Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More


Warsaw Will

Member Since

December 3, 2010

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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.

Latest Comments

North or northern

  • August 27, 2015, 7:06am

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.

@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.

@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.

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.

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) -

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.

Why do we have “formal” English?

  • August 13, 2015, 7:23am

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.

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.

@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.


When “one of” many things is itself plural November 27, 2011
You’ve got another think/thing coming September 29, 2012
Fit as a butcher’s dog May 22, 2013
“reach out” May 25, 2013
Tell About October 18, 2013
tonne vs ton January 25, 2014
apostrophe with expressions of distance or time February 2, 2014
Natural as an adverb April 13, 2014
fewer / less May 3, 2014
Opposition to “pretty” March 7, 2015