I wish you’d read this

Monday’s lesson was about the patten “I wish you/people would …” and “I wish I could …”. Yesterday’s was about “I regret doing that. I wish I hadn’t done that” and “I regret not doing that. I wish I had done that”. I gave some textbook examples then elicited real-life examples from the students. Some time into the lesson, one student arrived late. I said “I wish you’d come on time”, then immediately thought “Oohh, I’ll have to talk to them about that”.

“I wish you’d come on time” is perfectly ambiguous between “I wish you would come on time” and “I wish you had come on time”. With most other main verbs, we can tell the difference, because would is followed by the base form of a verb, while had is followed by the past participle form. Taking a similar verb as an example, we can tell the difference between “I wish you’d arrive on time” (would) and “I wish you’d arrived on time” (had).

This ambiguity arises only when the base and past participle forms are the same, which is the case only with come, become and run; burst, cost, cut, hit, hurt, let, put, set and shut; and read (but only in writing, which I didn’t think about until I came to write the title of this blog; how did you interpret that?).

If I was talking to a student who was usually on time but wasn’t on this occasion, “I wish you’d come on time” would be inferred to mean “I wish you had come on time (today)”. But this student is habitually late (I think she comes directly from work), so there is no immediate way of telling the difference. Of course, I could always clearly say “I wish you would …” or “I wish you had …”. 


Grammarbites part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 1 – introduction

Part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

Part 7 – pronunciation – the basic sounds of English

Part 4 – pronunciation – consonant clusters

This batch took me forever! Prefixes and suffixes are a major and sometimes overlooked aspect of English. The websites and books I consulted either had too little information with a random selection of prefixes and suffixes, or too much information (Wikitionary has 1,443 prefixes and 703 suffixes). Among other things, the same letter or group of letters can function in different ways: sometimes as a prefix or suffix with one meaning (or one of a small group of different meanings), sometimes as an integral part of a word which had that meaning originally, but which now doesn’t, and sometimes as a completely unrelated word. I had to find the right number of best examples Continue reading

“A glass on her head”

I wish I could draw, but I can’t. Sometimes I draw very simple stick figures and sometimes those leave my students even more confused than before.

A few days ago, my students were doing a communicative activity. The book provided two sets of drawings of six people with small difference between them, the activity being to describe each person accurately enough that their partner would understand that the drawing was different. One of the people was wearing sunglasses on her head. One student said, “She has a glass on her head”. I asked “What has she got on her head?”. She replied “A glass”. I quickly drew these stick figures:


I repeated my question and the student answered correctly. It turns out that the sunglasses were not one of the differences between the two sets of drawings. (The same often happens with “She has a long hair”.)

Glass can only mean “the substance”, and “a glass” can only mean “a drinking vessel”. But “glasses” can mean “two drinking vessels” or “spectacles”. But in this context, “She has glasses on her head” is going to be interpreted as “spectacles”. In the context of a circus performance, we’d have to say “She is balancing glasses on her head”.

Is it “wrong”? If so, why?

A few days ago my class was doing a activity based on prompts like “I like …”, “ I spend time …” and “I am good …”, with various variations. There is a small number of ways in which each of these can be completed, so I started by eliciting some of the most common.

One student completed the prompt “I’m quite good …” with “at nothing”. This flummoxed me. I can’t think of any reason why “I’m quite good at nothing” (and “I’m very good at nothing”) aren’t possible, but no-one has ever said or written them where Google can find them. It is possible to say “I’m good at nothing”, though “I’m not good at anything” has overtaken it in the last 90 years. “I’m not quite good at anything” is also non-existent, while “I’m not very good at anything” has a different meaning – “I’m good at many things, but not very good at anything”.

It was impossible for me to explain why “I’m very good at nothing” was ‘wrong’ (if indeed it was). I tried to accentuate the positive and find something – anything – she is good at, but her English is limited. I eventually said “Are you good at [her language]”. She brightened and said “Yes”. Continue reading

inning and innings, outing and outings

On  Saturday evening I went for an outing to a baseball game. This is slightly unusual in Australia (there is a baseball competition, but it is almost unknown) and very unusual for me (I would not otherwise go to a baseball game, except …).

Last year I semi-did a course in photography on Coursera (I watched the videos and did the standard quizzes, but didn’t pay money to do the assessment quizzes and submit my photos for peer review). A few weeks ago one of the lecturers (a professor of photography at a university in the USA) emailed people in Australia who’d done the course, saying that he would be in Australia in late Dec-early Jan and was planning a trip to the baseball. (Which makes about as much sense as me travelling to the USA and going to a cricket match, but his son is involved with the baseball team here.) Seven photographers and three hangers-on attended. We had a short session together, then wandered around taking photos before and during the game. After some time, we each had a one-on-one with the lecturer, and he said some seriously nice things about my photos.

Photos first, then language: Continue reading

You is all I want for Christmas

A few days before Christmas 2009 a colleague at the college arranged for all the students to join together and watch a video of the movie Love Actually.  Towards the end of the movie, the character Joanna (Olivia Olson) sings the song All I want for Christmas is you, which a) is not really about Christmas – it might as well be All I want for any occasion is you, b) I am likely to have in my head all day now, and c) you are likely to have in your head all day now.

After the movie, a student said to me “She was singing ‘Is you?’. Should that be ‘Are you?’?”. I said (I paraphrase) no, because she was singing about “All I want for Christmas”, not about “you”. “All I want for Christmas” is singular, even if “All I want for Christmas” is “five gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and partridge in a pear tree”. The singularity or plurality of the gift(s) doesn’t affect the the form of the verb. On the other hand, if we invert the sentence and say “You _ all I want for Christmas”, then “you” determines the form of the verb.

Also late in the movie, the character Jamie (Colin Firth) travels to Portugal to make a declaration of love to Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz) … in very bad Portuguese. A student from Brazil was sitting in front of me (maybe he was the one who asked the question afterwards), and he cracked up completely during that scene. 


While I was making the bed just before, I noticed that the summer quilt we’re using has the very Konglish brand name SHE’S CLUB.

This immediately reminded me of a dress shop I’ve seen in the medium-sized suburb of Strathfield (which has a large Korean community) named SHE’S … something. Is it SHE’S BOUTIQUE? No, that’s in Downers Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago (with no indication of Korean ownership on the shop front).

Google Maps Street View to the rescue. (I don’t usually give free publicity to corporate entities, but I really gotta in this case.)

Continue reading