Thursday, December 2, 2010

No Matter What Happens, We'll Stick Together


The English conjunctions of the type 'no matter what/how/who...' are often used the same way as 'whatever/however/whoever...'.

No matter what you do, I'll be with you. / Whatever you do, I'll be with you.

You have to do it no matter how hard it is. / You have to do it however hard it is.

No matter who opposes the plan, the boss will go ahead with it. / Whoever opposes the plan, the boss will go ahead with it. 

'No matter' can be used with 'why' as well. 

What she did was wrong, no matter why she did it.

Sometime the clause containing 'no matter what/how/who...' may even leave out the rest.

They promised to support us, no matter what.

You can call me no matter when.

He'll succeed, no matter how.

However, only the 'whatever/however/whoever...' form can be used when the clause containing it acts as the subject or object of the main verb (i.e. when it's a subject or object clause).

Whoever comes here will be welcome.

You can't do whatever you want.

And if it's about something that doesn't make a difference in any manner, another pattern is used to convey the idea. 

It doesn't matter how you do it.

It doesn't matter when they come; we're ready. 

(Image credit: cambodia4kidsorg)
 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Are You Taller Than Me?


Some confusion exists over whether to use the nominative or accusative case of pronouns (e.g. I or me, he or him...) after ‘than’ in English. Although the nominative case is the strictly grammatical option when the comparison is with the subject of the sentence, modern everyday usage often goes against it.

He's taller than I. [formal] / He's taller than me. [informal but very common]

The latter pattern, though somewhat informal, is so common that the former might even sound stilted in most situations. One way to avoid this is to go a bit further than just ending the sentence with the pronoun.

He’s taller than I am.

Similarly:

She got better marks at the exam than I did. / She got better marks at the exam than I. [formal] / She got better marks at the exam than me. [informal] 

When the comparison is between two things that happen to be the object of the sentence, this problem doesn't arise as the pronouns will be in the accusative case anyway.

The ball hit me harder than him. 

Sometimes care must be taken in informal situations to avoid misunderstandings with this type of expression.

He hit me harder than her. (He hit both me and her, but I was hit harder.)

He hit me harder than she did. (Both he and she hit me, but he hit me harder)

In the second scenario above, ‘He hit me harder than her’ should be avoided even in informal contexts since it could most probably be misunderstood.

A similar pattern can be observed in comparisons with ‘as’.

He’s as tall as I am. / He’s as tall as I. [formal] / He’s as tall as me. [informal]

After a form of the verb ‘be’, the accusative is strongly preferred in informal usage while the nominative may be found in formal contexts. To avoid controversy, people sometimes resort to other patterns.

It was I who talked to her. [formal] / It was me who talked to her. [informal] / I was the one who talked to her.

In places like photo captions, it’s usual to find the accusative.

Me and my brother

As for the word order of the above, people sometimes put whoever is perceived to be the main character (even oneself, as above) first, especially in informal situations. However, it’s otherwise considered more polite to put oneself last. The order often is as follows: ‘you’, third-person pronoun (he/him, she/her…), proper noun (name), common noun, I/me

You, he, Michael, my brother and I are leaving tomorrow.

As an aside, adjectives are ordered according to the nature of the quality they describe (though it’s bad practice to use too many of them in a row): opinion/observation, size (height, width, length, volume), shape, condition, age, colour, pattern, origin (nationality, ethnicity), religion, material, purpose

that ugly short old man

the large empty plastic shopping bag

an on-going Sri Lankan Buddhist wedding ceremony

Also note that when the adjectives used each qualify the noun separately (co-ordinate adjectives), rather than each adjective qualifying the whole phrase that follows it (cumulative adjectives), they’re separated by a comma. Their order can normally be changed if necessary. Alternatively, the word ‘and’ can replace the comma.

It was a dark, cold room. / It was a dark and cold room. / It was a cold, dark room. / It was a cold and dark room.

And adverbs (or adverb phrases), when they follow each other, come in this order: manner, place, frequency, time, purpose

She walked briskly around the square three times every morning to keep fit.

(Image credit: Linea de Corte)
 
 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What's the Alternative?


The two English words 'alternate' and 'alternative' seem to be a bit confusing to many people. The noun 'alternative' simply means 'something that can be done/used instead of something else' and nobody replaces it with 'alternate'. When it comes to the adjective in the same sense, though, some people - especially those who use American English - consider both as equivalents.

Do we have any alternatives? (Are there any other things that we can do/use instead?)

We have to find an alternative/alternate[esp. AmE] solution.

However, it's to be noted that not everybody considers this use of 'alternate' acceptable. So it may be safer to stick to 'alternative' in such contexts.

The word 'alternate', on the other hand, is used as an adjective to mean that two things follow each other again and again. When talking about many things of the same sort occurring in a row (for example days,nights...), it means 'every other (one but not the next)'. 

The fabric had alternate stripes of black and white. (black, white, black, white...)

Meetings are held on alternate week days. (One week day, not the next, but again the third, not the fourth, and so on.)

The word is also used as a verb when two things follow each other repeatedly.

White stripes alternate with black ones on that fabric.

You have to alternate layers of bread and/with cheese when making a cheese sandwich.

The lighting on the stage alternated between dimness and brightness.

(Image Credit: .: Philipp Klinger :.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If I Were You...



Although the second and the third conditionals in English are both used to talk about things that we think are unreal, they deal with two very different scenarios. The former appears in situations where we think the condition (which is expressed by the part of the sentence containing the conjunction 'if' or 'unless') is rather unlikely to happen. The latter, on its part, is about the past and it denotes a condition that we think had the possibility of happening sometime in the past though it didn't really happen. 
 
If he worked hard, he would pass the exam. (Though we admit that he has the chance to pass the exam with hard work, we don't really think he'll work hard.) 

If he had worked hard, he would have passed the exam. (Though we admit that it he had the chance to pass the exam with hard work, he didn't work hard and therefore didn't pass the exam.)

However, when the condition is a thing of the past but the result concerns the present or the future, the statement may take a mixed form:

If he had worked hard, he would be rich today.  (Though we're talking about hard work that wasn't done in the past, the possible result of it - i.e. his chance of being rich by now - concerns the present.)

They would come to the party tomorrow if we had invited them at the office yesterday. (Though the result - their attending the party - is about the future, i.e. tomorrow, the time to invite them is already past, i.e. at the office yesterday, and therefore it's no longer possible to invite them.) 
 
If I had studied harder, I wouldn't have to repeat the exam next year. (I didn't study hard enough in the past, so I'll have to repeat the exam in the future.) 

Sometimes it could be the other way round too: the condition may be something that’s valid even at present though the result occurred in the past.



I wouldn't have done it if I were you. (The condition 'if were you' is used in the form of the second conditional because of its timeless quality though the part 'I wouldn't have done it' is about the past.)



You would have understood it if you knew German. (You didn't understand it because you don't know German. The fact that you didn't understand belongs to the past, but even now you don’t know German – i.e. assuming you haven’t learnt the language in the meantime.)


I would have gone on the trip with them if I didn’t have to attend this wedding tomorrow. (I didn’t go on the trip, which has already started, because I have a wedding to attend tomorrow – a planned action that’s yet to come. So I no longer can go on the trip, but my obligation to attend the wedding still stands.)

(Image credit: whatmegsaid)



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