A Sydney radio station is advertising ‘Better music, and more of it’. Presumably that means they play Continue reading
I thought I’d posted about this before, but I can’t find it now, so apparently not. Over the years, I’ve created a number of grammar summary sheets, and started seriously thinking about this when I was in Korea for the second time in 2015-16. Through my time as an ESL teacher, I’ve noticed that some grammar points keep coming up over and over. The challenge, then, is to get these onto one piece of paper in a coherent way.
By any understanding, English grammar is based on nouns and verbs, with nouns starting with people, things, places and times, and verbs starting with being, having and doing. Extra information then covers which one(s), whose, how many, how much, describing, how and why (and more).
So, my first sheet looks like this:
a pie tastes good x a tastes good
the pies taste good x the taste good
x it pie tastes good it tastes good
x they pie taste good they taste good
English has two tricky little groups of words. One group – including a and the – is usually used in front of a noun to make a basic noun phrase. The other group – including it and they – is usually used to replace a noun phrase.
But there are other groups of words which can be used both ways:
this pie tastes good this tastes good
those pie taste good those taste good
The other main members of this group are that and these.
Most English have adjectives have comparative (-er or more/less) and superlative (-est or most/least) forms. The three major irregular adjectives are good-better-best, bad-worse-worst and far-further-furthest. One student wrote farer and farest. I said ‘Those are clear and fit the pattern, but we’ve got these special words further and further’. No-one wrote or said gooder, goodest, badder or baddest. I commented that those are clear and fit the pattern as well, but badder and baddest sound slightly better than gooder and goodest. Jim Croce calls Leroy Brown ‘The baddest man in the whole damned town / Badder than old King Kong’, not ‘The worst man … Worse than King King’. The spell-checker in Pages for Mac accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder and goodest. (It also accepts farer. I assume that’s related to fare (farer – ?a paying customer/traveller) not far. Compare wayfarer. The spell-checker in WordPress accepts badder and baddest, but not gooder, goodest or farer.) (Possibly, the regular adjective forms of far should be farrer and farrest, but it’s not necessary to decide.)
In the course of my bible study, I came across the following verse (Judges 1.19 in the King James/Authorised Version):
And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.
Sometimes one word can change the meaning of a question, and the (possible) answer(s) to it. The students were doing an activity in which they had to create questions from a prompt, then ask their partner. At the end I got pairs to stand up and ask and answer one of their questions. The first was ‘Which city / most like to visit and why?’. The asker of the first pair asked ‘Which city would you most like to visit and why?’ and the answerer answered ‘New York’ and gave her reasons. The asker of another pair asked ‘Which city do you most like to visit and why?’, which is an equally valid but completely different question with probably a different answer, though maybe with the same answer. (I can’t remember what the student’s answer was.) Certainly, the scope of the first question is wider: I would like to visit hundreds of cities, and I like to visit a handful. (Naturally, I might say ‘I like visiting …’, but I’ll ignore that grammatical nicety for the moment.)
Another prompt was ‘Which famous person / you like to look like? Why?’. Another asker asked ‘Which famous person would you like to look like?’ and the answerer (a young Taiwanese man) answered ‘Hermione Granger’. Putting aside the question of whether she is a ‘famous person’, there was the incongruity of a young Taiwanese man wanting to look like Emma Watson (putting aside the question of whether Hermione really looks like Emma). I asked ‘Why?’ and he answered ‘Because she knows all the answers to all the questions’. I asked ‘So you’d like to look like an English girl with long hair?’ and he realised what the question actually was. He answered ‘David Beckham’, because he’s tall, good-looking and good at football. In this activity, it is not possible to ask ‘Which famous person would you like to be like?’, because ‘look’ is given. It is also not probable to ask ‘Which famous person do you like to look like?’, unless you are interviewing a practiced impersonator.
The students were practicing uncountable and countable nouns, and the grammar practice page had the sentence: ‘Hello, Reception. Do you have an / some iron I can use?’. One student chose ‘some’. If it was a test, I would have to mark him wrong. In class, though, I can find out why he chose that. I asked ‘What are going to do with some iron?’. He said ‘I’m a scientist. I’m going to make a science experiment.’ All right, then. I said ‘Where are you, that you are calling Reception?’. He said ‘I’m in a big shop. There’s a desk I can ask at.’ I said ‘Is that Reception, or is that the Information Desk?’. He said ‘Oh’. I asked ‘And are you going to buy the iron first, before you use it?’. He said ‘Oh’. ‘Where else has Reception?’. (a moment’s thought) ‘A hotel.’ ‘And what do you want?’. ‘An iron.’ ‘And what are you going to do with it?’. ‘Iron my clothes.’. So without saying that his original answer was ‘wrong’, I was able to get him to the ‘right’ answer.
I quickly searched for ‘image iron’ and Google obligingly produced pictures of chunks of the metal and the household implement. Another student semi-randomly said ‘Iron Man’. I quickly thought, then said ‘Imagine – Tony Stark has just returned to his hotel after battling the bad guys. Part of his suit is missing. He rings Reception and says “Hello, Reception. Do you have some iron I can use?” ’. So maybe, in that specific context, the first student’s first answer could actually be right.
(And please don’t say that Tony Stark wouldn’t be staying in a hotel.)