Avoid common mistakes in English 3: Coming and Going

When talking about their travels and commuting I often hear non-native speakers of English incorrectly use coming when they should be using going. So, which is the right one to use?

This is where it gets slightly complicated, because it depends on factors such as
The place you’re going to
Where you are
Whether the person you’re speaking to is already at that place (or likely to be there)
You go to see people
People come to see you
So, if you’ve failed to arrive at work one day the boss might call or text you (remember here the place where you work is often just referred to as “work”)
“Are you coming in to work today?” (the boss is at work so you are coming to them)
Or, maybe, you are making a call to explain the situation
“I’m really ill, I won’t be coming in to work today”
(the choice of coming or going is from the perspective of the person you’re talking to, in this case the person who you are talking to is/will be at work, this even applies if you are leaving a message on an answering machine or talking to someone who won’t be going in to work until later)
Suppose you are talking to your friend (who isn’t connected to your workplace)
I’m not going in to work today
(In this case you might consider going to see your friend and say to them: “I can come and see you instead”)
Finally, you may have heard a few expressions relation to coming and/or going
“I don’t know whether I’m coming or going”.
You would use this expression if you were confused and had too many things to think about. The idea being that a very confused person wouldn’t be able to decide if they weren’t coming or going.
“I can’t keep up with his comings and goings”
Here comings and goings means general movements and activities.
Hopefully, now that you’re armed with that information, you’ll be able to correctly tell people whether you’re coming or going.

American English

There are about four times as many speakers of American English as there are of British English. The differences between the two include vocabulary and idiomatic phrases but the most obvious and easily noticeable is probably in the accents. As a result of overwhelming numbers of American English speakers and the economical and political importance of the US, forms of English used in Britain, Australia, Canada etc. have become less distinct.
Historical background In the 17th century British people went to the US. They spoke a variety of different dialects but after they reached their destination, their language started to develop independently and began to have less and less to do with British English. A lot of new words were added to their vocabulary, often borrowed from Native Americans. Later on, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the language they spoke was affected by French and Dutch settlers along with various other immigrants coming to the US.
Dialects and regional differences The main differences between regional dialects are based on accent but also vocabulary used. General American English (GAE), derived from the Midland dialect group, it’s the dialect closest to standard, spoken widely in the Midwest but used in different parts of the country too. Similar but not quite the same, the Midwestern accent is common across the northern states. Northern dialects spread west from New York while New England has its own accent. The Bostonian accent is rather distinctive and spoken by rich families from the Boston area. The influence of Mexican Spanish on south-western dialects can be seen. African Americans still live in the US and their accent seems to have a lot in common with southern accents. I also found this video with an adorable British boy trying to put on American accent and it really made me laugh although he mostly tends to imitate southern accents more than anything else. These are most distinctive and often work as a stereotypical American accent. It is by no means a reliable sample of American English; however, it is really pretty funny and sweet how he tries to do it. I just love the way he says “squirrel” and “how are you doing?”!
Written American English
There is also a distinctive way in which Americans spell which British people seem to consider wrong. As long as they may accept –z- for –s- in words such as realise (realize) and –t for –d in past tense of certain verbs such as learned (learnt) they often frown upon –or- for –our e.g. colour (color), -x- for –ct- e.g. connection (connexion).There is a war over past participle of a verb ‘to get’. Americans say it’s gotten and British say it’s got. Also, American English seems to be much more direct and polite forms used commonly in British English, decorated with pleases and thank yous as well as polite questions such as would you mind if… are very unnatural to Americans. It is basically a very British phenomenon as these over-polite forms seem very fake for native Polish speakers as well.


I am not a professional but merely an iPad user who thought they could spare a few words about the apps I use and you can read more reviews if interested. I recommend all of these for language students and linguiphiles.

Mental Case Flashcards - £.79 / HD £2.99
Totally awesome and fun. It lets you create flashcards on your device. You can use it to learn practically anything – I use it for Spanish and English vocabulary. The brilliant thing about is that you can not only add pictures but also audio files. Some people remember things from seeing them, some from hearing so here’s the solution for both.

Another brilliant app based on flashcards and vocabulary learning. Depending on what version you want to get, prices vary - there are more languages available. Now, when getting one of the more pricey ones, consider whether you really will learn anything from it. I know a person who paid a lot of money for language learning apps and still can't really make any sense in their target language anyway. It is a nice supplement but not a substitute for the hard work that is studying!

Shakespeare - £0.00
Right, that’s the app that my literature lecturer recommended and that includes the complete works of Shakespeare. It comes with a brilliant glossary too. ‘’How cool’’ I thought, hurriedly downloaded it and have never used it since… That’s just me though. It would be perfect for Shakespeare lovers as well as literature students. There’s also Shakespeare Pro available, a paid app with additional features such as audio and so-called Shakespeare Passport – a virtual ticket to participating venues e.g. exhibitions.

Not professional but works brilliantly for me when recording lectures. The best part is probably the fact that you get to sync it so easily with your computer. It’s very easy to use too and does exactly what it says on the tin.

iStudiez Pro  £1.79
It lets you manage your timetable as well as keep track of your work and preparations for exams. Alarms and notifications come with it so that the app reminds you about your deadlines. Personally I don’t use it, as all of the above functions I find good enough in Google Calendar and a traditional paper one. It looks like a neat app though so might be worth trying if that’s your sort of thing. Alternatively have a go with its free counterpart - the Lite version.

This is fantastic. I love it! If you are a Google Docs user and have an iPad you know exactly how much of a pain it is to go to traditional Google Docs view in your Internet browser, right? Now, this app is beautiful and so neat! You can of course browse your files in offline mode too which is good news for somebody like me who spends a lot of time travelling and loves to keep productive on the go. I would honestly pay money for this app but guess what? It's free!

Scrabble –  iPhone £1.19/ iPad £3.99
We all know what this is. Try the Apple version and you will be stuck to your device. Believe me, everybody I've told about this app must have spent hours playing with it. It’s really fun, also when other people want to try a multiplayer option with you – pass and play/WiFi. The app is gorgeous as well and no tidying tiles is required! The terrible downside for me is that I got hopelessly addicted to it!

Test your spelling abilities with some of the trickiest words in the English language. Decide quickly if the words you see are spelled correctly. Time is running! It’s a really cool app, brilliant for competitions with friends as Miss Spell gives you a grade after each go. 

Rhetorically Speaking 2: Alliteration

Alliteration is the use of the two or more words in sequence that have the same sound in their first syllables. Take this example
The snake silently slithered
Here the ess sound is repeated three times. The repetition of sounds is very pleasing the to the human ear and sentences using alliteration take on a poetry-like nature. Made-up names for cartoon characters and comic-strip heroes often feature alliteration,
Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, Dan Dare.
Then there are film and pop star names, characters in novels and fictional places,
Ronald Reagan, Janet Jackson, Peter Pan, Heartbreak Hotel
Overuse of alliteration can often become cliched. An example of this is in what we shall politely call the lower-quality press. Headlines like “Fox Found on 72nd Floor” (taken from today’s Sun) aren’t too bad, they just got lucky (and so did the fox). However, all too often, headline writers go out of their way to use alliteration and the results can sound contrived, such as this example which manages to pack two alliterations into one headline, “Can this cute cat secretly sense death?” (also from today’s Sun).

Summing up, use alliterations sparingly. Sometimes they will happen naturally. Don’t give in to the temptation of using words you wouldn’t normally use (or aren’t entirely sure of) just for the sake of alliteration. This, my dear readers, is why this article isn’t titled “Awesome and Awful Alliterations”. For once I am practicing what I’m preaching.

The True Meaning of Ignorance

My cliché-radar has been working overtime recently. There seems to be a real profileration of native English speakers who are misusing the word ignorance. I'm terribly sorry to inform you, but a person who does not reply hello to you is not being ignorant. You are being ignorant yourself, however, for not knowing how to use your own language. Although the person who is ignoring you might be ignorant about good manners, chances are they are simply being rude. The definition of the word ignorant is less informed or lacking in knowledge. We all exhibit a degree of ignorance in different areas - nobody knows everything, therefore calling someone ignorant is not even a proper insult, despite some people construing it as such.

Suppose I couldn't be bothered to speak to you because I don't like you/don't care about you - the silence is just my way of expressing get out of my face. This isn't ignorance at all, this is being honest. You turn round to somebody else and moan to them about how ignorant I am. It doesn't make you look very smart, does it? Before embarrasing yourself again please take my kind advice next time, make an extra-special effort by opening up your dictionary.

Michael Jackson stated in one of his interviews that people were ignorant if they had a problem with him sharing his bed with children. What information or knowledge were we lacking to understand his behaviour? What were we ignorant of? His famous misue of the word ignorant was subsequently spoofed by South Park.

Sometimes foreigners make the mistake of using ignorant as a noun. This is especially common for my fellow countrymen as ignorant is indeed a noun in Polish. Then again, in English, there is the noun ignoramus used to describe an extremely ignorant person.

To sum it up, be careful when using words you're not entirely sure about. There's a similar story with the word hypocrite, but I'll talk about it on another occasion. Take a second before you call someone ignorant and ask yourself this question: is there any specific knowledge they're lacking and therefore ignorant of?

Be Your Own Proofreader

A while back I was browsing the threads on my favourite internet forum. Some hapless fool had made the mistake of posting a thread advertising himself as a teacher of English. Needless to say, the post contained some mistakes, whether they were typos or not I can’t remember and this brought the usual guffaws from the forum regulars who have nothing better to do with their time. One of these guys posted this remark,

“Well, making those sort of mistakes won’t exactly install confidence in your pupils”

The phrase he was looking for was, of course, “instill confidence”. I discreetly PM’d the guy pointing out that he had used the wrong phrase so that he could nip in, make an edit and not make a fool of himself. Making mistakes in English when trying to ridicule someone is not a great strategy. I shouldn’t have bothered. The guy said that he was a proofreader and knew what he was talking about.

If I’d known about Brians' Errors at the time I could have pointed him in the direction of this page. Instead I told him to Google it (my apologies for using Google as a verb). Google is a very quick way of determining how popular a word is on web pages and hence in the real world. However, if you simply search Google for install confidence followed by instill confidence you might be fooled into thinking that installing confidence is a perfectly valid concept. The key here is to make sure that when searching Google for a phrase make sure you enclose the phrase in quotation marks, thus otherwise Google will search for the words in your phrase individually rather looking for the phrase as a whole.

Some people just don’t take criticism well, no matter how politely presented, and the guy refused point blank to believe that he could possibly wrong and said that he was too busy to argue the matter. Too busy badly proofreading texts in-between spouting nonsense on internet forums, no doubt.

These days there is an even better way of finding out how popular certain words and phrases are. Enter a word/phrase into Google’s Ngram Viewer and it searches its repository of over a million or so books and produces a nice graph of how often a word has been used in various books throughout the ages. You can even select which type of books you are searching from; “British English”, “American English”, “Fiction” etc. Fascinating stuff. For example, you can see that gaiety is steadily falling into disuse whereas facebook was non-existent before 1982.

We have online spell-checking these days and you can see errors underlined in red as you type. What you might not see underlined in red are the words that went astray when you rephrased your sentences. Reading your text out loud is a great way of finding errors. After you’ve finished reading it out loud pass it to a friend or colleague and get them to read it out loud too. Even then a few mistakes might slip through.

Remember to give criticism politely and accept it graciously. Acknowledge that there will always be people better educated than you (this might not apply to you Nobel Prize winners out there if you’re reading this). Also remember that just because something is in popular usage doesn’t mean it’s correct. Having said all that, hopefully there aren’t too many mistakes lurking in the articles I’ve written and if there are then I’m all too happy to have them pointed out to me. Now, I shall sit back and wait for the stream of emails to arrive...

The Importance of Spaces

You can’t see them, but you know they’re there. I’m talking about spaces. There are some pairs of words that can be used joined together as one word or kept separate with a space. The distinction can be very subtle or very marked. Here are some of the most common examples.

every day & everyday

I go to the gym every day
(Here every day is an adverb meaning on a daily basis).
I have a tuxedo for special events as well as my everyday suits for work
(Here everyday is an adjective that means ordinary, not special)
Going to the gym is an everyday occurence for me
(Here everyday is again used as an adjective, but this time literally meaning every day or pretty much every day anyway)

everyone & every one

Everyone deserves a treat now and again
(Everyone means all the people, everybody can often be substituted for everyone)
Make sure you check that every one of those envelopes has a signed cheque inside it
(We could have used all here, using the phrase every one emphasises that we definitely don’t want any missed out)

all together & altogether

I’m not altogether sure about the meaning of this word
(In this context altogether means completely or entirely, either of these words could be used instead)
I’ll do the presentation when we are all together in the same room
(All together means in the same place at the same time)

into/in to

Put the ice cream into the freezer
(Here into is used to emphasise the motion of putting something inside something else)
Governments rarely give in to ransom demands
Johnny handed his homework in to the teacher
(In these examples giving in and handing in are phrasal verbs so we need to put a space before to)

all right/alright

Alright is the less formal spelling of “all right” (more of a British-English thing)
How are you? I’m alright thanks (means I am ok, nothing much to complain about)
How was the film? It was alright (in this case it means passable, in the sense of it being average, nothing special)
Then there is the use of all right as two discrete words...
Make sure the figures are all right (i.e. correct) before you send the quotation to the customer.

all ready/already

I already ate (Already means you have done something, usually, but not always, in the recent past)
When you’re all ready I shall begin (Here all just means everyone present)

As is often the case in English if you’re not sure of something avoid using it. If a dictionary isn’t available for you to check something then you may well find a way of expressing what you want to say using words that you already know the meaning of.

Why English?

I was asked on Twitter the other day how come I decided to study English. The question struck me as practically impossible to answer as I can hardly remember how/why I started. That doesn’t mean I’ve been learning English for a very long time, quite the opposite. I simply started learning it for no big reason and without paying much attention to it. It was simply one of these things I used to to do “on the side”, similar to what I now intend to do with Spanish. There’s a faint hope down there inside of me that perhaps I will be able to speak Spanish to the same level. We may then say that Spanishfocused.com is a work in progress. For the moment though, I am studying English for certain reasons. Let me start.

When Poland was a part of the Eastern Bloc the need for English to Polish and Polish to English translators just wasn’t there. I remember one of my lecturers telling me how difficult it was to study English, obtain the materials etc. He remembers students from England coming to visit Poland in the 80’s for exchanges bringing plates, forks and mugs thinking they might not get these in Poland... We may find it amusing today but not when we realise how little communication there was between the East and the West. While Poland was behind the Iron Curtain Russia was obviously the main focus and Poles had to learn Russian at school, just like both my parents did. It is no longer compulsory and nowadays pupils learn English or German. The fact that English has now gained the status of an international language helps as it is easily accessible - not only is the internet full of it, but you can buy English books, newspapers and movies practically anywhere.

Polish to English and English to Polish translation is of great value for both sides and effects a greater understanding of enterprise and culture. Suddenly, within the last 20 years the need for Polish native speaker with fluency in English has dramatically increased and is still on the rise. Translators, interpreters, teachers... I came across this article today. The author complains of how he went to Poland and couldn’t find a single person to hold a conversation with him. This is, I suspect just a bit of an exaggeration, however, it depends on where in Poland you go. You are more likely to find speakers of English in bigger cities and tourist locations, but truth be told, the overwhelming majority of Polish people neither speak nor understand English.

Google Translate doesn’t solve the problem either. Anyone who has tried a translation engine will know that the results can often be comical and occasionally worse than useless. Anyway, my point is, for translation we need skilled and highly-qualified professionals and this is where many young Polish people, including me, see their future. Sweat and hard work seems to be followed by a worthy prize, so despite the occasional nervous breakdown I’m trying hard not to give up.

Finally, thank you for all your feedback, it always lights up my day to receive emails from you. I can't think of any better motivation.

Rhetorically Speaking 1: Rhetorical Questions

Welcome to the first part of a new series. I shall be following in the sandal-clad footsteps of no less than the great Aristotle with my up-to-date take on rhetoric - the art and study of the use of language with persuasive effect. Used sparingly rhetorical devices can make your writings and oration more compelling. Let's begin...

A rhetorical question is a question that is posed merely for effect. For example in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Shylock says:

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”

This device is very commonly used by great orators. The aim is to make the listener actively think about what the speaker is saying. An answer is not expected, nor is one offered. This is fine if you are speaking, unless you’re doing stand-up comedy it’s unlikely that someone will chip in with an answer.

When you start asking rhetorical questions on social-networking sites, however, don’t be surprised when people start firing back answers at you. The mere act of putting a question mark at the end of a sentence invites an answer. Does it not?

Of course, if your rhetorical question is a plea for help such as “Why is my life so crap?” you’ll be glad to hear that there are people out there who do care if you live or die. Conversely, if your e-suicide-note is met with a stony silence you might regret asking that rhetorical question.

In everyday speech (and in everyday arguments) rhetorical questions are often asked.

What the hell is wrong with you?
How many times have I told you not to do that?

Unless you want the argument to escalate, it’s best not to answer these sorts of questions.

In summary, the rhetorical question is a useful tool. When writing it serves as a way of airing your musings and at the same time giving your reader pause for thought. When speaking in public it can serve to stop your audience falling asleep. This especially so if several are used in rapid succession and each question mark hammered home with a thump of the lectern in the manner of an Evangelist giving a sermon warning of fire, brimstone and eternal damnation. So, there you are. Why not give it a try?

This is Literally Hilarious

For some reason people find certain words more fashionable than others and will use them whenever possible. Literally is one such example and has recently become a word that is continuously being misused and therefore loses its meaning.
Out of boredom, the other night, I searched on Twitter for random phrases with the word literally in them to see how people use it in colloquial language. That gives you, by the way, a rough idea of what I'm up to in my spare time. Yes, they say if you have no life, you can't be killed, ergo I am immortal so it doesn't bother me anyway. Back to the topic in hand, there are two phrases that are especially funny and will hopefully make you realise that it is often worth thinking twice before you say something.

I was literally gutted

No. You did not have your innards removed. I can imagine, however, that some animals happen to be literally gutted every now and then and so are people if they are unfortunate enough to meet a psychopath with a big knife.

I literally pissed myself

Accidents happen, right? Then again I’m not going to believe that all those people on Twitter actually pissed their pants that day. As I was wondering about that phenomenon @BroughtonLass joined in, saying:

You need to recognise when people are being facetious or just talking slang (...) these are everyday people, not arbiters of the language. I hate inaccuracy too but these aren’t published comments, so maybe should be given some leeway?

I agreed with that, I shouldn’t have a go at people, but at the actual mistakes they make. Please, try to avoid using words if their meaning isn’t suitable. Remember, if something literally happens it really happens.

The Lazy Man's Guide to Acronyms

It’s human nature to want to expend the minimum possible effort. Why say National Aeronautics and Space Administration when you can simply say NASA?

An acronym is usually formed by taking the first letters of the full form to create a new word. The NASA example of abbreviating is called initialism. It’s also possible to snatch a few extra letters and still form an acronym. RADAR = RAdio Distance And Ranging. Radar is an example an acronym has become so familiar that it has become a proper word, people don’t even bother capitalising it and relatively few people know what radar stands for.

Some acronyms are pronounced as words, such as our earlier NASA example, and some are spelt out letter by letter. Then there are examples combining the two approaches such as CD-ROM (cee-dee rom). Some acronyms may stand for more than one thing depending on the field of use. IRA (spelt out letter by letter is an Irish terrorist organisation) and IRA (pronounced as word eye-ra) is a tax-efficient savings scheme.


My first introduction to the world of TLA’s (Three Letter Abbreviations) was in the in the world of eighties computing. TLA’s were the In Thing (amongst the nerdy anyway) and were bandied about to keep non-technical users in the dark.

“I have upgraded your PSU, CPU, HDD and RAM”
“What about the motherboard?”
“I haven’t touched that, someone else will need to do that, I only do TLA’s”

There is little point in using acronyms unless people know what you’re talking about. Style guides advise that you should (unless it’s a very common example) let your readers know what the abbreviation stands for. After that you can feel free to use the acronym. I remember talking to some girl on IRC (internet relay chat) back in the early days of the internet. She typed in “ASL”. I promptly ended the conversation. How was I to know that she was asking my Age Sex and Location? I thought she was being abusive and calling me an a**hole.

Nowadays we have MSN messenger and phone texting. LOL is a much overused phrase. There are already keyboards available that allow us to type words like LOL with a single keystroke. No doubt, in time, PMSL will become a standard key on mobile phones.


The colours of the rainbow? Easy..

Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

How do I remember that? By means of a mnemonic (memory aid). At school I was taught two methods of remembering the initial letters of the colours.

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain - spelling out ROYGBIV
Or the letters can just as easily split that up into a person’s name of sorts Roy G. Biv


So accustomed are we to using acronyms that the meaning behind them is often pushed to the back of our minds and we add words that are already in the expanded form of the acronym.

PIN Number -> Personal Identification Number number
ATM Machine -> Automated Telling Machine machine
SIM card -> Subscriber Identity Module card

I hope you have enjoyed this particular lazy man’s guide to acronyms (LMGTA). So, from me, it’s TTFN (tata for now)

Me, myself and I

Which sentence from the following three is correct?

Me and her likes watching movies.
Me and her like watching movies.
Myself and her like watching movies.

If you chose any of the three, this means you still have a lot to learn about personal pronouns. The answer is none of them are right. The correct way of saying this sentence would be: She and I like watching movies. Why?

To see what a pronoun is check Step by step grammar 4: Pronouns. You need to know that there are two different types of personal pronouns: subjective (I, you, he, she etc.) and objective (me, him, her etc.)  We use subjective personal pronouns when a given pronoun is acting as the subject of the sentence. The subject is what or whom the sentence is about – in our example the subject is she and I. Other examples where pronouns  that are acting as subjects:

We used to like going out together.
You didn’t want to talk to me.

We use objective personal pronouns when the given pronoun is acting like an object of a verb, preposition or infinitive phrase within this sentence. Look at the following examples:

My mum tried to reach them on their number.
I never really liked her as she would hang out with my boyfriend all the time.

Myself as it appears in one of the answers for you to choose from is a reflexive pronoun and we use it only when we refer back to the subject – I like myself/You like yourself. I keep seeing people use myself as a subject, especially in semi-formal writing i.e. emails sent out in my office and it really makes me want to yell at them.

This determines that in our initial example: She and I like watching movies subjective pronouns are the best choice. In other words these two pronouns should be in the subject case, not the object case. Bear in mind that the verb in our example should be plural as there are two subjects (two pronouns).

You don't know nothing!

You don’t know nothing – using a double negative with the sense of a single negative is illogical and incorrect. When you think of it, someone who doesn’t know nothing, must know something!

A double negative, also referred to as disambiguation, occurs when two forms of negation are used in the same clause. In English, when two negatives are used they seem to cancel each other and present a positive. However, they are not commonly used in written English they appear in speech in Southern American English and African American English and also in regional variations of British English. In Pink Floyd’s ‘’Another Brick in the Wall’’ kids sing We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control. That might be a part of make-up put on by the author of the song to portray characters’ lower and uneducated status. Similarly, Rolling Stones released the song ‘’I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’’.

Conversely, in Polish double negatives result in a changed meaning or don’t make much sense. Saying I go nowhere (Idę nigdzie) would be a very unnatural construction and instead Polish speakers say I don’t go nowhere (Nie idę nigdzie). Similarly, saying I saw nobody (Widziałem nikogo) could mean you saw somebody called Nobody and if you want to say you didn’t see anyone you’re supposed to use double negative I didn’t see nobody (Nie widziałem nikogo).

There are also triple negatives too and these might be found in some variations of British English. Dot Branning from the British soap opera Eastenders says: I ain’t never heard of no license. Wonder how we should understand that… do triple negatives result in positive too? My head is about to explode!

Step by step grammar 4: Pronouns

A pronoun can replace a noun and refers to a specific person or thing. There are different types of pronouns but for now it’s enough for you to know that words such as I, you, he, she, it, we, they and variations of these e.g. mine, yours or myself, yourself etc are all pronouns.

Words in bold in the following sentence are pronouns:

I like him but I don’t think she does as she fell out with him some time ago.

This, that, these, those are also pronouns and so are words such as everyone, everything, whoever, whichever.

Words in bold in the following sentence are pronouns:

You can kiss whomever you like but I don’t approve of that.

As you can tell, pronouns work a bit like nouns - to see what nouns are check Step by step grammar 1: Nouns - in other words they substitute nouns but aren't proceeded by articles (a/an/the). Pronouns act as a shortcut and save you from repeating the name of a person or thing you have already mentioned.

I hope this was easy. If you haven’t subscribed to www.englishfocused.com yet do it now as there’s more to come. Next Wednesday we will explain what an adverb  is.

The definitive article?

A quick recap for those who don't know, indefinite articles in English are used when you are referring to an object in general (not a particular one). Here are some example of the indefinite articles a and an in use

I'm reading a book
I'm eating an apple

In English the word the is a definite article, use it when you are referring to something specific (sometimes something you have previously mentioned).

The book I'm reading is very interesting

Foreign learners often get confused over which ones to use. Or maybe in their native languages definite and indefinite articles aren't used and they simply omit them in speech. This can have the effect of making them sound rather abrupt/surly in conversation. To complicate matters further, there are occasions when it is quite correct to drop the articles.

I like reading books (no article needed here)

When talking about abstract concepts such as feelings the article is often dropped.

Love is a many-splendoured thing (here the a is the indefinite article attached to the word thing)
Hate is a destructive emotion
I can feel the love in the room (here we are talking about specific warm feelings in a specific room)

Sometimes the word "the" is emphasised slightly.

I met a great guy at the library, I think he may be the one.

(this implies that this person is the one that you want to spend the rest of your life with)

Mr Right turns into Mr Angry when he is having problems at work and confides in his girlfriend "My boss is driving me crazy, sometimes I want to hit him". Apart from advising him to go on an anger management course here are a couple of pieces of advice she may offer.

Violence is never the answer
Violence is never an answer 

The difference between these two is quite subtle. The first sort of implies that out of all the possible answers violence is one of the possible answers (albeit inadvisable). The second answer suggests that violence shouldn't even be included in the list of possible options.

You will often see definite articles used in sayings and idioms, e.g.

The pen is mightier than the sword

Consider the following (grammatically correct) alternatives

A pen is mightier than a sword
Pens are mightier than swords

The original version is best, we're talking metaphorically here. The pen is a symbol of language and rhetoric, the sword is a symbol of weapons and violence in general

Hopefully the examples I have given have helped to clarify the matter. Ultimately, practice makes perfect.

Writing formal letters

When you’re writing informally to friends you probably don’t pay much attention to your style, however, with formal letters there are certain rules you have to remember and respect. This might be tricky for foreigners as it would seem that conventions surrounding formal writing vary from country to country.

Start with your address. It should be located in the top-right corner. Include your phone number and email address too, if relevant. Move to the left-hand side now and give the name and address of whom you’re writing to. You can sometimes skip their address if you know them well. Don’t forget about the date - again, this should be on the right-hand side.

Now, formally address the letter starting at the left-hand edge of the page. Use Dear with the addressee’s title and name e.g. Dear Mrs Wilkinson or Dear Sir/Madam if you’re writing to an organisation or institution and don’t know who will read the letter. The phrase “To whom it may concern” is commonly used if you’re writing a reference for someone. Women’s titles tend to be rather problematic in English as some of us ladies prefer Mrs or Miss (Miss for unmarried females and Mrs for married ones) and some of us prefer Ms (this option doesn’t reveal their marital status)

In the main body of the letter pay attention to proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. Do not use contractions (write Do not rather than don’t, I am rather than I’m etc.). Write in a polite manner, with a logical paragraph sequence. Avoid phrasal verbs and colloquialisms or idioms. Be concise and specific. I don’t think it bears mentioning that emoticons and text speak are not acceptable.

As an ending, starting your writing on the left-hand side, Yours sincerely is traditionally used when the addressee’s name is known and Yours faithfully when it isn’t, however, I keep seeing these two used interchangeably nowadays so I wouldn’t worry much about choosing between the two. Best wishes/Kind Regards is commonly used too. Underneath write your signature. It’s worth printing your name too and sometimes your title, company or qualifications if relevant.

Make sure the envelope is correctly addressed - remember that if addressing a couple, the man’s name/title appears first, followed by the female’s e.g. Mr and Mrs Smith. This is especially unnatural for us Polish speakers as etiquette dictates that we always write the lady’s name first. Shows you how different our cultures are! Once ready, stick your letter in the post box and await the reply!

Dlaczego przeklinamy?

Dlaczego rażą nas pewne słowa?
Wulgaryzmy wywierają niemałe emocje i zwykły być krwawym polem bitwy, nie tylko dla tych walczących o wolność słowa w ubiegłym stuleciu, ale i zdają się pełnić podobną rolę współcześnie. Artyści komediowi, kwestionujący kompetencje politycznych i religijnych przywódców XXI wieku, nie ponoszą za to konsekwencji, jakie musieliby napotkać, gdyby żyli kilkaset lat wcześniej. To wspaniały znak postępu w dziejach ludzkości – żyjemy w złotej dobie wolności słowa. Niby tak jest ale... nie jeśli chodzi o wulgaryzmy. To zagadka.

Dlaczego przeklinamy?
To niełatwe pytanie I aby na nie odpowiedzieć musimy zapoznać się z różnymi sposobami w jakich ludzie przeklinają:

Wulgaryzmy obraźliwe – używane celem poniżenia innej osoby. Najczęsciej odnoszą się do ekskrementów (ang. you piece of shit, you asshole, shove it up your ass/pol. ty gnoju, ty dupku, wsadź to sobie w dupę) oraz seksualności (ang. dick, cunt, fuck ale i motherfucker – sugerujący kazirodztwo i wanker – masturbację/pol. ty chuju, ty pizdo, pierdolić).

Wulgaryzmy dysfemistyczne - dysfemizm jest odwrotnością eufemizmu – zastąpieniem neutralnego wyrazu czy wyrażenia jego drażliwym/nieprzyzwoitym odpowiednikiem. Weźmy ekskrementy - są częścią naszej egzystencji i chcesz czy nie chcesz – nie przejdziesz przez życie bez konieczności rozmawiania o nich. Ludzie nie lubią wspominać gówna więc tworzą najróżniejszego rodzaju synonimy aby sie przed tym słowem uchronić. Kał, stolec, opróżnienie jako słowa ogólne, często używane w kontekstach medycznych czy naukowych, odchody w przypadku zwierząt, kupa w przypadku dzieci i w końcu wulgaryzm - gówno. Co istotne, terminy te nie działają zamiennie i podobnie jak lekarz nie poprosi Cię o próbę kupy, nie zapytasz trzylatka czy potrzebuje wydalić stolec.

Przeklinanie reakcyjne – tak, to ten przypadek, w którym po rozlaniu wina na nowe spodnie podczas romantycznego wieczoru, temat rozmowy nagle wkracza w tematykę religijną (Jezu!) lub nieprzyzwoitych czynności seksualnych (ja pierdolę!) a w języku angielskim również i ekskrementów (shit!). Czasem jest to nawet kombinacja tych trzech w zależności ile wina się rozlało i jak drogie były spodnie. Co ciekawe, słowa te nie działają zamiennie pomiędzy językami. To oznacza, że po polsku możesz w takiej sytuacji zakrzyknąć kurwa ale wyglądałbyś naprawdę głupio krzycząc po angielsku whore.

Przeklinanie nawykowe - z przyzwyczajenia chyba do danych wulgrazymów zdarza nam się używać ich w konstrukcjach które neutralizują ich znaczenie. Klasycznym przykładem jest ang. what the fuck, które nic nie ma do czynienia z pierdoleniem a słowo fuck użyte jest wyłącznie dla wzmocnienia efektu. Po polsku powiemy dla przykładu no i chuj – chyba nie mamy na myśli, że właśnie widzieliśmy chuja? Tego typu konstrukcje językowe wskazują, że nadużywamy słów i zatracamy przez to ich znaczenie.

Które pojęcia stanowią żródło negatywnych emocji?
Wspomnieliśmy wcześniej, że nie tłumaczymy wulgaryzmów dosłownie z języka na język, a efekty takiego zabiegu byłyby raczej komiczne. Pomimo tego, istnieją oczywiście uniwersalne pojęcia – kategorie, w które wpada większość wulgaryzmów języków świata:

Ekskrementy i związane z nimi pojęcia - tak, a ja znowu o tym gównie... (ang. piss, shit, ass/pol. gówno, szczać, dupa). Znajdujemy w tej kategorii słowa o silnym negatywnym znaczeniu i nie bez powodu. Epidemiolodzy twierdzą, że wiele chorób rozprzestrzenia się przez nasze płyny ustrojowe. Dawniej w języku angielskim obecny był wulgaryzm pox on you (pox - ospa) a w języku polskim do dziś używamy słowa cholera.

Seks i organy płciowe -  (ang. fuck, dick, cunt/pol. pierdolić, kutas, pizda) Dlaczego słowa te stanowią źródło negatywnych emocji, jeśli seks jest przyjemny? Nie jest przyjemny jeśli wziąć pod uwagę wszystkie aspekty seksualności – również prostytucję, kazirodztwo, molestowanie i gwałt. Są to tematy kontrowersyjne dla społecześntwa i w związku z tym obciążone silnym ładunkiem emocjonalnym.

Religia – (ang. Jesus, hell, damn/pol. jezus, chryste, rany boskie) Te wydają sie współcześnie zatracać na sile wyrazu poza grupami społeczeństwa głęboko religijnymi, zwłaszcza tych w środowiskach katolickich. Pamiętam z dzieciństwa, że babcia nakazywała mi przepraszać w paciorku za ''wymienianie imienia Pana Boga twego na daremno'' – dziś słyszę dzieci używające słów dużo bardziej wulgarnych.

Co dzieje się w naszym mózgu, gdy słyszymy wulgaryzmy?
Odpowiedź na to pytanie kryje się głęboko w neurobiologii. Przekleństwa aktywują obszary mózgu związane z negatywnymi emocjami, skoncentrowane w prawej półkuli. Co ciekawe, wulgaryzmy przetwarzane są mimowolnie, co oznacza, że nie można po prostu powtrzymać pobudzenia, jakie zachodzi w naszym umyśle na skutek negatywnych emocji związanych ze słowem, które słyszymy.  Aby udowodnić tą teorię, mój były wykładowca przeprowadził na naszych zajęciach prosty test z zakresu socjologii o niezwykle zaskakujących wynikach. Zadaniem było nazwać kolor czcionki w którym wydrukowane jest dane słowo na planszach, które nam pokazywał. Nie czytać słowa – tylko nazywać kolor. Czarny, zielony, czerwony, niebieski... Wszyscy zacięcie próbowaliśmy ale... nie dało rady. Okazuje się, że po latach kontaktu z drukiem i literaturą, nasze umysły przetwarzają impulsy automatycznie i bez naszego wpływu. Oznacza to tym samym, że podobnie wulgaryzmy zmuszają nas do myślenia o negatywnych emocjach.

Mastering Negativity

Learners of English face a formidable task. Certain areas of the language seem to have very few rules that you can learn. Instead you have to memorise all of the various different exceptions. One of these areas is forming the negatives (opposites) of adjectives and adverbs. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, adjectives are descriptive words and adverbs describe the manner in which an action takes place.

Sometimes it is ok (and occasionally preferable) to add the word 'not'.

I'm not hungry
The shop assistant was not at all helpful

Usually, though, the negative is formed by adding a prefix to the word for example someone who is not helpful is unhelpful. Unfotunately there are several prefixes to choose from, including “un”, “in”, “im”, “dis” and there aren't really any rules that you can use to choose the right one.

In Polish the negating prefix is most commonly "nie". Wygodny (comfortable) becomes niewygodny (uncomfortable) in the negative. Not all Polish words starting nie are negative forms of words. Take for example Niedziela (Sunday) and nietoperz (bat). The same is true in English, but to an even greater extent:

Something that is inflammable should be treated with more caution than something that is merely flammable
Indifferent is not the same as "not different"

Furthermore, there are words which seem to be negative forms of words, but you can't reverse their meaning by simply removing the prefix. Take, for example, inept (clumsy), there is no such word as "ept". The opposite of inept is skillful. So, there you are. Negating English adjectives and adverbs is just something that needs to be learnt on a case-by-case basis. Another one of the “joys” of the English language.


Misnomer is "an incorrect or unsuitable name or term for a person or thing". A classic example of this phenomenon is “koala bear”, in reality it’s not a bear.

In my everyday life I see less extreme, but more personally irksome, examples of misnomers. Why do people insist on using the word express when something is patently not. Microwaveable rice can be nuked in less than two minutes and quite deservedly earns the title express. Trains that travel in excess of 100mph and make relatively few stops also earn the express title. However, the Pizza Express restaurant that took 45 minutes to bring me my garlic bread in a relatively empty restaurant should have the word express immediately removed from their signage and simply be called "Pizza".

Tesco Express stores also vary greatly in terms of how quickly you get served. Similarly with express checkouts at supermarkets. Some supermarkets are aware of this fact and refer to these checkout lanes as "basket only". Others mark theirs with a sign saying something along the lines of "10 items or less". There is always someone who will have eleven or twelve items and spoil it for the rest of us. The pedantic amongst you will know that the correct phrase is "10 items or fewer". This is a grammatical sin not quite as grave as the so-called grocer's apostrophe (where the sign maker puts in apostrophes for no good reason, e.g.  "Cabbage's £1 each")

Mild confusion can arise from other descriptions. I am always disappointed by the term "All-day breakfast" when I find that it only takes me five to ten minutes to eat it. Ah, I see now, it is available all day.

One thing that always makes me chuckle is the sign "Family Butcher". Instead of visions of a family-friendly butcher I imagine a wild-eyed madman with a meat-cleaver chasing a family round their living room.

There are government bodies that exist solely to make sure that we are not misled by advertisers. They randomly sample boxes of cereals and weigh them to make sure we’re not being cheated and send burgers to laboratories to determine how much meat they really contain. Their concern for our welfare does not yet extend to borderline abuses of the word “express”. If a well-paid job arises for a pizza-delivery time-checker I’ll be first in the queue to apply.

Great typo hunt

Jeff Deck came across a ‘’no tresspassing sign’’ that has bothered him for years – double s in trespassing!

The sign had been taunting passers-by with that loathsome extra s for who knew how long. (…) I stared at that no trespassing, and I wondered: Could I be the one? What if I were to step forward and do something?

And so began the TEAL – Typo Eradication Advancement League. Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson document their travels across America in their book - The Great Typo Hunt. Two friends changing the world. One correction at a time. Armed with markers, correcting typos they found wasn’t an easy task. People don’t always react positively to having their errors pointed out to them so our heroes needed to soften their approach as they can easily get into the very heart of somebody’s sense of worth sometimes. They couldn’t just say: you know what; you don’t know how to spell. It’s a natural reaction to get defensive when somebody points out your mistakes. They tried to be sensitive and approached people as courteously as possible and emphasised the fact that they were only going after the mistakes themselves and not the people who made them. They shifted their mission from not just correcting single errors to asking everybody to always have a second look as it is human to make mistakes.

My favourite typo correction Jeff and Ben made was to do with my beloved type of typos and probably one of the most common ones – unnecessary apostrophe. I’ve written about it in the past but just a short reminder: we have an apostrophe when it’s a contraction – it is/it has but its as a possessive pronoun does not need an apostrophe. People argue back because possessives need apostrophes and that’s the rule, however, they forget that pronouns are the exception! They found an apostrophe on the sign where it didn’t belong but it had been written on the white board for so long that it wouldn’t wipe off so the lady came out, grabbed their marker and changed the apostrophe into a little star, then she added a couple more stars and it looked as if there never was to be an apostrophe.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @TEALJeffDeck and check out his website http://www.greattypohunt.com The book is definitely worth reading too. Patricia T. O’Conner, author of Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, says:

In this seriously funny – and seriously thoughtful – book, a simple typo hunt becomes something more: an investigation into the deeper mysteries of orthographical fallibility. To err is human; to correct, divine!

It was exciting to accompany those two language lovers on their challenging journey and I wish more of us took care of the way we spell. Inspired by their quest I have also corrected a mistake I found in the office I work for. Somebody wrote down: This equipment must be switched not off! so I hurried to change the word order! It felt great! Thanks Jeff and Ben!

New contributor

I would like to introduce a new contributor on www.englishfocused.com. You will be able to read Will Harper's first post later on today, the first of many hopefully!

What makes English so interesting for me (and so difficult for learners of it) is that there are so many ways of expressing yourself. A pool of over a million words to choose from, a certain number of these are obscure, some of the remainder will make you sound pretentious. Even after cutting out all the clichés there is still plenty of scope for wordplay. Choosing the “perfect” phrase when doing a translation or proofreading brings an immense amount of satisfaction.
 Will Harper

If you would like to write for www.englishfocused.com too or have an idea for an article please drop me a line.

Class wars

We can't open our mouths without revealing the social class we come from. England is no exception here, possibly even the worst case of a class-obsessed society where everyone is able to tell exactly which social class somebody else belongs to. The lower class call the upper class posh, the upper class call the lower class plebs and the war never ends. It's one of the reasons I'm quite happy to have a foreign accent as at least I don't get involved in the battles between the two which, although petty, provide real entertainment to impartial observers like me...
  • Battle 1. Vowels. The upper class seem to forget vowels exist at all and drop them whenever possible. Suddenly handkerchief becomes a hnkchf almost as if they couldn't be bothered to open their mouths any more than necessary. What's amusing is that they love to refer to themselves as one. As one prefers to avoid personal pronouns. Conversely middle and lower classes in the North seem to stretch vowels and where are you going turns into where are you gooooooing. In particular, they seem to elongate the a sounds and sometimes change them for long i sounds. There was a chef, at my last job in Cumbria, called Dave and certain people would refer to him as Dive. This is especially noticeable in the Brummie and Geordie accents spoken by middle and lower class people from Birmingham and Newcastle respectively. Similarly, they would say me mam, me dog, me car rather than my mum, my dog and my car.
  • Battle 2. Consonants. The upper class might drop their vowels but lower classes drop their consonants in return. This is linguistically called glottal stop and I explained this term in some of my previous articles. Basically, they would rather say be'er and wha'ever rather than better and whatever and this can be heard in some of the songs by Kate Nash where the artist purposely adopts this style in order to mimic a certain part of society. In the middle and lower classes th often turns into f and g turns into k. They even tend to write it this way too and we refer to it as text-speak. For example, I fink.
  • Battle 3. Foreign words. I've had numerous arguments in the past over the pronunciation of foreign words in English i.e. usually names or places. Nevertheless, I keep stating as follows. If the word is commonly used in English and has an English version of pronunciation that differs from its original just use the English version, you are English, you speak English, you live in England. Showing you know how to pronounce given words in the source language does not make you any better, it does however make you sound like a pretentious prick. There's no need to try hard and pronounce French words rolling your r badly anyway, neither is there any need to exhibit to everyone that you a member of the middle or lower classes. I'm a native speaker of Polish but refer to places that are in Poland using their English names when speaking English i.e. Warsaw instead of Warszawa and Cracow instead of Kraków.
  • Battle 4. Certain words. Sometimes it's enough to say just one word and it instantly gives away your social background. We said before that foreign words should be pronounced in the way that is easiest for English speakers. There are also foreign words in common use that should really be completely omitted and changed for their English equivalents. The upper class seem to grasp this concept quite well and avoid saying settee for sofa or lounge for sitting room. This works the other way round in lower classes. The way people refer to meals can also be confusing to foreigners. When I first moved to Cambridge I happened to stay with an upper-middle class family. They would talk of lunch as a midday meal, dinner or supper as the evening meal. Dinner would usually indicate that there are guests invited, whereas supper was a family-only evening meal, usually served in the kitchen. In time as I socialised more with English people from various social groups I wondered how one can eat tea until I was surprised to find out this was what they call their supper. If you are invited for dinner make sure what time you are supposed to turn up as some refer to lunch as dinner - I learnt this after I moved to Cumbria.
The class system in England has very little to do with money or occupation, a bit more to do with education and a lot to do with which social class you were born into and grew up in. There are, of course, other class indicators such as hobbies, drink, food and clothing, however, speech gives it all away immediately and definitively. It's yet another wonder of language.

Life's a laugh and death's a joke

Having lived in England for about two years I must have been accused hundreds of times of not understanding the famous English sense of humour. It's true to some extent, however, it's mostly caused by cultural differences between England and Poland. The English sense of humour is not considered to be a positive sense of humour as it involves mockery, sarcasm and cynicism. Don't be offended, they will say worse things to you the longer have known you for and the more comfortable they feel in your company, so just accept it. Whereas, in other cultures there are certain situations in which jokes are out of place, the humour in England is constant. "Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true". Although I can't see much fun in insulting each other for laughs there is a part of English humour that I do find highly amusing. I love watching the English talk and how they try so hard to avoiding sounding enthuisiastic. This is based on constant under-statement. A beautiful half-naked model in your bedroom is "not bad" and a serial killer is "not a very nice person". Ok, that's enough for now, I must watch Mr Bean on TV.

Staroangielski czy anglosaski?

Nie ma żadnej różnicy pomiędzy językiem staroangielskim a anglosaskim. Nazwa ‘’język anglosaski’’ pochodzi od Anglosasów, którzy posługiwali się językiem staroangielskim w regionach, które dziś znamy jako Anglia i południowo-zachodnia Szkocja. Termin ‘’język staroangielski’’ jest niestety często mylnie używany w odniesieniu do okresu Średnioangielskiego, zarówno późnego jak i wczesnego (1066-1450) a czasem nawet Nowoangielskiego – wczesnego i późnego (1500-1800). Współczesny Nowoangielski to z kolei termin, który nazywa język angielski jakim posługujemy się dzisiaj.

Staroangielski był językiem zachodniogermańskim. W wyniku najazdów wikingów na Wielką Brytanię, duży wpływ miał na niego staronordyjski. Z czasem deklinacja, która z początku wyraźnie była obecna w staroangielskim i podobna do niemieckiej, zaczęła ulegać uproszeniom. Po inwazji Normanów na Anglię w 1066 roku język angielski uległ wpływom łaciny a następnie dominacji francuskiego. W roku 1150 Staroangielski nie był już w użyciu.

Wyrazy Obce

Pewien czas temu napisałam artykuł, zarówno po polsku jak i po angielsku, na temat procesów słowotwórczych, jako że ten dział językowstwa był zawsze bliski mojemu sercu. A jest to temat – rzeka. Pozwalam sobie zostawić z Wami kilka myśli, które przywędrowały do mojej głowy i nie zostały dotąd spisane.

Zapożyczenia poddawane są procesowi asymilacji w języku – biorcy na czterech poziomach: fonologicznym (wymowa), graficznym (pisownia), morfologicznym (sufiksy/przyrostki) i semantycznym (znaczenie). Pierwsze pytanie nasuwające się na myśl: dlaczego zapożyczenia to głównie rzeczowniki, w mniejszym stopniu czasowniki, stosunkowo niewiele przymiotników i innych części mowy? Czy odpowiedź kryje się w fakcie, że ogólnie więcej mamy w języku rzeczowników? A może zapożyczamy rzeczowniki ponieważ potrzebujemy jedynie słów arbitralnych i jednocześnie niezbędnych? Dla przykładu, nie mieliśmy w języku polskim odpowiednika słowa joystick więc używamy swobodnie terminu zapożyczonego z języka angielskiego. @talkclouds, użytkowniczka serwisu Twitter próbuje utwierdzić mnie w tym przekonaniu:

The book I'm reading on vocabulary learning also says that nouns are easier to remember, too. Plus we import STUFF more. We don't import actions and ideas as much.

A Dictionary of European Anglicism: A Usage Dictionary of Anglicisms in Sixteen European Languages, słownik autorstwa Manfreda Gorlacha przedstawiający wpływ angielszczyzny na języki Europejskie wydawał się być rozsądnym źródłem danych na nurtujący mnie temat zapożyczeń. Czytam w nim jednak, że według autora anglicyzmy nie są asymilowane morfologicznie w językach europejskich, w tym polskim. Nie wierzę. Czytam jeszcze raz. To z pewnością nieprawda! Zaczynam rozmyślać, rozpisywać przykłady, szukać, pytać. Nie mogę spać. Błądzę i po omacku szukam wyjaśnienia. Praktycznie rzecz biorąc, wszystkie rzeczowniki w języku polskim zapożyczone z języka angielskiego przyjmują rodzaj gramatyczny, polski wykładnik liczby mnogiej i odmieniają się przez przypadki. Weźmy dla przykładu wcześniej wspomniany joystick – joysticki, joysticka, joystickowi, joystickiem, joysticku... Słownik Gorlacha jest dostępny na brytyjskim Amazonie za £33. Dobra inwestycja? Nie wydaje mi się.

Trochę z innej beczki. Kilka dni temu odwiedziłam serwis NK po długiej, kilkumiesięcznej, przerwie. Przysięgam, nie zrobiłam tego poszukując inspiracji lingwistycznych – czasem, zaskakująco, robię w życiu rzeczy, które nie są związane z językoznawstwem! Jak na złość, zapożyczenia i różnego rodzaju neologizmy znalazły mnie. Rzadko czytam polskie teksty w Internecie i muszę przyznać, że rozszyfrowanie tego swojego rodzaju żargonu, wytworzonego przez Polaków dla potrzeb Internetu, sprawiło mi niemałe trudności. Gotuję kolację i wspominam o tym. Tak od niechcenia, na serwisie Twitter. @iszunia – dziewczyna warta ‘’follow’a’’ kieruje się do mnie mówiąc:

Ja zwróciłam uwagę, że sformułowanie - "na blogasku" jest okropnym infantylizowaniem i zaśmiecaniem języka (...) nie wiem, co znaczy "posłituje" i "pokomciuje"? Ktoś mnie oświeci?

‘’Czyli jednak nie jestem sama’’, myślę sobie i daję się wciągnąć w dyskusję z kilkoma użytkownikami. Ostatecznie formułuję:

Pewnie sporo jest tego typu neologizmów rodem z internetu. Widać, jest na nie potrzeba językowa młodszej generacji. ‘’posłitować’’ - pełna asymilacja. Tak serio to się zgadzam, z drugiej strony naturalnym zjawiskiem są przemiany językowe - w tym przypadku zapożyczenia. Cieszmy się, że przynajmniej polska pisownia jest zachowana - ‘’słit’’ raczej niż ‘’sweet’’ i nawet polskie sufiksy trybu dokonanego – ‘’Po-słitować’’. Jest wiele słów, które jeszcze kilka lat temu nie były w języku polskim używane - "szosa" szokującym przykładem zapożyczenia. Też jestem winna wtrącaniu słów angielskich w rozmowie z Polakami ale tylko jak nie mam czasu znaleźć polskiego odpowiednika - tak szybciej, prościej. Trzeba uważać w listach i języku formalnym bo można się łatwo ośmieszyć.

Wyczytałam niedawno, że czasownik ‘’Google’’ powinien być pisany z wielkiej litery, przynajmniej w języku angielskim. Bardzo nietypowo bo niewiele jest czasowników z taką pisownią. Ciekawi mnie, jak wyglądać to będzie w języku polskim , zwłaszcza jeśli zmodyfikowany morfologicznie – ‘’Pogooglować’’? ‘’Wygooglować’’? A może ‘’poGooglować’’? ‘’wyGooglować’’? Wygląda na to, że znów czeka mnie kilka bezsennych nocy.

Step by step grammar 3: Adjectives

An adjective is a word that describes nouns (we’ve talked about nouns in Step By Step Grammar 1) and pronouns (we will talk about pronouns in the future but to give you a rough idea these are examples of pronouns: he, she, it). E.g. White cat cat is a noun, white describes a cat, therefore is an adjective.

Words in bold in the following sentence are adjectives:

I started reading this fantastic book about a brave captain who goes on a transatlantic journey in order to win the heart of a beautiful princess.

Sometimes it also quantifies nouns and pronouns e.g. many peoplemany is an adjective. Attention: an adjective does not describe a verb (we’ve talked about verbs in Step By Step Grammar 2) or another adjective. E.g. I talk openly about my problemsopenly describes a verb talk and therefore is NOT an adjective but an adverb. We will talk about adverbs in the future. Those two parts of speech i.e. adjective and adverb often get confused.

There are different types of adjectives, but you don’t need to know about them just yet, we will probably talk about it later on when you feel a bit more comfortable with grammar and its basics.

I hope this was easy. If you haven’t subscribed to www.englishfocused.com yet do it now as there’s more to come. Next Wednesday we will explain what a pronoun is.


Not Exactly What I Meant

We all make mistakes and it just so happens that some of those mistakes are truly hilarious. I think the funniest ones I come across are made by non-native English speakers, including me.
  1. When I first moved to the UK I must have been 18 or 19 and my English, though good, was nowhere near its present level. Everytime I was asked for "pennies" in the shop, I'd blush as with its pronunciation it resembles the Polish equivalent of "penis". No, sorry. I don't happen to carry any penises with me. I might have some change if this helps...
  2. Went for ski break holiday last year with my, then boyfriend, and his family. I can't remember the exact circumstances in which I made this mistake although I clearly remember standing in the bathroom door and talking about a "serious killer" when I surely meant "serial killer". I also remember my ex crawling on the floor laughing. 
  3. This was a really embarassing Twitter status update fail from last night, when after having a bit to drink, I updated my status saying "I'm dancing around my bedroom with wine in my knickers and sweater". I hurriedly explained that I did not actually mean that the wine was in my knickers... It was then followed by a couple of comments such as "ran out of clean glasses again?" and "I thought this was an unusual way of storing alcohol". This has been now officially proven - my English achieves its lows when I'm intoxicated.
  4. One of the kids I used to teach English back in Poland still sometimes sends his homework for me to check for mistakes. His task was to describe his mother. He writes: "My mum has back hair". Yes, I certainly seem to remember her having black hair, didn't realise she had some on her back too! He then goes on to write about an unfortunate event from her life as follows: "My mum broke her rib and got laid in the hospital". It is indeed bad news she broke her rib but she's still a pretty lucky mum as far as getting laid in the hospital goes... 
Remember, if you make a funny mistake, laugh with others. No need to get frustrated or feel embarrassed. Learn from it, the short-lived embarrassment will certainly make it easier to remember! And please, don't forget - speaking a foreign language is very difficult and errors are inevitable. You are amazing and doing a brilliant job!

Speaking indirectly about indirect speech

As I was complaining to my friend last night about how I don't know whether the guy I'm interested in is single, they suggested I simply ask him, to which I hysterically responded with a big "no". This would be, of course, too blatantly obvious and therefore simply inappropriate in the delicate matter of flirting. It made me not only laugh but also inspired me to think about the wonders of speaking indirectly.

Why do we communicate in ways which seem error-prone instead of stating our intentions unambiguously? Why do we bother with employing innuendos which puzzlingly seem rather unnecessary and inefficient? "So what are you up to tonight then? Going out with your missus?" It's hilarious, really.

I remember reading ‘’The Logic of Indirect Speech’’ by S. Pinker, M. A. Nowak and J. J. Lee a while back and thinking how brilliant this article was. I recommend reading it as well, here’s where you will find it:

The logic of indirect speech

What strikes me, however, is that they use rather confusing terminology as what they describe as indirect speech in their article is not what grammarians understand as reported speech. Those two terms are often synonyms in grammatical sense but in sociolinguistcs they obviously aren’t. I think it’s safer to refer to what Pinker, Nowak and Lee are talking about as speaking indirectly rather than indirect speech. Yes, it’s one of those paradoxes of English language where you have the same term that means two completely different things.

Moving on, I feel I owe you a bit of explanation on what indirect speech/reported speech is as well. In English grammar we have both direct and indirect speech and reported speech is a synonym for the latter. When we give information about what people say or think we can say exactly what it was and quote them e.g. He said, ‘’You’re fit!’’. We can also ‘’report’’ what they said without quoting them word for word e.g. ‘’He said I was fit’’. The first is, of course, an example of direct speech whereas the latter – indirect speech.

A heated debate ensued last night when my friend was adamant that my article wasn’t about indirect speech. So, I pointed him in the direction of the article by Professor Pinker et al and the matter was resolved. However, I never fully found out the aforementioned guy’s relationship status…

Evolution of spelling?

I got involved in an interesting discussion with @ciarancurran76 and @rougeit on Twitter which I’d like to share with you. I might be following it up with a longer article soon as well. Let me just add that both lovely gentlemen are totally worth following too!

ciarancurran76 What is really sad is that you know the difference between your and you're, and most English people don't!

EwelinaGonera I know, they're both pronounced the same so I can see why people get confused! Similarly with they're/their/there too.

ciarancurran76 It's lazy though - especially when people here rarely speak another language - you should at least get your own right… But I am intolerant of bad grammar!

EwelinaGonera I make mistakes myself all the time as a foreigner plus I try and explain things to people rather than preach them. They'll never learn otherwise as we are all sensitive to criticism!

ciarancurran76 I make mistakes too, and I wouldn't preach - but here in the UK there seem to be many people who don't want to learn. It sounded like I hated people making mistakes - I don't, it is the only way to learn!

EwelinaGonera Agreed. I sometimes get the impression that spelling things wrong is even considered "cool" nowadays. Why? It's a puzzle.

rougeit it's not cool. It's the evolution of language. Wasn't spelling 'set' by the invention of the printing press?

EwelinaGonera I agree, some of it is very inventive and clever, e.g. homophones such as gr8 or acronyms LOL etc., however, some of it is simply the fact people can't spell and it has nothing to do with evolution but illiteracy.

rougeit may not be illiteracy. Chaucer sometimes spelt same word 3 different ways in same sentence. Illiterate. Him?

EwelinaGonera No but people could spell as they liked before the late 18th century and writers would rely on their own phonetics when spelling. This has changed with the era of dictionaries of Johnson and his ilk. If we started spelling things as we like again this would mean we are regressing rather than evolving.

rougeit we communicate in many more ways than ever. Language is evolving again after centuries of stagnation. Cultural values change too. Spelling is much more fluid again. Color/Colour both aceeptable in UK now. Not to mention email/e-mail. Late night/nite and even lite.

EwelinaGonera I totally agree but evolving and not knowing how to spell something are two different stories!

rougeit why shouldn't we spell how we want, so long as we are understood?

EwelinaGonera I ask myself this question as Polish is a phonetic language and we don't encounter as many difficulties when spelling. Also in English it would ‘’maek mor sens to spel wurdz the wae thae sound.’’ Unfortunately there are lots of dialects of the English language and people pronounce things differently anyway.

Step by step grammar 2: Verbs

As mentioned last Wednesday, today we are talking about verbs. The verb is perhaps the most important part of the sentence as the sentence would not exist without the verb! It’s a word that we use to express actions, emotions and beings. In its dictionary form it follows the word ‘’to’’and we call this form infinitive e.g. to take, to hate, to be.

In English verbs take different forms too and there are also different types of verbs. You might want to find out more about it once you feel a bit more comfortable with all those grammatical twists as I don’t want to confuse you just yet! For now it’s enough to know that the forms verbs take are to do with the tense and the person in the sentence. For instance the verb to be can take following forms: I am, you are, he is, I was, you were, I am being etc.

Words in bold in the following sentence are verbs:

I met Jack at school and he mentioned he was going to walk his dog with Susie.

I hope this was easy. If you haven’t subscribed to www.englishfocused.com yet do it now as there’s more to come. Next Wednesday we will explain what an adjective is.