anyone who has read Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story, Alice in Wonderland, will know of the Mad Hatter – a strange, possibly unbalanced individual. However the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ pre-dates Carroll’s classic. It refers to the unfortunate tendency for hat makers in 17th century France to succumb to mercury poisoning (they used mercury for the felt in the hats). Symptoms of this malaise included shyness, tremors and irritability. Hence a person who is perceived to be skittish and odd is said to be ‘as mad as a hatter’.

One more idiom that might confound foreign speakers is ‘pigs might fly’ (or, more commonly in the USA, ‘when pigs fly’). This expression is used to indicate that an occurrence is extremely unlikely. For example, we could say: ‘You think she’ll agree to marry him? Pigs might fly.’ (In other words, there’s no way she will marry him.)

According to phrases.co.uk, Thomas Fuller, in Gnomologia, 1732, was the first to explicitly single out the pig as a terrible aeronaut:

That is as likely as to see an Hog fly.

Another way to express the improbability of a situation arising is to say ‘when hell freezes over’, e.g. ‘Hell will freeze over before he goes back to that awful hotel!’ These last two expressions – about pigs flying and hell freezing over – are called adynata: ‘a figure of speech in the form of hyperbole taken to such extreme lengths as to insinuate a complete impossibility’ (from Wikipedia).

Check out our blog to see how you handle these idioms.

 

A. Porter

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“The different uses of the word ‘even’”

Tanto la polisemia como la homonimia engloban aquellos signos lingüísticos en los que existe un significante con más de un significado. La diferencia fundamental entre ambos fenómenos la establece la etimología de dichos signos, es decir, su origen.

Un signo o palabra puede tener varias acepciones, sin embargo, en el fenómeno de la polisemia el origen es único, y por tanto, se trata de una misma palabra que con el tiempo ha llegado a adquirir significados muy distintos. (Ej. Banco: 1. Asiento largo, 2. Entidad de crédito, 3. Elevación arenosa, 4. Conjunto de datos…) La homonimia, en sus varias vertientes, incluye unidades léxicas de diferente etimología que han coincidido en la forma. (Ej. Hinojo: 1. Planta medicinal [finoculum] 2. Rodilla [genuculum]).

Como fenómeno lingüístico la homonimia léxica es del todo universal. Un ejemplo de homonimia en inglés, del todo clásico, lo constituye el sustantivo “ear” (oído, oreja, espiga, asa…), El hecho de que el inglés no cuente con género gramatical y el artículo sea invariable, hace posible infinidad de ambigüedades, juegos de palabras, y otros recursos léxicos que se amparan en la polisemia y, muy especialmente, en la homonimia.

En el contenido gramatical que sigue, veremos un claro ejemplo de homonimia en la palabra EVEN; la cual, actuando de adverbio, verbo o adjetivo, ofrece significados muy diversos.

Fuentes: Wikilengua – CVC Cervantes – Isabel de la Cruz (UAH)

As mentioned in this week’s Tip of the Week, we’ll be talking about the word ‘even’ and its different uses and meanings. It can be a cause of dread: “Please teacher, don’t ask me for an example of the word ‘even!’” Never fear, because I’m here to help you navigate the troubled waters that surround the island paradise that is ‘even.’ Let’s jump right in.

‘Even’ has a similar meaning to the word ‘also.’ So you must be wondering: what’s the difference between the two? We use the word ‘even’ for something surprising. For example:

~ He plays the guitar, the drums, and even the octobass.

Wow! The octobass! That’s very, very surprising. I didn’t see that one coming.

We can also use the word ‘even’ to emphasize something extreme. When we do so, it’s normally used in negative sentences. Let’s look at a couple examples:

~ He doesn’t even know the capital of his own country!

~ I’ve got no money to spare at the moment; I can’t even buy a cup of coffee.

Before, we mentioned the fact that the word ‘even’ is used for something surprising. If we look to the Spanish translation for help, in certain sentences ‘even’ has the meaning of ‘including.’ For example:

~ It never gets very hot in Scandinavia, even in the middle of summer.

~ Jack uses his toothbrush for everything, even to clean behind his ears.

Now we’re going to change gears a bit, and look at a couple phrases that utilize the word ‘even.’ The first one we’ll go over is the phrase ‘even as,’ which means the same as ‘at the same time as.’ We use it when two things are happening at the same time. For example:

~ Even as they were checking their tickets, the plane was taking off.

~ He listens to everything the teacher says, even as he looks out the window.

Another expression with ‘even’ is ‘even if.’ This phrase means the same as ‘despite the fact that.’ Note that we can also use the phrase ‘even though.’ While ‘even though’ is used to substitute ‘although,’ we use ‘even if’ in slightly different situations. Knowing when to use each one is a question of practice. Consider the following examples:

~ I still say Neymar is a great footballer, even if many people hate him.

~ Even if we had the money to go to the cinema, we don’t have time to go!

~ Even though I wasn’t hungry, I ate dinner.

~ I’m going to trade my car for a cupcake, even though you told me not to.

As we see in the sentences above, the sentences that contain ‘even though’ could substitute that phrase with the word ‘although.’ The sentences with ‘even if’ can’t. In those sentences, we use ‘even if’ to illustrate or make a point.

There are many phrases in which we use ‘even,’ and here we’ve reviewed a few of them. To practice what you’ve learned, try the exercise!

 

A. Edstrom

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“Defining & Non-Defining Relative Clauses (Third Part)”

Las cláusulas relativas en inglés están formuladas mediante un pronombre especial llamado “pronombre relativo” (who/whom, which, whose y that) que, en ocasiones, pueden verse sustituidos por los adverbios relativos (when, where y why).

En este espacio de hoy, repasaremos las “defining relative clauses”, (especificativas), cuya función es identificar o definir de qué persona/cosa se está hablando; al tiempo que abordaremos las “non-defining relative clauses”, (explicativas), cláusulas estas que aún formándose también por un pronombre relativo, y presentando información adicional, no es de carácter esencial para identificar de qué o quien hablamos.

Con esto por delante, damos paso al espacio gramatical concreto de las “relative clauses”.

In last month´s blog I spoke about relative clauses. I explained that we use a relative clause to describe a noun. It has the same function as an adjective whereby it describes nouns.

We also use a relative clause to make what we say shorter. For example I could say “I am reading a book. My mother gave me the book”. Here you see that I have used two sentences to make my statement. However, not only is this a little longer than necessary but it is also not very natural to say. Therefore I would use a relative clause and say “I am reading a book, which my mother gave me”. This is shorter and much more natural to say. By using a relative clause in cases such as this one we are saving ourselves from giving more than one sentence and from saying more than we need to.

In this month´s blog I am going to talk about defining and non-defining relative clauses. Firstly, it is important to understand when and how we use defining and non-defining relative clauses and what exactly they do.

A defining relative clause identifies the person or thing that we are speaking about. In order to make it clear who or what we are speaking about we use a defining relative clause. We do not seperate a defining relative clause from the rest of the sentence by using commas.

A non-defining relative clause simply gives us more information about who or what we are speaking about, but it isn´t used to identify the person or thing that we are talking about. We seperate a non-defining relative clause from the rest of the sentence by using commas. We do this because it isn´t essential information.

Let us first look at some defining relative clauses and the reasons why they are defining. In the sentence “Maria has two daughters who are very good at dancing”, we use a defining relative clause. The fact that the relative clause “who are very good at dancing” is not seperated from the rest of the sentence by commas means that it is defining. This means that Maria has more than two daughters but only two of them are very good at dancing.

Now look at a very similiar sentence. “Maria has two daughters, who are very good at dancing”. We seperate the relative clause from the first part of the sentence. This means that the most important information is the fact that she has two daughters and the extra information is the fact that they are very good at dancing. this sentence communicates that she has only two daughters and both of them are very good at dancing.

Take a look at the following sentence: “My brother who lives in Rome is a very rich man”. This sentence tells us that I have more than one brother, but I am specifying that one of them is very rich and I am identifying which one is very rich by telling you that it is the one who lives in Rome. I do this by using a relative clause but not seperating it from the rest of the sentence with commas.

If I said “my brother, who lives in Rome, is a very rich man” I would be communicating that I only have one brother and he is a very rich man. The fact that I mentioned where he lives is not very important in this sentence because it doesn´t help to identify the person I am speaking about, it simply adds more information to what I said. Basically, in this sentence I am telling you that my only brother is a rich man and I have also decided to tell you where he lives. Therefore this is a sentence with a non-defining relative clause.

The first sentence is different because it uses the place where the person lives to distinguish him from any of my other brothers.

Look at this sentence: “John’s car, which is red, is a big car. Notice that the relative clause is seperated from the main part of the sentence by commas therefore we know that it is non-defining. We should also be able to realise it is non-defining because the colour of the car is not important. The main message is that it is big. Now look at this sentence: “The car which I bought yesterday is red”. This sentence uses a defining-relative clause. It is defining because the clause identifies which car I am talking about.

 

G. Harman

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