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Warsaw Will

Joined: December 3, 2010
Comments posted: 1371
Votes received: 796

I'm a TEFL teacher working in Poland. I have a blog - Random Idea English - where I do some grammar stuff for advanced students and have the occasional rant against pedantry.

Questions Submitted

fewer / less

May 3, 2014

Natural as an adverb

April 13, 2014

tonne vs ton

January 25, 2014

Tell About

October 18, 2013

“reach out”

May 25, 2013

Recent Comments

Occasionally it gets political, for example, Northern Ireland. Traditional loyalists prefer to call it Ulster, while many in the South (and republicans in the North) call it the Six Counties or the North of Ireland (as they consider it the northern part of what should be one Ireland), and those of us in Britain who prefer to remain neutral call it Northern Ireland, which seems to be accepted by everybody. Geographical names can be symbolically important.

Sometimes I think it just depends on context and tradition. I imagine somebody from Newcastle will say they're from the North of England, rather than from Northern England, while at the same time calling themselves a northerner. But a weather forecaster might well use either.

Warsaw Will August 27, 2015, 7:06am

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@Leonid Kutuzov - The only trouble is that it is a bit more complicated than past, present and future, as English (and not only English) often uses past forms to distance things, call it the unreal past, remote past or whatever. We use it this way in reported speech, hypothetical conditionals, and certain constructions such as 'I wish, I'd rather, it's time, as if' etc.

What's more, English often uses present forms with future meaning (as do certain other languages), and we can even use modal 'will' for present meaning - 'Ah, you'll be Leonid'.

So although I think we already have a perfectly good system, we are at pains to point out to students that the use of past, present and future tenses is not totally bound by their time name.

Warsaw Will August 21, 2015, 10:22am

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@jayles - Yes we can use other modals to talk about the future, and if you want to get linguistically technical, you can come up with various arguments why 'there is no future tense'. It's possibly an interesting intellectual discussion point, but I don't think that it helps students in the slightest. I repeat, it's not the nomenclature my students have problems with, but the use.

"will is a normal verb" - but how often do we use it as a normal verb, I wonder, compared with its use to create future tenses, or forms if you prefer. But in any case, the other auxiliaries we to create tense forms, do, have and be are also normal verbs.

"There is no future tense, because we have several forms to express the future." Well, welcome to the club. Both Spanish and French use present forms and 'going to' but this doesn't stop them having a future tense.

"Will is a modal, not a basic auxiliary, so it can't be a tense." Doesn't German have one or even two future tenses built on 'wollen', which in German is also a modal.

And the argument never seems to be extended to other future forms, such as future continuous and future perfect.

You teach academic English, so perhaps passive is more important for your students than for mine, but even to form passives you have to have a basic grasp of tenses: "His company was being investigated at the time of his arrest" is not the same as "His company was investigated at the time of his arrest". And if a student uses tenses too far away from the norm, they are going to sound strange, or worse, funny. And as a teacher, my greatest responsibility is to try and make sure that doesn't happen.

In any case, let's keep this in context. I certainly don't teach grammar, grammar, grammar, and nor do any of the course books I use. In fact I would say grammar takes up about one fifth of the average unit. In business English, perhaps even less.

Far from being a fudge, I think the 12 tense system is simply a schematic way of looking at the forms we actually use (however you want to characterise them) in a coherent and realtively simple way.

Warsaw Will August 20, 2015, 7:20am

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I like the UCL site, but here grammar (naturally enough) is seen mainly from a linguistics point of view, so it is perhaps no surprise that they go down the two-tense avenue. And I can't actually find the word tense at all in the PDF of theirs that you link to.

But all the others (EFL/ESL-based) you quote from seem to follow the same 12-form pattern, so I'm not really sure what the problem is. I doubt many of our students are looking up tenses on linguistics sites; they may well be confused about how to use them, but I don't think there's much confusion about nomenclature.

In terms of the UCL PDF it's interesting that they point out (not for the first time) that EFL students are much better catered for in grammar terms that native speakers, and I don't see why a system that seems to work for foreign learners shouldn't be used with native speakers. I'm old enough to remember being taught pluperfect and imperfect (a combination of past continuous and 'used to', presumably based on Latin). But I now much prefer the standard EFL 12-tense system.

There was a lot of fuss on the Internet a few years ago about a line from Snow Patrol's Chasing Cars :

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me
And just forget the world?

Many native speakers (and even Grammar Girl) seemed to think this was a misuse of the word 'lay'
(instead of lie). It seems largely to have been foreign learnerswho pointed out that this was a classic example of Second conditional, with the past simple of 'lie' being correctly used with 'would'.

If there's confusion about grammar out there, I'd look to native speakers, and not foreign learners, who in my exerience often have a better grasp of the basic concepts. And of tense names.

Warsaw Will August 18, 2015, 7:24am

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Addendum to above: there's a missing 'on' in P1, and a superfluous 'both of which' in P3. And here is a more user-friendly link (p2) -

Warsaw Will August 18, 2015, 6:48am

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In no way can I improve linguisttype's comment, but I can perhaps reinforce it a little. What linguisttype calls the 'uh' sound is often called the schwa (phonetic symbol /ə/), which is in fact the most common sound in English, and is very characteristic of English.

For example, while the French fully pronounce each syllable in the word général (/ʒeneʀal/), in the English version only the first syllable is stressed, so the others weaken into the schwa sound (or even fade away alltogether ( /ˈdʒɛn(ə)r(ə)l/ ). You can hear the two versions at Google Translate -

And it is unlikely to come from French, as the French word Canadien keeps the same short a as in Canada, both of which, as linguisttype points out, is a syllable-timed language (or what I would call an equal-stress language) where each syllable is fully pronounced. Which is why the pronunciation of French names in the media are often somewhat different to the way they are pronounced in French, the most recent obvous example being the pronunciation of Sarkosy.

I was hoping to be able to find something similar from British English, but was surprised to find very few words in fact end in "adian" with a probable maximum of 22. And in every case they seem to have the same long a (/eɪ/) pronunciation as in Canadian. And although a short a sound (/a/) is possible in Trinidadian, the long a version seems to be more common, and is the only one listed in Other examples include Orcadian, arcadian, circadian.

But there are other examples in English where stress changes; one pairing that gives foreign learners difficultes is photograph and photographer, where not only does the stress change but so does the pronunciation of the second o, from long o to short o.

So, in conclusion, I would say that the difference in pronunciation between Canada and Canadian clearly follows English rules and the pattern of English being a stress-timed language, rather than French pronunciation or patterns. We might have got the words Canada and Canadian from the French (which they in turn seem to have got tfrom the Iroquoi word for village - kanata). But in terms of pronunciation, they've in fact been anglicised.

Warsaw Will August 18, 2015, 6:43am

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I can go along with K.I.S.S., but one sentence per paragraph? What would be the point then of paragraphs. Unless each idea is to be expressed in one sentence. And I fear that would sound rather staccato. I think I would prefer a more balanced and varied approach.

Contractions will become more common, certainly, (and I use them on forums such as this), but I doubt in academic language. But not using them in academic work is a convention I can easily live with, although I do warn students that not using them in informal emails can seem stiff or unfriendly.

And it seems obvious to me, that when you want to express more complex ideas, more complex language is going to be needed.

That doesn't mean it has to be old-fashioned, or long-winded. For example, alhough they use some academic language, historians are often excellent writers, partly because they are writing for a more general audience than other disciplines. Or read someone like Steven Pinker, author of 'The Language Instinct' and , more recently, 'The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century'. Academic subject material, yes, contractions, nary a one (I imagine), but clear, easy to read, even a pleasure to read.

Apropos of nothing, I read an article recently suggested banning the word 'amid', because it is ony ever used in print. Well, I like 'amid', and I have noticed that we have quite a lot of words and expressions that tend to be only used in writing (or prepared speech), and this can add to the pleasure of the reader. From an article from the Guardian I've been doing with a student today:

"Out of home advertising has melded itself inextricably into our environment"
"All this sounds rather bucolic, but Grenoblians ... seemed underwhelmed"

Probably not exactly conversational language, but hardly over-fromal. Paragraphs are short, but multi-sentence. (Incidentally, I wonder if the Internet has something to do with it? - Long paragraphs are a pain to read on a computer screen!)

In fact, I think newspapers like the Guardian, The Economist and the NYT get it just about right: neither overformal nor overfamiliar. Perhaps instead of talking about formal and informal, we should talk rather more of 'prepared' and 'spontaneous'. If we wrote exactly as we spoke, I doubt the writing would amount to much, or be much of a pleasure to read.

Warsaw Will August 13, 2015, 7:23am

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I'm an EFL teacher, and to a large extent British EFL course books stick with the same time/aspect combinations, present simple etc. I'm not too worried whether we call these tenses or forms, as long as we all sing from the same hymn sheet. Which is why I was rather taken aback with that advanced course book suddenly introducing the idea of two tenses.

I've also written a piece on what I call 'The twelve tense system', which I hope shows why I think it's a system that makes some sense, and that it's useful to compare aspects across the time lines: to see, for example, that past perfect, present perfect and future perfect have certain usage features in common, and are not just a buch of separate tenses to be taken in isolation, or simply compared with other aspects in their own time frame (i.e. past perfect vs. past simple vs. past continous).

And I'm glad to see Maeve Maddox also talks of twelve tenses, and makes a similar distinctiion between the needs of linguists and those of teachers. Incidentalluy, I'm all for native speakers being taught the same system.

Warsaw Will August 12, 2015, 10:28am

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But even in the US 'with' is more common, and the with-less version is relatively recent:

Warsaw Will August 10, 2015, 5:26am

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@jayles - good point. The first page of a site search of The Guardian for "escaped prison" shows mainly the idea of escaping a prison sentence.

"However, they escaped prison after part of the sentence was suspended "
"Anthony Delaney left court yesterday clutching a bag full of belongings. He had escaped prison, but reaped the wrath of the judge at Lewes"

There are a couple with the 'from' meaning, one from North America, and one from a film review.

Warsaw Will August 10, 2015, 5:16am

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As soon as we use the word 'indiscriminate' we are in the area of subjectivity, and the use of the word itself suggests a certain attitude. Me, I prefer 'the creative use of suffixes', which of course also suggests a certain attitude.

And as HS rightly says, register has a lot to do with it. These expressions usually sound better in an informal register. By the way, the only '-age' example I can think of is 'signage' - which I would suggest is not usually used as a plural, but indeed as a collective term, and more (the whole system). Are there others?

As for suffixes themselves, they have been a long-accepted way of creating new words: in HS's short comment I can see at least three.

Perhaps it's all a matter of time: there is often resistance to new words, which with time may begin to sound more familiar.

Warsaw Will August 10, 2015, 5:07am

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I found this on a WordReference forum:

"Besides bringing out a certain aspect of the notion denoted by the noun the indefinite article also has a stylistic effect making a description more vivid. Therefore the use of the indefinite article with abstract nouns is characteristic of the belles lettres style:

He was filled with a loathing he had never known.
He scanned her face: it expressed a dramatic eagerness.
Looking back upon that luncheon now it is invested for me with a curious glamour."

Learning to use articles by L. Barmina

I don't think this is so rare really. Other (perhasp less literary) examples from a couple of other websites:

There was a certain coldness in her attitude towards me.
I feel a certain reluctance to tell her the news.
Some children suffer from a fear of the dark.

Incidentally, 'a knowledge of' seems to have been much more common in the past, according to Ngram peaking arund the middle of the 19th century. As for justification, would 'he has knowledge of Latin' sound any better. Not for me it wouldn't (but I would be much more likely to say 'he knows some Latin' or 'his knowledge of Latin is quite extensive' or some such - the phrase as put sounds somewhat old-fashioned to me). What's more, the use of that indefinite article often goes hand-in-hand with an adjective, for example, 'a thorough knowledge of', where the article would, I think, be necessary. Other adjectives used like this include 'certain, good' etc.

Warsaw Will August 10, 2015, 4:52am

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No doubt most languages have differences between their written and spoken forms. This partly goes with the medium. Written language tends to be more 'careful' and we have a body of precedents to go by. Spoken language, meanwhile, is more spontaneous, friendlier perhaps. And remember it goes both ways: formal language often sounds inappropriate in an informal context. So most of us don't use 'much' and 'many' in positive statements in smonepoken language. We rarely say things like 'I have many ideas' or 'Much time and money has been wasted' in normal spoken language.

What HS says was certainly true in the past but I'm not so sure today. What's more, partly due to email, correspondence for one is getting less formal.

Compared with romance languages, I think English has actually less differences between formal and informal language. Both French and Italian have tenses (especially past simple) that are rarely used in spoken language. Spanish and Italian have 3rd person formal forms while French has 'vous'.

I don't mind so much when the 'caste system' refers to words rather than people. It doesn't particularly bother me using 'many' in more formal writing rather than 'lots of'; while I often use 'lots of' and 'get 'in spoken English, there are times when they don't seem to sound right in more formal language. As with much in language, isn't it simply a case of 'horses for courses'?

But then there are those words like the adverb 'pretty', which I find no problem with, but some others object to in a formal setting.

Warsaw Will August 10, 2015, 4:28am

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There are basically two ways of defining tense: morphological and functional. Linguists tend to use the former, and therefore see only two tenses, past and present (as the main verb itself only has these two different forms). In EFL we usually use a twelve tense system. This consists of three times: past , present, future. Each is combined with four aspects: simple, continuous, perfect, perfect continuous. So 'I'll have been waiting' is Future Perfect Continuous (the most exotic tense). There are also a couple of forms that don't fit into this system: 'going to' and 'used to'.

This makes more sense to me, as in English it is the auxiliary verbs, rather than morphological change., that do most of the tense work. And it also reflects closely how we use verb forms. And I rather agree with Leonid on that one.

Whether you call them tenses or forms or whatever, the terms such as 'present simple', 'past continuous', 'future perfect' are widely used, and are very useful. And as jayles says, we have to call them something. It always amuses me that those who say 'there is no future tense' often have no problem talking about 'future continuous' or 'future perfect'.

The worst thing for foreign learners, I think, is when we switch systems. One well-known brand of English language books happily talks in terms of narrative tenses (i.e. the four past tenses) and present tenses, until Advanced level, when they suddenly announce that 'there are two tenses - past and present'. Now that is confusing.

Incidentally, some time ago I wrote a blog piece 'A brief history of tense', looking at how the idea of tense has been treated from the earliest English grammar books until today. At various times grammarians have seen 2, 3, 6, 9 and 12 tenses. I've even seen one suggestion of 32 tenses (he assigns different tenses to different modals).

Warsaw Will August 10, 2015, 4:06am

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@jayles - I don't have it to hand, but I seem to remember that in the 3rd edition of Fowler, Burchfield suggests that in sentences like 'She doesn't like him/his smoking in the house', use of the object pronoun is more common than use of the possessive (at least in British English), and most course books seem to agree that the former is more normal in spoken English, while the latter is more formal.

The original question concerns an object pronoun or possessive after a preposition, but I don't think there's any real difference. Both 'doesn't like' and 'of' theoretically demand an object, and therefore a noun phrase, which I think is Jennifer2's argument. However, real language doesn't always follow theory, and in this case I would agree with you. (It should really be the other way round - theory should be based on real language).

Incidentally, although it doesn't remove the 'problem', I think I'd get rid of that preposition, and simply say 'I envy him (his) getting rich'.

Another interesting aspect is when the -ing form is the subject rather than the object, where the object form can seem just too informal for many:

His smoking in the house annoys her.
Him smoking in the house annoys her.

Warsaw Will August 5, 2015, 5:58am

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@DaveBoltman - "verbing weirds language":

so, off the top of my head, here are some examples of weirding:

to park a car
to book a room
to leg it
to rain, snow etc
to light a fire
to plough / plow a field
to be floored by a question
to be hedged in / 'Don't fence me in'
to log an entry
to date something (or somebody - different meanings)
to bar somebody from something
to post / mail a letter
to water the plants
to auction a painting
to table a motion
to chair a meeting
to referree a game
to ship the goods
to house a museum

As far as I can see (with a little checking at Online Etymology Dictionary), in all these cases the noun came first. And what about phrasal and prepositional verbs:

to eye up the girls
to leaf through a book
to elbow someone aside
to ring something up

And then there's your "sums up". "To sum" appears to be a 13th century example of verbing, with the noun just beating the verb into the language. And in your meaning, seems to come from the Latin noun summa.

Stephen Pinker reckons that one fifth of English verbs come from nouns, and says that "in fact, easy conversion of nouns to verbs has been part of English grammar for centuries; it is one of the processes that make English English" (The Language Instict - from

And if making nouns from verbs is OK (call, shout, paint), why should making verbs from nouns be so dreadful ? And what about all those verb / noun pairs which can cause stressing problems for foreign learners:

import, export, discount, permit, insult, protest, rebel, project, compound, conduct

No doubt in most cases the verb came first, but in some it seems to have been a pretty close run thing. The word stress itself, incidentally, seems to have appeared in each class about the same time, c.1300.

There's much about corporate speak I don't like, but usually when it's meaningless (going forward) , euphemistic (downsizing) , and especially when it's incomprehensible to those not in the know, and for which perfectlt good alternatives already exist (low hanging fruit, bring your A game, keep me in the loop). I notice that none of those involve verbing, which is usually only a problem when the word is new to us. Some people (me included) still have a problem with incentivise, and perhaps prioritise, while not batting an eyelid at nationalise or harmonise. What a difference a hundred years or so makes.

Warsaw Will July 28, 2015, 9:56am

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@jayles - I agree with point no 2 when it comes to two indepent clauses, but strangely neither of your sources seem to specifically mention dependent clauses. However I think the principle outlined above is fairly well standard. It's taught in British English course books, for instance when talking about conditionals, and on American university websites. This is pretty typical, from Towson University:

"Comma use with adverbial clauses depends upon placement of the adverbial clause. If the adverbial clause introduces the sentence, place a comma between it and the main clause. If the adverbial clause follows the main clause in a sentence, do not place a comma between the two."

And this from DailyWritingTips:

"The simple rule is this: If a subordinate clause precedes the main clause, separate the two with a comma:

Unless you have a lot of money, steer clear of Rodeo Drive.

If the subordinate clause follows the main clause, no comma is usually needed:

Steer clear of Rodeo Drive unless you have a lot of money."

But no doubt there are always exceptions. This rule, I think, makes good sense. This is because it largely follows speech patterns, as can be demonstrated by reading the examples above out loud. Incidentally, in both the examples with 'because' at Bristol, the main clause comes first, so I wouldn't have been tempted to use a comma in any case. But if the because clause had come first I would have used a comma, which reflects the pause we'd probably make in speaking. To reverse the clauses in the Bristol examples:

"Because the floodwaters were rising quickly, we all had to move to higher ground."

"Because she had already eaten a hearty lunch, she really didn't feel hungry."

As for the Oxford (or serial, or Harvard) comma, that probably depends on your educational tradition. I was taught not to use it (except where there is ambiguity), as I think were most Brits, but many American style guides advocate its use. It is, of course, the house style of the O.U.P. But just as I ignore them on the use of z in randomise/randomize, I pretty well ignore them on this one too.

Warsaw Will July 21, 2015, 11:54am

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@jayles - I don't think even an inveterate pedant would have any grounds for insisting on commas in the second one. As far as I know, the accepted (and traditional) rule is that when the subordinate clause comes first, we use a comma - "If I have time, I will give you a call", but when the main clause comes first, we don't use a comma, or to put it another way, we don't use a comma when the main clause comes first.

Your second one I'm not so sure about. If admittedly had come at the beginning of the sentence, yes convention would suggest a comma. But used as in your example, commas seem rather to be optional. In the first twenty entries of "was admittedly" at Google Books, only two use commas, and the picture's much the same if you restrict the search to the 19th century, which are mainly from official or legal reports, but also include comma-less versions in literary magazines, etc. So you can find both in legal reports:

"nothing turned upon the notice, and it was, admittedly, binding upon both the landlord end the tenant." 1826

"That case is deserving of some notice, for the contract there was admittedly binding between the parties" 1847

and comma-less versions in more literary magazines:

"First, as to the sanity of her mind, or rather as to the extent of that one delusion, for she was admittedly sound upon all other subjects." The Annual Register, 1839

It's not that old a word, apparently first appearing in 1780 (it's not in Johnson).

Warsaw Will July 20, 2015, 10:24am

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@HS - and there lies part of the problem: it's ambiguous independent of whether we use 'my' or 'mine'. (I see that in my first comment I had assumed they were talking of one child,but on second glance I might well think two were being referred to.

What's more it seems to me unnatural for reasons I mentioned earlier. The person had already taken the child/children to school, so presumably knew their name(s) - so why not just use their names instead of this somewhat awkward construction?

Incidentally I can't agree with Ashley:) - as far as I know, we virtually never use possessive pronouns before the person or thing has been mentioned (except perhaps in book titles). "Greg's child and mine" might just work, if there two children, or more, but "Mine and Greg's child"? I think not.

This is largely because it's mixing two different grammatical forms. The original sentence was "My/mine and Gregg's child", but Ashley:) has broken this down to "The child is Greg's", which is grammatically completely different.

"My" is a possessive determiner (or possessive adjective, if you prefer), whereas "mine" is a possessive pronoun. When we use a possessive noun before another noun it also acts as a determiner - "Sandra's new car" = "Her new car", not "hers new car" (which is ungrammatical). And when we use it after the verb "be", as in "This car is Sandra's", it is a possessive pronoun. And I'm afraid that Ashley:) is confusing these two forms.

So we can say "David and Sandra's new car" or at a pinch "David's and her new car", but certainly not "David's and and hers new car", or "Hers and David's new car" - they are simply ungrammatical. And I can't see how "Mine and Greg's child" is any different

Sure enough if you sustitute me for Greg in "The child is Greg's", you get "mine",but if you do the same with the original "Greg's child", you get "my child". So by Ashley:) 's own substitution rule it should be "my", And preferably "Greg's and my child". Which I would take to mean "our child", but ambuguity still remains.

Warsaw Will July 20, 2015, 9:40am

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Judging by the results of googling "will be infringed with" it's not so much unusual as probably unique, apparently being limited to this one health centre, which accounts for half the entries on the first page (of four) . PITE is there too, of course, but all the rest are all to do with copyright, freedom etc.

Perhaps they meant to say "issued". But to mistake the same mistake on five different pages? Perhaps it was deliberate.

Warsaw Will July 17, 2015, 11:31am

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