Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Too and enough

For the difference between these two words, have a look at this presentation:

What many of my students find more difficult about this topic is to remember the order of enough with adjectives and nouns. A good tip is to learn an example by heart. The lyrics of a song might help as well, because you hear them so often that the order of the words remain in your memory. A good song to remember the use of enough is this fantastic song by Cher: "Strong enough". Enjoy!

Now you can try these exercises:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Daylight saving time

Twice a year, many people around the world have to reset their clocks to adjust to the new official time: we put one hour forward in spring and one hour back in autumn. This happens in most countries of the northern hemisphere and in some of the southern one, and started about a century ago, during the First World War in Germany.
Image: 'Eternal clock
The idea behind it is to save energy by making the most of daylight. In spring and summer, we get one more hour of daylight in the evening, thus using less electricity for lighting. However, this advantage is offset by the need for more lighting in winter mornings: people have to turn on the lights when they get up, and that's why we go back to the usual time in the winter months: it simply doesn't compensate, because what we save during the evening, we spend during the morning.

It may save energy, but many scientists sustain that daylight saving time can affect our health: apparently, there are more traffic and wokplace accidents, as well as heart attacks and even suicides! Nobody knows why this happens but it's a fact that cannot be denied. The root of the problem could be that in a sleep-deprived society like ours, losing one more hour of sleep makes us less fresh and more prone to accidents.
Image: 'Spring forward, fall back

In this video there are some tips that you can follow in order to feel rested and refreshed after “losing” this hour. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Negative prefixes before adjectives

We can form the opposite of many adjectives or give the negative meaning by adding a negative prefix. (a prefix is a syllable that goes before a word) There is no fixed rule for adding one prefix or another, so students have to get familiar with these words in order to use them correctly.
Happy and unhappy faces
Image in:

There are many negative prefixes, most of which come from the classical languages Latin and Greek. The only one that is originally English is un-. Things would be easier if words of English origin took the prefix un- and those of Latin origin took other prefixes, but unfortunately this is not so. Have a look at these examples:
  • Happy ---> unhappy
  • Fair---> unfair
  • Friendly ---> unfriendly
All these words come from Old English, but what about these...
  • Important ---> unimportant
  • Pleasant ---> unpleasant
  • Popular ---> unpopular
  • Prepared---> unprepared
These words come from Latin, and yet they take un-, and there are so many words like these that you cannot say that they are the exception to the rule. In fact, they prove that there is no such rule!
So, as I said at the beginning, the only thing a student can do is to get familiar with them and check a dictionary when in doubt, and if it is any consolation to you, even English speakers get them wrong sometimes!

These are the most common negative prefixes used with adjectives:
dis- il- im- in- ir- un-
disrespectful illegitimate impossible indecent irrelevant unreasonable
dissatisfied illogical immature incapable irregular unfortunate

Other negative prefixes are:
      a- anti- countrer- mal- non-
amoral antisocial counterproductive malcontent non-violent
asexual anti-aircraft counterfeit malnourished non-profit

The prefixes im- il- and ir- are in fact a variety of in-:
  • im- is used before words beginning with m or p: impersonal, immortal.
  • il- is used before words beginning with l: illegal.
  • ir- is used with words beginning with r: irregular.
Most compounds with non- are written with a hyphen in British English, but not in American English: non-alcoholic , nonalcoholic .

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The order of adjectives

In English, most adjectives go before the noun they qualify. The problem comes when there are several adjectives and one has to decide in which order they should go. For example, how would you describe the lady in the picture?
Image: 'Marie'

She is young, beautiful and red-haired.
She is a____________ ___________ ___________ lady.

In which order would you add the adjectives when they precede the noun?
For English speakers it sounds natural when you say: “She is a beautiful young red-haired lady”;
but if you are not a native speaker you may find it difficult to decide which goes where.

The grammar rules for adjective order are quite complicated, but if we want to set a more simple rule, we could say that the more subjective the adjective, the farther it is from the noun, while the adjective that best describes the noun goes right next to it.
So, in the example above, beautiful is a subjective adjective because it gives an opinion: she may be beautiful for me, but may look plain for you. On the other hand, the adjective that best describes her is red-haired, that's why this word should be the one nearer the noun.

However, things are not always so simple and it's useful to know that the order should be:
(A mnemonic technique can help you remember this easily: OSASHCOMP)
Some examples:

My beautiful new brown woolen coat
A pair of comfortable old black Italian leather riding boots
A few talented young English men
An expensive big square wooden table
Two cozy blue cotton sleeping bags

Take into account that this is not a hard and fast rule, and the position of some adjectives can change for emphasis reasons: breaking the patterns of adjective order can be a powerful way to emphasize one attribute over the other.

Note that when adjectives come before the noun, we don't use and. However, when two adjectives describe the same thing (character, colour, material...) it is possible to use and.
A pair of black and white shoes.
A concrete and glass building.

These exercises will help you check how much you have learnt:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The largest earthquake in living history has hit Japan

When you hear that an earthquake has struck Japan, you give a sigh of relief, you know that the risk of loss of people is smaller than in other countries because they are so used to tremors that they are really well prepared to face them: buildings are built to suffer the shaking of the earth, and people are trained to behave accordingly in the situation. But this time the largest eathquake in living history has hit the country and, even though most buildings remained standing, it was the subsequent tsunami that hit the Pacific coastal towns the one responsible for the still rising death toll.

An earthquake is caused by the movement of the mantle underneath the crust of the earth. Have a look at this explanatory video.

If the earthquake occurs under the sea bed, a tsunami or giant wave can be formed. This wave can be almost unnoticed at sea, but when it reaches the shore it can be really high, flooding villages and towns in a matter of minutes.
There is a simple explanation in this video:

Not everything is over when the earth stops trembling. People in affected areas know that there will be several aftershocks, many of which will be of an intensity similar to that of the first tremor. This intensity is graded thanks to the Richter scale, which goes from 0 to 10. The Japan earthquake has been measured as a 9 magnitude one, making it one of the biggest in recent history. Its epicentre was six miles below the surface of the sea off the shores of Sendai, a coastal town that was literally washed by the giant wave. Even though the inhabitants were forewarned, they didn't have much time to react, as the waves travel at really high speed. Unfortunatelly, many people were caught in the nightmare.

Rescue teams from Japan and foreign countries have been sent to help the people in the struck areas and refugees have been put up in public buildings as they have been left homeless. Electricity has been cut off in many areas and communications are difficult.

But bad though things are at the moment, it could still get worse if the reactor of one of the nuclear power stations that suffered from the quake cannot be cooled down. I shudder to even think of that! Let's hope for the best!

The words in bold are defined in this presentation:

Now you can do this crossword about earthquake vocabulary

In this blog, two British tourists travelling in Japan, relate their own experience of the disaster.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mardi Gras

It's carnival time and millions of people go out in the streets to enjoy and indulge before Lent, which is a time of fasting and penitence for Catholics and lasts forty days, ending on Easter Sunday. Carnival goes on for several days before Ash Wednesday, and the last day is called Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. The French call this day “Mardi Gras”, and that's how carnival is known in New Orleans, a city in the state of Louisiana, which was once a French territory in America.

Carnival is a very old celebration that dates back to pagan times, but was later introduced in the Christian calendar. In order to prepare for the fasting season, people had to use up all the food they had at home, especially butter, eggs and meat, and they would have big parties, giving rise to the carnival celebrations.

Today, carnivals are mainly celebrated in Catholic countries, being those of Rio de Janeiro, Venice and New Orleans the most famous worldwide.

“ Mardi Gras” actually refers to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and it's during this day that parades take place, with lots of floats where people, wearing costumes and masks, dance to the music and throw streamers and confetti. The floats and parades are planned by the “krewes”, which are clubs whose members work all the year round to have everything ready for the carnival. From the floats they throw beads, plastic doubloons and other stuff, and children and grown-ups alike strive to catch as many as possible. The most typical food is the king cake, which is adorned with the Mardi Gras' colours: green, gold and purple. It contains a little baby toy in it, and the person that gets it is the one that will have to buy the next king cake.

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is really important and it's been going on for centuries, and not even the terrible hurricane Katrina deterred people from celebrating it.

In this presentation you can learn the basic vocabulary for carnival.

Watch the video about Mardi Gras and answer the questions.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Other, others and another

A typical mistake my students make:
* I like learning English but I don't like learning others languages.
Others is not the plural form of other. Other can be an adjective or a pronoun, while others is always a pronoun. Have a look at these examples:
Susan was at the meeting with three other teachers. (adjective)
Have you got any other questions? (adjective)
I prefer this car to any other. (pronoun)
Some students are better than others. (pronoun)
In the first two sentences, other is an adjective followed by nouns, but in the last two examples, other and others are pronouns: They are used instead of the nouns car and students, respectively.
Image: 'Pints

Another means “an additional”, “an extra”. It's used with singular nouns:
I need another beer. I'm really thirsty.
But it can also be used with numbers or the expression few:
I'll be in London for another two weeks.
You'll hear from me in another few days.

In these cases, you can use more instead of another, but other cannot be used. Notice the word order:
I'll be in London for two more weeks. But not: *two other weeks.
You'll hear from me in a few more weeks. But not: *other few weeks.

Other expressions using these words:
Each other: reciprocal relationship between two people. They love each other.
One another: The same as each other but involving more than two people. The students help one another.
(Today, most people use each other and one another as synonyms, regardless of how many people are involved)
Other than: except. I have never grown any flowers other than daisies.


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