I have such a problem in French with masculine and feminine nouns. I never know if something is le or la so I just choose one (50% chance of getting it correct, right?) Now my children are older, they always correct me when I get it wrong, usually while I'm trying to talk to someone in my best French.
In my class the other day, we were talking about "things of the past". Do you remember MP3 players? Huge mobile phones? Minitel? (That one's only for my French students:-) Well, they are all things of the past.
Here's another one:
Let's do a little bit of grammar. Do you notice it says "I'd pick it up without knowing who was calling"? The 'd there is would. We can use would in this way to talk about repeated actions in the past that we don't do now.
My Mum would always send me and my brothers and sister outside to play.
I would play the piano for hours.
See that we often use would with always.
You probably already know used to. We can use it in the same way as would but used to can also be used to talk about past states as well as actions.
My Mum used to send me and my brothers and sister outside to play.
I used to be really shy (NOT I would be really shy.)
I used to live in London (NOT I would live in London.)
Now over to you: What did you used to do when you were young? What would you always do when you were a child?
These are quite confusing expressions and are ones that most of my students get wrong. So here is a clear explanation:
One of the worst things about coming back from a holiday is finding 1245 unread mails in your inbox. Daimler have introduced a great solution - out-of-office auto-delete. That means zero mails on your return!
Here's an article from Time about the initiative and you can practise your prepositions at the same time as reading it: Try and fill in all the gaps with the correct preposition and then check on here on the Time website to see if you're correct.
And then why not talk to your boss about auto-delete for your next holiday...
Grammar question: when you are talking about an experience in the past without specifying when this experience happened, which tense do you use?
When you are talking about something that happened in the past, that is finished, and the time period has also finished, and we know when this thing happened, which tense do you use?*
Practise these two tenses in this week's song, an old classic by U2.
* Present perfect ( have / has + past participle) is what we use to talk about an experience in the past when we don't specify when it happened. For example, I've been on TV.
We also use it to talk about things that started in the past and continue until now, or sometime around now. I've worked here for 2 years.
We use the past simple (preterite) to talk about things that started and finished in the past. For example, I went to Cannes yesterday.
A song about the subjunctive and second conditionals doesn't sound too fun, but actually it's a great song by Beyoncé, if i were a boy.
Why do we say if i were a boy and not if i was a boy?
This is an example of the subjunctive. The subjunctive is used for unreal situations, and as they are unreal, there is no time. We don't use the subjunctive a lot in English (luckily for anyone learning English) and if I were is probably the most common.
If I were is a past subjunctive. Usually you don't notice the past subjunctive as it is the same as the past simple - if I won the lottery, won is actually a subjunctive here. You notice the verb be, because the subjunctive of be is were for every person.
Anyway, here's Beyoncé and a gap-fill exercise to go with the song. And if you want to know more about the present subjunctive, keep reading below the video.
Advanced grammar: the present subjunctive.
The present subjunctive is rare in conversation. It's quite formal and you'll see it more in writing.
The present subjunctive is the infinitive without to. You can often find it after verbs such as insist, suggest, recommend:
I insisted he try some of the chocolate cake.
I suggest you listen to this song.
The doctor recommended he not play sport for a month.
We also use it after certain adjectives like vital, essential, important.
It's essential that everyone arrive on time for the exam.
It's important that you be ready when the lawyer arrives.
Some common phrases are also examples of the subjunctive:
Rest in peace.
The good news - you don't really need to know the present subjunctive. Most English-speaking people don't even use it correctly. But next time you read a strange sentence like it's essential that the car be waiting at the airport, you'll know it's not a mistake!
Spoken English is not that complicated. We use more simple language for speaking than for writing. For example, we rarely use the passive in speaking.
Of course you need vocabulary to speak English, but in terms of grammar, there are just a few basic things you need:
And that's it!
If you just need English to speak (and write basic emails or messages), you don't need to waste your time on hours of grammar lessons. Good news!
PS Thanks to Scott Thornbury who inspired me to write this blog post after I saw him speak at a conference.
My blog has changed! If you're looking for my English-practice exercises, they're all still here, just look in the archives.
Catherine: blogging about learning, language, culture, France and more...