Monthly Archives: April 2013

The key to verbs

The section on verbs under the WORD tab is now complete. If you are studying language or want to know more about how language works – this is for you …

key 2 Unlock verbs:

          • 5 key facts you need to know about verbs
          • key terms that will help you to recognise and describe verbs
          • lots of exercises for practice with answers just one click away
          • and finally a look at verbs in context – a sports commentary, an extract from an autobiography and a News in Brief report 

It’s really important to be able to recognise and describe verbs, so have a look now!

Verbs

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How many ‘likes’ have you used today?

The like test – do you know you’re saying it?

The colloquial use of like in informal situations is pervasive – try counting how many the people around you use and you’ll find its frequency is high. The question is whether speakers are aware that they are using like – if you don’t know you’re saying it, then you won’t be able to choose alternatives in a formal situation!

And now for the grammatical explanations …

The word like is very versatile: it can be found in different positions in a sentence and it does different jobs.

Word classes

It can be:

a noun

Earthquakes cause devastation, destruction, pain, suffering and the like.

i.e. resembling something that has already been mentioned

Do you have any particular likes and dislikes?

i.e. things that are preferred (usually in plural)

like-this-md 

  I’ve got lots of likes on my post.

  i.e. the act of showing support for or approval of something posted on the internet by clicking ‘like’

 

You shouldn’t hang around with the likes of them.

  i.e. such a person or thing (colloquial, now usually derogatory)

an adjective

What is the new girl like?

i.e. what sort of person (expects description in response rather than a comparison)

a verb

1197103980603314298addon_bucket_and_spade.svg.medIn the summer, the children all like ice-creams and going to the beach.

i.e. to find something enjoyable (transitive – followed by an object usually in the form of a noun or a present participle)

We always like to run early on Saturday morning.

i.e. to do something as a regular habit (transitive – followed by an object usually in the form of an infinitive)

I should like to know whether the essays need to be uploaded with the application form.

1197104193998287648papapishu_Baby_boy_crawling.svg.med

i.e. conditional, implying that the question has no obvious answer

Have you liked the photo of the baby on Stacey’s facebook page?

i.e. the act of registering one’s support for or approval of a post on the internet

a preposition

 A mathematician like you will never be misled by statistics in the news.

  i.e. ‘such as’

The girl’s eyes shone like sapphires caught in moonlight. 

i.e. in the same manner as (simile)

Idioms

So far, so good. The usage of like in each of the examples above is standard. We can add to this list a number of idiomatic expressions:

She looks like a runner. (i.e. to have the appearance of being)girl-running-md

Like father like son. (proverbial)

That’s more like it! (colloquial)

He feels like a take-away tonight. (i.e. to have an inclination for something, colloquial)

I want you to sort out all your computer junk, your old files and the like. (formula to avoid further listing of similar items)

Oh come on. Don’t be like that. (i.e. stop behaving in a negative way)

I like that! (i.e. don’t like = ironic, colloquial)

The essay requires polish, good editing if you like, before it will be ready for submission. (i.e. suggesting something with which others may disagree, formal)

You can borrow my coat if you like(i.e. making a casual suggestion or an offer)

He’d do it like a shot if he was asked. (i.e. quickly, colloquial)

dig-mdI was digging like crazy all day. (i.e. in the manner of someone who is crazy)

Informal spoken usage

From here on, we’re venturing into increasingly informal territory – examples of like that linguistic traditionalists may well describe as ‘vulgar’, but which have a high frequency in casual spoken interactions, particularly among young people. You can often trace the origins to American English in the second half of the twentieth century. If you are in a formal context, these colloquialisms are best avoided!

as a conjunction

Although this use of like is widespread, many people see it as an inappropriate choice where we need a conjunction to join clauses.

The rain came down heavily like it was the end of the world. (i.e. as if + verb)12236147771872367369johnny_automatic_waiting_out_the_storm.svg.thumb

He’s good at English like his brother was. (i.e. as + verb)

The sun was weak like in winter. (as + ‘it was’, ellipsis of subject + verb)

as an intensifier

It was like wild last night.

i.e. draws attention to the adjective (often followed by a micropause and rising intonation on the adjective)

It was like so bad I didn’t want to go back. 

as a marker for recounted speech (quoting clause)

1194984513646717809chat_icon_01.svg.thumb  And he was like no way and I was like yeah. 

i.e. said (used when telling an anecdote, often to express emotion, attitude or reaction)

as a hedge

He like totally died! 

i.e. indicates that the  following words are not to be taken literally (figurative use of language or hyperbole) 

It’ll take like a year for Game of Thrones Season 3 to be out on DVD.

 i.e. about (approximation)

Man, like if you could just like, you know, let us stay like for tonight.

 i.e. expresses uncertainty  

as a filler

Like how much do you want for the car?

i.e. has no semantic function in the context of the sentence

sitdown-mdHe came over and like sat down with us.

i.e. a discourse marker (functioning much like um or er)

Can you spot the difference?

The examples below are the like-count of a 20-minute car journey with a teenager … can you describe the use of like in each case?

Thorntons have like really nice chocolate.

I’ve liked Stewart Lee.

A police commissioner liaises with the police, so a crime commissioner would have to like liaise with criminals!burglar-md

How far is that above like minimum wage?

It’s like literally the same thing.

I’ve worn that shirt for like two days.

Like, that’s not fair!

Leave a comment

Filed under English usage, Uncategorized

A Woman who …

550px-Margaret_Thatcher_(Retouched)The death of a public figure  is always marked by a respectful reflection which highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a career lived in the public eye. The announcement of the death of Margaret Thatcher on Monday 8th April was no exception. On Tuesday 9th April, the newspapers were full of comment and interpretation of a political life that changed British society – and that is something that all commentators can agree on, whatever their political position

Thatcher 2

 This word cloud is made from the language being used by journalists and commentators, friends, colleagues and members of the public in remembering Margaret Thatcher. Inevitably, she has been remembered for her ‘firsts’: first woman leader of a party; first woman Prime Minister; longest serving twentieth century prime minister; and the only British Prime Minister to have a new word created based on her name. This is an example of derivation by affixation: the proper noun Thatcher + the Greek suffix –ism (‘one who believes in’) i.e. Thatcherism – ‘the policies and style of government associated with Margaret Thatcher’.

For linguists, the language of remembrance is a rich field. Collecting the media sound-bites used to pay tribute to Margaret Thatcher reveals a distinctive grammatical structure: noun phrases focus attention on her qualities as a leader, as a prime minister, as a ‘historical’ figure and as a woman; the pre- and post-modification allows contributors to express their attitude.

So where to start?

Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister800px-Margaret_Thatcher_near_helicopter

a remarkable Prime Minister   

John Major, former Prime Minister (Conservative)

a truly formidable Prime Minister

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland (Scottish National Party)

… Prime Minister for a long time. Honour that. 

Clare Short, former International Development Secretary (Labour)

the most rottenest Prime Minister ever

Member of the public

These noun phrases tell us as much about the contributors as they do about Margaret Thatcher. The Conservative John Major uses the positive evaluative adjective remarkable (denotation: deserving of notice or comment – and thus striking or singular),  while the Scottish Nationalist Alex Salmond chooses formidable (denotation: causing fear or alarm; inspiring dread or apprehension). At first glance, this adjective appears to be positive, and yet has layers of meaning which undercut our initial impression – intensified by the adverb of degree truly, the implicitly negative effect is amplified.

The member of the public is more explicit – he does not need to dress his attitude in respectful tones. The double superlative (most rottenest) and the emphatic adverb ever clearly indicate that this voter is not a Conservative supporter. The Labour MP Clare Short opts to comment on Thatcher’s length of service in the post-modifying  prepositional phrase for a long time. This allows her to side-step the need to reflect positively on a controversial right wing Prime Minister. Her imperative (Honour that.), however, implicitly suggests that there is nothing else worth praising.

Margaret  Thatcher as a leader

Margaret_Thatcher_1983   a strong leader

David Cameron, Prime Minister (Conservative)

  a fearless leader

Bill Clinton, former President of the US (Democrat)

an inspirational leader who carried high the banner of her convictions, and whose principles in the end helped shape a better, freer world

George W. Bush, former President of the US (Republican)

a great leader

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel (right wing Likud party)

We may expect comments about leadership to be less party-political, but the positive pre-modifying adjectives strong and great are chosen by people who will, at least to some extent, share Thatcher’s right wing principles. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, describes her using the broad evaluative adjective fearless. Because  its connotations depend on context, this adjective is ambiguous. It could seen as ‘feint praise’  – while apparently praising her decisiveness, he may also be criticising what is sometimes seen as her political ruthlessness.

The tone of the long pre- and post-modified noun phrase is very positive. The connotations of the adjective inspirational and the abstract nouns principle, confidence and clarity explicitly suggest  that Margaret Thatcher’s leadership qualities are exceptional. As a Republican, George W. Bush can identify with Thatcher’s right wing politics. 

Margaret Thatcher as a figureheadThatcher_reviews_troops_(cropped)

a towering political figure

Tony Blair, former Prime Minister (Labour)

a unique figure

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition (Labour)

a landmark political figure

Charles Kennedy, former leader of the Liberal Democrat Party

The contributors here do not share Thatcher’s political views and while their comments are respectful, they lack the effusive tone of George W. Bush. The pre-modifiers are less personal: the adjective unique, the verb modifier towering and the noun landmark suggest the scale of Thatcher’s achievements while keeping a suitable political distance. The choice of words is diplomatic.

As a woman who …

… saved the country she loved and fought for so tirelessly

Daily Mail

… tore Britain apart

Morning Star

… transformed life in this country, profoundly, permanently and through sheer force of personality

The Times

… divided a nation

Daily Mirror

… changed Britain

The Independent

Many of the newspapers used a post modified noun phrase A woman who …  to comment on Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, either as the front page headline or in the report itself.

All we need to do here is to read the verbs. In the post-modifying relative clauses, they tell a complete story. The right wing press choose past tense verbs with positive connotations – saved, transformed (reinforced in this case by the  strong connotations of the adverbs profoundly/permanently and the prepositional phrase through sheer force of personality). The left wing press choose verbs with negative connotations – tore apartdivided. The Independent, living up to its name, chooses the neutral verb changed.

As a person

478px-Margaret_Thatcher_headshot  a terrific person to spend time socially with

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury

  a very, very kindly lady

Local Conservative Party member 

a far more caring and modest person in retirement than you get from those sort of clips

Baroness Anne Jenkin of Kennington, House of Lords (Conservative)

The people who have commented on Thatcher in a more personal way are those who have a different kind of relationship – these are people who interacted with her in social contexts. The language is almost homely, describing an individual quite removed from the public ‘figurehead’. The adjectives terrific and kindly have a slightly dated feel, and there is a warm enthusiasm in Lord Carey’s choice of adjective and in the repetition of the degree adverb very. 

Baroness Jenkin bridges the gap between the two representations of Margaret Thatcher. The pre-modifiers, the comparative compound adjectives more caring and modest, mirror the warmth and familiarity of Lord Carey and the local Conservative Party lady, while the degree adverb far intensifies the positive connotationsThe post-modifying comparative clause, on the other hand, sets personal experience against media representation – it suggests that the ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Lady Jenkin knew was not the same as the one the media dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’ and the ‘Milk-Snatcher’.

Amongst the praise and celebration, the diplomacy and the delicately worded epithets, there were some explicitly negative responses. These were, however, not noun phrases that commented directly on Margaret Thatcher as a politician or as a private individual. Recognising that her family will be grieving, the criticisms focus instead on Thatcher’s record, on the political legacy she left behind. For Neil Kinnock, former Labour leader, her time in 10 Downing Street was an unmitigated disaster; for a resident in her old Finchley constituency, she destroyed the infrastructure of our society and created a consumer-based generation; for the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, she did great hurt to Irish people.        

When a public figure dies, particularly in the case of a politician like Margaret Thatcher who evokes such strong emotions, a private and personal loss becomes public property. What we can see in the examples quoted here are people paying tribute to the life of someone they admire, people treading a delicate line between political judgement and diplomatic reflection, and people rejoicing in a friendship.

Some useful links for further language study: 

[I should perhaps point out that the ‘readings’ expressed here are my own and that the people cited have in no way endorsed my interpretation of their words.]

Leave a comment

Filed under Adjectives, Connotations, Phrases, Uncategorized

WOWs

as and like

Which one should I choose?

stick man The first thing to know is that:

as = conjunction or preposition

likeverb (to express a preference) or preposition

So, think about the context … look at the meaning and the words that come before and after as and like   then decide whether you need to use a verb, a conjunction or a preposition …

The sentences below are examples of non-standard usage. Can you explain why? 

1194986450373692781smiley002.svg.med   My uncle can plaster a wall like he’s a real plasterer.   

   My friends are working hard for their exams, like they did last year.   

If you would like more information about as/like and practice exercises with answers, follow the link: WOW 5

Leave a comment

Filed under English usage, Uncategorized

I say, I say, I say ….

king-cartoon-thWhy did the king go to the dentist?

To get his teeth crowned!

Why do we laugh (or groan) at jokes? It’s all about recognising that games are being played with language – and we understand this even if we can’t explain the linguistic process.

So what is going on in a joke? There are a number of linguistic tricks being played …

Homophones

Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different spellings. These are the core of many jokes.

Where can you learn to make ice-cream?

In Sundae school.

The joke depends on us recognising the collocation ‘Sunday School’ and the denotation of ‘school’ (a place of education), but the heart of the humour lies in the homophones: the proper noun Sunday (a day of the week) and the concrete noun sundae (a type of ice-cream).

Word formation

Jokes can play games with compound words, by creating linguistic parallels that can’t actually be found in a dictionary …

Why do seagulls fly over the sea rather than over the bay?

1197090724700602178johnny_automatic_bagel.svg.med

1238704362854102575papapishu_albatross_2.svg.medBecause they don’t want to be called bagels.

The compound noun ‘baygull’ is created by mirroring the structure of seagull  (from the concrete nouns ‘sea’ + ‘gull’). Humour then arises from the homophones: ‘baygull’ (a gull that flies over the bay) and bagel (food).

Semantic ambiguity

What has a pelican got in common with the Electric Company?

They both have large bills.

1245643090930672802johnny_automatic_pelican_with_fish.svg.med

This joke plays on the ambiguity of the meaning of the plural concrete noun bills: it is both ‘the horny beak of a bird’ and ‘an itemised written statement of charges for goods delivered or services rendered’. The sound and spelling of these nouns is the same, but their etymological root is different: bill (duck’s beak) comes from the Old English ‘bile’ (1000); bill (statement of charges) comes from the Latin ‘bulla’ meaning ‘seal’ (1420).    

Grammatical structure

1195445481970400763johnny_automatic_fireplace_with_Christmas_stockings.svg.medWhat did Adam say the day before Christmas?

“It’s Christmas Eve!”

The play on words here is grammatical (linked to the function of words) as well as semantic (linked to the meaning of words). In the collocation ‘Christmas Eve’, the noun ‘eve’ is a shortened form of ‘evening’ – it is commonly used to describe the day before a religious or cultural festival (e.g. Hallowe’en).

Drawing on shared cultural knowledge, the joke creates a pun on the day and on the name of the biblical figure Eve, the traditional partner of Adam. In grammatical terms, this makes Eve a vocative (a word or phrase used to attract someone’s attention) – Adam is directly addressing Eve. A vocative would usually be separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma. It is omitted here to create ambiguity.

Subject specific shared knowledge

Two hydrogen atoms meet and one says to the other, “I’ve lost my electron.” The other says, “Are you sure?”. The first replies, “Yeah, I’m positive!”

Do you have to be a chemist to understand this joke? No, but it helps.

The joke is based on subject specific knowledge: a hydrogen atom has a single positively charged proton and a single negatively Electron_shell_001_Hydrogen_-_no_label.svgcharged electron in the nucleus. This makes it an electrically neutral atom – the positive and the negative charges are balanced. If it were to lose its electron, a hydrogen atom would no longer be neutral, but positive.

This subject-specific knowledge (positive ‘charge’) is overlaid with the familiar conversational adjective  (positive) used to assert an opinion emphatically. The humour is only apparent to an ‘insider’, someone who shares the same knowledge as the joke-teller.

And here are two for you to try …

Why did the boy take a pencil to bed?

man-drawing-mdTo draw his curtains.

  Why was the mummy so tense?mummy-md

He was all wound up.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

WOWs

of and ′ve

Which one should I choose?

11954376991581374061listenworld_john_olsen_01.svg.med

 The first thing to know is that:

of = preposition

′ve = verb

(a shortened form of have, typical in informal speech)

So, think about the context … look at the words that come before and after the of or the ve , and then decide whether you need to use a verb or a preposition …

The sentences below are examples of non-standard usage. Can you explain why?

   I could of run faster.  1194986450373692781smiley002.svg.med

   He was tired‘ve always being last.   

If you would like more information about of /ve and practice exercises with answers, follow the link: WOW 4  

1 Comment

Filed under English usage, Uncategorized

The key to adjectives

The section on adjectives under the WORD tab is now complete. If you are studying language or want to know more about how language works – this is for you …

key 2   Unlock adjectives:

          • 5 key facts you need to know about adjectives
          • key terms that will help you to recognise and describe adjectives
          • lots of exercises for practice with answers just one click away
          • and finally a look at adjectives in context – a formal political speech, a weather forecast and a Gothic novel

This may be serious stuff, but it’s useful too!

Adjectives

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized