Tuesday, December 20, 2011

If She Found Out About It...

The second conditional in English is used to talk about imaginary scenarios that the speaker considers unlikely to happen or to be true.

She wouldn't be happy if she found out about it. (But I don't quite think she'll find out.)

If I had a million dollars, I'd buy a Porsche. (But I don't have that much money and it's not likely that I'll get it anytime soon.)

If I were you, I wouldn't do that. (But there's no way I can be you.)

In such sentences, the verb in the 'if-clause' doesn't really mean some past action but something improbable, if not downright impossible. In fact, though he verb form used seems to be in the past tense, it's really in the so-called subjunctive mood (past subjunctive); the past subjunctive is used not only for remote possibilities like in the second conditional, but also to express a wish, emotion etc.

I wish I had a car. (But I don't have one at the moment.)

If  only they were here! (But they're not.)

Unlike in some other European languages, the past subjunctive in modern English resembles the past tense in the case of most verbs. The rare exception is the verb 'be', where 'were' is used - especially in formal usage - even  with a singular subject (as in 'If I were you'). This lack of difference in most verbs spares the second-language learner the trouble of memorizing one more verb form, but leads to some difficulty in separating it from real past action.

On the other hand, as standard grammar books present the second conditional as if any 'if-clause' with a past-tense verb should fall in that category, some students have trouble realizing that 'if' can occur with real past action too.

If he had some free time, he played video games. (Whenever he had some free time, he played video games.)

If she found out about it, why didn't she talk about it?. (Assuming that she found out about it...)

If he was at school yesterday, he must have seen the accident. (Assuming that he was at school yesterday...)

(Image credit: M. Pratter)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Read Anything Except This!

In some instances, the two words 'except' and 'besides' seem to have almost opposite meanings:

He can cook anything except Indian food. (Here the meaning is something like 'minus Indian food', 'excluding Indian food'.)

Besides Indian food, he can cook Italian and Chinese food. (Here the meaning is something like 'plus Indian food', 'in addition to Indian food'.)

I had nothing to do there except watching TV (not considering watching TV).

I had lots of other things to do there besides watching TV (in addition to watching TV).

But how about the following case?

He can cook nothing except/besides Indian food.

So in negative sentences and questions with expressions like 'no', 'nothing', 'nobody', 'no one' 'anything' and 'anybody', both words are used in a similar way.

Do you have anything except/besides this model?

No one except/besides the owner had a key to the bungalow.

On the other hand, all this trouble can be avoided by using 'apart from', which can be used in all of the above sentences. 

He can cook anything apart from Indian food.

Apart from Indian food, he can cook Italian and Chinese food.

I had nothing to do there apart from watching TV.

I had lots of other things to do there apart from watching TV.

Do you have anything apart from this model?

No one apart from the owner had a key to the bungalow.

(Image credit:  Brendan Adkins)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

If I Were You... II

Some time back I wrote a post entitled 'If I Were You...', which mainly addressed the issue of mixed conditionals. As mentioned in that post, these sentence structures come into use when the condition you're talking about belongs in a different time slot than the possible outcome.

Though these patterns should come naturally to native speakers, the combinations might seem counter-intuitive to some people who've learned English as a second language since they're too hung up (no offence meant) on the three classic varieties of conditionals found in the traditional grammar books.

I stumbled upon a YouTube video (made by a native-speaker English teacher) the other day that explains the matter in vivid detail.

Coming from a native speaker of English, that should have clarified things further for you if you were just a bit confused earlier.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Let's Agree to Disagree

The word 'agree' has several uses in English. One of the most common among them is to indicate that one person has the same opinion about something as someone else, or thinks what the other person suggests is a good idea. 

I agree with him about/on the current situation. (I have the same opinion about the current situation as he does.)

I agree with his analysis of the current situation. (I accept his analysis as I also feel the same way about the current situation.)

We agree that we have to do something about the current situation. (We both think that we have to do something about it.) 

I do agree with this proposal, but I think it’s a bit too early to implement it. (I think the proposal is a good idea…)  

Our views agree. (The views have no difference.)

Sometimes this is used in a figurative sense too.

The figures don't agree. (The figures don't match.)

The noun and the verb of a sentence have to agree (with each other). (The noun and the verb have to suit each other.)

The food I ate there didn't agree with me. (That food made me sick.)

When one person expresses their willingness to act according to what someone else suggests, the verb 'agree' normally takes the preposition 'to' instead of  'with' as in the earlier case.

The others didn't agree to our proposal. (The others didn't want to do what we suggested.)

She refused to agree to those conditions. (She didn't want to do what those conditions demanded.) 

All my friends agreed to support me. (They were all willing to back me up as I asked them to.)

The word again comes into play when two or more people - usually after some debate - jointly make a decision or come to a conclusion.

They agreed to leave at 7 o'clock.  (They jointly made the decision to leave at 7 o'clock - most probably after some discussion.)

They agreed on a departure time. / They agreed a departure time.[BrE]  (They managed to find a departure time that would suit both/all of them.)

Finally we managed to agree on a price. / Finally we managed to agree a price.[BrE]  (After much haggling, we were able to find a price acceptable to both parties.)

And then there are times we just can't accept what the other guy says or suggests. If there's no hope at all of finding some middle ground, we still can put 'agree' to good use to keep the peace.

We have to agree to disagree. [AmE] / We have to agree to differ. [BrE] (We have to admit that we have two very different opinions and there's no point in arguing any more.)

(Image credit: o5com)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is It Time to Go Green?

The colour green is generally associated with nature today. To go green is to take environment-friendly measures; any move or movement that's called green is likely to be concerned with the protection of our surroundings.

green policies - policies favouring environmental conservation 

going green - taking measures to protect nature

It's used, by association, to convey other ideas too:

If you get the green light - or if someone gives you the green light - to do something, you get permission from that person to do it.

If someone has green fingers [BrE] or a greeen thumb [AmE], that person has the talent of growing plants successfully.

On the other hand, someone may be called green to mean that he or she lacks maturity or experience.

I don't think he can handle that job right now; he's still very green.

As if that weren't enough, it can also indicate the pale, unhealthy appearance of someone who's perhaps about to vomit.

The child was green after the long bus ride.

And the colour is invoked to signify the ugly feeling of envy too.

She was green with envy.

The feeling of envy itself is sometimes referred to as the green-eyed monster.

Going green doesn't seem to be that simple after all.
(Image credit: Kevin.Jack)
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