Sunday, November 8, 2015

Indian summer

Today is the 8th of November. It's autumn and yet the weather is mild: it's sunny and warm (about 24º C), there's no wind... It's not the weather you might expect in autumn. That's what is called an Indian Summer, a term that, originated in the USA and Canada, is becoming more widely used in the UK, where this spell of good weather in the middle of the autumn is known as "All Hallows summer" or "St. Martin's summer" (In Spain we say "Veranillo de San Martín") because it hapens around the Day of St Martin, that is, the 11th of November. So, if it's got a name, it's not so strange to get warm days in November, is it?
Indian summer

But where does this expression come from? It was first used in North America around the 1770s, but the origin is not certain. Some say that it was the Indians that pointed it out to the European settlers. Others say that during this spell of good weather the Indians renewed their attacks on the settlers. Whatever its origin, the expression is here to stay and it's already in use in other English speaking countries apart from North America.

Indian summer is the title of a song, a film, a festival,..

By extension, it also means a pleasant period of someone's life, especially when they are older:
  • After marrying his new wife at the age of 59, he entered into the Indian summer of his life. 
  • She is in the Indian summer of her career.

Apart from Indian summer, there are other proverbs and idioms related to the seasons and the weather. Here are a few:
  • One swallow does not make a summer, meaning that because one good thing has happened does not mean that others will follow:  Her latest book was a success, but a swallow does not make a summer. She still has to prove that she is a good writer.
  • To buy straw hats in winter is mainly used in the stock market and it means to buy when demand and prices are low in order to sell when the prices are higher so as to make big profit.
  • In the dead of winter means in the middle of winter, when it is the coldest:  In the dead of winter, just when it was colder, she came out wearing just a skimpy dress and no coat on. 
  • No spring chicken is used to refer to people who are no longer young: Stop doing that. You're no spring chicken!
  • To be full of the joys of spring is to be very happy. Look at him, he's full of the joys of spring.
  • Autumn years are the later years of a person, especially after retirement: In the autumn years of his life he took up painting.
  • Make hay while the sun shines means to make the most of opportunities when they come: Now that the children are at school, I'll set to work in my book. I'll make hay while the sun shines.
  • To be / feel under the weather is not to feel well: I won't go out today. I'm feeling a bit under the weather.
  • It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. This proverb means that even the worst events can be beneficial for someone: After the fire in the building, many workers were given jobs to repair it. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
  • Come rain or come shine / rain or shine: no matter what the weather is like, in any case: After a long week working in the office we'll go out at the weekend come rain or come shine.
The following presentation can help you remember these idioms. Try to complete them and then remember their meaning. 

In this song by Stereophonics you can hear the expression Indian summer:

In this other song, Frank Sinatra says that he is going to love his sweetheart come rain or come shine; that is, in any case, no matter what life brings about. Enjoy it!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Suggest and recommend

My students usually make mistakes when using these two verbs.
A typical mistake:
* I suggest you to buy a new car.

The verb suggest cannot be followed by the infinitive. It can be followed by the gerund or a that-clause. Let's see:

I suggest buying a new car.
I suggest that you buy a new car.
I suggest buying a new car

In the first sentence the suggestion is good for the person who suggests or a group of which they form part.
However, in the second sentence, the suggestion is meant for another person, not for the speaker.
In the second sentence, the verb buy is in fact in the subjunctive mode, which uses the same forms of the indicative, except for the third person singular, which doesn't take the final "s":
I suggest that he buy a new car.
The subjunctive form of the verb to be is be for all the persons or were if it is in the past:
I suggest that she be here as soon as possible.
I suggested that she were here as soon as possible.

In British English, the sentence using the subjunctive can more commonly be expressed:
 I suggest that you should buy a new car.
As you can see, the modal verb should is used instead of the subjunctive. Another thing to take into account is that the word that can be left out in this type of sentences:
I suggest you buy a new car.
I suggest you should buy a new car.

After suggest you can also use just a noun or noun phrase:
A: "Which dress should I wear?"
B: "I suggest the black one"
I suggest the black dress

For the use of suggest in indirect speech, have a look at this blogpost.

As for recommend, it cannot be used with the infinitive either. It can either be followed by the gerund or a that-clause:
I recommend reading that book.
I recommend that you read that book.
In the latter sentence, read is a subjunctive.
I recommend this book

You can also use a noun after recommend:
I recommend this book to you.
However, you cannot use the indirect object next to the verb, so, these sentences wouldn't be correct:
*I recommend to you this book.
*I recommend you this book.

So, to put it in a nutshell, both verbs are never followed by the infinitive. Instead, they are followed by:
  • A noun or noun phrase
  • A gerund
  • A that-clause + subjunctive
  • A that-clause + should + infinitive

In the following video you can hear an example of suggest. At one point, the lady says: " I suggest you just go away". Can you hear it?

Finally, let's do some exercises:
Suggest and recommend

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Vocabulary: crime and punishment

Today we are going to have a look at the vocabulary related to justice: crimes, criminals and how they are punished.

First of all, this Prezi presentation will show us the most important terms and then we'll look into the ones that need further explanation.

As you can see, many names of criminals derive from the crime words, or the other way around. There are also verbs associated with them:
burglary burglar burgle
robbery robber rob
murder murderer murder
mugging mugger mug
kidnapping kidnapper kidnap
smuggling smuggler smuggle
bribery briber bribe
shoplifting shoplifter shoplift
pickpocketing pickpocket pickpocket
forgery forger forge

For the difference between rob and steal, have a look at this blog post.

Murderer and killer both mean "someone who deliberately kills a person". A serial killer (but not *serial murderer) is someone who has killed a number of people over a period of time, usually in the same fashion. An assassin, on the other hand, is someone who kills an important or famous person for money or political reasons.

In the next 80s song by Bananarama we can hear a few expressions related to the topic we are dealing with today.

Finally, let's do some exercises:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I wish / If only

We use wish and if only to express how we would like things to be different if we had the power to change them. They both have the same meaning, but if only is more emphatic.
They can be followed by another clause using the following tenses:
  • Past simple. It's used to express things you would like to be different in the present, but which you deem impossible or unlikely: I wish I were taller. As in conditional sentences, we use the subjunctive (were) for all the grammatical persons. However, was is also possible in a less formal context: I wish he was my friend.
I wish I were taller

  • Past perfect. It's used to express regret or criticism about things that happened or didn't happen in the past. I wish I had studied harder for the exam. (Now it's too late. I can only regret I didn't study more). I wish you had told me the truth.

  • Would + infinitive. It's used to:
    •  Complain about things that you find annoying. I wish you would stop making so much noise. If only this wind would stop. In these sentences, the subject of the subordinate clause must be different from that of the main clause. 
    •  Express wishes for the future when we think the action will probably not happen  (could can be used instead of would) I wish I could go on holday with you, (but I know I can't). If there is a stronger possibility that the action will happen, we use hope: I hope I can go on holiday with you. (I don't know if I can or not). 
          We can find another example of wish + would in this song by Phil Collins:

There are many songs in which you can find examples of  wish or if only. Here are a few:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The verbs of the senses

A typical mistake my students make:
*You look well.
*I feel well.
The use of "well" in these sentences is incorrect because look and feel, as verbs of the senses, should be followed by adjectives, not by adverbs. Instead, the sentences should be: You look good / I feel fine. Let's see how these verbs work.

We have five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. (Some people talk about a sixth sense, which is in fact extrasensory perception). But today we are going to deal with the verbs of the senses. Here are the most important:
sight see, look
hearing hear, listen, sound
taste taste
touch feel
smell smell

Are these verbs followed by adjectives or by adverbs?
Some of these verbs can be used either as action verbs or stative verbs. In the former case, they are followed by adverbs, but in the latter case, they are followed by adjectives, because we are describing the subject rather than the action of the verb. Compare these sentences:
- She looked at him angrily.
- She looked angry.
In the first sentence, look is an action verb, so, it is complemented by an adverb: "angrily" describes the way that she looked at him. However, in the second sentence look is a stative (or state) verb meaning "seem" or "appear", and the adjective "angry" does not refer to the verb but to the subject. It is similar to saying that "she is angry". As you can see, the second sentence does not describe an action but a state. Going back to the sentences at the beginning, do the verbs show action or state? That's right! There's no action implied, so, they must be followed by adjectives.
In this page you can see many examples of state vs. action verbs.
She looks angry
Can they be put in continuous (progressive) tenses?
Sense verbs can involve involuntary perception like hear or see, or voluntary perception, like look or listen.
Involuntary perception verbs cannot be put in continuous tenses: *I'm seeing the ocean from my window. Instead, we use can or could with them: I can see the ocean from my window.
On the other hand, voluntary perception verbs can be used in continuous tenses: What are you listening to?
However, see and hear can also be action verbs and can have different meanings to that of perception, in which case they can be put in continuous tenses: see can mean "meet someone": I'm seeing Mary for lunch. Hear can also mean "to listen to and judge a case in court": The judge will be hearing the evidence today.
Feel, taste and smell do not have different forms for voluntary or involuntary perception, so, they can only be put in continuous tenses when they are voluntary:
- What are you smelling?
- The cook is tasting the soup.
- I'm feeling the material to see if it is soft enough.
Whereas for involuntary actions, they can never be used in continuous tenses:
- This smells awful.
- My mum's food tastes delicious.
- This blanket feels so soft!
The cook is tasting the soup

The verbs of the senses can be used with like, as if and as though.
She looks like her mum. (noun)
She looks as if / as though she is tired. (clause)
To see the difference and more examples have a look at this entry.
In the following video you can hear the great James Brown giving us some examples of feel followed by adjectives (I feel good / I feel nice) and also by like + noun  (I feel like sugar and spice)

See and hear can be followed by verbs in gerund or infinitive with a slight change in meaning, as we saw in this blogpost.

Finally, let's check what we have learnt by doing this exercise.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year celebrations

Today is the last day of the year and millions of people will be celebrating the arrival of the new year in many parts of the world. However, it will not be new year for everybody: the Jewish, the Muslims, the Chinese... even orthodox christian countries follow a different calendar.
Wherever January 1st is New Year, celebrations typically include big parties, fireworks and champagne. But there are many variations. Today, we are going to see what people in Britain do when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st.
After a special, copious dinner (at home or out) people get ready for the countdown. Many wear party hats and masks and blow noise makers. Some people go out to see the fireworks display while others prefer to watch them on television.

The fireworks in London are so impressive and so many people want to see them live that the authorities have decided to play it safe by restricting the audience. So, this year, if you want to see the fireworks live you have to pay 10 pounds, and you wouldn't believe it but all the tickets have sold out! If you want to see how impressive this display is, have a look at this video:

When the clock strikes twelve, people kiss each other, then make a circle and join hands as they start singing Auld Lang Syne, which is a traditional Scottish song that has become the hymn for New Year's Eve because it symbolises endings and new beginnings. The lyrics was written by the poet Robert burns in 1788, but the music is much older and its author unknown. The song is written in Scots, a dialect of English spoken in Scotland, that's why it's difficult to understand.
Singing Auld Lang Syne
In the following video you can read the original lyrics and a translation into modern English:

And talking about Scotland, the New Year celebrations there are called Hogmanay, and they stretch for two or three days. For the Scots, it's as important as Christmas. Hogmanay, whose roots go back to the old celebrations of the winter solstice before christianity reached these lands, is celebrated in different ways in each city or town of the country. In the following video we can see how they celebrate it in the capital, Edinburgh.

It goes without saying that after Auld Lang Syne, the music, dancing and champagne (or Cava) drinking goes on for hours till the early morning when you can see groups of people going back home to sleep it off.
And, like Ella Fitzgerald, I'll ask you: "What are you doing New Year's Eve?"

Happy New Year!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Five years old!

Incredible but true! It's five years since I started this blog, and though I don't write entries as often as I used to, it's not because I've run out of ideas or topics to write about, but because I'm so busy!
Anyway, let's celebrate this fifth anniversary by having a look at the "cartoons of the week" I have posted over the last 52 weeks, with the exception of the summer months, when I don't always have access to the internet.

This year, I have come across a great blog in which I can find the type of cartoon I like (generally puns): Brainless Tales. Apart from this, I keep on using my usual sources: Wronghands, So much pun, etc. But, as you can see, not only puns have been used. There are also some cartoons that have to do with important current issues like the situation in Ukraine or the landing of Philae on Comet 67P. I hope you find them interesting!

Finally, I'd like to thank all the readers of this blog and the people who are so kind as to leave their comments. Thank you!

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