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jayles the unwoven

Joined: June 3, 2014
Comments posted: 201
Votes received: 106

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Questions Submitted

Salutations in letters

November 20, 2016

Are proverbs dying?

June 30, 2014


June 24, 2014

Recent Comments

F) The Truth about "Will":
AFAIK "will" is a normal verb - "I am willing", "as God wills" etc. The reason you don't often see it with an 's' is that it is normally in optative mood, (which looks like subjunctive). In the Middle Ages, monks used 'will' to translate the future tense from Latin, French, and Spanish. If one buys into the same fudge, then one has to teach all the time and conditional clause cases which use present simple, as an exception.

Other modals - can, may, shall,must - have no 's' because they come from using an old past tense form.

jayles the unwoven August 19, 2015, 6:42pm

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E) There is a world of difference between the needs of West European students and the needs of, say, SE Asian students. A Romance language speaker starts with a good knowledge of about ten thousand English words; a SE Asian student starts with perhaps a couple of hundred borrowed words at best. To catch up, a SE Asian student needs to learn, say, one hundred words per week for two years - an almost impossible goal. I suspect the whole EFL syllabus (and methodology) originated from dealing with Romance language speakers.

jayles the unwoven August 19, 2015, 2:52pm

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English verbs look pretty simple when compared to all those endings in French, or other inflected languages like Russian, Hungarian, or Armenian, so I've always been amazed at the amount of time and space in EFL textbooks devoted to the vagaries of English verbs and "tenses". Is there a simpler alternative and what would that be?

A) 'will' does not construct a future tense. Any modal verb can do that: eg "Can you come tomorrow?". Projecting 'will' as a 'future' auxiliary logically leads to: "I will can come tomorrow".
At present EFL students have to run thru a long checklist before uttering a single word:
- past, present, or future? Future!
- timetable, plan, already decided or evidence to hand, opinion or prediction, or using a modal ?
For most purposes this is too nuanced; we are overteaching it all.

B) Continous is an aspect: could we not just say anything can be made continuous; and then just concentrate on present continuous. "While we talked, there was an explosion" is not quite a mistake. Again we are overteaching. Far better to concentrate on forming and using the passive which is really common in business and academic writing.

C) One needs to keep a firm grip on achievable goals in EFL. Most students need English for business purposes; some need it for academic purposes or immigration. That means we need to pick out which verbal structures they need to master and which they just need to get the gist of.

D) It's pretty difficult to say anything constructive if you don't understand what the other person is saying. Much more emphasis on listening and wide vocabulary would be more beneficial. Often better if student pick up nuances of verb by hearing it in action, rather than having spaghetti-like "rules" drummed in and endless picky tests. Teaching grammar, grammar, grammar does not work - as any Korean will testify.

jayles the unwoven August 19, 2015, 1:41pm

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Many borrowed words in English which do not end in -ation or -sion are stressed on the antepenultimate syllable: this pattern is evident in Canada -> Canadian, photograph-photographer and so on.

jayles the unwoven August 18, 2015, 3:11am

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@LK Re your (1): After TEFL-ing twenty years in various countries, I often ignore the course book itself and just work intensively from the listenings provided or from a graded CD such as:

Works for me if you can get the level and content right: detective stories the best.

Your (2): there must be a new generation: I'm way past my expiry date!

BTW I always have an audio book of Dr Zhivago playing in my car : it certainly helps over time.

jayles the unwoven August 15, 2015, 3:46pm

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@LK your comments reminded me of a student from Eastern Europe whose English was almost indistinguishable from a native speaker, and who never made a mistake with English verbal structures. I was indeed wondering what on earth I could teach them! It turned out they just did not know what "past perfect" was, although they understood and used it correctly whenever needed. Of course they had spent two years in England as a teenager; but what an excellent outcome!

jayles the unwoven August 14, 2015, 5:42pm

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1) I do not agree that cleaning up the terminology will automatically make it that much easier for students. The usage and meaning of English verbal structures is not straightforward and therein lies the rub.

2) English is taught in many diverse situations, and not necessarily with the expectation of producing fluent near-native competence with verbal structures. Factors such as motivation and opportunity are important for the outcome.
Now that we have access to the internet and English is more often being taught to young learners, methodologies are changing, with less emphasis on teaching "grammar" per se in an academic way, and more emphasis on listening to English and using it on a day-by-day basis. We may see a new generation of English learners who are far more adept at verbal usage, in much the same way as many Dutch/Swedish/Danish people are today.

jayles the unwoven August 14, 2015, 8:50am

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jayles the unwoven August 13, 2015, 5:21pm

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Sometimes I think that all the things I today forbid in formal writing will some day be considered perfectly acceptable by the generations to come. "Pretty" will be rehabilitated, contractions everywhere, and one-sentence-per-paragraph the norm. Formal English is sometimes just the older generation resisting change.
I have the honour to remain etc...

jayles the unwoven August 12, 2015, 2:48am

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@LK Many English teachers would agree with much of what you say. In practice though, course books often dictate the terminology and syllabus used.

jayles the unwoven August 12, 2015, 2:29am

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In British English, it is commonplace to use "escaped prison" where it means "avoided a prison sentence". Examples of "escaped prison" referring to unauthorized exiting of the building are rare in British English but common enough in American

jayles the unwoven August 9, 2015, 8:40pm

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Macmillan: "Knowledge is sometimes used with a, but only in the pattern a knowledge of something (or a good/deep/thorough etc knowledge of something):"

1 Kings 9:27 KJV: .. shipmen that had knowledge of the sea.." also 2 Chronicles 8:18 KJV

The usage seems to be an exception.

jayles the unwoven August 8, 2015, 7:29pm

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The use of verbal structures in English has indeed evolved into something argueably too finely nuanced or just plain quirky. It was not a case of intelligent design! However, we do need to give each structure some kind of label in order to talk about it when teaching.

I'm afraid frustration with verbal structures in English is the gateway to the path which leads to a much better understanding. It is a sort of Kutuzov tactic where one retreats to victory.

By the way, some forty years ago three-wheel cars were common in the North of England.

jayles the unwoven August 7, 2015, 3:31pm

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@WW Thanks. I do agree that possessive+gerund as subject is somewhat more palatable.

Oddly I am happy with "His smoking annoyed her." But adding in "in the house" seems to make it sound slightly ungainly to my ear.

However these days I seem to baulk at the possessive even in formal writing :
"The board objected to the developers putting forward fresh proposals at this late stage".

Hewins (Advanced Grammar in Use) agrees with the idea that "developers' " here would be more formal. I just think that forcing Latinate grammar onto English is now a thing of the past.

jayles the unwoven August 5, 2015, 4:30am

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1) if one googles "stand him crying", the phrase "I can't stand him crying" comes up as not unusual, even in print, although it does not seem to come up on Ngram; whereas "stand his crying does".

2) To my ear, using possessives with gerunds now sounds somewhat stilted or forced (indeed I now tell my students not to bother)

Would appreciate any empirical data to see whether the possessive+gerund is now out-dated.

jayles the unwoven August 4, 2015, 8:29pm

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Most international students need written English for business or academic purposes; what is acceptable means what is acceptable in those contexts. This means what is in the writing guides at uni, or roughly what one can find in a quality newspaper or magazine, or relative style guide.

What has happened since I went to school is that punctuation is now often more minimalist, so the original question is a good one. The only realy answer is to punctuate wherever needed for clarity.

There is a similar issue with "But" at the beginning of a sentence: common enough in newspaper articles; but unwise in an English exam, as this is traditionally a no-no.

jayles the unwoven July 23, 2015, 4:54pm

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@WW Thanks for your research.

Whilst commas are generally used to show how the sentence is to be read, there are some disparate views on the detail:

1) British vs American usage - see:

2) "But with the current fashion of minimal punctuation, [commas] are now often omitted" - ibid

3) The use of the "Oxford comma".

Sometimes the "rules" seem too dogmatic or restricted in scope:
"It is not usually necessary or indeed correct to use a comma with the conjunction 'because'."

Perhaps one's ideas about what is right or wrong just depend on which university and whatever rules they apply.

jayles the unwoven July 20, 2015, 12:55pm

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One usually infringes a right or upon a freedom, as in "the right to bare arms shall not be infringed". What seems to have happened here is a back formation from the phrase "parking infringement". The interesting thing here is that the first time "cars" are infringed, and the second "parkers". The only alternative I can come up with which fits both is "ticketed".

Creative English?

jayles the unwoven July 18, 2015, 7:23pm

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@WW utterly agree with you re passive. One would hope the examiners do too.

IELTS marking scheme does mention "good control over punctuation". What exactly they mean by this - especially comma usage - is not specified, but I presume pretty old-school.

I guess an "inveterate pedant"might insist on commas in the following:

"He was admittedly very young."

"I will give you a call if I have time."

jayles the unwoven July 15, 2015, 9:41am

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