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!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The names of the months

Sometimes I hear people complain about the uselessness of learning Latin. "It's a dead language", they say, "Nobody speaks it any more"... While it's true that it has stopped being the lingua franca, that is, the language in which people from different parts of the world were able to communicate, it's a matter of fact that the Western World is hugely indebted to the culture and language of the Romans, for so much of our own culture derives from it.
Latin is not dead

The calendar is a feature that reminds us of how indebted we are to the Romans. To begin with, the very word calendar comes from Kalenda, which was the first day of the month in Latin.

The old Roman calendar used to have ten months and the priests had to add some days at the end so that it kept with the solar year. Later, King Numa changed it to a 12 month year, adding January and February, which became the last months of the year.

Let's have a look at the names of the months in Latin:
  •  March. The Romans started the year with the month of Martius, devoted to Mars, the God of war. It was in this month when soldiers started their training.
  • April. Aprilis was devoted to the goddess Venus, and although it is uncertain where the name comes from, the Romans thought it came from aprire, which means to open.
  • May (Maius) derives its name from the goddess Maia, to whom a sow (female pig) was sacrificed on the first day of the month. Maia, mother of Mercury, was an earth goddess who promoted growth.
  • June. The month of Junius is devoted to Juno, Jupiter's wife and mother of several gods and goddesses.
  • July was originally called Quintilis, because it was the fifth month. (Remember that the year started in March). However, following Julius Caesar's death, it was called after him. 
  • August was originally Sextillis, that is the sixth month. Later, they changed its name for that of Octavius Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.
  • September is called so because it was originally the seventh month. Septem means "seven".
  • October used to be the eighth month. Octo is eight.
  • November comes from nove, or ninth month.
  • December was the tenth month, as decem means "ten".
  • January was named in honour of the god Janus, the deity related to beginnings and ends. He has two faces, one looking to the past, the other to the future.
  • February was the month of the purification rituals caled Februa, which used to be carried out in the middle of this month.


Some time in the second century BC, the order of the months was changed, and January became the first month and February the second, and so those months that had been named after ordinal numbers bore no relation to their original meanings any more.

It was Julius Caesar who, influenced by the Egyptian calendar, decided to make a new calendar that syncronized with the solar year. He decided that all twelve months should have 30 or 31 days, except February, which should have 29 and add one day once every four years, making it 30. However, when Octavius Augustus died and the month Sextilis was named after him, the Senate decided to add one day to this month, so that it had as many days as Julius's month, and they took this day from February, leaving it with just 28 days.
Julius caesar

Ceasar's calendar had to be reformed in the 16th Century by Pope Gregory XIII. The astrologists acknowledged that the spring equinox was happening on the 11th of March when it had to happen on the 21st, so they realized that there must be a mistake: the Julian calendar added one day every four years, believing that it took the earth 365.25 days to go around the sun, when in fact, it takes ten minutes less, 365.242, to be exact. A reformation was needed, so they decided to take action and shorten the year 1582 in ten days, and reduce the number of leap years so that those ending in 00 wouldn't be leap years any more, with the exception of those which are divisible by 400. So, the year 1900 was not a leap year, but 2000 was one.
Pope Gregory XIII

This reform was immediately accepted in all the Catholic countries, but not in Protestant, Orthodox or Anglican countries. In Britain and its colonies it was adopted in the year 1752. That's why, although they say that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day (23rd of April, 1616), this is not true, because the latter died ten days later, on May 5th, according to the Gregorian calendar.

The Gregorian calendar is not perfect, as it seems that it will have to be reformed by the year 3300. But, who is going to witness that day? And who's gonna care? 

Now do this quiz to see how much you have learnt:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

In, on or at the corner?

According to the dictionary, a corner is "a point where two converging lines meet, forming an angle, either external or internal". (In Spanish we have two words for this: the internal angle is called rincón, whereas the external one is esquina).

Which preposition goes with corner: in, on or at? The answer is the three o them can precede this word. However, the three expressions have different meanings:
  • When corner means an interior angle formed by two meeting walls, we use the preposition in. A piano was in the corner of the room. 

Hover your cursor over the Image
In the corner

  • On the corner means "occupying the surface". For example, the shop in the picture is on the corner of the street. You can also say that a person is standing on the corner because they are occupying a space.

Image by Jackie Bird 
On the corner
  • At the corner means near or adjacent to a corner.  For example, you can say "Let's meet at the corner of my street". But you can also say that the shop is at the corner of High Street and Station Road, that is, when you give the name of the two streets that intersect each other, at is used instead of on because you don't refer to the surface but the point of intersection.
Here's a tip that can help you remember this: in is used with the idea of being inside a volume; on when there is an idea of surface, and at when we just mean a point or being near something.

Another preposition that can be used with corner is around.  He went around the corner, which literally means that he turned around the corner. However, this can  also have an idiomatic meaning (see below).

Other expressions with corner:
  • Out of the corner of the eye: you see something but not clearly, because you see it sideways rather than directly. He saw something move out of the corner of his eye.
  • Blind corner: a street corner that you cannot see around as you are driving. Never overtake on a blind corner!
  • Corner shop: small local store. I'll pop in the corner shop to get some milk.
  • Just / right around the corner: very near either in space or in time: Exams are just around the corner. My boyfriend lives just around the corner.
  • The four corners of the earth /world: many different parts of the world. People from the four corners of the world gathered for the event.
  • A tight corner: a dangerous or awkward position from which escape is difficult: His lying got him into a tight corner.
Spring is just around the corner!
How about an exercise to see how much you can remember?

In the following song by "The Script", a man is waiting for his lover on the corner of a street. He says he's not moving, he's going to stand his ground until she realizes that she is missing him and so goes to the corner where they first met. Isn't it romantic? 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Traditional Easter food in Britain

Chocolate eggs are undoubtedly the most popular Easter food in Britain, but by no means the only one. Hot cross buns, roast lamb, Easter biscuits in the shape of bunnies and Simnel cake are not to be sniffed at. Today, we are going to have a look at some of these traditional recipes.
Egg hunt
Image by Simon Greig in Flickr

As we said in a previous post, eggs have traditionally been related to spring and the beginning of life, and from the early stages of Christianity, they symbolized the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death on the cross. Today, boiled eggs are still eaten at Easter, but the chocolate egg has become the most popular in the last years, being the traditional present that people give away to family and friends.
In the following video, we can hear a short history of the Easter egg.

Apart from boiled eggs, Easter biscuits are eaten for breakfast and also for tea. They are traditionally made with currants and spices, but they can also be made with other ingredients and in the shape of eggs or bunnies. Here is a recipe for traditional Easter biscuits.
Easter biscuits
For the main meal on Easter Sunday, roast lamb is served with mint sauce and vegetables. Lamb symbolizes Christ, who is known as "the Lamb of God". But before the Christians, lamb was already used by the Jews to celebrate Passover, which roughly coincides with Easter. It all started more than 3000 years ago, when the Jews were slaves in Egypt and Moses wanted to free them. The Pharaoh refused to let them go, so God sent a series of plagues, the last one of which was the death of the firstborn sons. To spare the Jewish children, God told them to sacrifice a lamb and paint the lintels of their doors with its blood, so that the angel of death would pass over their houses and leave their offspring unhurt. That's why the Jews call this festivity "Pesach", or "Passover". When Jesus entered Jerusalem he told his Apostles to prepare the Passover meal, and they probably ate lamb at the Last Supper.
Easter roast lamb

For tea, in many households people like to make Simnel cake, which is a delicious fruit cake with layers of marzipan and decorated with eleven marzipan balls which symbolize the twelve Apostles except Judas, who gave Jesus away. In this video we can watch how to make one of these.

And last but not least, my favourite: the scrumptious hot cross buns, which are served hot with butter. They are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but I start to eat them as soon as I see them in the shops, which can be as early as February! You can watch how they are made in this video.
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns!
Finally, try this exercise to see how much you have learnt.
Traditional Easter food

Happy Easter!

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