Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Special constructions with the comparative

In a previous post, we saw the formation of the comparative and superlative in English. Today, we are going to deal with two special comparative constructions:
  • The comparative of gradation or double comparative: two comparatives of the same adjective connected by and. This structure is generally used with the verbs get, grow and become and it implies constant change. (In Spanish it translates as “cada vez más...”)
    • -er and -er: It’s growing darker and darker. I’m getting fatter and fatter.
    • more and more: This situation has become more and more difficult. Note that when we use more and more we don’t repeat the adjective or adverb.
    • less and less: Fortunately, her headaches became less and less frequent, until they ceased altogether.
  • Comparative of proportion: two comparatives preceded by the forming parallel sentences. It is used to express proportional increase or decrease, or two changes that happen together. (In Spanish it translates as “cuanto más... más...)
    • the  -er... the -er: The older you are, the happier you get. The sooner, the better.
    • the more... the more.../ the more... the less... / the less... the less...:  The more I study, the less I know.
The more I study, the less I know
Image by betta design in Flickr
Idioms with comparisons
The comparative of equality, (not) is not a special construction as such, but there are many idioms that contain a comparison of this kind. They are mostly used in the description of people, and as all idioms, they cannot be translated literally, but a similar expression must be found in the other language. For instance, in Spanish, most of these comparisons will translate as comparatives of superiority (más... que) rather than equality: As black as coal (más negro que el carbón), as quick as lightning (más rápido que una centella), as pleased as Punch (más contento que unas pascuas). A literal translation will not have any meaning at all.

As pleased as Punch

These comparisons usually follow the pattern “as + adjective as + noun” where the adjective generally expresses the quality that the noun is known to possess. But there are many of them in which adjective and noun rhyme (as loose as a goose) or there is alliteration, that is, repetition of a sound (as busy as a bee).
As a learner of English that wants to excel, you should try to use these idioms whenever necessary, but try not to overdo it, as you may not sound natural and the result may be the opposite of what you expected to achieve. Let’s try to learn a few of these comparisons in the following presentation. Then you can do the exercises below to check how much you have learnt.

More idioms here.
More exercises here.
In The phrase finder you can see the origin of some of these idioms.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Collocations: spend and waste

Both verbs spend and waste are related to time and money, but there is a big difference in meaning:
  • You can spend your money on things, but if you buy more than is necessary or things that are not useful, you are wasting your money. She has spent a lot of money on her wedding dress. (and she thinks that’s money well spent). She wastes lots of money on clothes she doesn´t need. (that money is not well spent)
  • Likewise, you can spend time doing something, which is possitive, but if you feel that the time passes in a negative, unproductive manner, then you’re wasting your time. You spend a lot of hours watching TV and I think you are wasting your time. Go on, do something useful!
Picture by 401(K) 2012
So, both spend and waste can form collocations with words related to money and time. Here are a few: spend your free time, the day, the weekend, an hour, a fortune, thousands,...

Apart from these, they can also be found in other collocations which are not related to time or money:

  • Waste an opportunity. Never waste an opportunity to say “I love you” to someone you really like.
  • Spend (a lot of) effort. You spend too much effort on things that are not important.

Waste is also a noun that refers to an unusuable or unwanted substance or material. In this case, we can find expressions such as: industrial waste, nuclear waste, waste disposal, waste pipes,...
A Complete Waste of Time
There are also some idioms and proverbs:
  • Waste one’s breath: to waste time talking trying to persuade someone.  Don’t waste your breath, you’re not going to make me change my mind.
  • Waste not, want not is a proverb which means that if you use your resources wisely, you will never be poor or needy.
  • Go to waste: to be unused and therefore thrown away. If you don’t eat the meat in your fridge today, it will go to waste.
  • A waste of space: a thing or person that is not useful. Her husband is a complete waste of space.
  • Spend a penny means to go to the toilet. In England, public toilets for ladies used to have coin operated locks, and if someone wanted to use them they had to introduce a penny coin in the slot. This idiom is a bit old-fashioned these days.
Penny slot toilet door lock

Finally, let’s watch an excerpt from Fawlty Towers that always comes to my mind when I hear the expression “a waste of space”. Poor Manuel! Always being bossed around by Basil!

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