Tuesday 21 July 2015

Plural Nouns and Uncountables

How much work have you done today? Did you have much time to do any research? How many people did you contact and how many children were involved. How many jobs do you have and how many days do you rest? How much furniture do you really need and do you want all that equipment in the same room? Is there too much information or too much software that makes it hard to access all the information we need? And there is of course no new news to think about.

Okay, so what is all that about?
The sentences above are full of NOUNS. Yep, those horrible types that are considered uncountable, or plural, or collectives or simply not singular in any way. Many look like their Portuguese equivalents and all of them work differently to the way they are used in Portuguese.

Many nouns can be classified into several meaningful groups which affect the way they can be referenced in English.
Liquids are considered uncountable. Why? Because when we look at a liquid there is no way of counting the liquid without referring to their containers. We have cups, bottles, cartons, barrels, drums, and so many other containers of liquid.
If you ask for a Beer, what are you asking for? Is it a Glass, a Can, a Bottle, Mug, Jug, Pint, Quart or even a yard of beer? When we say "Give me two Beers!", we assume that the person serving us understands the UNIT of Beer we are referring to.
Similarly, ordering two Coffees doesn't mean we are counting a liquid called Coffee, but that we are expecting to receive two CUPS of Coffee.

Grains - Far too small to consider counting. Grains of Sand, Salt, Sugar, Wheat and even Rice.
"Please give me 300 salts, rice!" just doesn't cut it. It is far easier to ask for SOME salt or rice.

Collectives - A term I use when talking about things like furniture. I can have two Tables and four Chairs but I can't have six Furnitures. The word furniture collects similar items under one category the is used as a general representation of those objects. The same is done with Equipment, Information, and Software.
Computers have lots of different software. The operating system is a PIECE of software, as is the Spreadsheet program (Excel) or the programs used to record data and convert files from one format to the other.

Plural nouns are the most annoying. One child and two children. One man and two men. One woman and two women. One person and two people. (While person can be written as persons in the plural, the form People is better used to represent more than one person.)

And finally, the nouns that look plural yet have no singular format.
The most common of these is NEWS. NEWS is NEWS. There is no other format for NEWS.
I have a NEW for you, makes no sense. I have some NEWS, or I have an important piece of NEWS for you is correct. NEW is the opposite to OLD and is an adjective describing a noun.
We have NEWS programs, NEWS desks, NEWS stands and reporters who write the NEWS.
Together with NEWS we also have SPORTS.
I drive a SPORTS car when wearing a SPORTS coat. And now for the SPORTS NEWS.

And you are right in thinking there are so many more uncountable references. My next post will deal with the structures associated with these uncountable variants.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Themes - The Sea

One of the very interesting aspects of English is the very visual nature of the language. The words themselves seem to encapsulate so much of the sense of the original meaning of the words and attribute the same characteristics to a new context. Quite often it isn't only the visual aspect that is sensed. The sounds can be heard as much as the smells and tastes too. Descriptive assimilation is probably the hallmark of the English language.

Monday 1 June 2015

More / Also

And now to something a little different.


In the last post I looked at ANother and other. What I didn`t mention was a common mistake I hear and correct a lot.

In English, we use MORE in several different ways. I have MORE time than I thought. There are several MORE things that need to be done. They need only one MORE number to win.

In Portuguese the word MORE and PLUS are the same, mais.
They need mais uma (MORE one) number to win.
Two mais (PLUS) two equals four.

The use of MORE in these two examples is distracting and interrupts the steady flow of the conversation. Coupled with this is the fact that we can also use ANOTHER in the same position as mais is used in Portuguese.

You have ANOTHER three tasks to complete before you leave. You have three MORE tasks to complete before you leave.

They have taken ANOTHER 10% off the price.
Can you wait ANOTHER 10 minutes please? Can you wait 10 MORE minutes please?

The agreement is, you give us your car PLUS R$2000 and we will give you this new model.
If you ADD another R$2000, we will also give you all the optional extras. So that will be, your car PLUS R$2000 for the car, PLUS R$2000 to include the optional extras. That will be a total of R$24000 for this new model that would normally cost R$30000. Congratulations!


ALSO is the translation from the word tambem in Portuguese.The problem is that we can ALSO use AS WELL or TOO. So what's the difference? They are positional in use. In the first section of this post, there are a number of examples of the positional use of ALSO.

TOO is universal but;

The word ALSO goes before the verb., I ALSO/TOO like to sing. He ALSO/TOO travels a lot.

When we need to refer to something as ALSO at the end of a sentence, we use AS WELL.
I like to sing AS WELL/TOO. He travels a lot AS WELL/TOO.

We cannot say - He AS WELL travels a lot.
We should NOT say - He travels a lot ALSO. Some Americans can be heard using ALSO at the end of a sentence, but strictly speaking, it is still not considered the correct form.

I ALSO had ANOTHER thing to ADD to this post, but then again there are other things AS WELL that need to be discussed. PLUS this is already boring enough  and that is a good reason TOO.

Monday 18 May 2015

Another vs Other

Another problem, among all other problems, is the use of ANOTHER and OTHER.

    -  It seems that the only translation learnt when starting to study English is ANOTHER. It is used here universally for singular and plural items.

    -  The problem is probably compounded through the fact that ANOTHER is one word whereas in Portuguese it is two words.

    -  ANOTHER has to be seen as not one word, but as two words that have been joined together to form only the one.

    -  AN is the Article and signifies ONE as in AN event, AN interesting article, AN Elephant etc.
AN OTHER or ANOTHER is a variation of the same theme.
    -  In use we say - There is ONE OTHER problem, or ANOTHER problem. ONE OTHER thing - ANOTHER thing I like etc.

    -  If the object is plural, it makes no sense to use ANOTHER things. But we can, and should use - OTHER things, OTHER people, OTHER objects. ANOTHER person had OTHER ideas about the project.

    -  OTHER never uses an `S` when followed by an object. The sentence `He has OTHERS cars` is wrong. `He has ANOTHER car, or he has OTHER cars.`

    -  The form OTHERS (with the S) is only used when we already know what the object is and the object doesn't need to be repeated.
    -  John and his friends have 5 cars. He has one car and the OTHERS have two cars each.(OTHER friends)
    -  The only OTHER country that speaks Portuguese in the Americas is Haiti. No OTHER countries speak Portuguese. One country speaks French and the OTHERS speak Spanish. ANOTHER country that speaks Portuguese is Portugal.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Possessive Pronouns

In recent posts, I have referred to the Gender issue when moving across from English to Portuguese and back again. Quite often, it seemed to matter only when taking into consideration the use of Articles in a structure.

More recently I discovered another anomaly where Gender plays a great part.

Consider the following sentence.
      'Mary took HIS car to be fixed' 
    -   I of course, tried to correct this and at times joked with the student about an unidentified MALE entity that was suddenly introduced into the conversation.
    -   I never really tried to understand the reason behind the mistake, especially when the student seemed to use the possessive pronoun correctly in the sentence 'Mary took HER table to be fixed'
    -   Over subsequent classes, the problem returned and disappeared seemingly randomly so I put it down to tiredness or a lack of attention.
    -   Then, last week I was prompted to reflect on this issue once again when I referred to the Gender influence.

With the help of some of my students, I began to learn the true reason why Brazilians confuse the use of possessive pronouns in English.
    -   The Subject - I, we, you, they etc take the possessive attitude in English. Objects are referred to by the pronoun 'It'. When we wish to attribute a possessive attitude to an object it will always be with Its.
    -   'Mary took her Car with its broken window to be fixed'.
    -   'The dog buried its bone under the tree.'

In Portuguese, the possessive form is attributed to the object.
    -   In the sentence, 'Mary took HIS car to be fixed'  (Mary levou SEU carro) - it is the object Car that is referred to in the possessive case. Car is carro in Portuguese and receives a masculine attribute, 'o carro', hence the use of HIS.
    -   In the sentence ''Mary took HER table to be fixed, (Mary levou SUA mesa). Table = mesa, receiving a female attribute - 'a mesa', resulting in HER table.
    -   Portuguese is more like English when the structure changes in the sentence - 'Mary levou o carro dela' (Mary took the car hers), or 'Mary levou a mesa dela' (Mary took the table hers).

Now that you understand the reasoning behind the mistakes made, it is time to remind you of the correct structures.
Mary took HER car and HER table to be fixed. The gender case is the subject Mary, she - her.
John took HIS car and HIS table to be fixed. Once again the Gender case is the subject John, he - his.
They took THEIR cars and THEIR tables to be fixed. (They - their)
We took OUR cars and OUR tables to be fixed. (We - our)
Mary took HER brother to the doctor's, then John took HIS sister out to dinner. Later they took THEIR mother to the cinema. (as above)

Sunday 3 May 2015

Come back / Go back / Return

So what is it we are doing?
Are we GOING BACK, COMING BACK, or can we simply say RETURNING?
For some reason, it seems so easy and natural for me to choose the correct form because it is intuitive. I have grown up with a sense of what it is TO COME and TO GO, so it is hard to stop and try to understand why it is so counter-intuitive for non-native speakers.

I remember mentioning in one of my early posts, how hard it is to `Gender` things in Portuguese (adding an `a` or an `o` to the end of nouns like Marcelo, carro (male) and Marcela, mesa (female)), as is done in many Latin-based languages. For speakers of these languages, it is as intuitive for them to understand `Gender` as it is for me to understand COME and GO.

So let`s begin.
GO - A place we want to reach, to get to, a destination.
    -  I am GOING home late today. When I get home I will order Pizza.
(I am not at home, I am somewhere else so I have to GO home from where I am)
    -  I am GOING BACK to bed. I am still tired.
(I am not in bed, perhaps I have just left it, but I want to RETURN to my bed.)

COME - To me, from somewhere else to where I am.
    -  He is COMING home late today. When he gets home, I will order Pizza.
(I am at home and my brother is somewhere else so he has to COME home from where he is.

    -  Are you COMING BACK to bed. I am still tired?
(I am in bed, perhaps my partner has just left it, but I want my partner to RETURN to my bed.)

In these examples, I have tried to make the idea of COME and GO as simple as possible. The use of COME or GO depends on how the information you are giving relates to YOU or the TARGET Subject.

Consider the following;
    -  `Sorry Mum, I am only GOING home when I am ready.`
(The TARGET Subject is ME - I could be going anywhere, and eventually it will be home.)
    -  `Sorry Mum, I am only COMING home when I am ready.
(The TARGET Subject is MUM - I am replying to Mum asking me `When are you COMING home?`)

Now, what about the BACK.
    -  When I COME BACK FROM New york, I will phone you.
(Here we are talking about a future event where I am not in New York at the moment but expect to go there soon, then RETURN TO the place of speaking. Note the matching FROM.)

    -  When I GO BACK TO New York, I will study more.
(In this case I WAS in New York and am not there now. I intend to RETURN TO New York and hope to study more once I am there. Note the matching TO.)

The translation from Portuguese includes BACK, while there is always confusion as to whether to use COME or GO as in COME BACK or GO BACK. (BACK in this structure is a preposition.)
BACK by itself can NOT be used.
    -  I need to BACK home just doesn't work. You MUST use GO BACK or COME BACK.
(BACK can NOT be used as a verb in this context.)

    -  In the famous phrase - 'I'll be back' - BACK is used as an adjective in the same way as HOME in 'I'll be home' and HAPPY in 'I'll be HAPPY'

When unsure of which option to use, GO BACK or COME BACK, it is much simpler to use RETURN.
In all of the above examples, RETURN works perfectly well

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Anticipate vs Bring forward or start earlier

Anticipate vs Bring forward or start earlier

The word anticipar (Portuguese) is often translated into ANTICIPATE, in sentences like;
                  - "Can we ANTICIPATE our next class?"
(Meaning the speaker wants to start the class earlier)

This phrase in English seems very strange. When we ANTICIPATE something, we usually prepare something we believe will be necessary in advance. ANTICIPATE has a sense of predicting a future necessity, NOT to start something earlier as is understood by the writer`s question.

Proper use of ANTICIPATE can be seen in these examples;
                  - "We ANTICIPATED your need for a Slide projector, so we  set one up for you in the meeting room."
                  - Apple ANTICIPATED there would be higher sales of its new smartphone through the first few days, so provided more sales people to cope with the demand.

We would normally write this question in the following way;
                  - "Can we start the meeting/our next class earlier?" (Usually for the same day)
                  - "Can we bring the meeting/our next class forward to Tuesday instead of Wednesday?"

In a similar way;
                  - "Can we postpone the meeting/our next class until Wednesday?"
                  - "Can we start the meeting/our next class a little later, say 19:00 instead of 18:00?"
                  - "Can we move the meeting back by an hour?"

These forms are all used to have an appointment start at a later time or date.