BBC Learning English Conjunctions & Clauses Prefixes & Suffixes Prepositions & Prepositional phrases
Conjunctions & clauses as, while, when, as long as
William Martinez from Puerto Rico writes: How can I correctly use the following conjunctions concerning time expressions: as, as long as and while? Also, would you be kind enough to give me some examples of use of these two expressions: as a basis for and on the basis of? as or while We can use as or while to talk about two longer actions that are in progress at the same time: • •
There was a lot to do. While I cleaned the car, my wife was preparing lunch. She then did the ironing after lunch as I cleared away the dishes.
As a general rule, we tend to use while here rather than as because as has many different meanings and uses. It could be confusing if as meaning while could be mistaken for as meaning because: • •
As I was doing my homework, my mum prepared my supper. (As = because) As I was doing my homework, my mum prepared my supper. (As = while)
as or when We use as or when to talk about two short events that happen at the same moment. As and when are often used with just in this context. We cannot use while here: •
The telephone rang just when / just as I was about to leave. I decided not to answer it.
However, if we want to say that when one thing changes another changes at the same time, when one is the consequence of the other, we tend to use as: • •
As the day wore on, it became hotter and hotter. As you get older, it becomes more and more difficult to make friends.
while or when In more formal speech and writing, it is possible to leave out subject + be with when and while when main and subordinate clauses refer to the same subject. We cannot use as in this way:
• • • •
When making cranberry jam, remember to use as much sugar as fruit. When you are making cranberry jam, be sure to use as much sugar as fruit. While in France, he grew particularly fond of all varieties of cheese. While he was in France, he grew particularly fond of all types of cheese.
as long as: expressing time The as ... as construction is used when we are making comparisons and comparing ideas of similar magnitude or duration • • •
There was extra time, so the football match lasted as long as the concert. He worked for as long as he wanted to on the project. "Take as long as you like," they said. "There's no hurry!" As long as I live, I shall smoke no more cigarettes.
as long as: expressing condition Note that as long as is also used in conditional sentences as an alternative to provided, meaning if and only if. So long as is also possible in this context: • • •
I don't mind. You can leave early, as long as you finish the work. I don't mind. You can go home early, so long as you finish the work. I don't mind. You can leave after lunch, provided you finish all the work.
on a ... basis The noun basis suggests a particular method or system for organising or doing something. We have the expressions on a/an hourly/daily/monthly/annual/temporary/permanent basis: • • •
These toilets are checked for cleanliness on an hourly basis She thought she would have the job on a permanent basis, but it turned out to be temporary. This place is known as 'the windy city' and typhoons are expected on a regular basis.
on the basis of / as a basis for Here we have two further expressions with basis with a slightly different meaning. Used with the preposition on, method or system is suggested. Used with the preposition as, ideas, facts or actions from which something can develop is suggested: • •
The contract was awarded on the basis of cost more than anything else. These preliminary talks will be very useful as a basis for further negotiations.
'as' and 'like' Cristina Pinho from Brazil asks: I love this section of the BBC. Here is my question:- "I’ve worked as a dog" or "I’ve worked like a dog." What is the difference between as and like? As and like are used in a number of different ways and can be different parts of speech. 'as' and 'like' - prepositions As refers to something or someone's appearance or function. Consider the following examples: • • •
'Before I became a teacher I worked as a waiter.' 'I'm going to the fancy dress party as Superman.' 'The sea can be used as a source of energy.'
The expression 'I've been working as a dog' sounds unusual because it suggests that you were doing the work of a dog!
Like has the meaning 'similar to' and is used when comparing things. Look at these examples: • • •
'I’ve been working like a dog.' 'She looks a bit like her brother.' 'Just like you, I’m always a bit wary of large dogs.'
The expression 'I've been working like a dog' is idiomatic and means that you have been working very hard. Note that we can use adverbs of degree, such as just, very, quite, not much, not at all, a bit, etc, to modify like: •
'He’s very serious – not at all like his father, perhaps more like his mother at times.
'as' and 'like' - conjunctions As and like can also be used as conjunctions: As means 'in the same way that'. Consider the following: •
'I always drink tea without milk, just as they do on the continent.'
'Try to keep your balance on the tightrope, as I do, by spreading out your fingers like this.' 'The first ten days of July were very wet this year, as they were last year and the year before.'
In informal English, like is used in the same way. This is particularly common in American English. Consider the following: • • •
'Nobody else would look after you like I do, baby!' 'She needs the money, like I do, so she works in a bar in the evenings.' 'I hope you’re not going to be sick again, like you were when we went to Brighton.
as ... as and as
Mohammad Tariq from Afghanistan writes: Hello! I hope you are in the best of health. Would you kindly tell me what parts of speech as... as are. I know that we use adjectives or adverbs between them, but I don not know what they are themselves. Kind regards.
as... as as adverb / preposition Look at this example: •
He came as quickly as he could.
This structure is used to measure and compare things that are of similar proportion. In this construction, the first as functions as an adverb modifying the following adjective or adverb. The second as functions as a preposition when it relates to the following noun or pronoun. (It can also function as a conjunction when it relates to the following clause.) Compare the following: • • • •
The meal was as good as the conversation: spicy and invigorating! She spoke as slowly as she could Has everybody eaten as much as they want? I hope you will agree that I am as imaginative a cook as my wife (is)!
Note from the above example that if there is an adjective and a noun after the first as, a / an must go between them. Note also that if we want to make a negative statement, we can use so…as instead of as…as: •
He is not so / as intelligent as his sister is.
The cafeteria was not so / as crowded as it was earlier.
There are a large number of idiomatic expressions or fixed phrases which we use in informal English when we are making comparisons like this. Here are a few of them in context: • • • • • •
He went as white as a sheet when he saw the ghost. My maths teacher is as deaf as a post and should have retired years ago. She sat there as quiet as a mouse and wouldn’t say anything. Electricity will be restored to our homes as soon as possible. All the children were as good as gold when they came to visit me. These stories are as old as the hills and have been passed down from generation to generation.
Remember that when we are measuring or comparing things that are of unequal proportion, we need to use the structure comparative + than: • •
Let me finish the report. I can type much faster than you (can). He played the piece of music more slowly than I had ever heard it played before.
as as subordinating conjunction Note that as by itself is used as a subordinating conjunction in a variety of different ways. as = when (for clauses of time) We may use as as an alternative to when when we are comparing two short actions or events that happened or happen at the same period of time. We often combine it with just: • •
She left the house (just) as the sun was rising. The telephone rang (just) as I was climbing into my bath.
as = because (for clauses of reason) We may use as as an alternative to because when the reason is already known or self-evident to the reader of listener. As - clauses are often placed at the beginning of sentences. Because puts more emphasis on the reason or introduces new information. Compare the following: • • •
As Mary was the eldest child, she had to look after her younger brothers and sisters. As it had started to rain we had to abandon the picnic. I’ve decided to end our relationship because my boyfriend has been cheating on me.
as for clauses of proportion
Here, as means over the same period of time as: • •
I think you become more tolerant of other people as you get older. As prices rose, the demand for higher salaries became more intense.
as as preposition Finally, note that as can also be used as a preposition when we want to avoid using the verb to be. Compare the following: • • • • • • •
As his father, it is your duty to ensure that he goes to school every day. As you are his father, it is your duty to ensure that he goes to school every day. As a social historian, I am always interested in people’s life styles. Being a social historian, I am always interested in people’s life styles. He established his reputation as a freedom fighter through many heroic acts. The police described him as a dangerous criminal. The police considered him to be a dangerous criminal
S Boon and D Nukoon from Thailand write: Could you please explain the usage of the adjective unfair to us? For example: I won't argue with you, but I think you are being unfair. Also, we'd like to learn why being is placed in front of unfair. How is you're being unfair different from you're unfair? Santhosh KP from India writes: Really, this site has helped me a lot. The doubts which people are asking about are really the doubts of a majority. I am doubtful about using being. So can you please explain to me the different uses of being with different examples? Bhavin from India writes: Can you please explain how being is used with the past participle?
being + adjective We normally use the progressive form with an adjective when we are talking about actions and behaviour. And being unfair in your example sentence, Boon and Nukoon, relates to somebody's behaviour of not being fair in their actions, so the progressive form is preferred. Here are some further examples: •
You're being silly / foolish / childish when you do such silly / foolish / childish things.
I was walking on tiptoe and being very careful not to wake the baby.
However, when the adjectives relate to feelings, we do not use the progressive form: •
I was upset / worried when I heard that they would have to operate on John's knee.
I am delighted / overjoyed to hear that you have passed all your exams.
being + past participle We use being with the past participle, Bhavin, in present progressive and past progressive passive forms. So we might say: •
My car is being serviced. Instead of: The local garage is servicing my car.
The computers are being installed tomorrow. Instead of: They're installing the computers tomorrow.
My nieces enjoyed being taken to the circus. Rather than: I enjoyed taking my nieces to the circus.
I was quite sure I was being followed. Instead of: I was quite sure someone was following me.
She was being punished for being cruel to the cat. Rather than: They were punishing her for being cruel to the cat.
Note that cruel in the above example is an adjective describing behaviour so the progressive form is used with it. Note that other passives with being, i.e the future progressive passive (will be being) and perfect progressive passive (has been being) are quite rare.
being in participle clauses We can use an adverbial participle clause to express reason or cause as an alternative to a because/since/as clause. Using a participle clause in this way is
more characteristic of written English or a literary style, rather than spoken colloquial English. Compare the following: •
Being French, he is passionate about wine and cheese. Instead of : Because he is French, he is passionate about wine and cheese.
Being a friend of Tony Blair, I'm often invited to No 10. Rather than: As I am a friend of Tony Blair, I'm often invited to No 10.
Being quite slim, I was able to squeeze through the hole in the railings. Instead of: Since I am quite slim I was able to squeeze through the hole in the railings.
Being rather over weight, Geoffrey was unable to squeeze through. Rather than: Because he's rather over weight, Geoffrey was unable to squeeze through.
verb + verb-ing / adj + prep + verb-ing Note that being as verb-ing, is required in all such instances: •
Would you mind being quiet for a moment?
I look forward to being interviewed on the current affairs programme.
She was afraid of being accused of a crime which she did not commit.
I am tired of being taken for granted and expected to do all the housework.
The difference in use between 'because', 'as', 'since' and 'for' Agnes Leyen asks: Could you please tell me the difference (in use) between because, as, since and for. I think it's very confusing. The present perfect is often used with since and for to denote periods of time up to the present. (Note that we do not use present perfect with expressions that refer to a time period that has finished, i.e. 'last week' or 'the day before yesterday'. Here the simple past is used: 'I went to the cinema three times last week.') If you use since with the present perfect or present perfect continuous, you are signalling when something started. If you use for, you are signalling how long something has been going on. Compare: • •
'She has been living in Holland since the summer of 1992.' 'She has been living in Holland for the last nine years.'
That is one use of since and for. But since and for can also be used in a similar way to as and because to give the reason for an action or a situation. However, there are important differences between them. Because is used when the reason is the most important part of the sentence or utterance. The because clause usually comes at the end: •
'I went to Spain last summer because I wanted the guarantee of sunshine on every day of my holiday.'
As and since are used when the reason is already well known and is therefore usually less important. The as or since clause is usually placed at the beginning of the sentence: • •
'As the performance had already started, we went up to the balcony and occupied some empty seats there.' 'Since John had already eaten, I made do with a sandwich.'
For suggests that the reason is given as an afterthought. It is never placed at the beginning of the sentence and is more characteristic of written, rather than spoken English: •
'I decided to stop the work I was doing - for it was very late and I wanted to go to bed.'
but as conjunction and preposition
L S Ng from Singapore writes: What does but mean in this sentence? •
All but two of the boys are coming.
Here it means except (for) or apart from and we can substitute these prepositions for but in this sentence. We could also use bar which has the same meaning: •
All but / bar / except for / apart from two of the boys are coming with us.
but as conjunction We usually think of but as a conjuction linking two contrastive sentences or clauses:
• • • • • • •
They had very little money, but (they) always bought their children expensive presents. They were poor, but (they were) hardworking. My car is fifteen years old, but (it) still drives beautifully. I've been to Hong Kong but (I've never been to Shanghai) not to Shanghai. I sometimes swim in the North Sea, but (I) only (ever swim there) in July and August. I wanted to sign the contract there and then. But my husband insisted that we should read the small print first. These earrings would look really good on your wife! ~ But I'm not married!
In the first five examples, repeated information from the first clause can often be left out in the second clause. But as preposition We use but as an alternative to except (for), apart from and bar to introduce the only thing or person that the main part of the sentence does not include. It is often used after words such as everyone, nobody, anything, anywhere, all, no, none, any, every. • • • • • •
I'll go anywhere for my holiday but / bar / except (for) Blackpool. I really hate it there. On holiday he eats nothing but / bar / apart from hamburgers and French fries. She took everything on holiday with her but / bar / apart from the kitchen sink. Everybody but / bar / the very young must carry their own belongings in a rucksack. I've marked all the essays but / bar / except (for) / apart from two. Nobody but / except (for) / bar Jessica would wear a mini-dress at a formal dinner
In a British court of law, a witness giving evidence is required to take the oath before he gives his testimony. He is required to say the following: •
I swear by Almightly God to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
But if he has no religion, he says instead: •
I affirm that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Note the useful expressions next but one, last but one. • •
They live in the house next but one to Mary. (i.e. two houses away from Mary) Is this the final candidate? ~ No, it's the last but one. (i.e. there are two more people to be interviewed)
but for Note that but for as a preposition has a different meaning from but by itself. We can sometimes use it as an alternative to an if-clause with a third conditional negative sentence, indicating what might have happened if other things had not happened. Compare the following: • • • •
If it hadn't been for your generosity, I wouldn't have been able to go to America. But for your generosity, I wouldn't have been able to go to America. I would have been home in time for supper, if there had been no fog to delay me. I would have been home in time for supper but for the fog.
But for his broken leg in the earlier part of the season, he might have been in the England team to play Poland last May. If he hadn't broken his leg in the earlier part in the season, he might have been in the England team to play Poland last May.
Kristina from Bulgaria asks: What is a cleft sentence and how do we use it?
Cleft sentences are used to help us focus on a particular part of the sentence and to emphasise what we want to say by introducing it or building up to it with a kind of relative clause. Because there are two parts to the sentence it is called cleft (from the verb cleave) which means divided into two. Cleft sentences are particularly useful in writing where we cannot use intonation for purposes of focus or emphasis, but they are also frequently used in speech. Cleft structures include the reason why, the thing that, the person/people who, the place where, the day when and what-clauses which are usually linked to the clause that we want to focus on with is or was. Compare the following sets of sentences and notice how the cleft structure in each case enables us to select the information we want to focus on: • •
I've come to discuss my future with you. The reason why I've come is to discuss my future with you.
Your generosity impresses more than anything else.
The thing that impresses me more than anything else is your generosity.
The jewels are hidden under the floor at 23 Robin Hood Road, Epping. The place where the jewels are hidden is under the floor at 23 Robin Hood Road, Epping. Under the floor at 23 Robin Hood Road is the place where the jewels are hidden.
• • •
Mary works harder than anybody else in this organisation. The person who works harder than anybody else in this organisation is Mary. Mary is the person in this organisation who works harder than anybody else.
• • •
The Second World War ended on 7 May 1945 in Europe. The day (when) the Second World War ended in Europe was 7 May 1945 7 May 1945 was the day (when) the Second World War ended in Europe.
• • •
We now need actions rather than words. What we now need are actions rather than words. Actions rather than words are what we now need.
I enjoyed the brilliant music most of all in the Ballet Frankfurt performance. What I enjoyed most in the Ballet Frankfurt performance was the brilliant music. The brilliant music was what I enjoyed most in the Ballet Frankfurt performance.
Note from the last two examples that cleft structures with what-clauses are often used with verbs expressing an emotive response to something like adore, dislike, enjoy, hate, like, loathe, love, need, prefer, want, etc. Cleft structures with what-clauses are also often used with does/do/did and with the verb happen when we want to give emphasis to the whole sentence, rather than a particular clause. Compare the following: • •
The police interviewed all the witnesses to the accident first. What the police did first was (to) interview all the witnesses to the accident.
• • •
You should invest all your money in telecoms companies. What you should do is (to) invest all your money in telecoms companies. What you should invest all your money in is telecoms companies.
She writes all her novels on a typewriter. What she does is (to) write all her novels on a type writer.
Their car broke down on the motorway so they didn't get to Jo's wedding on time.
What happened was that their car broke down on the motorway so they didn't get to Jo's wedding on time.
It is sometimes very effective to use all instead of what in a cleft structure if you want to focus on one particular thing and nothing else: • • •
I want a new coat for Christmas. All I want for Christmas is a new coat. A new coat is all I want for Christmas.
I touched the bedside light and it broke. All I did was (to) touch the bedside light and it broke.
Finally, we can also use preparatory it in cleft sentences and join the words that we want to focus on to the relative clause with that, who or when. In the example which follows, note how this construction enables us to focus on different aspects of the information, which may be important at the time: • • • • •
My brother bought his new car from our next-door neighbour last Saturday. It was my brother who bought his new car from our neighbour last Saturday. It was last Saturday when my brother bought his new car from our neighbour. It was a new car that my brother bought from our neighbour last Saturday. It was our next-door neighbour that my brother bought his new car from last Saturday.
Look out for cleft structures in your reading. They are a very common feature of written English.
Subordinating and coordinating conjunctions
Khadija Attarabulsi from Libya writes: Would you please help me to learn and understand coordinating and subordinating conjunctions? I would be so grateful if you could explain them in full. Thank you in advance. Conjunctions are joining words and their main function is to link together two different parts of a sentence. And / but / or (coordinating conjunctions) And, but and or are the three main coordinating conjunctions. They join two clauses which are grammatically independent of each other and would make sense if they stood alone. Compare the following:
1. She's already had two holidays this year and now she wants another one. She's already had two holidays this year. Now she wants another one.
2. I had a terrible cold last week, but I still went to work. I had a terrible cold last week. I still went to work.
3. You can sit at the front, or you can stand at the back. I don't mind. You can sit at the front. You can stand at the back. I don't mind. But note they way in which conjunctions help to add meaning to the sentence. And indicates that we are listing items or ideas, or means that we are discussing alternatives and but means that we are contrasting facts or ideas. Note also that in the second of the two coordinating clauses, the subject words and modal auxiliaries can often be left out: •
She's already had two holidays this year and now wants another one.
I had a terrible cold last week, but still went to work.
You can sit at the front or stand at the back. I don't mind.
This is not normally possible in subordinate clauses. Compare the following: •
She was anxious and unhappy and didn't know where her husband was.
She was anxious and unhappy because she didn't know where her husband was. (NOT: She was anxious and unhappy because didn't know where her husband was.)
If / when / because / since / even though / etc (subordinating conjunctions) Words like if, when, because, since, although, etc, are subordinating conjunctions which introduce subordinate clauses. Subordinate clauses are dependent on the main clause in some way and do not normally stand alone. Note the way in which subordinating conjunctions also give meaning to the sentence: * * * * *
if suggests a condition when / whenever indicate time while suggests time or contrast of surprising facts because points to reason since suggests reason or time
* as suggests reason or time * although / though / even though all indicate a contrast of surprising facts Compare the following examples of use and note the way the same conjunction (e.g. while, since, as) can be used for different purposes. Subordinating clauses of this kind can normally go first or last in the sentence, depending on what you want to emphasize: •
If you feel thirsty or hungry, help yourself to anything at all in the fridge or freezer. Help yourself to anything at all in the fridge or freezer, if you feel hungry or thirsty.
While they were away, I helped myself to an ice-cold beer and a pizza from the freezer. I helped myself to an ice-cold beer and a pizza from the freezer while they were away.
Whenever I babysit at their house, I am always very well looked after. I am always very well looked after whenever I babysit at their house.
When I babysat for the Robinsons last month, I was given nothing to eat or drink. I was given nothing to eat or drink when I babysat for the Robinsons last month.
While I am fond of their children, I think the parents are very mean. (BUT NOT: I think the parents are very mean while I am fond of their children)
Since I started working full-time, I don't have so much time now for babysitting. I don't have so much time now for babysitting since I started working fulltime.
Because / since / as I work six days a week, I can't even find time to see my friends. I can't even find time to see my friends as I work six days a week.
As I was leaving work the other day, I bumped into an old friend. I bumped into an old friend as I was leaving work the other day.
Although I am happy with my life, I think I should try and get out more. I think I should try and get out more, even though I am happy with my life.
'Due to', 'owing to', on account of' and 'because of' Sathya Narayanan from India asks: What is the difference in the usage of owing to and due to?
Due to and owing to are similar in meaning to on account of and because of. They are all prepositions used with noun phrases and are often used interchangeably. They indicate that something happened as a result of something or introduce the reason for something happening: • •
'He was kept in after school due to/owing to his bad behaviour.' = He was kept in after school on account of/because of his bad behaviour. 'Due to/owing to a broken propeller, the new cruise liner returned immediately to port.' = 'The new cruise liner returned immediately to port because of/on account of a broken propeller.'
It used to be thought that it was incorrect to use due to in this way, but modern usage shows no hesitation in using these expressions interchangeably. Note that these prepositions are sometimes used in cleft structures with it and the verb to be: • •
'It is due to/on account of all his hard work over the winter months that he has passed the exam with such a good grade.' 'It was owing to/because of traffic congestion on the road leading to the airport that I missed my flight.'
The noun phrases which these prepositions introduce are often rather formal and it may be more natural to use because in informal, conversational English. But remember that because is a conjunction and must therefore be used to introduce a subordinate clause of reason: • •
'We had to give up the idea of a boat trip because it started to pour with rain.' 'Owing to the heavy rain, we had to give up the idea of a boat trip.'
In this final owing to example, there is a mismatch of formal and colloquial styles and it does not sound quite right. In the following examples, however, the prepositional phrase might be preferred as it is more succinct: • •
'Why are you so late?' 'On account of the traffic. Incredibly heavy!' 'Why are you so late?' 'Because the traffic was so incredibly heavy on the road into London. '
even if, even though, even, even so Damien van Raemdonck from Belgium writes: Is there any difference in meaning between even if and even though? For example, in the sentence: Even if I had time, I wouldn't do it.
Could even though be substituted and used instead of even if?
even if / even though No, they are not interchangeable. If you want to use even though, the meaning changes. Even though means despite the fact that and is a more emphatic version of though and although. Even if means whether or not and has to do with the conditions that may apply. Compare the following:
1. Even if I had two hours to spare for shopping, I wouldn't go out and buy a suit.
2. Even though I had two hours to spare for shopping, I couldn't find the suit I wanted.
The first example describes an unreal situation where we could substitute 'just supposing' for even if and say: just supposing I had two hours to spare for shopping, I still wouldn't go out and buy a suit. The second example describes a real situation where the shopper spent two hours looking for a particular kind of suit, but couldn't find it. When we attach even to though in this way, we are in effect saying: you may find this surprising but...! Compare the following pairs of sentences: • • • • • •
Even though he lost his job as Arts Minister, he continued to serve in the government. Even if he loses his job as Arts Minister, I think he'll continue to serve in the government. Even though the injury was serious, she decided to carry on playing. It was an important match. I know she'll want to carry on playing, even if she gets injured. It's an important match. Even though I've cleaned it and polished it, it still doesn't look new. Even if I clean and polish it, it still won't look new.
even Note that even cannot be used as a conjunction like even if and even though when it stands alone. We cannot say:
Even I've polished and cleaned it, it still doesn't look new. When even stands alone, it functions as an adverb and means this is more than or less than expected. Again, you are registering something that may be surprising when you use it. Study the following and note the position of even in these sentences: • •
I can't dive. I can't even swim! She speaks so many languages. German, Polish, Russian, Arabic, French, Spanish. She even speaks Catalan!
Even can also go at the beginning of a phrase when it refers to words or expressions that we wish to emphasize, again because this is surprising information for the listener: • •
He works all through the year. Even at Christmas and New Year! I know his English isn't very good but even I can understand him!
even so Even so is a prepositional phrase that can be used in a similar fashion to introduce a fact that is surprising in the context of what has been said before. It connects ideas between clauses or sentences: • •
I know her English isn't very good, but even so I can understand her. The evidence was only circumstantial. Even so, he was convicted and spent ten years in prison for a crime that he perhaps did not commit.
'Ever' and 'whenever' Tiffany Teng from Singapore asks: We know it is correct to say: ‘I have never been to London’. But for someone who has been to London before, is it correct to say: ‘I have ever been to London’?
No. Ever means at any time, so it is inappropriate in the above sentence. Ever is used mainly in questions. Although it is usually associated with the present perfect, it can also be used with a present, past or past perfect verb form or with future reference. If the answer is no, we often use never in the reply, meaning ‘not at any time’. If the answer is yes, we might add once or twice, etc, to indicate how many times we have done whatever is being referred to. Compare the following:
• • • • • •
'Have you ever been to Ireland?' 'Yes, I’ve been there twice, once in 1983 and again in 1995.' 'Did you ever meet Tom Robinson when you were at uni?' 'No, I never did.' 'My driving instructor asked me if I’d ever driven before.' 'I said, no, I never had.' 'Do you ever go to the cinema?' 'No, I prefer to watch films on video or DVD.' 'Are you ever going to finish this book?' 'I’ll try and finish it over the summer. I’ve no time now.' 'Will you ever marry me?' 'No, Jason I don’t think I ever will.'
As you can see from this last example, ever can be used in an affirmative sentence with not as an alternative to the more usual 'never'. It can also be used in affirmative sentences with if and with adverbs which express a negative idea, like hardly. Remember the meaning of ever is always ‘at any time’. Compare the following: • • • •
'If you ever change your mind, let me know. We’d love to have you on the team.' 'If you are ever in London, be sure to come and see us.' 'We hardly ever go to the theatre. It’s too expensive.' 'I don’t think we shall ever see Jenny again now that she’s emigrated to Australia.'
Remember also that ever can be tagged on to ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘which’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ to make the conjunctions wherever, whenever, whatever, whichever, whoever and however, meaning 'no matter where’, ‘no matter when’, ‘no matter what’, ‘no matter which’, ‘no matter who’ and ‘no matter how’. Compare the following: • • • • • •
'We were playing ‘Hide and Seek’ and we couldn’t find him wherever we looked.' 'If you have a problem, you can phone me up whenever you like – at any time of the day.' 'Whatever advice I gave her, she would be sure not to take it.' 'Whichever path we took, we were unable to find our way out of the maze.' 'I shall sell my computer to whoever wants it.' 'However hard I try, I can never seem to learn vocabulary.'
Finally, ever is used in the comparative expression as ever and than ever, meaning ‘as/than at any time in the past’. Study the following two examples: • •
'You’ll have to work harder than ever today, if you want to finish this job before it gets dark.' 'Jayne, it’s so long since I heard you sing, but you sing as beautifully as ever!'
To + infinitive and for + verb-ing to express purpose
Gloria Fulvia from Italy writes: Do I say Schools are for learning or Schools are to learn? I would like to know the grammar of to + infinitive and for + -ing form when I'm talking about purpose. I greatly appreciate your explanation. Thanks. for or to + infinitive: individual purpose For is commonly used with nouns to express individual purpose: •
I popped into the supermarket for some apples on the way home. (Not: I popped into the supermarket for buying some apples…)
I stopped by at his office for a chat about our marketing strategy. (Not: I stopped by at his office for having a chat about marketing.)
I decided I would save up for a new computer. (NOT: I decided I would save up for buying a new computer.)
If we want to express individual purpose with a verb pattern, we are obliged to use to + infinitive: •
I stopped by at the supermarket to buy some apples on the way home.
I popped into his office to have a chat about our marketing policy.
I decided to save up to buy a new computer.
For + verb-ing: the purpose of an object However, if we are talking about the purpose of an object or an action, we normally use the for + verb-ing pattern. Note that this pattern commonly answers the question: What are they (used) for? Compare the following: •
Schools are for educating children not for entertaining them.
Schools are for learning. Life is for living.
This kitchen knife is especially useful for slicing vegetables.
What's this for? ~ It's for opening oysters. It's much better than a knife.
What's this fifty pound note for? ~ It's for buying food for the weekend.
Note that when the subject of the sentence is a person rather than the thing described, the to + infinitive pattern is also possible: •
I use this small knife to slice vegetables with.
I use this gadget to open shellfish with.
in order to / so as to Note that, as an alternative to to + infinitive, we might use in order to, or so as to, to express individual purpose when we want to be more formal or explicit about the reason for doing something. All of these structures answer the question: Why…?. Compare the following: •
I went to bed early in order to get enough sleep before the exam.
After four weeks of exams, I went to the seaside to rest.
After twenty days of exams, I went to the seaside for a rest.
After all those exams, I went to the seaside so as to have a good rest.
The in order to and so as to structures are particularly useful with stative verbs such as be, have, know, appear, and before negative inifinitives: •
So as not to appear foolish, I learnt all I could about the company before going for the interview.
I'm going to move to the city centre in order to be near where I work.
In order not to have to commute, she bought a flat in the town centre.
In order to know more about him, she studied his movements carefully.
however / nevertheless / moreover
Wutthichula Khunpatwattana from Thailand writes: I have a very simple question, but nobody has been able to make it clear to me. I know that the words however and nevertheless are slightly different in meaning and use. I would much appreciate it if you could make the differences clear to me. However and nevertheless: to express a contrast We can use either of the adverbs however or nevertheless to indicate that the second point we wish to make contrasts with the first point. The difference is one of formality: nevertheless is bit more formal and emphatic than however. Consider the following: •
I can understand everything you say about wanting to share a flat with Martha. However, I am totally against it.
Rufus had been living in the village of Edmonton for over a decade. Nevertheless, the villagers still considered him to be an outsider.
Note that however and nevertheless are normally placed in initial position in a sentence when contrasting two ideas. They can, however, also come in mid position or end position: •
There will be no more pay increases this year. That is for sure. We have, however, agreed to carry out a full review of pay and conditions. We have agreed, nevertheless, to carry out a full review of pay and conditions.
He's still able to get around quite well. His whole life has been plagued by illness, however. His whole life has been plagued by illness, nevertheless
Less formal equivalents of however and nevertheless would be even so, in spite of this, yet or yet..still. These alternatives would be better suited to spoken English discourse: •
She's really quite ill and has been for some time. Even so / In spite of this she remains in good spirits.
He has over a million pounds in his bank account. Yet he still gets up at six every morning to go to work.
however and nevertheless: for counter-argument If you need to write essays, it is also useful to use however, nevertheless, nonetheless or even so to introduce the final part of a three-part structure: * in the first part you might outline an argument, introducing it perhaps with it is often said; * in the second part you might indicate that there is supporting evidence using it is true or certainly to introduce these ideas; * in the third part introduce the counter-argument with however or one of the other discourse markers listed above. •
It is said that water pollution is one of the greatest evils in this country.
It is true that more and more factories are being built along this stretch of the river and that a certain amount of waste will inevitably be discharged into the river.
However, in all the discussions that I have had with these firms' representatives, I have not found one who does not have a responsible attitude to environmental protection.
moreover: for adding I often find when marking essays that moreover is used as an alternative to however. But be careful here. It does not have the same meaning. Moreover is the very formal equivalent of futhermore or in addition which would be the least
formal of these three. These adverbs should be used to support or to add information to what has already been said: •
The refugees are desperately short of food. They have very little shelter to protect them from the winter winds that are now blowing. Furthermore, they are desperately in need of medical supplies.
She had noticed that there was a man sitting in the second row of the stalls to her right who was observing her, rather than watching the play. Moreover, he seemed to be smiling at her as if he recognised her.
in conclusion Finally, remember that if you are writing essays, it is useful to introduce the final paragraph with one of these expressions: to conclude, in conclusion, to sum up: In conclusion, it is clear that pollution will continue to plague our planet for the foreseeable future. However, if individuals and governments act responsibly, there may come a day in the not too distant future when a more optimistic outlook is justified.
clauses of purpose: 'in order to' and 'so that'
Gyonggu Shin from South Korea writes: I would like you to talk about the difference between to + infinitive and in order to + infinitive. In these two sentences: a) I went to school to study. b) I went to school in order to study. (b) seems to be all right, though perhaps you do not say it. to… / in order to…. / so as to…. You are right, Gyonggu. If we use in order to it sounds a bit more formal and explicit than to by itself, but both are equally possible in both spoken and written English. They both convey exactly the same meaning when expressing purpose: • •
To cut the tree down, I had to hack through the undergrowth first. In order to cut the tree down, I had to hack through the undergrowth first.
In order to is normal before a negative infinitive. We do not usually use to by itself here: • •
In order not to oversleep, I set the alarm for seven o’clock. I walked very slowly across the room with the drinks in order not to spill them.
We can also use so as to instead of in order to and it carries the same degree of explicitness or formality: • •
We moved house last year so as to be closer to our children and grandchildren. I gave him a cheque in advance to ease his financial problems and so as not to delay the building work.
Before stative verbs like know, seem, appear, understand, have, etc, it is more usual to use in order to or so as to: • •
I talked to them both for half an hour so as to have a thorough understanding of the problem. I followed her around all day in order to know whether she had any intention of meeting him.
So that.../ in order that ... These structures are also frequently used to talk about purpose, although so that is more common and less formal than in order that. Note that these structures are normally used with (modal) auxiliary verbs. Compare the following: • •
• • • • • •
He’s staying on in Australia for nine more months so that he can perfect his English. He’s staying on in Australia for nine more months in order to perfect his English. We’re going to leave by three so that we don’t get stuck in the rush-hour traffic. We’re going to leave by three so as not to get stuck in the rush-hour traffic. Jamie had an afternoon nap so that he wouldn’t fall asleep at the concert later. Jamie had an afternoon nap in order not to fall asleep at the concert later. In order that you may pass the exam, we recommend you read through all your notes. (Very formal.) In order to pass the exam, we recommend you read through all your notes. (Less formal.)
Note that in informal colloquial English, that may be omitted from the so that construction. Listen out for this variation, though I wouldn’t recommend that you use it: • • •
I’ll come early so we can have a good chat before Denise arrives. I’ve bought a video camera so I can film the children as they grow up. We shall wear warm clothes when we go camping in October so we don’t get cold.
David Cho from South Korea writes: 'I have difficulty in using 'in which'. Sometimes I understand it, sometimes not. It is one of the relative clauses, I think. Please explain more about relative clauses such as 'of which', 'by which', 'on which', 'where', etc. relative clauses We use relative clauses and relative pronouns like who, which, where to introduce them in order to identify people and things or to give more information about them. • • •
That boy who is standing at the bus stop over there is my little brother. My new camera which I bought on the internet last week is broken. The High Street jeweller's which bought and sold silver and where you could get a good price by bargaining has closed down.
where / in which / at which In which and at which are sometimes used as more precise sounding alternatives to where to introduce relative clauses after nouns referring to place: • • • •
Near where I live there's a wood where you can find woodpeckers. Near where I live there's a wood in which you can find woodpeckers. The fancy-dress party, where the men all turned up as gangsters, was held in Manhatten. The fancy-dress party, at which the men all turned up as gangsters, was held in Manhatten.
when / on which On which is sometimes used as a more precise sounding alternative to when to introduce relative clauses after nouns referring to time: •
The day when I'm forced to give up riding will be a sad day for me.
The day on which I'm forced to give up riding will be a sad day for me.
position of prepositions Note that in questions the preposition is more frequently placed at the end of the clause. It can also be placed before the relative pronoun where it sounds more formal: • •
In which street does he live? Which street does he live in?
He lives in the street where all the houses are surrounded by high fences. He lives in the street in which the houses are surrounded by high fences
For which organisation does he work? Which organisation does he work for?
He works for a spy network, about which I know nothing. He works for a spy network (which) I know nothing about.
Note from examples above and below that putting the preposition at the end of the clause is usually also possible in statements: • •
The people with whom he worked have all been arrested. (Formal) The people (who) he worked with have all been arrested. (Informal)
This is the bedroom in which he was murdered. (Formal) This is the bedroom (that) he was murdered in. (Informal)
Note from these examples, that in statements when the preposition is placed at the end of the clause, we can use that instead of who or which or we can omit the relative pronoun completely! preposition + relative pronoun A wide range of prepositions are often used in prepositional structures with relative pronouns who and which to introduce relative clauses. In most cases, the prepositions retain their original meaning. Compare the following: •
That post marks the beginning of the mined area, beyond which it is inadvisable to go.
In the clearing lay the badly injured soldier, above whom birds of prey were circling.
We passed a giant toadstool in the forest, under which fairies were sitting.
They had collected the sap from the sugar maple trees, from which maple syrup is manufactured.
Before us we could see a forest orchid of which there are many varieties.
An Austrian naturalist, with whom I worked closely in the Eighties, discovered this particular orchid.
Note that when the relative pronoun is placed immediately after the preposition we can't use who instead of whom, and we can't use that or zero pronoun either.
Ken Peng from Malaysia writes: What are linking adverbs - please give me some examples - and are they also called conjunctive adverbs? Xiao Ling from China writes: I'm having difficulty distinguishing some linking devices like however, nevertheless, whereas, etc. Would you please explain to me how to use those terms correctly? Linking adverbs Linking adverbs are adverbs that are used to link ideas or clauses in spoken discourse or written text. They could also be called conjunctive adverbs in so far as they perform the same sort of function as conjunctions. We use a very wide variety of linking adverbs. Some are more commonly used in formal written English, whilst others are more characteristic of informal, spoken language. Here are some of the most common. Yet / but still Yet and but still are used to link contrasting ideas together. But still is very informal, yet is semi-formal. In the examples below, note how different meaning and usage is when they are employed as adverbs, adding information to the verb, and as linking adverbs, contrasting ideas: •
Haven't you finished that work yet? Come on. Get a move on!
I have yet / still to see an English orchid as beautiful as those in the rain forests of Brazil.
I've cautioned him three times already for arriving late for work. But he still turned up ten minutes late again this morning.
He claims he is a vegetarian, (and) yet he eats everything my mother puts in front of him.
Note that yet as a linking adverb can only be placed in front position in the clause. Still can be placed before or immediately after the subject: but he still… / but still he….
As well / too As well and too are linking adverbs, meaning also or in addition, which would be a more formal equivalent. Again, note the difference in meaning and usage when they are employed as adverbs modifying the adjective or adding information to the verb, and as linking adverbs, meaning in addition: •
This T-shirt is too small for me. I need a larger size.
I certainly can't play the piano as well as she does. Katerina is good enough to be a concert pianist. I play quite well, but not as well.
My birthday's on the sixth of June. ~ That's funny. My birthday's on the sixth of June too / as well.
We're all going to Cornwall for our holidays this year. Oh, and Jeremy's coming as well / too.
Note that too and as well as linking adverbs are normally placed in end position in the clause, although in a more formal style too can be placed immediately after the subject: •
You like Beethoven. I too am fond of Beethoven's music.
However / nevertheless As linking adverbs, however and nevertheless are used to emphasize a contrast with what has been said or written before which may appear surprising to the listener or reader: •
It is clear that prices have been rising steadily throughout this year. It is, however, unlikely that they will continue to rise as quickly next year.
I would be the first to admit that prices have risen sharply this year. Nevertheless, they are unlikely to rise as sharply next year.
The politician was confident of success. His advisers were not so certain, however.
He always remains cheerful. But his life has been beset by constant illness, nevertheless.
Note that however and nevertheless reflect more formal usage and that both can come in front, mid or end position in the clause. Whereas / while Whereas and while are both conjunctions which we use as linking devices to balance ideas or contrasting points in a more formal style of English. As conjunctions they can only come at front position in the clause •
It rains quite a lot in England in the summer months whereas rain in Spain in the summer is a rare occurrence.
While I don't mind you having the occasional glass of wine, drinking too much is not in order.
A less formal equivalent which might be used in more informal contexts would be the connecting phrase: on the other hand.
Perhaps we should spend the whole week under canvas. On the other hand, it may rain a lot and then we could return home earlier.
A question from Paul Zaffaroni in Mexico: Several years ago I heard this dialogue in a movie: "I will never forget you." The other person replied: "nor I you." I have never heard this kind of reply before, but I know it is grammatically correct. Could you please tell me how you would classify it?
Karen Adams answers: This is a really interesting question. But before we begin I do need to say that it sounds as if Paul has been watching a very old English film, because the phrase “nor I you” isn’t really something you would hear nowadays in British English. However, the question does give us a very clear example of something which is very common in English. It’s an example of ellipses. Ellipses is missing out what you, the speaker and the listener already know. In Paul’s example, we have “I will never forget you” and “nor I you.” The person who is answering really means “nor will I ever forget you.” However, both the listener and the speaker know that this information is shared so they don’t need to say it. You can find much more common examples of ellipses in everyday language, for example, in the sentence: “I drove to work, and then I parked the car in the car park.” You wouldn’t really expect to hear “I” said twice. So normally you would hear “I drove to work and parked in the car park.” We miss out the second “I” because we already know that it’s there.
Similarly, “I listen to the news on the radio and I listened to the drama programme on the radio.” You would normally say “I listened to the news and the drama programme on the radio.” This gives us all of the new information, but it misses out the things which we know already. In this case, “I listened” so “I listened to the news and the drama programme on the radio.” We can think of lots of other examples if we can think of the example of love and forgetting, you may hear in a film, for example, “I will always love you.” And the person who’s listening may say “and I you.” What they mean is, “and I will always love you.” But they don’t need to repeat the words which the other speaker has already said. Ellipses also feature in sentences where we know exactly what the speaker is saying, and they may drop off a final word. So for example: “he is as tall as I am.” You may actually hear someone say “he is as tall as I.” We don’t need the “am” as it doesn’t add any new information. We try to be as economical as possible when we speak, using only the words which will give the listener the information which he or she needs. Therefore, if we’re repeating information or adding in extra words which don’t give any more information, we tend to drop them out. This is what ellipses are. One important thing to remember, however, is that sometimes, in our examples, ellipses can sound a little old fashioned. So in our example “he is as tall as I” normally in British English you would hear, these days “he’s as tall as me.” However, grammatically, “he is as tall as I” is the more correct. And in Paul’s example “I will never forget you”…“nor I you” - this is something you’re actually unlikely to hear these days in British English. Probably the person answering would say “me neither.” However, grammatically, “nor I you” is the more correct. Do try to listen out for ellipses in everyday language.
In the sentence: Today we learned that the university is going to close the math department it is necessary to include that, but in the sentence The work I do is very important it is not included. Shouldn't it be: The work that I do...?
There are a number of instances in English, Saulo, where it is possible, even desirable, to omit that. that as conjunction with reporting verbs In your first example sentence, that is used as a conjunction, joining two parts of the sentence. After verbs like learned, discovered, found (out), knew, felt, thought, it is quite natural to omit that, especially in informal speech:
I discovered Julian had borrowed my car without my permission. I felt he was wrong to do this, but he thought it would be all right. After the more common reporting verbs, (e.g. say, tell) it is also entirely natural to omit that in informal speech: I told him I'd be back by ten o'clock but he said he needed me here by nine. After certain verbs (e.g. replied, shouted) that cannot be omitted and it is not normally dropped after nouns: The Dean of the Humanities Faculty informed the students that the drama dept was going to close. He left a message on my voice mail that he was leaving immediately for Vienna. I replied (to his message) that he should remain in Britain. He shouted at me that he was fed up with living in Britain. omitting that in two-word conjunctions There are a number of two-word conjunctions where that may be omitted. These include so that and now that which we can use to talk about purpose and result and providing that and provided that which we can use to talk about imposing conditions. In a more formal style we may prefer to retain that, but in an informal style it is often omitted. Compare the following: We intend to send her to Brazil so that she can perfect her Portuguese. I spent Easter with Anneke in Switzerland so I could learn to ski. Now that we've joined the EU, prices are sure to rise. Now the exams are over I can lie in bed all morning. Provided that / providing that you sign the contract before we join the EU, you won't have to pay VAT. You can borrow my DVD player, providing / provided you return it on Monday. omitting that as relative pronoun In your second example sentence, Saulo, that is used as a relative pronoun, introducing a relative clause. When that is the object in a relative clause, as in your example, we normally leave it out: The work (that / which) she does for this company is much appreciated.
The representatives of the company (that / who) I met in Portugal were very helpful. Note from the above examples that that can be used to refer to both things and people, whereas which as a relative pronoun can only refer to things and who can only refer to people. Note also that when the relative pronoun is the subject of a relative clause, it has to be included. It cannot be omitted then: Menorca is one of the Balearic Islands that / which lies to the north east of Mallorca. We have a number of friends who / that have built holiday homes on the island.
Tamas Hoczat from Hungary writes: I’m learning about relative clauses. I’ve got two sentences: • •
At the end of the street there is a path leading to the river. At the end of the street there is a path that leads to the river. Are both of them correct? Which one should I use? Thank you for helping me.
Both are perfectly correct and sound perfectly natural in this example, so use either or both. Generally speaking, the participial clause, starting with -ing or -ed, is more characteristic of written English, as it allows us to say the same thing as a relative clause, starting with who, which or that, but with fewer words. Participial clauses are also frequently heard in radio and TV news broadcasts (as well as newspaper articles and reports) as they permit a lot of information to be compressed into a limited amount of time. This is one reason why they are often difficult for a learner of English to follow. The reporting of The Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs’ arrival back in the UK a couple of weeks ago as he stepped off the plane after 35 years on the run in Australia and Brazil was reported as follows: "The only glimpse of Biggs, dressed in blue shirt and green sweater, lasted only a few seconds. Lawyers acting for Biggs have said they will seek a hearing before the Court of Appeal". A participial clause, starting with –ed or past participle, is used instead of a relative pronoun plus passive voice. Study these further examples: • • •
Food sold (= which is sold) in this supermarket is of the highest quality. Anyone found touching (= who is found ) these priceless exhibits will be escorted out of the museum. The tailback on the A34 caused ( = which was caused / which had been caused) by the head-on collision stretched for over 20 miles in both directions.
It took the ambulances called ( = that were called / that had been called) to the scene over half an hour to get through.
A participial clause, starting with -ing is used instead of a relative pronoun plus active verb, continuous or simple. • • • • •
The train now arriving (= which is now arriving) at platform 1 is the 6.36 from Newcastle. There are delays for people travelling to work (= who are travelling to work) on Southern Region trains this morning. Anyone touching (= who touches ) these priceless exhibits will be escorted out of the museum. The police impounded all the vehicles belonging to (= which belonged to) his brother. The boy driving (= who was driving) the BMW was underage, unlicensed and over the limit.
Note that when we are talking about a single completed action in a defining relative clause, we cannot use an active participle: •
The girl who fell down the cliff broke her leg. (NOT: The girl falling down cliff…)
What is the difference in meaning between these two sentences: Seeing an accident ahead, I stopped my car. Having seen an accident ahead, I stopped my car. There is not very much difference in meaning between these two pairs of sentences. Sometimes we can use an -ing or past participle clause with similar meanings, as here, although use of the past participle form emphasises that the first action has been completed before the second action begins. Thus, we could paraphrase these two sentences as follows: Having seen an accident ahead, I stopped my car. I noticed that there had been an accident ahead and stopped my car. Seeing an accident ahead, I stopped my car. When I saw the accident ahead, I stopped my car. In general, we tend not to use participle clauses so much in speech. They are too formal. In speech we would probably say: I saw an accident ahead, so I stopped my car. However, in written English participial clauses can be very useful. As you can see from the examples above, when the subject in the participle clause is the same as
the participle in the main clause, they enable us to say the same thing, but with fewer words. participial clauses = adverbial clauses Participial clauses often express condition, reason, cause, result or time in a similar way to full adverbial clauses, only more economically. Compare the following: Used sparingly, this face cream should last you until Christmas. If you use it sparingly, this face cream should last you until Christmas. Having taken the wrong train, I found myself in Bath, not Bristol. Because I had taken the wrong train, I found myself in Bath, not Bristol. Passing the theatre on my right, I walked up the steps and could see all the lights on the Thames ahead of me. After I had passed the theatre on my right, I walked up the steps and could see all the lights on the Thames ahead of me. Note from the above examples that the -ing form participle is used to talk about past, as well as present events, e.g.: Talking to you I always feel that my problems will be solved. By talking to you, I always feel that my problems will be solved. participle clauses following conjunctions and prepositions Participle clauses, with -ing particularly, can be used after various conjunctions and prepositions, such as: when, while, before, after, on, without, instead of. Note the following examples: Remember to take all your belongings with you when leaving the train. I sprained my ankle while playing tennis. Before entering the mosque you must take off your shoes. After taking everything into consideration, we decided to sell the house. After having driven 300 miles across country, I arrived to find the house had been sold. On hearing that my sister was planning to marry him, I decided to leave the flat to her. Without wanting to seem rude, I must tell you that you are ungrateful. Instead of listening to my advice, she walked out without saying goodbye.
Note from the above examples that the participle clause normally, but not invariably, comes in front of the main clause.
negative participle clauses Negative participle clauses are also possible, in which case not normally comes before the -ing form or past participle:
Not having had a shower for two days, I was desperate to get to the bathroom. Whilst not wishing to appear impolite, I must ask you to leave so that I can make a private telephone call. having been + past participle Note that this passive structure can also be used in participle clauses as an alternative to a since-clause: Having been invited to the party by Prince William himself, we could hardly refuse to go. ( = Since we had been invited…) Having been deprived of food for over twenty days, the castaway was fed intravenously at first. Having been unemployed for over two years, I found it difficult to get work.
'since' as time preposition, conjunction and adverb Is it correct to use the present perfect after since, for example: Mr and Mrs Smith have been quarrelling since they’ve been married. They’ve been happy since they’ve lived here. I was taught that since introduces a date, not a period of time, and no grammar has given me a clear explanation on that question. Thank you. Since is used in a variety of different ways, both with the present perfect and with other tenses. 'since' as preposition When it is used as a preposition to introduce a date or a specific time in the past, it is normally used with present perfect and past perfect tenses. It refers to a period of time starting at a particular point in the past and continuing up till now (present perfect) or up until another point in the past (past perfect). Compare the following: I haven’t seen my younger brother since 14 July 1998. They’ve been on strike since the beginning of April and there’s no sign of it ending. I hadn’t visited the area since my childhood days and I noticed last summer how everything had changed. 'since' as conjunction Since can also be used as a conjunction, as in your examples, Michele, introducing a clause. The tense in the since-clause can be past or perfect, depending on whether it refers to a point in the past or to a period of time leading up to the present or, in the case of the past perfect, leading up to a point in the past.
Since as a conjunction sometimes combines with ever to make ever since. Note also in these examples that present and past tenses are possible in the main clause as well as the present perfect: We’ve been patronising this pub (ever) since we’ve been living in this village. We’ve been patronising this pub (ever) since we moved to this village. Henry’s been teetotal since we got married. Henry’s been teetotal since we’ve been married. It’s only a week since I met him, but we’re very much in love. It’s only a week since we’ve known each other, but we’re very much in love. They’re a lot happier since they separated. They’re a lot happier since they’ve been living apart. You’re looking much better since you came out of hospital. You’re looking much better since you’ve been out of hospital. It was in the summer of 2001 that I saw her and it was over 20 years since we had last met. 'Do you realize,' I said, 'it’s over 20 years since we last met?' 'since then' / 'ever since' Note that since can also be used as an adverb. Since then refers to a particular point in time and ever since to a period of time. Which one we use depends on whether we want to focus attention on the point in time or on the continuing period of time. Compare the following: She left home in 1992 and hasn’t contacted us since then. The company started losing money in 2002 and has been in serious decline since then. The company started losing money in 2002 and has been in serious decline ever since. I took my final exams five years ago and have been working as a doctor ever since.
Use of 'so' and 'such' Savino Carrella from Naples asks: Could you kindly tell me whether the use of so in the following sentence is correct: 'Miles looked older than his brother, revealing so a strange maturity.' Here so should stand for 'in this way'. If so here means 'in this way' or 'thus', it would normally come immediately after the main clause:
'Miles looked older than his brother, so revealing a strange maturity.' ('so' = less formal) 'Miles looked older than his brother, thus revealing a strange maturity.' ('thus' = more formal)
However, if you are using so or such for emphasis to mean 'to a very great degree or extent', their position immediately before the adjective is correct. But take care using these two forms. It has to be such before a noun or before an adjective plus noun. So it will be: •
'Miles looked older than his brother, revealing such a strange maturity.'
So is obviously used in a similar way, but is placed before adjectives standing alone or before adverb plus adjective, thus: •
'She was so indescribably beautiful that we couldn't take our eyes off her.'
Remember: such + noun so + adjective such + adjective + noun so + adverb + adjective The noun with such is normally preceded by the indefinite article: • • •
'We had such a good time at Henry's party.' 'I've been working far too hard today and I've got such a headache now.' 'She really embarrassed me. She is such a fool.'
Occasionally, in certain expressions, when the noun has a gradeable meaning, the indefinite article is dropped: • • • •
'Such lovely countryside (around here)!' 'Such awful weather (these days)!' 'We had such fun at Henry's party!' 'I don't know how you have such patience (when dealing with such awkward customers).'
Frequently heard examples of so in this sense might include: • • • • • •
'I'm so glad you are here!' 'He was so pleased to see her.' 'Don't go so fast! Slow down!' 'What's so funny about that?' 'I'm so tired! It's as if I haven't slept for a week.' 'I love you so much!'
You will already have noticed from at least one of the above examples that so and such are often followed by 'that'-clauses suggesting result or consequence. Note that when plural nouns are used after such, the article is, of course, omitted. • • • • • •
'I'm so glad (that) you could come!' 'It had been so hot on the journey (that) we had to drink a litre of water when we arrived home.' 'There was so much to do on that holiday (that) nobody ever got bored.' 'They were such good swimmers (that) they had no difficulty swimming across the fast-flowing river.' 'She prepared such good meals (that) no one ever thought of going out to eat.' 'I've got such a high temperature (that) I'm hoping (that) my husband will drive me straight to the surgery when he gets home from work.'
There is one exception to the general rule as set out above and that is that only so can be used with indefinite determiners much and many and it is more usual with little and few when these are followed by a noun. We therefore have the new pattern: so + determiner + noun • • • •
'So many sun-worshippers had crowded on to the beach that there was no space left for my towel.' 'I'm sure there will be so much noise in the restaurant that I shan't be able to hear what anybody is saying.' 'I had so little rest over the weekend that I couldn't go to work on Monday morning.' 'There were so few leaves on the tree that it was pointless to try to shelter from the rain beneath it.'
You cannot say: 'such many sun-worshippers', or 'such much noise' and it would be unusual to say: 'such few leaves' or 'such little rest'.
Finally compare: • •
'Such little people!' ('Little' here is used as an adjective meaning 'small'.) 'So few people!' ('Few' here is used as a determiner meaning 'not very many'.)
You will already have noticed from at least one of the above examples that 'so' and 'such' are often followed by that-clauses suggesting result or consequence. Note that when plural nouns are used after 'such', the article is, of course, omitted. 'I'm so glad (that) you could come!' 'It had been so hot on the journey (that) we had to drink a litre of water when we arrived home.' 'There was so much to do on that holiday (that) nobody ever got bored.' 'They were such good swimmers (that) they had no difficulty swimming across the fast-flowing river.' 'She prepared such good meals (that) no one ever thought of going out to eat.' 'I've got such a high temperature (that) I'm hoping (that) my husband will drive me straight to the surgery when he gets home from work.'
Though I have a little question about though. I'm not sure of its many meanings. Sometimes it is in the middle of a sentence and sometimes at the end of a sentence and I get confused.
George Pickering answers: Thank you Raphael for your interesting question. Yes, it's true, you can put though at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of sentences. We can use though, and although, or even though at the beginning of a subordinate clause to mark a contrast with the idea in the main clause. For example: 'Even though he didn't have much time, he stopped to help the old lady.' We can change the order of the two clauses and say: 'He stopped to help the old lady, even though he didn't have much time.' In these examples, though means 'despite the fact that'. We can also put though at the end of the contrasting clause. For example: 'I still find English hard to understand; I can understand more than last year, though!' When placed at the end of a sentence like this, though means 'nevertheless' or 'however'.
Nguyen Tu Thang from Vietnam writes: Could you please explain the use of the word though in sentences where its role seems to be nothing but an added word used at the end of sentences in conversation? Alex from Peru writes: Is the meaning the same when we use even though and even when? I'm quite confused about this.
Though can be used both as a conjunction and as an adverb though as conjunction We usually think of though as a conjunction as the more informal alternative of although, introducing a subordinate clause of contrast. When we use though or although, they introduce an idea that makes the statement in the main clause seem surprising: (Al)though I was late for the meeting, I decided to go nevertheless
(Al)though the sausages were past their sell-by date, I ate them and didn't become ill. even though Note that we use even though as an alternative to though or although when the ideas expressed appear more extreme or surprising:: Even though the earthquake occurred ten days ago, the authorities believe it may still be possible to find survivors under the rubble. though as adverb In your definition of the word, Nguyen, though is used as an adverb with a meaning similar to however. Again it indicates a contrast. Used in this way, it occupies either mid or end position in a sentence and makes the previous statement or idea seem less true or appealing: I thought Steve's essay was very good. ~ Yes, he made some good points and it was good in parts. It was a bit repetitive, though. I drove that new convertible the other day. Very impressive. ~ Isn't it rather expensive, though? It seems he's still suspected of the crime. His main defence, though, is that he spent the evening with his girlfriend and she seems totally credible. even if / even when / even though When we use even before if, when and though, it has the effect of making the ideas expressed appear more extreme or surprising. Even if is used for emphasising that although something might happen, the situation will not change: I shall continue to work from 6 a.m. till midnight, even if it kills me. Even if I became a millionaire, I would not stop working. Even when is used for emphasising that although something happens on a regular basis, the situation does not change: She checks her text messages when you least expect her to, even when she's driving. He never stops talking and goes on and on even when other people are talking. Even though, as we have seen, introduces a fact that makes the main statement in your sentence seem very surprising: Even though she has a degree in business administration, all her business ventures have failed. They made me feel as if I was one of the family, even though I'd never met any of them before.
even so Note that even if, even when and even though are conjunctions, linking two clauses. Even so like though, meaning however, is an adverb and is used for introducing a statement that seems surprising after what has been said before. This time he has kept all the promises he made. Even so, I don't really trust him. I know you know this piece of music off by heart, but, even so, you should follow the score.
Unless and otherwise Haja Najubudeen from Dubai writes: Please help me to use unless and otherwise. Does unless have to be used with a past participle in a sentence? unless = if not Unless is similar in meaning to if not and can be used instead of if not in certain types of conditional sentences. We normally use unless with present tenses when we are referring to the future: You won't get in to see the show, if you don't have reserved seats. OR: Unless you have reserved seats, you won't get in to see the show. Let's play tennis on Saturday, if it's not raining. OR: Let's play tennis on Saturday, unless it's raining. I'll see you at the gym this evening, if you're not too tired. OR: I'll see you at the gym this evening, unless you're too tired. if not However, we cannot use unless in questions: • • •
What will you do if you don't pass those exams? If I don't pass those exams, I won't be able to study in Australia I won't be able to study in Australia, unless I pass those exams.
And we cannot use unless with would to talk about unreal future situations: • •
If he didn't take everything so seriously, he would be much easier to work with. If he weren't so bad-tempered, I would help him to get the work done
We cannot use unless with would have to talk about unreal situations in the past either: • •
If you hadn't driven so recklessly, you wouldn't have had this accident. If you hadn't had that last glass of wine, this would never have happened.
unless We have to use unless, and not if not, if we are introducing an idea as an afterthought: •
I shan't bother to go to the meeting at the school tonight - unless you want to go, of course.
Note that in written English, as regards punctuation, the afterthought is usually preceded by a dash. unless + past participle Unless can be used with a past participle in a reduced clause, Haja, when you choose to omit the subject words and the auxiliary verbs within the brackets in the examples below: • •
Don't shut down these computers unless (you are) instructed to do so. Just log off. Unless (he is) given sufficient warning of the consequences, he will continue to misbehave.
However, this often makes the language produced sound rather formal and in spoken English we would normally retain subject words and auxiliary verbs. otherwise = apart from this / if not Otherwise is used as a linking adverb and has the meaning of apart from this or if we disregard this: • •
The sea was very rough and we couldn't swim all week, but otherwise / apart from this we enjoyed ourselves. They all suffered from hypothermia. Otherwise, / Apart from that, they were OK.
It also has the meaning of if not, in the sense of if this does not happen, or if this were not the case, when it is used as a linking device: • • •
Remember to use sun cream with high protection when you go down to the beach. Otherwise, / If you don't, you'll get sunburnt within half an hour. Look, we really must hurry. Otherwise, / If we don't, we'll miss the train. He must be quite intelligent. Otherwise, he wouldn't have got into university. / If he wasn't, he wouldn't have got into university.
What or that? and noun-verb collocations
Maria Grazia Rinieri from Italy writes: I have two questions. Firstly, is it a mistake to say all what I have done instead of all that I have done? Secondly, I would like to know if it's possible to write: students gave their feedback on the arguments treated by the teacher, or must I use subject or topic instead of arguments and the verb dealt with instead of treated?
What or that? Yes, it is a mistake to say: All what I have done…. What cannot be used as a relative pronoun coming after a noun or pronoun. We have to use the relative pronoun that and say: All that I have done…. Or, if that is the object of the relative clause as in this example, we can simply omit it, use zero pronoun instead and say: All I've done… •
All (that) I've done is to offer to help him with his homework. I haven't done his homework for him.
Here are some more examples. Note that that cannot be omitted if it is the subject of the relative clause as in the last example below: • • •
Everything (that) you ordered is now in the shop and can be collected. The paintings (that) I bought are now hanging on the walls in my house. The only thing that keeps me awake at night is wondering if the house is properly insured.
What can, however, be used to introduce a clause where it combines the function of noun and relative pronoun and means that which or the thing(s) that: • • • •
What I did was help him with his homework, not do it for him. What he does in his free time doesn't interest me. I don't remember what time he went to bed last night. (what = the time at which) I have no idea about what happened after I left.
Noun-verb collocations In your example, Maria, of students gave their feedback on certain arguments, the verb which best collocates with arguments here is raised, so the sentence would read:
The students gave their feedback on the arguments raised by their teacher.
Collocation (or co-location if you like) refers to the way in which some words regularly occur together. We do not usually treat arguments. We normally would not say that. Instead, we raise arguments or discuss arguments. However, if we are talking about wounds or injuries, these are the things we treat. We might also treat a topic or subject if we are writing an essay as an alternative to dealing with it. •
His injuries were serious and could only properly be treated in hospital.
How do you propose to treat this topic when you are writing about Napoleon?
In language learning, it's very important to develop an understanding of words that regularly occur together. Test your knowledge of these noun-verb collocations in the text below. One of the alternatives listed is the best fit or the normal collocation. Choose that one. •
The female crocodile usually assembles/builds/manufactures/erects her nest on the banks of a river. She normally lays/releases/drops/spawns about fifty eggs. She then closes/shuts down/seals/binds the nest for protection against predators. Provided the nests are not molested/assaulted/bothered/disturbed, the baby crocodiles proceed/ hatch/appear/arise from the eggs after about twelve weeks.
Now scroll down the page to check your selections Crocodiles, birds and insects all build their nests. They lay their eggs. And crocodiles seal their nests for protection against predators. If they are unlucky, their nests might be disturbed by predators. But if they are lucky, the baby crocodiles will hatch from the eggs after twelve weeks.
Hello, I am Vaibhav. I am calling from India, and my question is: 'When do we use 'which' and when do we use 'that'? What are the constraints, what are the conditions under which we use these two words?
Catherine Walter answers: OK - that's a good question. I'm assuming that you mean in what we call relative clauses since this is where the confusion usually occurs. Now, in a relative clause, we can use 'who' or 'whom' for people, and 'which' for things. So we can say: 'the man who came to dinner', or 'the bridge which crosses the Ganges up river from here'. So: 'the man who came to dinner', 'the bridge which crosses the Ganges'.
Now, 'that' is less formal, and it can be used for both people and things in some relative clauses. So I could say, less formally: 'the man that came to dinner', 'the bridge that crosses the Ganges'. But, 'that' can only be used in what we call identifying relative clauses and those are clauses where you need the information to understand what you're talking about. Those were both identifying relative clauses, but if I said: 'Mr Swan, who came to dinner', I don't need 'who came to dinner' to define Mr Swan, I've already identified him. So, you can not use 'that' in that sentence, and you can not use 'that' if you are talking about: 'Waterloo Bridge, which crosses the Thames up river from here'. So, that's when you use 'which' for identifying relative clauses and for non-identifying relative clauses, but you can only use 'that' informally for identifying relative clauses. Is that clear? Vaibhav responds: Can we take certain examples for this, like, there is a group of presidents who are meeting in the conference: 'the president who is from India', 'the president which is from India', 'the president that is from India' - which one is correct? Catherine Walter replies: OK - you can't use 'which' for a president, because a president is a person. You can use 'who' or 'that'. If there are several presidents and you want to talk about 'the president that is coming there', instead of 'the president that's not coming there'. But if by saying 'the president' it's clear that you mean only one person, then you can not use 'that'. You have to say 'who': 'the president who is coming to the conference'.
which or that? I would be very grateful if you could explain how to choose between which and that in a sentence. This is a great problem for me. Thanks in advance. That and which can be used interchangeably in most circumstances, Isabelle. That can even be used as an alternative to who. Let's take a closer look. who / which / that Who, which and that are all relative pronouns and are used to introduce relative clauses. They can be used as the subjects of verbs in relative clauses. As relative pronouns, who can only refer to people and which can only refer to things. But that can refer to both people and things. That when it refers to people denotes an informal style of English. Compare the following: Who is the woman wearing dark glasses who arrived five minutes ago? 'The Office' is a TV sit-com which / that is not suitable for young children. Do you know anyone that could help me design web pages? - I know a German web artist who designed web pages for Lufthansa.
Note that who, which and that replace he, she, it and they and enable us to join two clauses which would otherwise be separate. Who is the woman wearing dark glasses? She arrived five minutes ago. 'The Office' is a British TV sit-com. It is not suitable for young children. I know a German web artist. He designed web pages for Lufthansa. Who, which and that can also be used in a similar way as the objects of verbs in relative clauses in which case they replace him, her, it and them. We can use whom instead of who as an object relative pronoun in a more formal style of English. Compare the following: She's now living with the musician that / who she met at the pop concert. She's now living with the musician whom she met at the pop concert. She's now living with the musician. She met him at the pop concert. Where are the Radiohead CDs which / that your brother borrowed last week? Where are the Radiohead CDs? Your brother borrowed them last week. Note that when who, which and that function as object relative pronouns, they are often left out of the sentence altogether:. She's now living with the musician she met at the pop concert. Where are the Radiohead CDs your brother borrowed last week? that rather than which After quantifiers like everything, something, all and after the thingâ€Ś we normally use that rather than which: Everything that is in this room once belonged to Elton John. The thing that amazes me is how wide his interests were. All that will be left after the auction are a few candlestick holders. which but not that Where the relative pronoun refers to the whole of the previous clause, and not just to the noun that precedes it, that cannot be used. In these instances, we have to use which: The explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes ran in seven marathons in five different continents recently which is amazing for a man of 59 who had a heart attack six months ago. Here which replaces this:
The explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes ran in seven marathons in five different continents recently. This is amazing for a man of 59 who had a double heart bypass operation six months ago. which but not that in non-identifying relative clauses In non-identifying relative clauses, which usually serve to provide additional, nonessential information and are separated by commas, which is the relative pronoun that is normally used. That would be unusual. Compare the following pairs of identifying and non-identifying relative clauses: Have you got any pieces for the guitar that are easy to play? I lent him The Rain in Spain and Japanese Folk Song, which are easy to play. The last symphony (that) he composed was the ninth symphony. The ninth symphony, which was composed in the final year of his life, was not performed until after this death
How do we know whether we should say 'in which', 'at which', 'of which' or 'for which'?
Karen Adams answers: Thanks very much for your question Annie, it actually gives us two questions in one. So let’s look at the first one – the prepositions that you’ve given us are in which, at which, of which, for which – which one do we choose? Basically, our choice of preposition is governed by the verb that relates to it. So, for example, if we take the phrase “in which” - we might say “That’s the film in which I’m interested.” Another way of saying this is “That’s the film I’m interested in.” It’s the verb “interested” that tells us we need to use the preposition “in”. Similarly, with “at which” – “that’s the university at which I studied.” Another way of saying this is “That’s the university which I studied at.” It’s the verb “study” that tells us we need to use the preposition “at”. However, in written English, we try to avoid putting the preposition at the end of the sentence. We can say “That’s the film I’m interested in.” “That’s the university which I studied at.” “That’s a song I’ve heard of.” But when were writing formal English, we try to take that preposition and put it into the middle of the sentence. This is where we need to use the relative pronoun which – “That’s the university I studied at.” “That’s the university at which I studied.” “That’s the film I’m interested in.” “That’s the film in which I’m interested.” The important thing to remember is this is found in very formal written English and when we’re speaking we would normally put the preposition at the end of the
sentence. So it’s not really a big problem. However, if you want to make your written language very formal then this is where you need to consider putting the preposition into the middle of the sentence before the relative pronoun. I hope that helps you. when/while/meanwhile
Sellami Yazid from Algeria writes: What are the differences in use between when and while and when can we use meanwhile?
when or while We use both when and while as subordinating conjunctions to introduce adverbial clauses of time. They mean during the time that and indicate that something is or was happening when something else occurred: • •
The prisoners escaped when / while the prison warders were eating their lunch. When / While the prison warders were eating their lunch, the prisoners escaped.
Note that we can also use as and whilst in the same way, although they sometimes sounds more formal or literary • •
As the sun went down, I sipped a rum and coke on the balcony. I sipped a rum and coke on the balcony whilst the sun went slowly down on the horizon.
Note that during, which also introduces a longer period of time, is a preposition which is use with a noun or noun phrase: • •
I first met my future wife during my stay in Casablanca. I first met my future wife while I was staying in Casablanca.
when not while We use when, not while, to talk about something that occurs at the same time as a longer action or event that is described in the main clause: • •
I was asleep in my chair when Dora rang to say she wasn't coming home. We were playing monopoly when the lights went off.
We also use when, not while, to talk about one event that happens immediately after another and to talk about periods of time in the past. • •
When the lights went out, everybody groaned: "Oh no, not another power cut!" When I was a little boy, power cuts were very frequent, but that was just after the war.
When can also be used instead of whenever, meaning every time that: • •
I always visit my mother-in-law when I'm in Manchester. I always visit my mother-in-law whenever I'm in Manchester.
while not when We often prefer while to when to describe the longer action of two events or to talk about two longer actions that go on simultaneously: • • •
Dora left a message on the voice mail while I was asleep in the chair. While I was writing my Christmas cards, the children were decorating the tree. I cooked the supper while Jenny did the ironing.
Note from the above examples that while a progressive tense is normally used to describe the longer action associated with a while time clause, simple tenses are also possible. Note also that it is often possible to omit subject + be in when- and whileclauses if the main and subordinate clauses refer to the same subject: • •
When (you are) crossing the road, be careful to look right, left and right again. They came across human remains while (they were) excavating the site.
while to contrast ideas While is not used only used to introduce adverbial clauses of time. In more formal usage, it is used to link or balance ideas that contrast each other: • •
While I am happy for us all to eat at home, I don't want to spend hours in the kitchen preparing the food. While the news from the front has so far been good, there will almost certainly be days when we must expect heavy casualties.
Note in this usage the while-clause is normally placed as the first of the contrasting points. meanwhile = during this time
Meanwhile, meaning during this time, is a linking adverb which connects and contrasts ideas between two sentences. It indicates that one event is going on at the same time as another: • •
Slice and brush the aubergines with oil and bake in the oven till soft. Meanwhile, melt some butter in a small pan… Why don't you prepare the boats ready for the water?Meanwhile, I'll check to see that we've got enough oars.
a while = a short time Note that when while functions as a noun, it is nearly always used with an indefinite article: • •
I haven't seen you around for a while. Where have you been? Let's just wait a little while longer. He's bound to turn up eventually.
'while' and 'whereas' Ben Tang, a Chinese student studying in the UK asks: How can I use the conjunctions: while and whereas?
While to introduce a time clause: While can be used in a number of different ways. We use it, first and foremost, when we want to talk about things that happen simultaneously. In this sense, it is similar to ‘as’ and ‘when’. All of these conjunctions can serve to introduce a longer background situation which started before the shorter action. Consider the following and, at the same time, note the use that is made of the past continuous in these contexts. • • •
'I completed the crossword as I was talking on the phone.' 'I remembered that I had a letter to post when I was walking past the post box.' 'While I was reading the newspaper, my wife was ironing my shirts.'
As you can see from the above examples, while is particularly useful if we are discussing long actions and wish to draw attention to the duration of the activities. Consider the following: • •
'I’ll prepare breakfast while you’re having a shower.' 'While I was recovering in hospital, my wife was enjoying a holiday in Cyprus.'
Note that if the subject is the same in both clauses, a participial construction may be used, particularly in written English. Compare the following:
'She completed her first novel while working for the local newspaper.' 'She completed her first novel while she was working for the local newspaper.'
while / whereas to link two ideas that contrast with each other: Note that while does not always refer to time. It is also used to balance two ideas that contrast with, but do not contradict, each other. In this sense, it is similar to whereas. Consider the following: • • •
'While I like all types of fish, my girlfriend always chooses meat dishes when we go out to eat.' 'Some married couples argue all time, whereas others never do.' 'We would always choose somewhere in the mountains for a holiday, while our children always want the seaside.'
Note that whilst we would use while or whereas within sentences to contrast two ideas, across sentences we would need to use ‘however’ or ‘on the other hand’. Compare the following: • • • •
'In the UK the hottest month of the year is usually July, whereas in southern Europe the hottest period is usually in August.' 'In the UK the hottest month of the year is usually July. On the other hand, in southern Europe the hottest period is usually in August.' 'Britain secured only one gold medal in Atlanta four years ago, while at Sydney 2000 we ended up with eleven.' 'Britain secured only one gold medal in Atlanta four years ago. At Sydney 2000, however, we ended up with eleven.
'yet' as conjunction and adverb
Viji Palaniappan from India writes: Yet is similar in meaning to but. But people also say: not yet. This is confusing. ~Did you receive the book? ~Not yet. The problem is that yet can be used as an adverb as well as a co-ordinating conjunction. Let’s look at its function as a conjunction first of all. yet as conjunction You are right, Viji. Yet is similar in meaning to but. But is a co-ordinating conjunction used to contrast two statements: •
They can speak Arabic but they can’t read or write it.
He tried to book a holiday on Bali, but he didn’t have enough money to pay for it.
We use yet as the preferred alternative to but when we want to emphasise that contrast to achieve a stronger effect: • •
She can play the piano very well, yet she can’t read music at all. The yachtsman had lost all sense of direction, yet he refused to give up in his attempt to cross the Atlantic.
We sometimes put and in front of yet when it is used in this way or use even so as an alternative to yet or and yet: • •
She can play the piano very well, and yet she can’t read music at all. The yachtsman had lost all sense of direction. Even so, he refused to give up in his attempt to cross the Atlantic.
However and nevertheless are sometimes used as more formal alternatives to yet: • •
He had no chance of winning the race or even of coming in the first six. However, he kept going and crossed the finishing line ahead of his team mates. He had not slept for three nights. Nevertheless, he insisted on going into work the following day.
In colloquial spoken English, mind you, but still or still are sometimes used as less formal alternatives to yet: • • •
The weather was lousy. It rained every day. Still, we managed to enjoy ourselves. I don’t like the work very much. Mind you, the people I work with are very nice. You can be very annoying at times, but we still love you.
yet as adverb When yet is used as an adverb, it is used to talk about something over a period of time, up till now: • •
Is lunch ready yet? Are the Hunts back from their holiday yet?
It is often used with the negative when you are saying that up to the present time something has not happened. It is normally used with present and perfect tenses, though in American English you will sometimes hear it used with the past tense. Still can sometimes be used as an alternative to yet. When we use still in this way, it is emphatic. We are saying that we are very surprised that it hasn’t happened. Compare the following: •
Don’t eat the plums. They’re not ripe yet. / They’re still not ripe.
• • •
I haven’t been to Wales or Scotland yet, though I’ve visited England many times. I still haven’t been to Wales or Scotland, even though I’ve visited England many times. Did you phone him yet? No, sorry. I forgot.
As we can see from the above examples, yet is normally used with negative sentences and in questions, but it is sometimes used in affirmative sentences in a more formal style: • •
I have yet to meet the man I wish to marry. We have yet to learn whether there will be any survivors from the earthquake.
'yet' and 'but', 'so' and 'hence', 'for example' and 'for instance' Nick Leung asks: What's the difference between
1. yet and but; 2. so and hence; 3. for example and for instance 1. Used as a conjunction, yet is similar in meaning to but, but it has a stronger effect on the reader or listener. Compare: • •
'The sun was shining and there was no wind, yet it was unusually cold.' 'The sun was shining and there was no wind, but it was unusually cold.'
There is perhaps more of a surprise associated with the former statement. Note that you can put and in front of yet when it comes at the beginning of a clause, but of course this is not possible with but, so you can say: •
'The cyclists were tired and hungry, all but exhausted, (and) yet they refused to give up in their attempt to finish the race.'
2. So as a linking word between two clauses or sentences is similar in meaning to hence, though hence is much more formal. Compare: • •
'Paul didn't have enough money for the train ticket, so he had to go to the cashpoint before he could travel.' 'It is clear to us now that drug abuse can never be beneficial to the user; hence we seem to have got it wrong in suggesting that it may sometimes be acceptable.'
In spoken English, we often begin a sentence with so, thus making a link with what has been said before:
'We couldn't find the key, so we couldn't open the door.' 'So what did you do?'
3. For example and for instance are completely interchangeable, so it is just a matter of personal preference as to which you decide to use: • •
'There are a number of rules you must abide by. For instance, you may not use the swimming pool unsupervised.' 'You have all made silly mistakes on this trip. John, for example, failed to secure the boat properly and Adam took the jet ski out when the sea was far too rough.'
Prefixes and suffixes -ive, -ous, -ful, -ic, -able, -al, -y, -ible Anderson Braga Mendes from Brazil asks: I am an English teacher in Brazil and I am in doubt as regards the use of the suffix al. For example, in the sentence: ‘The Electrical Sector plans new measures for next year’ is it: • •
‘The Electrical Sector’ or ‘The Electric Sector’?
Is there any rule to solve this sort of problem? Is this kind of mistake common among native speakers of English? Adjectival suffixes: -ic and -ical We use ‘electrical’ to describe systems, industries, components and certain machines or devices. Consider the following:
• • • •
'Electrical appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers use a lot of electricity.' 'My new car has electrically-operated windows.' 'My house was full of electrical and electronic (note: not ‘electronical’) equipment.' 'The electrical and mechanical engineering industries are doing well at the present time.'
So in your example, Anderson, it would have to be: •
‘The Electrical Sector plans new measures for next year’.
We use ‘electric’ to describe things to do with current and voltage, simpler machines and devices and the atmosphere. Consider the following: • • •
'An electric fire in winter and an electric fan in summer were all I needed.' 'The electric wiring in this house needs to be renewed.' 'The atmosphere was electric when Tina Turner came on stage.
It very much depends upon context as to which one you use. Economic/economical is similarly difficult. If we are talking about ‘the economic situation’ or ‘the economic outlook’ of a country, i.e. where we are discussing ‘the economy’, then the adjectival suffix -ic is preferred: •
'The economic outlook in this country is now bleaker than at any time in the last ten years.'
However, if we are talking about making personal economies and saving money, we tend to use ‘economical’. ‘Economical’ also means using the minimum amount of time or energy. Study the following: • • • •
'This car is not very economical. It only does 15 miles to the gallon.' 'Storage heaters are extremely economical because they run on night-time electicity.' 'Politicians are invariably economical with the truth.' 'We wanted to make the most economical use of our time as we had only half a day there.'
Other adjectival suffixes are much more clear-cut. If we are discussing science and technology, there is no choice: the adjectival forms are quite clearly ‘scientific’ and ‘technological’: • •
'Scientific investigation revealed that the dinosaur footprints were from the Cretaceous period.' 'Japan is one of the most technologically advanced nations.'
Although he came from Genoa in Italy, Christopher Columbus is often thought of as a - FAME - Spanish explorer. To be left by the roadside bleeding to death is a - HORROR - way to die. Many people believe that a diet rich in vitamins is very - HEALTH -. It was such an - EXPENSE - present that I was too embarrassed to accept it. It is no longer - FASHION - to wear high platform heels. I am - HOPE - that she will leave hospital next week. We went to see an excellent photography - exhibition last week. Everybody was wearing - NATION dress at the parade.
Answers 1. famous 2. horrific 3. healthy 4. expensive 5. fashionable 6. hopeful 7. photographic 8. national
-ise or -ize, hyphens and The Lake Como... Massimo Vitale from Italy has three questions: 1. Since I prefer British English to American English, I would like to know if it is true that verbs (and thus their relative substantives) ending with -ize are more used in the USA, while the British prefer the corresponding ones ending with -ise? In a bilingual (Italian to English) dictionary I saw that there are really few verbs ending with -ise, like analyse, advertise, privatise, etc., while I could not find the corresponding -ise version of most important verbs ending with -ize (realize, organize, etc.); On the other hand I see them spelt as -ise in many newspapers, magazines, scientific reviews and even in your answers to previous questions. Please tell me if I should definitely convert to -ise. 2. Another question is this: what is the rule for hyphenating words, if there is any, in expressions like, e.g., high-quality performance, least-squares problem, etc., which you would not hyphenate if they were not used as adjectives ( 'that material is of a high quality', not 'high-quality'). How would one cope, for example, with an expression like 'high and low tide-like phenomena' or 'deep seated gravitational slope deformation phenomena'? 3. The last question concerns the use of articles before geographical names: Why does one say ;the river Thames' but also 'the Hudson river'? Why not also 'the lake Como' rather than 'lake Como'? Should one say 'Mount Etna' or 'the Etna Mount'? Why do the speakers of the BBC say 'the Kosovo conflict' rather than 'Kosovo conflict' (I am sorry for this last example, but I could not think of anything else at the moment)?
1. Taking your questions in order, it is generally true, Massimo, that the American preference for -ize is mirrored in British English by a general preference for -ise, so it is perhaps useful to standardise on one of these two patterns as far as possible. In a standard British dictionary - e.g. the Concise Oxford - you will often find that both options are possible in British English - 'realise' or 'realize', 'organsise' or 'organize' whilst for other entries -ize is listed as unmistakably American, e.g. 'analyse' = British English, 'analyze' = American English. If you have a preference for British English in this respect, I assume for the sake of consistency you will retain this preference for other spelling options, e.g. 'programme', not 'program'; 'colour', not 'color'; 'metre', not 'meter'; 'catalogue', not catalog'; 'traveller', not traveler'. When you are reading American English, it can be fun to spot the differences.
2.Compound adjectives are usually hyphenated, so we have 'a high-quality performance', 'a ten-dollar note', a blue-eyed boy'. With multiple compounds, it is usually the first two adjectives or the most adjective-like that are hyphenated, so we
have 'a deep-seated gravitational slope' to use your example, or 'a high-quality virtuoso performance'. Note also the pattern: 'part- and full-time jobs', 'high- and low-tide phenomena.' However, if adjectives are placed after the verb, they are usually not hyphenated. Compare 'an out-of-work actor', 'an up-to-date account' and 'He was out of work', 'She was up to date.'
3. Referring to geographical names or areas, we tend to use the definite article with: • • • • • • • •
seas (the Atlantic, the Pacific, the North Sea) mountain ranges (the Alps, the Andes) island groups (the British Isles, the West Indies) areas (the Midlands, the Lake District, the Middle East) rivers (the Danube, the Blue Nile, the Thames) deserts (the Gobi, the Sahara) hotels and pubs (the Red Lion, the Grand Palace) cinemas and theatres (the Playhouse, the Majestic)
We generally use no articles with: • • • • •
continents (Africa, South America, South East Asia) counties and countries (Oklahoma, Bulgaria, Nigeria) towns and principal buildings (Ely Cathedral, Oxford University) lakes (Lake Como, Lake Windermere, Derwent Water) mountains and volcanoes (Everest, Etna, Vesuvius)
Of course, there are always exceptions: The UK, The USA, The UAE, The Netherlands, The Hague. It is just a matter of learning them! job title suffixes
Ernesto Rocchetti from Italy writes: I've got a question for you. Is there any rule which tells us when to use ....er and when to use .....ist at the end of a job name? For example: painter or nutritionist
There are no rules, I'm afraid, although a number of patterns emerge. Unskilled or semi-skilled job-holders are often denoted with …er, whilst those in scientific or medical professions are often designated with …ist. But there are many exceptions. The …er suffix is very common, but so is …or. The …ist ending is also quite common, but so is …an. We also have …ant (accountant, shop assistant, civil servant,
flight attendant) …man (postman, fireman, dustman, barman, draughtsman, fisherman), …ess (waitress, hostess, Headmistress) …ee (trainee, employee) and …ive (representative, machine operative), etc. It is really a matter of leaning them and knowing them. Learn them in word families, as in these examples below. …er (but not only …er) •
Bob's a well-known local builder who employs two plumbers, three carpenters, a roofer, four electricians and half a dozen unskilled labourers.
If teachers, education officers, child minders and social workers had worked together, none of these children would have suffered abuse.
He's a writer - the author of four books about China, but he's also worked as a translator and interpreter, actor and journalist.
…or (but not only …or) •
The Managing Director delegated responsibility for the project to the supervisor, but he was a poor administrator and would never become a manager.
Note that noun and verb forms relating to common occupations ending in …er and … or are closely linked: teachers teach, writers write, actors act, supervisors supervise, directors direct, bus and truck drivers drive their buses and lorries, sailors sail, etc. Note also that the …er /…or suffixes are also used for machines and equipment that do a particular job: •
My kitchen is full of the latest gadgets: dishwasher, gas cooker with five burners, electric toaster, electric can opener, blender / liquidiser - you name it, I've got it.
My son's got all his stuff in his bedroom: DVD player, video recorder, camcorder, film projector.
…ist (but not only …ist) •
The whole family are musicians: Ed's a percussionist and pianist, Viola's a flautist and cellist and Barry's a French horn player. Their parents are both singers.
He's a doctor - a general practitioner, but he wants to become a specialist - a gynaecologist and obstetrician.
His older sister's a chemist / pharmacist, his younger sister's a speech therapist and his mother works as his receptionist and telephonist.
…an (both …ian and …man) •
Did you say you were an optician? ~ No, I'm a politician. I'm spokesman for international affairs and chairman of the refugee committee. My older brother is the parliamentary librarian. My younger brother's a magician.
In the above example, …man can refer to both men or women. Some people now argue that using …man is sexist and prefer to use spokesperson or chairperson. We obviously do not have the same problem with policeman and policewoman, although if we don't wish to specify the sex of the person, we can use police officer instead.
suffix (but not only - suffix) Note that there are a number of jobs and professions which do not have suffixes such as those outlined above. Here are a few of the most common: • • • •
In the Roman Catholic Church, bishops are senior to priests and in the Anglican Church rectors normally have wider responsibilities than vicars and curates. She's a nurse on a hospital ward but hopes to be promoted to sister and matron one day. He's pastry chef at the Dorchester now, but started out as a cook in a twostar hotel. His two passions were animals and flying: he never made it as a vet but became a successful pilot.
'Flammable' or 'inflammable'? Negative prefixes, un-, in-, im-, il-, dis-, etc. Garnet Teo from Singapore asks: what is the difference please between flammable and inflammable?
There is no difference in meaning and little or no difference in use. Chemicals, gases or cloth materials that are flammable / inflammable catch fire and burn easily. Perhaps, in usage, cloth materials are usually described as inflammable. So we might say: 'The material from which these car seats are made is highly inflammable. And conversely, certain gases or chemicals may be thought of as flammable. So we might say: 'Aircraft fuel is highly flammable'. But there are no hard and fast patterns. All this is somewhat strange, because usually when we add a prefix such as in- or un- or dis- to the beginning of adjectives, adverbs and verbs, we give them the opposite meaning.
Try this activity. Draw half a dozen columns on a large piece of paper and insert a prefix heading in each column. Perhaps leave one or two columns empty for new prefix headings as they occur to you. Your piece of paper should look something like this:
Then, over a period of time, write in as many adjectives with a negative meaning using these prefixes that you can think of. To help you get started, you might like to test your knowledge against these opposites. Print out this exercise, fill in the missing words and then check your answers against the answer key. The first one is done for you. Opposite of: happy:
We were really unhappy with the way the party was going
1. legal: There is no doubt that cannabis will remain an ______________ drug for the foreseeable future.
2. possible: It was quite _________________ for us to drive all the way from 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
Paris to Madrid in one day. successful: He made an ________________ attempt to climb the highest mountain in the range. responsible: To take the boat out with four children under the age of ten and with no life jackets on board was quite ________________ of him. appropriate: The dress she was wearing was quite _________________ for the occasion. polite: It was very ________________ of him to insult his mother in front of his aunt. religious: They were a completely _________________ family and I never thought that one day I would marry one of the daughters. honest: As a politician he was __________________ and it was not long before nobody trusted him. perfect: The goods were ________________ and had to be returned to the store we bought them from. contented: She was __________________ with her life and decided that things had to change.
Answers 1. An illegal drug
2. Impossible to drive such a distance in one day 3. An unsuccessful attempt 4. Irresponsible behaviour 5. A dress which was inappropriate for the occasion 6. Impolite behaviour 7. An irreligious family 8. A dishonest politician 9. Imperfect goods 10. Discontented with her life N.B. As you complete your table, you will probably find that you end up with many more adjectives in the un- and in- columns than in any others. Happy hunting!
Noun suffixes Yee from Hong Kong writes: I'm not sure how the suffix -ness works. Can we add -ness to all types of words to make nouns? Thanks for your answer. -ness (nouns from adjectives) -ness is one of a number of noun suffixes. It is used to make nouns from adjectives, although not every adjective can be modified in this way. Here are some common adjectives whose noun forms are made by adding -ness: happy
Note the spelling change to adjectives that end in -y: •
Everybody deserves happiness in their life. To be happy is a basic human right.
There was a lot of sadness in the office when people learned of his illness.
His readiness to have a personal word with everybody at the funeral was much appreciated.
He is such a forgetful person. Such forgetfulness cannot be excused.
If you want to work for such an organisation, you are expected to maintain a high standard of tidiness in your appearance.
-ity (nouns from adjectives)
-ity is another noun suffix that is formed from adjectives. Here are some adjectives whose noun forms are made in this way: possible
Note the spelling changes that occur in these conversions: •
Everything was possible, but the probability, or even possibility, of Jason returning home unharmed was remote.
I was given a great deal of responsibility in my new job.
It was a complex operation but such complexities are common in cardiac surgery.
Her behaviour was hilarious but hilarity is not easily tolerated in a convent school.
The scarcity of water was serious, but all natural resources were scarce.
-tion / -sion (nouns from verbs) -tion, or, less frequently -sion (both pronounced with a 'sh' sound on the initial letter) are noun suffixes that are used to make nouns from verbs. Here are some common verbs whose noun forms are made by adding -tion: admit
Note that adjustments that are necessary to the spelling in each case: •
He admitted he had lied and this admission landed him in court.
The dress will have to be altered and I'm going to have the alteration done professionally.
I informed the police that I had seen one of the robbers in Margate and this information led to the arrest of the gang.
I decided to give myself up. The decision was easy. My description was in all the newspapers. And I had been on the run for three weeks.
Multiplication is the easiest part of arithmetic - much easier than addition, subtraction or division.
-ment (nouns from verbs and adjectives) -ment is another suffix that is used to make nouns from verbs and occasionally from adjectives:
Enjoyment is the most important thing in life and you simply don't know how to enjoy yourself.
You will need to replace the broken part and unfortunately replacements cost £350.
I don't know if I shall be appointed to the job but I have an appointment to see the manager this morning.
I had arranged to be there early so that all the arrangements would be in place by the time Yuan arrived.
Everyone was quite merry by now. Such merriment had not been seen in my mother's house for a long time.
-ance / -ence (nouns from adjectives and verbs) -ance and -ence are suffixes that are used to make nouns from adjectives and sometimes from verbs: absent
Her absence was not noticed during the silence of prayer.
The importance of independence for teenagers should not be underestimated.
Admittance to the theatre is not permitted once the show has started.
His appearance did not permit him to be admitted.
His existence as a writer was threatened when people stopped buying his books.
more restrictive noun suffixes (nouns from nouns) -ship (abstract nouns denoting different kinds of relationships) relationship
His friendship with Carole slowly turned into a relationship.
I'm going to go into partnership with SIP and that will automatically give me membership of the golf club.
-hood (abstract nouns denoting different kinds of 'families')
Childhood and motherhood/fatherhood are two very important stages in our lives.
The neighbourhood was extremely quiet and the priesthood was attractive to many in this peaceful environment
'Sugarfree' or 'sugarless'? When to add 'less' and when to add '-free' to form an adjective Izida Mladenova from Bulgaria asks: I find it a great idea to help people with their English via the Internet. So my question is: What's the difference (if any) between the adjectives ending in -less and in -free (Is the chewing gum 'sugarless' or 'sugarfree'?) In your particular example, chewing gum, breakfast cereal, or food in general can often be described as 'sugarless' or 'sugarfree'. Whenever you form the adjective by adding the suffix -less or -free, you are describing something as not having or not affected by the thing mentioned. But I can only think of one other example (although there must be more) where they can be used quite interchangeably in this way, as in: •
'This piece of work was quite error-free. It was an errorless piece of work.'
Normally, usage prescribes one OR the other. In the following examples, only one is possible. Test your knowledge by using either less or -free in each example. Check your answers with those below.
1. There are many home people sleeping rough on the streets of London. 2. The whole journey was trouble and we arrived at our destination on time. 3. There were so many duty goods in the airport shop that we just don't know where to begin.
4. It was a completely meaning exercise and they made no progress in their 5. 6. 7. 8.
work. When there is never any opportunity of being released, prisoners are power The operating theatre was completely germ environment. Some of the runners tired very quickly, but others among them appeared quite tire It is doubt the case that this prisoner will be extradited.
Answers homeless people trouble-free journey duty-free goods meaningless exercise powerless prisoners germ-free environment tireless runners doubtless the case Note that the suffix 'less' or '-free' is normally added to nouns to form the adjective. In the penultimate example, it is added to the verb 'tire' and in the final example, 'doubt' can be viewed as either noun or verb. What about 'careless' and 'carefree' you might ask. These are both possible. Indeed they are, but note that they are not alternatives. They are quite different in meaning. A 'careless person' is someone who does not take very much care over what he is doing, whereas a 'carefree person' is someone who has no worries. You will have noticed that the suffix '-free' is usually hyphenated and is a stressed syllable (unlike 'less'). However, in two of the above examples, 'sugarfree' and 'carefree', there is normally no hyphen, at least in the examples I have seen.
Prepositions & prepositional phrases time and place phrases with at, in and on A number of you (Kirill from Russia, Cintia from Brazil and Christine from Austria) have been asking about accurate use of the prepositions on, at and in with time and place phrases. at for time For clock times we use at, but not usually in the question: What time are you leaving for Germany? ~ I shall try to leave at three o' clock.
on for time
For days, dates and times like Sunday evening or Saturday morning, we use on: I usually do my homework on Sunday evening; on Saturday morning I'm normally at the gym. Can we do it on Thursday? ~ No, not on Thursday. I'm in Leeds all day on Thursday. My birthday is on 26th December and then Mark arrives on 27thDecember. (Note that we write on 27th December, but we say on the 27th of December.)
in for time For centuries, years, seasons, months, weeks, and for time phrases such as in the afternoon, or in the evening we use in: In the 17th Century, 200,000 people were executed in America for practising witchcraft. Brazil first won the World Cup in 1958 and then again in 1962, but in 1966 it was England's turn. I prefer to take my holidays in the spring and autumn and work in summer when everybody else is on holiday. I've got my final exams in May. When in May? In the final week of May. I work best in the morning. I'll work again in the evening if I have to, but I prefer to relax in the afternoon. (But note we say at the weekend, at Christmas, at Easter and at night.) Note also subtle the difference in meaning between the expressions in time (which means before a given time) and on time (which means exactly at that time): The 7.53 is always on time, but yesterday it was late. I couldn't get there in time for the beginning of Jo's concert and missed the opening number. zero prepositon with time phrases Note that usually no prepositions are used with time phrases beginning with next, last, this, every, all, any: What are you doing this afternoon? ~ I'm busy this afternoon, but we could do it next week, if you like.
I work from home every Thursday. I'm at home all afternoon tomorrow, so any time would be convenient. at for place We use at to specify position at a point: He failed to stop at the traffic lights and went through the light on red. I was waiting for at least half an hour at the station, but no train came. I never seem to have any money at the end of the month. ~ You shouldn't worry about that - I never have any at the beginning of the month. on and in for place: We use in to specify position inside larger areas such as containers, rooms, towns, countries, etc and we use on to specify position on a line or continuum. Compare the following: I live in Ostrava. ~ Is that in Slovakia? ~ No, it's in the Czech Republic. Have you seen my yellow T-shirt? ~ Yes, it's in the wardrobe ~ Whereabouts in the wardrobe? ~ It's on the fourth shelf at the front. ~ Did you find it? ~ Yes, it was on the bottom shelf at the back. They have lots of family photographs on the walls on the landing, but no curtains at any of the windows. I'll meet you at the theatre. ~ Where exactly? ~ In the foyer at 7.15. Prepositions 'at', 'on', 'in'
Javier Balsells from Spain asks: Why, when you are on the beach you walk in the sand? But when you are in the street, you walk on foot? Is there any logical rule to it? Poliang Lin in the USA asks: Do we say we read something in a newspaper, or on a newspaper? Pilar Velarde in Peru asks: What are the rules for using to and at? Why is it that you say: I will meet you at the bank and I will go to the bank? Weena Kanagpon from Thailand asks: Which is correct: in the street or on the street? And how about at the village or in the village?
At, on and in are the main prepositions in English indicating position. And I think there is some logic for the preference for one of them over the other two in given situations, Javier. Generally speaking: • • •
in is used to specify position inside larger areas; on is used to specify position on a line or continuum; at is used to specify position in a larger place.
Compare the following: • • •
'They were walking on the beach.' 'They were playing in the sand.' 'They were lying on the warm sand, reading their books.'
In the first example, we imagine people at a certain point on their walk along the beach; in the second example a group of children surrounded by sand and having fun in the sand, and in the third example, older children or adults lying on top of the sand, so on is most appropriate here.
1. In your example, Javier, of people walking in the sand, one imagines soft sand, which their feet sometimes disappear into, but if you said on the sand, we would imagine it as hard sand which their feet do not sink into. Both on and in are therefore possible alternatives in this example. As we can see, use of an appropriate preposition sometimes depends on how you think about it. 2. In your example, Poliang, we read about things in a newspaper. To find what we are looking for, we usually have to open the newspaper and look inside. Therefore in is the most appropriate preposition. Compare the following: •
'I saw it on BBC World, heard about it on the BBC World Service and then read about it in the Guardian Weekly.'
3. In your example, Pilar, 'I will meet you at the bank' the precise location remains vague to the reader. It could be anywhere inside or outside the bank, although the two people who are arranging the meeting obviously know exactly where they are going to meet and do not need to specify it further. Compare the following: • •
'I bumped into him at the supermarket.' (Precise location unspecified) 'I bumped into him at the checkout in the supermarket.' (Precise location specified)
4. In your example, Weena, it depends upon perspective, really, Weena. Compare the following: • •
'There were crowds of people on the streets.' 'In the street where I live there are speed bumps every fifty yards.'
In the first example, we imagine someone surveying the crowds from a distance and in the second example the perspective is from inside the street. Prepositional use for common nouns without articles
Ilham Sarukhanov from Azerbaijan writes: I'm slightly confused whether to use the preposition at before home or not. I've read the following sentence recently: I am likely to be late home this evening. But as a rule in this situation we use the preposition at before home. Is the above sentence wrong? Home / at home Your sentence is fine, Ilham. Home in your example is behaving like an adverb expressing direction. We do not need a preposition with home when it is used with any verb referring to direction: •
I shall be arriving / going / coming / leaving home late this evening.
Note that most verbs expressing direction require the preposition to before the noun, but not home. Compare the following: • • • •
I made my way to the mosque before sunrise. I ran all the way to the theatre so that I wouldn't be late. I'm going to walk to work from now on. It's healthier. I arrived at the harbour just as the boat was leaving.
Once you arrive home, you are then at home and no more direction is suggested, so at is then the appropriate preposition to use with home: •
Will you be at home tonight or are you going out? ~ No, I'll be at home. ~ I'll pop round and see you then.
However, even here, at is often omitted, especially in American English. No article with common nouns Note that there are a number of common fixed expressions with prepositions involving everyday time and place nouns where no article is required: after school / at school / before school / from school /in school to school after university / at university / to university in bed / out of bed / to bed at home / from home / go home / leave home
after work / at work/ before work / from work / to/into work /leave work from town / in town / out of town/ to/into town after breakfast* at breakfast* before breakfast* for breakfast* to breakfast* * OR: lunch, tea, dinner, supper by bike/car/bus/taxi/tube/train/plane/boat - BUT on foot •
More and more people work from home these days at least one or two days per week.
I'm going into town this afternoon. Do you want me to get you anything?
I find it difficult to get out of bed, but always exercise for half an hour before breakfast, have fruit juice and muesli for breakfast and then walk to work.
At school I studied biology, geography and English, but at university I'm going to study psychology.
It's quicker on foot or by bike. It will take you ages to get there if you go by car.
However, if you are referring to a specified breakfast, bed, school, piece of work etc, the definite article will normally be required: •
The bed I slept in last night was most uncomfortable.
The lunch you prepared this morning was delicious.
I'll meet you outside the school at eight thirty.
The work that you did on the Tudors was excellent.
The car you sold me for £500 is unreliable.
The difference in use between 'because', 'as', 'since' and 'for'
Agnes Leyen asks: Could you please tell me the difference (in use) between because, as, since and for. I think it's very confusing. The present perfect is often used with since and for to denote periods of time up to the present. (Note that we do not use present perfect with expressions that refer to
a time period that has finished, i.e. 'last week' or 'the day before yesterday'. Here the simple past is used: 'I went to the cinema three times last week.') If you use since with the present perfect or present perfect continuous, you are signalling when something started. If you use for, you are signalling how long something has been going on. Compare: • •
'She has been living in Holland since the summer of 1992.' 'She has been living in Holland for the last nine years.'
That is one use of since and for. But since and for can also be used in a similar way to as and because to give the reason for an action or a situation. However, there are important differences between them. Because is used when the reason is the most important part of the sentence or utterance. The because clause usually comes at the end: •
'I went to Spain last summer because I wanted the guarantee of sunshine on every day of my holiday.'
As and since are used when the reason is already well known and is therefore usually less important. The as or since clause is usually placed at the beginning of the sentence: • •
'As the performance had already started, we went up to the balcony and occupied some empty seats there.' 'Since John had already eaten, I made do with a sandwich.'
For suggests that the reason is given as an afterthought. It is never placed at the beginning of the sentence and is more characteristic of written, rather than spoken English: •
'I decided to stop the work I was doing - for it was very late and I wanted to go to bed.'
When to use 'with regard to' and when to use 'regarding' Gauss from germany asks: I am completely confused by the following relationship terms. Would you please give me a precise explanation and some proper examples? Are they the same or similar in meaning and in use? 1. in relation to / with relation to 2. with regard to / regarding 3. in connection with 4. concerning
They are very similar in meaning and use. The key issue, as you suggest, is to know when and how to use them. These expressions are sometimes known as 'discourse markers'. 'Discourse' is the term used to denote pieces of speech or writing that are longer than a sentence. They are 'markers' because they help to point out the structure of discourse. They make clear the connection between what we are going to say and what has come earlier. They are used to focus attention and to signal what we are going to talk about. Such discourse markers will often be found at the beginning of a sentence. They are all fairly formal in tone and characteristic of formal or written discourse. For an example, let us eavesdrop on this business meeting. The personnel manager of a company is responding to questions from members of staff. •
'There are two major issues on today's agenda which we should move on to before lunch. One is the question of non-taxable allowances and the other is bonus or productivity payments. Now, with regard to/in connection with/ concerning the former, the position of this organisation is quite clear...'
You could also add 'with reference to' as a further alternative and this would perhaps be most formal of all. This expression is frequently used at the beginning of business letters: •
'Dear Ms Irvine, With reference to your fax of yesterday, I am pleased to inform you that...'
Note that expressions like as far as... is/am/are concerned and as regards link discourse in a similar way, but these are slightly less formal and more characteristic of spoken discourse: •
'There is no doubt that in this country infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and diphtheria are on the increase, but as far as whooping cough is concerned / as regards whooping cough, there are clear signs that it is on the wane.'
The expression As far as I'm/we're concerned,... is also used colloquially to indicate that you are stating your own position on something: • •
'As far as we were concerned, there was no point in remaining at the site any longer.' 'As far as I'm concerned, you can go to Italy for Christmas. I shall be quite happy here at home.'
A final note about use of concerning. When placed later in a sentence, it is sometimes used as an alternative to about or regarding: •
'He refused to answer any questions concerning his private life.'
'There was much discussion in Parliament concerning the admission of homosexuals to the armed forces.'
A question from Cindy in Taiwan: Hello, I am Cindy Wang from Taiwan. I searched your archive and did not find a comparison between prepositions 'under', 'below' and 'beneath'. Could you kindly explain? Catherine Walter answers: Hello Cindy. This is a good question and I'm sure that a lot of people have asked themselves this question. I can give you a general answer because vocabulary tends to be a bit fuzzy around the edges, but here goes. First of all, to make the difference between 'under' and 'below'. Both of these words can mean 'in a lower position than', so there's a sense in which they mean the same thing. But we use them sometimes in different circumstances, for example, if you're talking about something being covered by something, we use 'under'. So, 'I hid the key under a rock'. Or, 'officials said there was nothing under President Bush's jacket'. You use 'below' when you're talking about something that's not physically immediately under, or not necessarily immediately under. So you say, 'below the surface of the water'. That might be anywhere below the surface of the water, not necessarily just touching it. Or, 'twenty miles below the earth's surface', definitely not immediately under it. And, by extension, we say things like, 'below the poverty line'. We also use 'under' when we're talking about 'younger than' or 'less than'. So, 'under a dozen times', 'under the age of ten'. Whereas we use 'below', if we're visualising a kind of vertical scale. So, 'below sea level', 'below average', 'an IQ below 80', 'radio waves below 22 kHz'. There are a number of fixed expressions, so, for example, a lot of expressions about what's happening while something else is going on, or because of certain conditions, or controlled by something or someone. So we say, 'under construction', 'under fire', 'under attack', 'under arrest', 'under these conditions', 'under scrutiny', 'under pressure', 'under the Ceausescu regime'. All of those form a kind of a family. So what about 'beneath'? Well, 'beneath' is basically more literal, or formal, and we use it in many of the same senses. But there are lots of fixed phrases, and so what you want to do is just read a lot and note when one is used and when the other is used. I hope those will give you some general guide lines, and that you'll enjoy keeping learning about these three fascinating words.
prepositions in time expressions
Lydia from China writes: How can I finish this sentence?
The First World War ended at 11 a.m. ...... the eleventh day ....... the eleventh month in 1918. This often quoted sentence reads like this: •
The First World War ended at 11 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.
at / around / about / by We use at when we are discussing precise times, weekends and public holidays: • • •
What time does your train get in? ~ It gets in at five twenty five. Let's meet at Waterloo Station at the end of platform one at five thirty. What are you doing at the weekend? ~ I'm going to see my parents at Easter, but I've got no plans for next weekend.
We use around or about when we want to indicate approximate times: • •
When does his train get in? ~ Around / About ten o' clock usually, but you can never be sure these days! What time should I come? ~ Come about / around eight.
We use by to indicate at or before, not later than. It can also suggest progression up to a certain time: • •
You must be here by / not later than 10.45 if we want to catch the eleven o' clock train. By the time I arrived home, both children were in bed and asleep.
on We use on when we are discussing particular days and in the expression on weekdays: • • • • •
My daughter's birthday is on 29th February. She was born on 29th February 2000, so she won't be one till 29th February 2004! My aerobic classes are on Tuesday evenings. Peter's tennis lessons are on Thursdays at lunchtime. On weekdays I get up at seven, but at weekends I lie in until nine.
Note that we can write dates as 29th February 2002 or 29 February 2002. In formal letters it is usually the latter. When we are speaking though we usually say: the 29th of February 2002. till / until
Both till and until mean up to the time indicated or up to the time when. Note that they can both be used as conjunctions introducing clauses as well as prepositions introducing time phrases: • • •
Can you work today till seven? ~ No, I'm sorry. I have to leave at five. Until Tom met Jane, he had always visited his mum at weekends. Can you stay over till Monday morning? ~ OK. But I'll have to be gone by six thirty.
in We use in when we are discussing parts of the day or longer periods: • • • •
I'm happy to work in the morning, but I always have a snooze in the afternoon. I don't mind working in the evening, but I hate to get up in the night. These fox cubs were born in the spring. ~ In April or May? ~ I'm not sure. In April, I think. They'll be ready to leave home and fend for themselves in about three weeks from now.
during We can use during when we are discussing something happening between the beginning and end of an activity: • • • •
In / During summer, I try to have a nap at some point during the afternoon. But I never bother with siestas during autumn, winter or spring. Could you please try not to interrupt me during this meeting? There's an answer phone message from John. He must have phoned during lunch.
zero preposition Note that there are some time expressions, typically involving all, some, any, each, every, this, that, last, next, where no preposition is needed: • • •
The last time we met was at Sheila's birthday. Try not to leave it so long next time. Where were you last Tuesday? ~ Sorry, I was out, but I'll be in all this week. Feel free to call any evening. How often do you text message your sister? ~ Every day. Sometimes twice a day.
'On', 'in' or 'at' midnight? This week we have two questions about the use of prepositions to indicate time.
Phoebe Chiang from Taiwan writes: We use in for longer periods of time. We also say: 'in the morning', 'in the afternoon' and 'in the night'. Why can't we say: 'in the noon' or 'in the midnight'? And Marta Fernandez from Spain asks: When do we use in and when do we use on with dates? We say 'in September', but can we say 'on September the 29th'? 'at' with time phrases We use at to specify a particular point in time. Both noon and midnight are very short periods. When the clock strikes twelve, it will be midnight. We would therefore say: at midnight or at noon. Consider these further examples: • • • • •
'We'll meet you in front of the cinema at a quarter to eight.' 'I have to get up at six thirty on weekdays.' 'I like to spend some time with my family at Christmas and at Easter.' 'What are you doing at the weekend?' He was born at the end of the 19th Century and died at the end of the 20th.'
Note that although both Christmas and Easter last for a few days, we prefer to think of them as a particular point in time and therefore use at when referring to them. 'At the weekend' follows a similar pattern, though Americans would say 'on the weekend.' 'in' with time phrases As you rightly say, Phoebe, we use in to specify periods of time, parts of the day, morning, afternoon, evening, or for longer periods altogether. Consider the following examples: • • • •
'My dad prefers to work in the morning. He's too tired to work in the evening.' 'My granny always has a cup of tea at four o' clock in the afternoon.' 'I can't take my holiday in the summer, so I'll take it sometime in the autumn.' 'Our first child was born in 1996, so he'll be five years old in June.'
We also use in to describe how much time will pass before something happens or to talk about how long something took or takes. Consider the following: • • •
'Do you mind waiting? I shall be ready in about ten minutes.' 'If you order it now, you'll receive it in about two weeks' time.' 'I can run one hundred metres in 12.5 seconds!' on with time phrases
We use on, Marta, to refer to particular days and dates, even repeated ones when plural forms are used. Consider the following:
• • •
'Could we meet on Sunday morning?' 'No, not on Sunday. I go to church on Sundays.' 'Why don't we have the meeting sometime in the afternoon on Thursday 5th April?' 'It's my birthday on 22nd April, so I'll ring you on 23rd.'
Note that when we specify dates in writing, we will tend to write them in one of the following styles: 21 April 2001
(as part of letter heading)
on 29th December I'm leaving for Paris
(within the body of the letter)
However, when we are speaking those dates, we will normally insert the definite article and the preposition of, as follows: I'm leaving for Paris on the twenty ninth of December. I'm leaving for Paris on December the twenty ninth. zero preposition with time phrases At/in/on are not normally used with time phrases starting with next, last, this, that, every, some, all. Consider the following: • • •
'Last year I made a cake for Jenny's birthday, but this year I'm going to buy one.' 'Are you free this morning? If not, I'll see you next week.' 'I'm at home all day tomorrow, so come round (at) any time.'
Finally, note that prepositions are often omitted from time questions starting with What...? or Which…? Look at the following examples: • •
'What time are you leaving?' 'At eight o' clock.' 'Which days are you busy next week?' 'I'm busy on Wednesday and Friday, but I'm free on Thursday.'
time expressions with 'next', 'last' and 'on'
Anid Galon from the Czech Republic writes: I have noticed that in the news to determine the day of some event they say: They will meet Sunday next week or It happened Friday... Do I mishear them or it it not possible to use on before the name of the day? on
We do sometimes omit on in time expressions in informal English, although I think it is more characteristic of American English than British English. So in your first example, Anid, both versions are possible. Compare the following: • •
They will meet on Sunday next week. They will meet Sunday next week.
Our wedding anniversary is the 22nd of October. Our wedding anniversary is on the 22nd of October.
We’re going to have a game of tennis Wednesday evening. We’re going to have a game of tennis on Wednesday evening.
Note that if we say: I’ll see you next Sunday week rather than I’ll see you Sunday next week, it is not the following Sunday that is intended, but the one after that! For your example of a time expression with the past tense, I think we would normally use one of the following formulations: • •
It happened last Friday. It happened on Friday.
'next' and 'last' Note the pitfalls when using next and last. We rarely use prepositions with time expressions involving next and last And there is a big difference in meaning and use between next and the next and last and the last. Compare the following: • • • • • • • •
I shall be working for the next week and then I shall be on holiday. ( = starting now for the next five or seven days) I shall do some work next week before I go on holiday. ( = some work, but not every day) I’m going to have driving lessons next year. ( = at some point during the year) For the next twelve months I shall be in Birmingham on a post-graduate course. ( = all 12 months, starting now) The last year has been hell! First the divorce, then I lost my job! ( = all 12 months up till now) I got divorced last year and I plan to remarry this year. ( = at some point during the year) I’ve had diarrhea for the last week, doctor. Can you give me something for it? I had diarrhea last week. Couldn’t eat anything for three days.
Note prepositional use and the use of the present perfect and past simple tenses in the above examples. 'this' or 'next'?
Finally, we sometimes need to clarify which date we are referring to if it is in the immediate future by using on or this instead of next. Compare the following: • • •
Let me see. It’s Wednesday now so I’ll give you a ring next Friday. ~ Do you mean this coming Friday or the following one? ~ No, no, this coming Friday. I’ll ring you this Friday. I’ll phone you on Friday.
prepositions by and from
Lilia from Bulgaria asks: When do we use by and when do we use from? For example, do we say: • •
The decision has been approved by the committee. OR The decision has been approved from the committee.
Thank you in advance for your explanation. 'by' with passive clauses In passive constructions, as in your example, the agent of the action is always introduced with the prepostion by, so the first one is correct. We could turn the passive sentence into an active sentence if we wanted to use from and say: •
This decision has received approval from the committee.
But for all passive clauses we need to use by when introducing the person or thing responsible for the action: • • •
The walker was killed by a falling tree. All the roofs on the houses in the village were ripped off by the tornado. The visiting speaker was introduced by the club chairman.
The only exception to this is when we are talking about the tools used for the operation rather than the agent bringing about the action. When we talk about the tools used for an action we say with rather then by. Compare the following: • • •
She was killed with a kitchen knife. She was killed by an unknown assassin. The palace was built with red bricks from the local brickyard.
The palace was built by a famous architect.
'by' to express time By is used to indicate time up to a particular point: • • •
I want you to be home by eleven o’ clock (= before eleven OR at eleven at the latest). By the time I arrived, everybody had left. By the end of the lecture, nearly everyone was asleep.
by or near? By also means very close to. For example: •
Our house is quite close to the sea, but I would really like to live right by the sea.
'by' in common phrases By is used in a number of common phrases. Note the following: • • • •
Are you going to deliver that parcel by hand, or will you send it by post? Do you want to pay for this in cash, by cheque or by credit card? You can get there by air, by road, by rail or by sea, but however you travel, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I have learnt this piece by heart and don’t need to have the music in front of me.
Note, however, if we put a determiner in front of the noun, it is no longer a set phrase and the preposition changes. Compare the following: • • •
Why don’t you send it by email? It’s quicker. I learnt about it in an email from Richard. Did she come by car? Yes, she did. She turned up in a brand new sports car!
from or since? The preposition from indicates the starting point of an action. It is often used with to or till which indicates the finishing time of the action: •
I normally work from nine to five, sometimes from ten till six.
You can drop by at any time during the afternoon. I shall be here from two onwards. From now on you must wear a suit and a tie whenever you go to the office.
Note that since is used with the present perfect or past perfect tense to indicate the starting point of the action. With other tenses we normally use from. Compare the following: • •
The office is open from eight o’ clock, but I don’t usually arrive before nine. I have been working on the project since the beginning of September and hope to finish it by the end of October.
'despite', 'in spite of', though', 'although' and 'even though'
Reza Fahimi from Tehran asks: I am a beginner in English and want to know about differences between although and in spite of. Is their meaning equal? B Polat from Turkey asks: I would like to ask if you can explain the differences between the words despite, in spite of and although, though, even though by example. They are similar in meaning, yes. They all serve to record something that is surprising or unexpected. But the difference in usage is that although, though and even though are all conjunctions, whilst in spite of and despite are both prepositions. So usage requires: in spite of + noun although + clause despite + noun though + clause even though + clause Although and though can be used in the same way. Though is perhaps more common in informal speech and writing, whereas although can be used in a wide variety of styles. Compare: • • •
'Our new neighbours are quite nice, though their dog is a bit of a nuisance.' 'She insisted on keeping her coat on, although it was extremely warm in the house as the central heating was on.' 'Although she was commended for completing the Millennium Dome project on time and within budget, management felt that it was now time for a new person with different talents to take over.'
Though is often used with even in order to give emphasis: •
'I managed to get good results in my exams, even though I went out four times a week when I was supposed to be revising.'
Whilst despite might be thought more formal than in spite of - it is, after all, one word rather than three - there is really very little difference in usage between the two: • •
'Despite the appalling weather, they succeeded in walking to the top of Ben Nevis.' 'They decided to get married in spite of the huge differences in their ages.'
So, to summarise: despite and although: similar meanings, but different syntax required. Compare: • • • •
'Although it was raining heavily, we finished the game of football.' 'We finished the game of football in spite of the heavy rain.' 'Despite his strong Welsh accent, we understood most of what he was saying.' 'Even though he had a strong Welsh accent, we understood most of what he was saying.'
One further word. Although, despite and in spite of are normally used as prepositions, they can also be used in adverbial constructions with -ing, thus: • • •
'I managed to pass my exams, despite going out four times a week during the revision period.' 'In spite of feeling terribly sick, I went to work every day that week.' 'Despite being severely handicapped, he managed to complete the race.'
marking time: during / for / by / until
Bertille from France writes: I'd like to know the differences in use between during and for. Sylwia from Poland writes: I can't distinguish the uses of until and by when referring to time. Please help me.
during We use during to talk about something that happens at one point within a period of time or to talk about an event that continues throughout a whole period of time. Compare the following: • •
I sometimes wake up during the night and then I can't go back to sleep again. I cried during the performance. It was such a sad play. During the school holiday period in the summer all the campsites are full. During wars food is often rationed.
When we are referring to a whole period of time, we sometimes use throughout as an alternative to during for emphasis: • •
Sugar and cheese continued to be rationed throughout the post war period. These hotels are usually fully booked throughout the summer season.
We sometimes use in as an alternative to during to talk about something that happens within a particular period of time: • •
I sometimes wake up in the night and can't get back to sleep again. In my fours years as head of this company I have only taken a holiday once.
If the activity continues for a period of time, we sometimes use over instead of during to describe the specified period: • •
Over the last few days, weather conditions have been steadily improving and a rescue now seems possible I don't intend to do very much over the summer - just relax!
for During tells us about the period when something happens. For tells us how long it continues or lasts: • • •
I was ill for three days during my holiday and couldn't go out at all. I'll pop in and see you for a few minutes at some point during the afternoon. I've been working for this company for twenty five years.
Take care not to confuse for with since. Since is also used to measure the duration of an activity, but it describes the starting point up to a given time and is most often associated with present perfect and past perfect tenses: • • •
I've been working for the BBC for a long time - since 1978. As you get older, it becomes more and more difficult to make friends. We haven't seen much of him since his marriage to Julie last summer.
Note from the above examples that for is used with a wider variety of tenses than since. until We use until or till to indicate that something continues up to a particular point in time and then stops: • • •
Don't bother saving me any supper - I shan't be home till late. We had to stay in the exam room until the end of the exam. We couldn't leave early even if we had finished. I had no umbrella so waited until the downpour was over before I left the shop.
We don't need to be at the stadium until the first race is over so we don't need to leave home till eleven o' clock.
by We use by to indicate that something will be achieved before a particular time or at that particular time at the latest. Note the contrast between by and until in the final examples below: • • •
We have to be at the stadium by midday, so we should leave home by eleven fifteen. She had learnt to play the piano by the age of nine. By that age she could play almost any tune you asked her to. She learnt to play the piano until she was nine years old. Then suddenly and without warning, she quit.
for and during Serj from Russia writes: My question is: I can say: For a few years my brother worked on the plant. Why can't I say this? During the few years my brother worked on the plant? 'for' to express length of time You are quite right, Serj. We use for as a preposition when we are talking about a period of time: • •
For a few years my brother worked on the plant. My brother worked at the factory for a few years.
We don't know exactly when it was and I don't know how old your brother is but it might have been in the 90s, the 80s or the 70s or even earlier and it lasted for two or three years. For can be used to describe a period of time in the past, present or future: • •
The English course that I'm attending lasts for three months. Then I shall be on holiday in Dublin for five days. Last year I went to Australia and stayed for six weeks.
However, if you use for with the present perfect or present perfect continuous tense, it indicates a period of time which started in the past and continues up to the present time:
My sister has worked as a vet for fifteen years now - since 1987. Those oak trees have been standing in Greenwich Park for centuries - since the 18th Century, I think.
Note that since is used to indicate the starting point of the action and for measures the period of time up to the present. during to express length of time We also use during as a preposition when we are talking about a period of time, but the meaning is different. During means (at some point) in the course of. Compare the following: • • • •
I saw not one duck on the lake during the whole of last summer. I don't know when exactly but he must have left during the night. I expect he'll phone me at some stage during next week. It must have rained here during the last fortnight as the ground is quite soft and damp.
Remember the difference by thinking that during tells us when something happens, for tells us how long it lasts. During does not work in your original sentence, Serj, because it introduces a subordinate clause starting with when or that and the sentence is incomplete. There is no main clause. • •
During the few years… During the few years (when / that) my brother was working in the factory…
If we add a main clause, the sentence will be complete and grammatically correct. •
During those years (when / that) my brother was working in the factory, I was studying at university.
Note that we can replace during…when or during…that with the conjunction while: • •
My brother was working on a farm while I was studying for my masters degree. While my brother was at home working on the farm, I was away at university.
'For' and 'to' Very often I confuse the uses of to and for when I want to express the idea of purpose. When should I use for and when must I use to? for + noun or to + infinitive
To talk about the purpose of an action, we use a for + noun construction or a to + infinitive structure. Compare the following: We stopped off at the Goose for a drink and then we carried on to embassy for dinner. I’m going to Brussels next week for an interview. I hope to work for the UN. Do you want to have a drink at the Goose before we go on to dine with the ambassador? I’ve come to Dublin to attend a seminar and to meet the new members of the faculty. But now I’m leaving for Rome. for + -ing To talk about the purpose of something, we use a for + -ing construction: - These double-strength paracetamols are good for getting rid of headaches. - Are they suitable for backache too? - What are these two knives used for? - This one is for cutting bread and that one is just for slicing meat. What…for? Note that What…for? can be used in questions to talk about the purpose of both actions and things: - You pinched me! What did you do that for? - I wanted to see if you were awake - What are these two buttons for? - The blue one is for gaining access to the main menu and the green one is for quitting teletext. giving reasons and explaining behaviour Note that the same constructions, for + noun and for + -ing, are used with thank, apologise and be / feel sorry: With be / feel sorry a to + infinitive structure is also possible. Compare the following: Thanks for the lift. Thank you for driving me home. South Western trains would like to apologise for the late arrival of this train and for the inconvenience this may cause you. He really should apologise for spitting in his face. That sort of behaviour is unacceptable, even on a football field. I’m sorry to have taken so long with this report. I’m sorry for taking so long with this report.
- I feel sorry for the cleaners. - I feel sorry for them too. Theyâ€™ve got the thankless task of cleaning up all this mess.
Note also the way in which the for + -ing construction is used to explain the reasons for the following actions: He was rewarded for handing in the purse. He was criticised for not coming forward as a witness to the accident. He was fined heavily for speeding on the motorway. He was sent to prison for falsifying the accounts. in order (not) to / so as (not) to + infinitive Note that to + infinitive is one of the most common ways of expressing purpose. When we want to be explicit or sound more formal we can also use in order to or so as to. This structures are especially common before negative infinitives, in order not to and so as not to: To get a better job I decided to take a computer course. In order to get a better job I decided to take a computer course. I left home early in order not to be late for the appointment. I left the house early so as not be late for the job interview.
Lim Chiu Lan from Malaysia asks about prepositional phrases: Would you be good enough to explain to me what is the difference between these prepositional phrases: good at and good in? Which of the following is correct: 1) 'I'm good at English' or 2) 'I'm good in English' and 1) 'I'm good at football' or 2) 'I'm good in football'?
To be good at and to be good in are often interchangeable, Lim, and there is no easy rule to follow. In simple statements, like the ones you have quoted, the standard form appears to be good at as in 'I'm not very good at football'. However, in this following sentence, to be good in seems more likely than to be good at, i.e: â€˘
'He was the best in the class in French, but in mathematics and chemistry he was not so good.'
This is perhaps because with other expressions or verbs denoting assessment or ranking, the preposition in would be required, thus: •
'In pharmacology she obtained/scored/gained/attained the highest marks.'
In front of / before / across
M Peres from Brazil writes: I would like to know the difference in use between in front of, before and across. Is it correct to say: he was sitting before me or do we have to say he was sitting in front of me? If it's incorrect to say: he was sitting in front of me, why do we say: the criminal was brought before the judge? Before / in front of (prepositions) Before is not normally used to refer to place. We normally use in front of to specify place the opposite of which is behind. Compare the following: •
Sam was sitting in front of my girlfriends in the cinema but behind my sister.
I was waiting patiently in the queue. In front of me there were about two hundred people and behind me a further three hundred.
Before is normally used as a preposition to indicate time. Its opposite of which is after: •
Your brother arrived at the church shortly after three, but I distinctly remember saying to everyone: "You must be in your seats at or before three o' clock".
Excuse me, I was here before you. I should therefore be in front of you in the queue.
However, before is used to refer to place when it indicates position in a list or when it means in the presence of somebody important: •
K comes before L in the alphabet, but after J. He had behaved so badly in school that he was brought before the headmistress.
I was accused of dangerous driving but rather than pay the fine, I elected to appear before the local magistrates.
Note that in these last two examples before means facing and not one behind the other.
Before (conjunction or adverb) Before is often used as a conjunction linking two clauses or as an adverb of time, meaning at some time before now. •
Give me a ring to let me know you are on your way before you leave the house.
Make sure you get to the church before the bride arrives.
Before she married Maurice, she went out with Austin for a couple of years.
He was certain we had met before, but I was equally sure we hadn't, for I had never been there before.
Within two minutes of it starting, I realized that I'd seen this film before.
Across (preposition) In American English, across from as in across the road from me or across the table from me is expressed in British English by the prepositions opposite or facing: •
She sat facing me across the table. (She sat across the table from me.)
They live directly opposite us in the green house. (They live across the road from us in the green house.)
In British English, across means from one side to the other, expressing movement, or on the other side of an imaginary line, expressing position: •
My older sister lives just across the road, but Jenny, my baby sister, lives right across the city, 60 minutes by Tube or two hours in the car.
Rather than walk twenty miles to the nearest bridge, we decided to swim across the fast-flowing river, unaware of the dangerous currents.
Across or through? Note the difference in use between across and through. Across suggests flat or open space, whereas through suggests a space which is closed with things on all sides: •
Although it was dark, I was not afraid of walking home through the forest.
The ice was quite thick and he experienced no difficulty in skating right across the lake.
We cycled across Bodmin moor and through a number of small villages.
'like' as verb and preposition
Jose Luis Luque studying English in the UK writes: Could you please tell me the difference between like as a verb and as a preposition? like Like as a verb is used mainly to talk about enjoyment, preferences and habits. It is perhaps not quite as strong in emotional terms as love, or be fond of or be keen on. Compare the following: • • • • • •
Do you like cross-country skiing? ~ Yeah, I quite like it now, but I still prefer downhill. When I’m making a cold drink, I always like to put the ice and slices of lemon in first. How did you like the pumpkin soup? ~ Oh, I liked it very much. I’ve got blackcurrant mousse for desert. Do you like blackcurrants? ~ Oh, I love them. He’s a very kind person. I like him very much, but I could never go out with him. I’m a very social person but I don’t like people following me around all the time.
Note that like is not normally used in the progressive form and cannot normally be used without an object: • •
What do you think of the conversation classes? ~ I like them. (NOT: I’m liking them.) Do you like garage music? ~ Yes, I do. OR: Yes, I like it. (NOT: Yes, I like.)
would like to = want to Take care not to confuse like with would like to. They have quite different meanings. Compare the following and note the structural differences when using them: • • • • •
I'd like to / I want to send this parcel by international recorded delivery, please. Are you interested in going to the match on Saturday. ~ Yes, I'd like to. / Yes, I want to. If you'd like to / you want to take your coat off, please do. It's rather hot in here. I would like to visit him in hospital, but my wife doesn't want to. She doesn't like hospitals. I would have liked to have seen John before he left for Canada, but Mary didn't want to.
Note that when used for requests and suggestions, would like to sometimes sounds slightly more polite than want to. like as preposition Like as a preposition with nouns or pronouns is used to express ideas of similarity or comparison. Compare the following: • • • • •
When she's on stage, she looks a bit like Britney, but she sounds more like Madonna. Like you, I prefer to eat my breakfast in the morning without engaging in small talk. It was only five o' clock, but it seemed like the middle of the night, it was so dark. These plants grow very well in hot countries, like Costa Rica and Venezuela. What's Bournemouth like as a seaside town? ~ It's a little bit like Brighton. Quite lively!
When should we use 'made of' and when should we use 'made from'? Do they have different meanings? 'Made of' / 'Made from'? Alex Gooch answers: Hi Pavel, thanks for your question. Actually, a student asked me the same question in class a couple of weeks ago - and just like you, I was a bit puzzled by this; I couldn't immediately work out what the rule was. But I talked it over with my colleagues ? the other teachers in the Teacher's Room - and eventually, we realised that this rule is really quite simple. Let's start by looking at some examples - I might say: "This shirt is made of cotton" "This house is made of bricks" OR "The keyboard I use on my computer is made of plastic." On the other hand, we might say: "Paper is made from trees." "Wine is made from grapes." OR "This cake is made from all natural ingredients." So, if you think about the first group of examples, you'll notice that there's a common theme - a common pattern. The cotton in the shirt is still cotton - it hasn't changed its form and become something else. In the same way, the bricks in the walls of the house - they're still bricks. They didn't stop being bricks when the house was made. And the plastic in my computer keyboard is still plastic. So we say: "The shirt is made of cotton."
"The house is made of bricks." "The keyboard is made of plastic." On the other hand, the trees in the example where we say: "The paper is made from trees." These trees are not trees anymore - they stopped being trees when they became paper. And if we say: "Wine is made from grapes." The grapes are no longer grapes - they've been changed into a different type of stuff - a different type of substance - in this case, wine. And the flour and the eggs and the sugar in the example about the cake; these have all changed their forms as well when they became cake. So this is the rule: If something keeps its form, we use 'made of'' But if the form is changed during the process of making, then we use 'made from'.
To meet/to meet with What is the difference between 'I will meet you' and 'I will meet with you'? Martin Parrott answers: Yes - well, firstly, well done Mustafa, well done for being really up-to-date, because of course 'I will meet with you' -- that 'with' there is a recent form, certainly in British English. It comes from American English, but I think in American English too, it's a fairly recent form. I will meet you There is a difference: I will meet you or I'll meet you, could mean all kinds of things. It could mean that we're going to have a meeting, and we're going to do some work together; but it could simply mean that's where we're going to see each other, and we're going to go and do something else afterwards. I will meet with you 'I will meet with you' does imply a number of things: it implies that it's quite formal; it implies that it's very professional reasons and it implies that somehow, we're going to collaborate on something ...and that it will go on for quite a long time. Which is the more common expression? I'll meet you is much more common. Personally, I love these new expression, and I use 'I'll meet with you' at every opportunity. However conservative people very often dislike, and disapprove of, these new expressions which come into the language -
and so I tend to be a little bit careful about who I'm talking to when I use expressions like this. I love it! Are there any other expressions that mean more or less the same thing? Are there any more colloquial expressions that people use to meet up with somebody else, with their friends? Well, it's not to meet up with their friends, but I think it's relevant. We often say 'I'll meet you halfway'. I'll meet you half way And if you meet somebody halfway, it's got nothing to do with actually meeting, it's got to do with negotiating. So, you want something, and I want something else then we can either fall out and do nothing, or we can both compromise and find a solution which involves both of us getting some of what we want, and not getting some of what we want - and in that case, what we talk about is meeting somebody halfway: 'I'll meet you halfway'. 'Meeting up'/'meet up' Of course, we talk about meeting up, and that's a very common expression: in fact it's what we call a phrasal verb, but you can meet up, or you can meet up with somebody - that's always for social reasons and it involves getting together, usually then to do something else, and it may involve not two people, but a large group of people. So, at the end of an evening of doing something socially, somebody might say â€˜when are we going to meet up againâ€™? To 'hook up' If you hook up with somebody you meet them. It's very colloquial. Usually young professional people use this, people in their twenties, professional people, who lead a very busy life. They don't have very much time to spend with anyone, and they say 'oh, I'll hook up with you sometime' - meaning getting into contact for a quick conversation which has some definite purpose. They will then move on and hook up with somebody else. To get in touch We often use the expression 'to get in touch with someone'. Now, that very often doesn't involve touching, or even seeing. It's very often a letter, or an e-mail, or a phone call, or a text message - but that has the sense of contacting somebody who you haven't had contact with for quite some time. Christmas in this part of the world of course is where we tend to get in touch with people that we don't see regularly and that just means sending them a card and it's really to let them know that we're still there - and thinking of them. Martin Parrott answers: Yes - well, firstly, well done Mustafa, well done for being really up-to-date, because of course 'I will meet with you' -- that 'with' there is a recent form, certainly in British English. It comes from American English, but I think in American English too, it's a fairly recent form. I will meet you
There is a difference: I will meet you or I'll meet you, could mean all kinds of things. It could mean that we're going to have a meeting, and we're going to do some work together; but it could simply mean that's where we're going to see each other, and we're going to go and do something else afterwards. I will meet with you 'I will meet with you' does imply a number of things: it implies that it's quite formal; it implies that it's very professional reasons and it implies that somehow, we're going to collaborate on something ...and that it will go on for quite a long time. Which is the more common expression? I'll meet you is much more common. Personally, I love these new expression, and I use 'I'll meet with you' at every opportunity. However conservative people very often dislike, and disapprove of, these new expressions which come into the language and so I tend to be a little bit careful about who I'm talking to when I use expressions like this. I love it! Are there any other expressions that mean more or less the same thing? Are there any more colloquial expressions that people use to meet up with somebody else, with their friends? Well, it's not to meet up with their friends, but I think it's relevant. We often say 'I'll meet you halfway'. I'll meet you half way And if you meet somebody halfway, it's got nothing to do with actually meeting, it's got to do with negotiating. So, you want something, and I want something else then we can either fall out and do nothing, or we can both compromise and find a solution which involves both of us getting some of what we want, and not getting some of what we want - and in that case, what we talk about is meeting somebody halfway: 'I'll meet you halfway'. 'Meeting up'/'meet up' Of course, we talk about meeting up, and that's a very common expression: in fact it's what we call a phrasal verb, but you can meet up, or you can meet up with somebody - that's always for social reasons and it involves getting together, usually then to do something else, and it may involve not two people, but a large group of people. So, at the end of an evening of doing something socially, somebody might say â€˜when are we going to meet up againâ€™? To 'hook up' If you hook up with somebody you meet them. It's very colloquial. Usually young professional people use this, people in their twenties, professional people, who lead a very busy life. They don't have very much time to spend with anyone, and they say 'oh, I'll hook up with you sometime' - meaning getting into contact for a quick conversation which has some definite purpose. They will then move on and hook up with somebody else.
To get in touch We often use the expression 'to get in touch with someone'. Now, that very often doesn't involve touching, or even seeing. It's very often a letter, or an e-mail, or a phone call, or a text message - but that has the sense of contacting somebody who you haven't had contact with for quite some time. Christmas in this part of the world of course is where we tend to get in touch with people that we don't see regularly and that just means sending them a card and it's really to let them know that we're still there - and thinking of them.
on/off Tamas from Hungary writes: I have two sentences: • •
vacationers reported seeing sharks just off the coast we have two full weeks off from school
I understand these sentences, but I'm not sure how to use the word off in examples like these. Could you please explain this usage of this word? off / on as prepositions Off functions as a preposition of position or movement and is the converse of on. We speak of getting on a bus and off a bus, taking things off the table and putting them on the floor. In your first sentence, Tamas, off appears in off the coast to describe something that is situated near or next to land, but which is not exactly on the coast. Consider these other similar examples: • •
We live just off The Avenue. Drive along The Avenue almost to the end and then turn off to the right into a little cul-de-sac. The Inner and Outer Hebrides are situated off the Western coast of Scotland.
Here are some examples of other common usages of off as a preposition: • • • • •
Did she jump off or fall off the cliff or did someone push her off? ~ Nobody knows! I'm off alcohol just now. A big celebration last Sunday. And it's put me off my food too. I think this crab pate has gone off, you know. It doesn't taste fresh any more. Have you heard? There's 20 % off all CDs at the music shop in Elm Street next Friday. You don't have to keep off the grass in this park. You can walk anywhere on the grass.
In your second sentence, Tamas, off describes time that is taken off work or off school typically because of illness, tiredness or holiday arrangements. Note that we do not need to say off from. One preposition, off, is enough here: • •
We're getting two extra days off school at the beginning of June for the Queen's Jubilee. I shall have to have a day off soon. I can't keep going like this all the time. ~ Why don't you take the afternoon off today?
expresssions with off We also speak about people being off-balance, off-colour, off-duty, doing things on the off-chance and having off days: • • • • •
I caught him completely off-balance and he didn't know what to say. She'd been off-colour for days, but there was no sign of any real illness developing. Could you just do this for me? ~ Sorry, love, I'm off duty at the moment. ~ When are you on again? I decided to take a detour into Paris on the off-chance that Amelie might be there. Brobbins, the club's leading striker, had an off day and missed three open goals.
phrasal verbs with off There are many common phrasal verbs with off, such as put off (= postpone), knock off (finish work), lay off (dismiss from work, usually temporarily), bring something off (complete something successfully), polish off (eat something quickly): • • • • •
I've been putting it off for weeks, but it's no good, I shall have to go to the dentists soon. Aren't you going to knock off soon? You've been staring into that computer screen all day. 700 workers will be laid off in the Belfast shipyards following a decline in orders. They had a wonderful time. I didn't think you'd be able to bring it off. I thought the Christmas cake would hang around for weeks, but they soon polished it off.
A question from Cecile Arnould in Belgium: I want to know the difference between - 'think of' and 'think about'.
Sian Harris answers: Hi Cecile and thanks for your question - prepositions are a very tricky area! This is also what's known as a collocation issue...which means we need to look at which words work best in partnership with 'think of ' and 'think about.'. Basically, 'think of' usually means 'imagine' whereas 'think about' tends to mean something closer to 'consider', so the differences would arise in certain contexts. For example, if I say
I'm thinking of a tropical beach, please don't interrupt me! I mean I'm imagining it or daydreaming about it. However, a sentence like 'they're thinking about whether to agree to the sale,' means they're considering the sale. In these cases, it's just natural usage patterns that tend to favour one form over another But when we are talking about people, we often tend to use them both in a similar way: For example, if my friend had an accident and went to hospital, I might send a card and some flowers with a message which could either read: 'I'm thinking of you,' or 'I'm thinking about you', and the meaning wouldn't be significantly different. I hope that helps Cecile - thanks for your question.
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