‘ran ____ the road’

The question in the grammar practice was:

The little child ran ____ the road and went into the shop.

The students came up with five possible answers (from memory on, to, near, along and across) and most of them chose on. That wasn’t my choice or the answer in the teacher’s book, but is it ‘wrong’? The more I thought about, the more prepositions seemed to fit there. Searching Google Ngrams for ‘ran * the road’ returned off, across, down, along, up, into, alongside, to, beside and over, and there’s possibly another 10 options besides those. (Technically, any preposition will fit there, but some are precluded because of their meaning, for example, between.) Some of them fit more happily with ‘and went into the shop’ and some less happily, but what’s to say that any one of them is ‘right’ and all the rest are ‘wrong’?


I am currently filling in for my colleague who teaches the weekend class, which is working from the advanced textbook, so I have suddenly been confronted with words like ‘multitasking’ and ‘mindfulness’, which I haven’t taught about for a long time. The reading about multitasking says ‘Multitasking is a natural everyday occurrence … we can talk to a friend while walking down the street without bumping into anyone’. One of the comprehension questions (true/false) is ‘It is often dangerous to chat to a friend while walking down the street’. (This can possibly be answered from real life, without even looking at the reading.) In one pair, one student said ‘false’ (the ‘correct’, or at least ‘expected’, answer) and another said ‘true’, and they were deep in conversation about what kind of ‘chat’ this sentence meant. The first student and I thought that it meant actual talking, which would make the sentence false, but the second student was adamant that it meant text/email/video chat, which would indeed make the sentence true. If this was a test, and I was marking his answers, I would have to mark it incorrect. Fortunately for him it was a lesson, so we were able to talk about it. For me, ‘chat’ is, all else being equal, actual talking. Both of the students are about the same age (?late 20s), and the first first is from a country largely associated with electronic communication, while the second isn’t.

‘The way I are’

I recently stumbled on a song with the questionable grammar ‘the way I are’. (Any resemblance to ‘the way we were’ in my last post is purely coincidental.) If this is part of any recognised variety of English, I haven’t encountered it before. In searching for more information, I found another song with the same grammar, and those two appear to be the only occurrences on the internet, so I must conclude that it’s not part of any recognised variety of English which has ever been posted on the internet. The first few pages of search results were references to one or other of these songs, then came ‘about 897,000,000′ results of one, two, three or all of those words in some combination or order.

One writer wrote ”Cause I like you just the way you are … Can you handle me the way I are?’, the other ‘Don’t matter who you are, just love me the way I are’. This is not a ‘mistake’, because both writers chose to do it, and I’m sure they’re aware that it’s ‘wrong’. For every other verb in English than be, you and I are followed the same verb form: ”Cause I like you just the way you eat … Can you handle me the way I eat?’ or ‘Don’t matter who you eat, just love me the way I eat‘. (Sorry, I’ve still got eating pizzas on my mind from two posts ago. (There are increasingly risqué and indeed outright rude alternative verbs.))

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Memory v Memories

A few weeks ago, one topic was memory and forgetting. I decided to play the song Memories, quickly searched, and got the song Memory.

Memories isn’t a song – at least, it might be another song, but it’s not the one I was searching for. The one I was searching for is The way we were, and the first word is ‘Memories’ (or ‘Mem’ries’). The words ‘the way we were’ occur at the end of the first, second and last verses.

The song I got is Memory, and the first word is ‘Midnight’, but no-one would ever think of searching for it that way (or at least I wouldn’t). The word ‘memory’ occurs at the beginning of the second verse, and is also tucked away in the last line of the second verse and the second last line of the last verse.

memory (uncountable) refers to the general ability to remember. a memory (countable singular) refers to one thing remembered. I can have a bad memory in general, but a good memory of a particular person, thing, place or time (and vice versa). memories (countable plural) are simply more of those. In terms of computers, we only use memory. Computers don’t have memories – yet. (Replicants, on the other hand …) Continue reading

overview of verb tenses – part 1

The last chapter of the textbook contains a review of verb tenses, so I thought I could double up lesson planning and blog posting. Consider:

I eat pizza.    I am eating pizza.    I have eaten pizza.    I have been eating pizza.
I ate pizza.    I was eating pizza.    I had eaten pizza.    I had been eating pizza.
Pizza is eaten.    Pizza is being eaten.    Pizza has been eaten.    Pizza has been being eaten.
Pizza was eaten.    Pizza was being eaten.    Pizza had been eaten.    Pizza had been being eaten.
I like eating pizza.
I want to eat pizza.
I will eat pizza.
Eating pizza is good.

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I’m dreaming of a visiting linguist

One of my dreams last night was that an Eminent Linguist (a real person, but I’m not telling you his name) was visiting Australia, and was staying in a big house with a big garden. I was hiding in his garden hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I summoned up the courage to knock on the door. He was delighted to see me – apparently I’d been assigned by the Australian Linguistics Society (I’m not a member) to be his assistant while he was here. (He looked way different, including about 30 years younger, than the photo on his blog, but you know how people (and places) in dreams just are.) The rest of the dream was more about getting from place to place by a confusing sequence of transport and routes than actually talking about linguistics.

The Commonest Speech Sounds

Gretchen McCulloch of All Things Linguistic posted without comment a graphic by Suzy Styles, of the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, of The Commonest Speech Sounds: Prevalence Rates for Phonemes of the World. Styles, in turn also doesn’t comment on it, beyond stating that she compared the speech sounds of 1672 languages on a certain online database. What follows are my own thoughts about the graphic, primarily as an ESL teacher and not as a linguist.

(There’s a large space under this graphic – keep scrolling.)

Fig2_CommonestSpeechSounds Continue reading