Saturday, June 30, 2012

If You Heard His Remark...

When it comes to conditional sentences dealing with the past, we're used to seeing the so-called Third Conditional pattern very often.

If you had heard his remark, you would have felt embarrassed. 

It's about a remark that you didn't hear and, therefore, it's clear that you didn't feel embarrassed either. The condition (which is in the if-clause) didn't happen, so the possible result of it could not happen. One is trying to visualise a scenario that was possible, but didn't really occur. That's where we use this pattern called the third conditional in English.

Sometimes we have to talk about a past condition we aren't quite sure about; that is, we don't know for sure whether it really happened as claimed by someone. This is a somewhat different scenario, and a different pattern has to be employed to convey this type of idea.

If you heard his remark, you must have felt embarrassed.

If you heard his remark, why didn't you respond?

In the above two cases, the other person may have claimed that they heard the remark, and the sentences are about possible results that depend on the veracity of that claim.

As conventional grammar books tend to focus only on three main types of conditional sentences, some students of English find this second pattern (which isn't one of those three) a bit confusing. This is further complicated by the nature of the second conditional pattern, which mostly uses past-tense verbs in the if-clause to refer to an improbable future (or present) occurrence.

If you heard a remark like that, you would feel embarrassed. 

The above example has nothing to do with the past. It's all about the present and the future. Maybe the speaker thinks the chances are rather slim that the other person will hear such a remark; or it could be an attempt at expressing one's opinion in a more polite way. Anyway the speaker is of the opinion that hearing this kind of remark is likely to cause embarrassment to the other person.

The term 'if', referring to the past, could also have the meaning 'whenever' (and the pattern would be similar to the second conditional):

If she saw me, she would smile.
(Whenever she saw me, she smiled.)

Or it may even mean something like 'though...(admittedly)' :

If that boy was silent, he certainly wasn't dumb.
(Though that boy was (admittedly) silent, he certainly wasn't dumb.) 

(Image credit: antonpinchuk)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ever Thought of This?

Thinking is one the skills that human beings can be proud of. While it's debatable whether the lesser creatures can really think, humans have the capacity to think in many different ways. So the way the verb 'think' is used differs a little depending on the kind of thinking involved.

Although 'think' can be followed by either 'about' or 'of', these two prepositions aren't always interchangeable; while they both appear in some cases, often there's a difference in the contexts they're used in.

For example, when 'considering' is what you have in mind, both prepositions are possible.

They should think more about/of their future. 

She's thinking about/of retiring.

'Thinking about' (or 'over') is usually the norm where trying to find a solution is the motive.

I've been thinking about/over this problem for a long time. 

We'll have to think about it. / We'll have to think it over.

And 'of' is common in senses like 'imagine', 'come up with', 'notice', 'remember', 'focus on' etc.

We couldn't think of (imagine, come up with) a way to solve the problem. 

He was the first to think of (notice) these potential problems.

I just couldn't think of (remember) her name.

I wasn't thinking of (focusing on) anyone in particular when I said that.

One's opinion of something may often be expressed with 'think of', but sometimes 'think about' also occurs in this regard.

What do you think of/about that book?

They'll never think of us the same way again.

She thinks highly of his work.

I don't think much of politics.

(Image credit: Robert Couse-Baker)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Please Don't Quote This 'Stuff'

We may have a lot of ideas of our own to write about. These could be interesting to other people too. But it's a rare man (or woman) who doesn't ever need to quote something someone else has said; and sometimes it has to be quoted in their own words too. Enter quotation marks.

My brother said, “I want something to eat.”

She asked, “Where's the bus stop?”

Some people prefer to use double quotation marks first ("---"), and take single quotation marks ('---') for quotations within quotations. Others, especially those following the British convention, do it the other way round.

My colleague said, "The GM wants to have 'fantastic' sales this year."

My colleague said, 'The GM wants to have "fantastic" sales this year.'

Very often other punctuation marks - full stops (periods), question marks, exclamation marks etc - also have to be included in such sentences. With most of these other marks, whether they come inside or outside the quotes depends on pure logic; that is, whether the punctuation mark applies just to the quotation or to the whole sentence.

She asked, “What's the time?”

Did he say, “Go away”?

However, full stops (or periods, as Americans call them) and commas don't follow this logic in American usage; Americans always put them inside the quotation marks. In British English, they also act just like the others and are put where they belong.

My friend says that his new car is ‘really fast’. (BrE)

My friend says that his new car is "really fast." (AmE)

They don't want anybody to ‘act funny’, you see. (BrE)

They don't want anybody to "act funny," you see. (AmE)

The reason why the American tradition places periods and commas this way happens to be the fault of old printing machines. They tended to push periods and commas out of position if placed outside quotes, so the pragmatic Americans just decided to keep these two locked inside.

Despite this trend, even Americans seem to kick them outside if the quotation is just a letter or a number.

The only grade most of them want is an "A".

On a scale of 1 to 10, his presentation has been given a "10".

(Image credit:
Gene Hunt)
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