Thursday, June 30, 2011

Holiday or vacation?

The end of June is, for teachers in Spain at least, synonymous with the beginning of the summer holidays. The last few weeks are usually hectic, with classes in the morning and meetings in the afternoon and evening, followed by dinners out with fellow teachers or students, and it's only when you finish the last class that you come to realize that “this is it”, the holidays have started.
Holiday on the beach
Photo in:

The word holiday comes from old English haligdæg from halig meaning “holy” or “sacred” and dæg meaning “day”. So, originally, it meant a religious festival and also a time for recreation. Today, we use this word in British English to mean the period of time when you are allowed to be out of work or school, and also, the time spent in another place or country for rest and enjoyment.

In the USA, the word vacation is used with these meanings. This word comes from French, and originally from the latin verb vacare, which means “to be empty, free or at leisure”.

Both in the UK and the USA the word holiday is used to mean a day when everybody is officially allowed to be away from work. This day can also be called public holiday or bank holiday in Britain, and legal holiday in America. The school will be closed on Monday because it's a holiday. A national holiday is an official day to celebrate an important national event. One national holiday that everybody celebrates in America is Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving parade
Image: 'The famous Macy's Turkey

When Americans talk about the holidays or the holiday season, they mean the time in December and early January that includes Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year. The film was a summer release, but was so popular it ran through the holiday season.

To make things more complicated, the British use the word vacation to mean the period when university is officially closed for students. But, apart from this meaning, vacation is mainly a US word.

The word holiday is used in the singular when we mean a short period of one or two days, whereas for longer periods we usually use the plural holidays. We've got a holiday next Monday. We are going to Italy for the summer holidays. But we always use the singular in expressions like “two weeks' holiday” or “on holiday”.

In an informal context, it can be shortened to hols: On our summer hols last year we camped at a lovely site by the beach.

Holiday can also be a verb meaning “to spend a holiday somewhere”. She was holidaying with her family in Morocco.
Image: 'Moroccan Textures

Holiday or vacation can be found in expressions such as:
  • To go on holiday/vacation
  • To take/have a holiday/vacation
  • To be on holiday/vacation
Note that we always use the preposition on with these two words.

Finally, the people who are on holiday are called holidaymakers or vacationers.

Have a nice holiday if you are as lucky as me, and if not, don't despair, you will soon have one!

Listen to Madonna's song "Holiday" and fill in the gaps.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Boring or bored? Adjectives ending in -ed or -ing

In English there is an important group of adjectives that are derived from verbs. They are formed by adding a suffix to the roots of verbs. These suffixes are -ed and -ing. For example, from the verb to relax you can have two adjectives: relaxed and relaxing.

These adjectives are, in fact, present participles (-ing) and past participles (-ed) of verbs that are used as adjectives. Have a look at these sentences:
He relaxed by the pool (past tense of relax)
As soon as he got home, he felt relaxed ( adjective)
She is relaxing in a spa. (present participle of the verb to relax)
It's quite relaxing to have a massage. (adjective)
Image: 'Rama Day Spa

Bear in mind that verbs express action or state, whereas adjectives qualify nouns or pronouns, that is, they tell us what someone or something is like or how a person feels.

Some participles have almost entirely lost their verbal connections and are regarded primarily as adjectives. These can be modified by the adverb very: “I am very tired today”. “That's a very interesting book”. Others still retain strong verbal associations and cannot be modified by the adverb very. Some other suitable adverb must be used: “We had to leave the beach in a hurry because of the swiftly rising tide” (the very rising tide is not possible).

But we have two adjectives formed with the same root of the verb. Why? There must be a difference in meaning, otherwise the language would use just one word, not two. Adjectives ending in -ing are “active”, so as to speak: they perform the action of the verb and mean “having this effect”, whereas those ending in -ed are “passive”, that is, they receive the action and mean “affected in this way”. Compare:
“The exhibition was quite interesting”
“I was quite interested in the exhibition”
Image: 'La Fée Electricité

In the first example, we mean that the exhibition interests people. In the second sentence I feel an interest in the exhibition. In fact, both sentences give the same idea but from two different points of view: what was the exhibition like in the first sentence and how I felt about it in the second one.

Learning the difference between these two types of adjectives can be difficult for foreign speakers, especially when they are translated by the same word in their language. It's the case of bored/ boring for Spanish speakers because they both translate as “aburrido”. In order to get it right, here's a clue: if you mean that something bores you, that thing is boring and you feel bored. I hope you will never feel embarrassed like a Spanish student who went to England and when asked if he was having a good time he said “I am boring”, and the friendly English lady he was staying with kindly replied “No, you are not boring, you are just bored”.
Image: 'Bored

Most adjectives ending in -ed are pronounced as /d/ /t/ or /ɪd/ according to the rule that we saw in another entry in this blog, but a few of them have a special pronunciation: the last sylable is pronounced /ɪd/ instead of /d/ or /t/. These are: blessed, crooked, dogged, learned, ragged, wicked, wretched, naked, aged.

You will find a complete list of adjectives ending in -ed and -ing here.

And now a few exercises to revise what we have learnt:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Have/get something done

The structure we are going to have a look at today is quite difficult to understand for Spanish speakers, because it doesn't exist in this language. A typical mistake my students make is to say “I will cut my hair tomorrow”, when they really mean that they are going to tell the hairdresser to cut their hair. They don't realize that for an English speaker that sentence means that that person is cutting his/her own hair himself /herself. In English, if you want to say that somebody will cut your hair for you, you can say: “I will have my hair cut tomorrow”. Everybody will understand that a hairdresser will do it for you.
He's having his hair cut

If we analyze the previous sentence, we find the structure have + object + past participle, or to put it more nicely: have something done.
Let's see another example: Your car is broken and you take it to the garage to...
a) repair it
b) have it repaired

If you chose the second option you are right, because I suppose you wanted a mechanic to repair your car and not do it yourself!
A mechanic at work

Instead of using the verb have, you can also use get if you want the sentence to sound more colloquial. Besides, get is preferred in the imperative form: “Go and get your hair cut, you look like a hippy”.

This structure can also be used in cases in which nobody is asked to do the action: “ He had all his money stolen while he was on holiday” (He didn't ask anybody to steal his money, it just happened), and even to say that something disagreable happened to someone: “We got our house flooded last night”.

The verbs have and get in this structure can be found in all the tenses.

You will find some more examples in this presentation:

Friday, June 3, 2011

To marry or to get married?

On April 29th the future king of Great Britain got married to the beautiful Katherine Middleton in a magnificent ceremony that was broadcast to millions (some even say billions) of viewers all over the world. I told my students to write a composition on the topic of the Royal Wedding and when it came to marking, I realized that they didn't know how to use the verb to marry correctly. The problem comes because in Spanish this verb is constructed with the preposition con (with) and so my students wanted to translate word for word and they would write sentences like: *“ Prince William married with Kate Middleton”, which is wrong and sounds awful in English. Consequently, I decided to write a blog post on the matter.
Image:  'Royal kiss'
The verb to marry is mostly used as a transitive verb in English, which means that it must be followed by a direct object. So, in the previous example, we could say:
Prince William married Kate Middleton,
            subject        verb       direct object
The direct object is never preceded by a preposition, that's why the sentence my students wrote is incorrect.

On the other hand, it can also be used as an intransitive verb, in which case, there is no need for the direct object. “They married in London”. However, in this case, to get married is preferred: The couple got married in London”.
To get married can also be used with an object, but the preposition to is needed:
Prince William got married to Kate Middleton”.

A synonym is to wed, which is mostly used in newspapers: “Supermodel to wed pop star”.
There are also idiomatic expressions with the same meaning:
  • To get hitched: “The couple had been together for a long time and intended to get hitched by the end of the year”.
  • To tie the knot: “We'll show you how to tie the knot in this tough economy”.

But before getting married, William had to ask Kate to marry him, that is, he proposed to her, or more colloquially, he popped the question and she didn't refuse him, so they became engaged and they were no longer boyfriend and girlfriend but he was her fiancé and she was his fiancée. William gave her the engagement ring that his mother used to wear and they fixed a day for their marriage.
Image in: 
On the wedding day, Kate was the bride and William was the groom or bridegroom. They walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey accompanied by the best man, William's brother, Harry, and the bridesmaid, Kate's sister, Phillippa. After making their marriage vows, the Archbishop declared them husband and wife, and then, the newlyweds rode in a beautiful carriage that took them to Buckingham Palace, where they saluted the crowds that had gathered to witness an unforgettable historical event.

In the following video taken from one of the funniest films about weddings that I can remember,”Four Weddings and a Funeral”, an inexperienced priest (Rowan Atkinson) is reading the vows to the couple and gets confused with their names and even with the Holy Ghost, which he calls “Holy Goat”! 

Finally, check the new vocabulary with this hotpotatoes exercise:

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