Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Explain THIS, Part 2

By Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist, Author


Welcome back! In Part 1 we took a look at some lexical problems. I asked you to correct them and then, most importantly, think about how you would explain these corrections to your students in a clear, simple fashion. So here are my changes and explanations. Let’s see how similar our work is.

1.   (at a park)

A:  See Look at that bird! She’s feeding her chicks.

B: Where? I don’t look at see her.

Explanation: We use look at when we pay visual attention to something and we’re not focusing on any movement or action, but rather just the object of our attention. This is a voluntary action. We use see simply to mean what the eyes do when the eyelids open. This is an involuntary action. Person A wants Person B to pay visual attention to the bird; that’s why she should say “Look at that bird!” Person B uses see because his eyes simply can’t find that image.

2.   I’m going to show you how to decorate a birthday cake. Now look at watch me carefully. First, you …

Explanation: We use watch when we pay visual attention to movement or activity. We’re not so much paying attention to an object, but rather to its movement or action; that’s what’s important, not the object itself. That’s why the speaker says watch me. He means, “pay attention to what I do, (not really to me).”

3.   A: Hey, Dad. You’re taking the car to get to work this morning?

B: Yeah. I’ve got to run some errands after work, so I’ll need the car. Get on in and I’ll drive you to school.

A: Thanks! It’s awesome not to have to get in on the bus!

Explanation: In general, when we enter some type of vehicle either by moving horizontally or downward, we use get in (a car, a taxi, a subway car, a small private plane, a rowboat, etc). We use get on when we go in an upward movement to enter the vehicle (a bus, a train, a large commercial jet, a ship, etc). Because of this upward movement, we also use get on as a synonym for mount for a bicycle, motorcycle, and horse.

4.   (on a military base)

A: Good morning, General. Good morning, Colonel. May I help you gentlemen?

B: Good morning, Corporal. Our wives will be here very soon. Please ask them to wait right here for us.

A: Yes, misters sirs.

Explanation: English can get pretty quirky at times, especially when dealing with titles, and sometimes there’s no logical accounting as to why we say this but don’t say that. Here’s a great example of this quirkiness. One important note to mention here is that all of these explanations about titles are from the vantage point of an adult speaker, not a child.

It’s fine, of course, to use Mister (Mr.) together with a man’s last name, but when addressing one man who appears mature (i.e., over 30, although this is somewhat arbitrary) without his last name, it makes the speaker sound ill-mannered to use mister: “Hey, mister. You can’t park there!” That’s why the corporal would never say, “Yes, misters.” We opt for the word sirs in military parlance and in all other situations, we use gentlemen, just as Person A did above.

By the way, if the person being addressed seems to be under 30, the likelihood is that the form of address will be young man by an older person if a male and young lady if a female.

 5.   A: Good afternoon, madam. Welcome to Chez Maurice. Would you like a table?

B: Not yet, thank you. I’m waiting for a friend of mine to arrive. We’re having lunch together.

(a few minutes later)

A: Good afternoon, madam. Welcome to Chez Maurice. Do you have a reservation?

C: No, but my friend does. I’m meeting her here for lunch.

A: Oh, yes, she’s over there.

C: Hello, Belinda! I’m here!

A: Please follow me to your table, madams ladies.

Explanation: If a last name isn’t used, it’s very nice to use madam or ma’am when addressing one mature woman (usually somebody who appears to be over 30, although this again is somewhat arbitrary). A younger-looking woman will most likely be addressed as young lady by an older person.

So why not use madams?  Frankly, it’s because the way this word has evolved, when used as a noun, not a title, it refers both in the singular and the plural form to a woman who operates a bordello!

 6.   A: I still think that Yuri Gagarin was the greatest cosmonaut or astronaut in the earth world!

B: I’m not arguing with you. He was the first man to go into outer space and circle the world earth.

Explanation: We use world when we’re talking about all the people who live on the planet. Person A is doing just that, so using world is appropriate here. Person B is talking about the actual, physical planet, not the people on it, so that’s why it’s appropriate for him to use earth, the name of our planet.

 7.   A:  I just bought five acres outside the city. I’d love to build a house there.

B: I know how exciting this is for you. How does it feel to own ground land for the first time in your life?

Explanation: When we talk about what we can buy and divide into lots or acres or hectares, etc., we’re talking about land. We also use land when contrasting it to the oceans or seas. Person B is asking Person A about the five acres he just bought, and that means five acres of land.

 8.   A: I know that paleoanthropologists may never be able to answer this question, but I keep wondering why our hominid ancestors stopped swinging in the trees and decided to come down to the land ground.

B: Beats me. Maybe like some kids today, they just liked to play in the soil dirt!

A: Hah, hah! Very funny!

Explanation: We use ground as opposed to land when we’re focusing on the surface, what we see, what we stand on, what the grass and other plants grown on. When we talk about what we literally hold in our hands, one of the words we can use to describe that substance is dirt. The word dirt can have a negative or derogatory meaning as opposed to a neutral synonym like soil, so that’s why you’ll hear people say they don’t want their kids to play in the dirt (not in the soil).

 9.   (at a department store)

A: Excuse me. What are these sheets made with from?

B: One hundred percent Egyptian cotton.

A: Do you happen to know if this paint is made from with latex?

B: Well, I believe that’s one of the ingredients.

A: Is it true that this jewelry is made in out of abalone shell?

B: Yes, isn’t it beautiful?

Explanations: We use made from when we can’t identify the material that was used just by looking at it. When you look at a sheet, you can’t tell right off what material was used in its manufacture. / We use made with when noting the ingredients in something. In this case, Person A is asking if latex is one of the ingredients in that paint. / We use made out of when we actually can identify what was used to make a product. In this case, Person A can clearly see abalone shell that has been formed into jewelry, and just asks to be sure that’s what it is.

 10. A: You know, I’m tired of the color scheme in our living room and dining room. Let’s exchange change it.

B: That’s okay with me. Since I have to go to the paint store to change exchange this camel-hair brush I bought there for a nylon one, I’ll pick up lots of color samples for you to look at.

A: That’ll be great.

Explanation: There are times when these two verbs can overlap in meaning and usage, but there are times, such as this one, when they don’t overlap at all. In this context, Person A is saying that she wants to alter or make completely different the color scheme in those rooms. That’s why she should use change. Person B, on the other hand, is communicating that he wants to give back a camel-hair brush at the paint store and take a nylon brush instead. When we have this kind of give-and-take, we need to use exchange.


Pingback from Teacher Talk » Explain THIS, Part 3
November 1, 2013 at 11:53 am

[…] I’m back. Your inquisitor is at it again! I hope you enjoyed Parts 1 and 2  of my mini-crusade to help you, the English teacher, avoid “discomfort” when a student asks a […]

Leave a comment on this post