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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Past simple or continuous?


Most verbs form the past simple by adding the suffix -ed to the infinitive or root. However, there is an important group of verbs that do no follow the rule, therefore they are irregular and we must learn them by heart. Here is a quite complete list of over 200 irregular verbs, and here is a list of irregular verbs with their tanslation in Spanish.

In the following presentation you can see how the simple past of regular verbs is formed, as well as the negative and interrogative forms of both regular and irregular verbs:

The past continuous is formed with the verb to be in the past and the -ing form of the verb we want to use. Let's see the forms in this presentation:


The past simple is used to express completed actions in the past: We met our friends in the park.
The past simple is also used for actions that happened one after the other in the past: He came in, took off his coat and sat down.
The past continuous is used to express an action that was in progress at a certain time in tha past: She was having breakfast at 8 o'clock.
The past continuous is used to express two actions that were happening at the same time: Mary was cooking dinner while John was washing the dishes.Note that we use while to connect the two simultaneous actions.
Sometimes a longer action, expressed in past continuous, is interrupted by a shorter action, expressed in the past simple: I was having a bath when somebody knocked on the door.
The past continuous is used in stories to set the background: It was a lovely night. The stars were shining and they were walking hand ind hand when suddenly he kissed her.

In the following song by The Krystals we can hear many verbs in the past simple and some in the past continuous:

Finally let's do some exercises to practise what we have learnt:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Seven years old!

The fact that I haven't been wrting in this blog for a while, doesn't mean that I lost insterest or gave up blogging. It's simply that I have been quite busy with Motorrad Abdeckung und Leisten Fit für BMW R1200RS R1250RS R1200 and other things. For the past two years, I have been teaching beginners who couldn't understand grammar explanations in English. That's why I started a blog in Spanish called PrincipEnglish (English for Beginners, or "Principiantes" in Spanish). This year, however, I have a group of advanced students and that will surely make me write in this blog again.

As every year, to celebrate that my blog is a year older, I post a selection of the "Cartoon of the Week" section. They come from the usual sources: Wronghands, So much pun, Cartoon Movement and Brainless Tales, whose author, unfortunately, has stopped posting new cartoons on it. I'll miss it!

Thank you very much to all the readers. This scrumptious cake is for you!
Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Word formation: adverbs

In most languages new words can be created by adding suffixes and /or prefixes. This is called morphological derivation and it can help create new words of the same or different categories. For example, if you add the suffix -ly to an adjective you get an adverb: quick --> quickly.
Cheetahs run very quickly

Today we are going to have a look at the affixes (suffixes or prefixes) that create adverbs.

The most productive suffix for adverbs is -ly, but there are others: -wards, -wise and -ways. Besides, there are also adverbs starting with the prefix: a- :

-ly is added to adjectives to create adverbs. Most adverbs just take ly, but there are certain spelling rules:
  • The -y ending after a consonant usually changes to i before the suffix: happy--> happily, easy-- easily. Exceptions are one-syllabled: shy--> shyly, sly-->slyly. Dry can have two spellings: dryly and drily.
  • The adjectives true, due and whole drop the final e: truly, duly, wholly.
  • Adjectives ending in -ple, -ble, -dle, -tle drop the silent e and take a y: simple--> simply, probable--> probably, idle--> idly, gentle--> gently.
  • Adjectives ending in -ic add -al before -ly: fantastic--> fantastically. Exception: public--> publicly.
  • Adjectives already ending in -ly such as lovely, friendly, silly, lively, jolly, heavenly, leisurely... do not take the -ly sufix. In fact, they do not change into adverbs, but an adverbial phrase is used instead: He greeted me in a friendly manner. He is behaving in a silly way.
Adverb Wordle

Same form as adjectives
  • Some adjectives are used as adverbs with no change of spelling: fast, straight, hard...: That´s a fast car (adjective). He drives very fast (adverb). It's hard work (adjective). He works hard (adverb).
  • Some adjectives ending in -ly that are related to time are also used as adverbs: weekly, hourly, daily, monthly... remain unchanged: A daily newspaper (adjective) He comes here daily (adverb).
  • A few adjectives ending in -ly remain the same as adverbs: deathly, only, bodily, masterly. He is an only child (adjective). I've seen him only once (adverb).
-wards or -ward
  • This suffix can end in s or not. Generally, -wards is used in British English, while -ward is preferred in America. However, some of these words ending in this suffix can also act like adjectives, in which case, they always end in -ward: Let's go forward(s) (adverb). The forward movement of History (adjective). When forward is used in phrasal verbs, it never ends in s: I look forward to hearing from you. The meeting has been brought forward to this Friday.
  • -wards is usually added to prepositions or nouns to give the idea of direction: upwards, downwards, forwards, backwards, inwards, onwards, outwards, eastwards,southwards, seawards... The back garden faces seawards so you can always have a pleasant view. 
Onwards and upwards by Eugene Summerfield

  • The suffix -wise is usually added to nouns to form adverbs and adjectives. It gives the meaning of "in the manner of" or "in the direction of": clockwise, anticlockwise = counterclockwise, likewise, lengthwise, crabwise, contrariwise, otherwise,... It can also mean "concerning": Things aren't too good businesswise (i.e. concerning the business)
  • This suffix also means "in the direction of": edgeways, sideways, lengthways, breadthways...  Do not confuse it with the compounds of the noun way (meaning "road"), such as carriageway, causeway, highway, railway... When in doubt, bear in mind that such compounds can be used in the singular as well as the plural, whereas the adverbs always end in s.

  • We shouldn't confuse this prefix with the prefix a- of Greek origin that means "not", as in apolitical, amoral, asexual.... In this case, the prefix a- which forms adverbs comes from Old or Middle English and is no longer productive, so no more words are being created with it. Usually added to addjectives or nouns, it gives the meaning of location: "on", "in"; afoot, abed, abroad, along, aloud, around, ahead... Sometimes it means "of": anew, akin
Compound adverbs
There are quite a few adverbs that are formed by combining here, there and where with various prepositions, all of which are old-fashioned and mainly used in formal language. Here are some of them:
  • Here- compounds: hereabout, hereafter, hereby, herein, hreof, hereto, herewith, etc.
  • There- compounds: thereabout, thereafter, thereby, therefrom, therein, thereupon, therefore, etc. The latter is the only one of these which is still widely used.
  • Where- compounds: whereat, whereby, wherefore, whereof, whereon, whereupon, wherewith, etc.

For more information on adverbs and their position in the sentence, visit Lola Dominguez's blog.

The logical song by Supertramp is full of adjectives, but among them are a few adverbs. Can you spot them?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Idioms with people's names

There are quite a few idioms and proverbs that use proper nouns, which are words that name specific persons, places or things and are always written in capital letters. Today, we are going to have a look at some idioms that use names of people:
  • Every Tom, Dick and Harry means everybody, every ordinary person: If you tell Louisa, soon every Tom, Dick and Harry will know about it.
  • Jack of all trades, master of none is a proverb used for people who are competent with many skills but are not especially good at any of them. As is usual with proverbs, the second part can be left out. There's a chap in the office who can do almost anything; he's a jack of all trades.
  • All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy is a familiar proverb that means that if a person does not take some time off work, they can become boring. It was the phrase that Jack Nicholson kept typing in The Shining, a film based in the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
  • Johnny-come-lately means a newcomer, someone who has just joined a group. She may be a Johnny-come-lately in the office, but she´s doing really well. There's a song by Eagles in which this expression can be heard. You can find it at the end of this entry.
  • Keep up with the Joneses means to try to be as good as the neighbours by getting what they have and matching their lifestyle: Her neighbour bought a new car and she went out and bought another; she's always trying to keep up with the Joneses.
  • Rob Peter to pay Paul is to take or borrow money from someone in order to pay a debt to another person. If you take money from a credit card to pay off another, it's a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It won't take you anywhere
  • John Hancock is a person's signature. It refers to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence of the USA. Put your John Hancock on the dotted line, please.
  • A peeping Tom is a voyeur, a person who takes pleasure from secretly watching others. By way of example you can watch the video below, which is an excerpt from the legendary film "Back to the Future".
  • To live / lead the life of Riley is to live a really good life with few problems. Stop complaining. You're living the life of Riley. The origin of this idiom is in an old Irish song called "Is that Mr. Riley?"
  • (And) Bob's your uncle is used after explaining a simple set of instructions, meaning that it's very easy to do: Boil the pasta, drain it, put the sauce on top and Bob's your uncle! 
  • Take the Mickey (out of someone) is to make fun of someone. This expression, used mainly in Britain, comes from the Cockney Rhyming slang "Mickey Bliss", meaning "piss", because the orignal expression was take the piss out of someone. It is also equivalent to pull someone's leg, which is also used in America. Are you being serious or are you taking the Mickey out of me? 
  • The real McCoy is the genuine thing or person. This isn't an imitation. It's the real McCoy.
  • We are even Steven is an expression used when someone has repaid a debt. It's clear that this name has been used because it rhymes with "even". Now that you have given me back the money I lent you, we are even Steven.
  • John Doe or Jane Doe are names used for a man or a woman whose real name is unknown. 
  • John Bull is a character who represents the typical English man. He is usually pictured as a stocky figure wearing a waistcoat with the British flag on.
  • Uncle Sam is the government of the United States and, by extension, the American people. The name is an expansion of the abbreviation U.S.

 Johnny-come-lately by Eagles. At the beginning of the video there's a grammar mistake. Can you spot it?

Jack of all trades by Bruce Springsteen

Finally, try to complete the idioms in this presentation:

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hellgrünes Feder-Muster großer Wandbehang Wandteppich Wandteppic

This blog is six years old!

I'd like to thank all my readers for the million visits this blog has had since I started writing, back in November 2009. This cake is for you!

And, as usual, I'm adding a selection of the cartoons of the week that I post every Sunday. They come from my usual sources: Wrong Hands, So much pun, Brainless tales and Cartoon Movement. They deal mainly with puns, but some of them are related to current affairs such as the terrible attacks in Paris. I hope you like them and I hope you keep reading this blog! Cheers!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Indian summer

Today is the 8th of November. It's autumn and yet the weather is mild: it's sunny and warm (about 24º C), there's no wind... It's not the weather you might expect in autumn. That's what is called an Indian Summer, a term that, originated in the USA and Canada, is becoming more widely used in the UK, where this spell of good weather in the middle of the autumn is known as "All Hallows summer" or "St. Martin's summer" (In Spain we say "Veranillo de San Martín") because it hapens around the Day of St Martin, that is, the 11th of November. So, if it's got a name, it's not so strange to get warm days in November, is it?
Indian summer
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But where does this expression come from? It was first used in North America around the 1770s, but the origin is not certain. Some say that it was the Indians that pointed it out to the European settlers. Others say that during this spell of good weather the Indians renewed their attacks on the settlers. Whatever its origin, the expression is here to stay and it's already in use in other English speaking countries apart from North America.

Indian summer is the title of a song, a film, a festival,..

By extension, it also means a pleasant period of someone's life, especially when they are older:
  • After marrying his new wife at the age of 59, he entered into the Indian summer of his life. 
  • She is in the Indian summer of her career.

Apart from Indian summer, there are other proverbs and idioms related to the seasons and the weather. Here are a few:
  • One swallow does not make a summer, meaning that because one good thing has happened does not mean that others will follow:  Her latest book was a success, but a swallow does not make a summer. She still has to prove that she is a good writer.
  • To buy straw hats in winter is mainly used in the stock market and it means to buy when demand and prices are low in order to sell when the prices are higher so as to make big profit.
  • In the dead of winter means in the middle of winter, when it is the coldest:  In the dead of winter, just when it was colder, she came out wearing just a skimpy dress and no coat on. 
  • No spring chicken is used to refer to people who are no longer young: Stop doing that. You're no spring chicken!
  • To be full of the joys of spring is to be very happy. Look at him, he's full of the joys of spring.
  • Autumn years are the later years of a person, especially after retirement: In the autumn years of his life he took up painting.
  • Make hay while the sun shines means to make the most of opportunities when they come: Now that the children are at school, I'll set to work in my book. I'll make hay while the sun shines.
  • To be / feel under the weather is not to feel well: I won't go out today. I'm feeling a bit under the weather.
  • It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. This proverb means that even the worst events can be beneficial for someone: After the fire in the building, many workers were given jobs to repair it. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
  • Come rain or come shine / rain or shine: no matter what the weather is like, in any case: After a long week working in the office we'll go out at the weekend come rain or come shine.
The following presentation can help you remember these idioms. Try to complete them and then remember their meaning. 

In this song by Stereophonics you can hear the expression Indian summer:

In this other song, Frank Sinatra says that he is going to love his sweetheart come rain or come shine; that is, in any case, no matter what life brings about. Enjoy it!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Suggest and recommend

My students usually make mistakes when using these two verbs.
A typical mistake:
* I suggest you to buy a new car.

The verb suggest cannot be followed by the infinitive. It can be followed by the gerund or a that-clause. Let's see:

I suggest buying a new car.
I suggest that you buy a new car.
I suggest buying a new car

In the first sentence the suggestion is good for the person who suggests or a group of which they form part.
However, in the second sentence, the suggestion is meant for another person, not for the speaker.
In the second sentence, the verb buy is in fact in the subjunctive mode, which uses the same forms of the indicative, except for the third person singular, which doesn't take the final "s":
I suggest that he buy a new car.
The subjunctive form of the verb to be is be for all the persons or were if it is in the past:
I suggest that she be here as soon as possible.
I suggested that she were here as soon as possible.

In British English, the sentence using the subjunctive can more commonly be expressed:
 I suggest that you should buy a new car.
As you can see, the modal verb should is used instead of the subjunctive. Another thing to take into account is that the word that can be left out in this type of sentences:
I suggest you buy a new car.
I suggest you should buy a new car.

After suggest you can also use just a noun or noun phrase:
A: "Which dress should I wear?"
B: "I suggest the black one"
I suggest the black dress

For the use of suggest in indirect speech, have a look at this blogpost.

As for recommend, it cannot be used with the infinitive either. It can either be followed by the gerund or a that-clause:
I recommend reading that book.
I recommend that you read that book.
In the latter sentence, read is a subjunctive.
I recommend this book

You can also use a noun after recommend:
I recommend this book to you.
However, you cannot use the indirect object next to the verb, so, these sentences wouldn't be correct:
*I recommend to you this book.
*I recommend you this book.

So, to put it in a nutshell, both verbs are never followed by the infinitive. Instead, they are followed by:
  • A noun or noun phrase
  • A gerund
  • A that-clause + subjunctive
  • A that-clause + should + infinitive

In the following video you can hear an example of suggest. At one point, the lady says: " I suggest you just go away". Can you hear it?

Finally, let's do some exercises:
Suggest and recommend

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