The textbook’s section on ‘future forms’ introduced [be] Ving, [be] going to V, will V and shall I/we V? Shall used to be used in statements, the traditional explanation being that I/we shall and you/she/he/it/they will showed a simple intention for the future, while the reverse – I/we will and you/she/it/they shall showed a strong intention. This distinction was probably not ever strictly observed, but throughout the 20th century the use of shall in statements declined. The last remaining holdout is the use of shall in questions of offer or suggestion. Even then, there are many contexts in which I would never use it. One example was (something like) ‘A: Let’s go to the cinema tonight. B: Sure. What shall we see?’. I said to the students that I would never say that, and I can’t imagine that anyone I know would. I would probably say ‘What do you want to see?’, even though that’s much longer and goes against my general principle of ‘keep it short and simple’.

I searched my diary for the two and half years of my first stay in Korea. I used shall twice, both in formulaic expressions. The first was about a night out with colleagues. I left early-ish because I had an early class the next morning, but ‘Most of my colleagues stayed and two (who shall remain nameless) and got falling-down drunk (literally).’ (Google Ngrams shows that shall remain nameless has always been more common than will remain nameless, and grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th century, against the general decline in shall.)  The second was ‘One of the level 4 students said that his dream vacation would be to Andromeda […] He said that a fortune teller had told him that he had previously lived there. i asked how he got to earth, and he said that he had “borrowed” a human body. All .. right … err, let’s stick to the planet earth, shall we?’. He then nominated Peru, which kind of makes sense; maybe the Nazca Lines were made by Andromedans.


I love digressions, and the textbook’s topic of photography turned into a discussion of cute animal photos on the internet. The page of photos I quickly found had a wide range of animals, which doubled up as a bit of extra vocabulary learning (sloth is not usually included in vocabulary lists). One of the photos was of a baby hippo, so I said ‘It’s full name is hippopotamus‘. Several students tried to pronounce that and generally failed, so I said ‘Don’t worry, you can always say hippo‘. One student from the Philippines then said ‘In Tagalog, we say hippopoTAmus’. I know just enough Greek to know that, by itself poTAmus is closer to the original pronunciation than POtamus. Greek Wikipedia’s page for river is titled Ποταμός and the one for hippopotamus is Ιπποπόταμος (the ‘single accent or tonos (΄) … indicates stress), so Ποταμός is actually potaMOS, but the stress shifts to PO in the compound word. I said to the student ‘In English, we say hippoPOtamus, but you can always say hippo‘.

Many students say PHOtographer and PHOtography, and it is impossible to get them to say phoTOgrapher and phoTOgraphy. When they try, they say phoTOEgrapher and phoTOEgraphy. As far as I know, no native speakers say PHOtographer, but it may come about that in the future, driven by second language speakers, it is recognised as a general alternative pronunciation. I hope not.

Five years ago, I had two students from Greece. As their vocabulary developed and more Greek-derived words crept into lessons, readings and word lists, the more advanced of the two would say ‘ooh, is Greek word’. (But he was stumped by kaleidoscope, which is not a Greek word, but was coined in English from Greek.) (I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned those two – I’ve got many stories about them.)

goodest and baddest grammar

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.)

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What do I have in common with Lady Gaga?

Not a lot, I would have thought.

Yesterday, the textbook focussed on adjectives describing personality. One question for discussion was ‘Who is the most glamorous person you know?’. The students asked and answered the questions in pairs first, then I asked random students in front of the whole class. One student said ‘Teacher!’. I asked ‘Why?’. She hesitated, then said something to a classmate in Chinese. The classmate said ‘Body language’. Yes, I do tend to gesticulate and use a wide variety of facial expressions and tone of voice, as part of ‘total communication’, but I wouldn’t have called that ‘glamorous’.

I asked the second student the same question, and she said (you’ve guessed it) ‘Lady Gaga’. I asked ‘You know Lady Gaga?’, followed by a short discussion of ‘know’ in a question like this (know, know about, know of). I then asked ‘Why?’ and she said clothes, makeup, hair, lifestyle etc.

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time and place

Almost every English sentence has a ‘time’ and a ‘place’, which are sometimes explicitly stated and sometimes only implied. One question in the textbook was (something like) ‘I ___ (work) at 7 o’clock this evening. I work till 8 on Thursdays.’ The first question to be mentally answered is ‘What day is it today-in-this-sentence?’. Some students said ‘Wednesday’ (because it really was), but my interpretation is that ‘today-in-this-sentence’ is Thursday, because if it was any other day, then the information about Thursday would violate Grice’s maxim of relevance. If it is Thursday, then the answer is ‘I will be working at 7 o’clock’. If it is any other day, then it’s ‘I won’t be working’ (but textbooks and tests usually supply ‘not’ if a negative statement is needed).

Another question was ‘You can’t / may have seen Gary here yesterday. He took the day off.’ The question is ‘Where is “here”?. If ‘here’ is ‘the office’, then you can’t have seen him here yesterday. If ‘here’ is ‘his favourite pub’, then you may have. (Or you might have.)