Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lesson on intensifiers

I've noticed that a few people who have googled "intensifiers" have landed up on a post I wrote some time ago about "ridiculously". And I imagine they've felt rather disappointed, as it didn't say much about other intensifiers, just defended the use of ridiculously.
So here, to make amends, is the real McCoy, a lesson on intensifiers.
  • The basics - gradable and non-gradable adjectives
  • Collocations - adverbs with adjectives
  • Collocations - adverbs with verbs
  • Collocations - adjectives with nouns
  • Intensifying with so and such
  • Intensifying with well

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Song lesson - 'A Boy Named Sue' by Johnny Cash

"A Boy Named Sue" was first recorded live at California's San Quentin State Prison at a concert on 24 February 1969. The song became Cash's biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only Top 10 single there, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969. (Wikipedia)
  1. Pre-listening vocabulary exercise
  2. Pre-listening grammar exercise
  3. Find the 'non-standard' grammar
  4. Vocabulary exercise - different meanings of mean
  5. Grammar exercise - different uses of would

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Song - 'One of us' by Joan Osborne - exercise with Second Conditional

I've already talked about this song in another post, but I thought that perhaps it deserved its own post with a full exercise.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Narrative tenses are there for a reason - to drive the narrative

Were you looking for exercises? - This post is a discussion about a particular example of narrative tense use. If you were looking for some exercises on narrative tenses, I have posted some here.
Discussion - Polish students sometimes complain about the English tense system, asking why we need so many? Their point being that Polish only has three tenses.
My own theory is that Polish actually has five tenses, because many verbs come in pairs, one in imperfective aspect (with three forms, roughly equivalent to present simple/continuous, past continuous and future continuous) and the other in perfective aspect (with two forms, roughly equivalent to past simple and future simple).
But they are listed separately in dictionaries, so I imagine Poles consider them, no doubt rightly, to be separate verbs.
In any case it's considerably less than English's 12, more if you count used to, going to etc. (I expect I should have said fewer there rather than less, but less was what first came to mind, and sounds more natural to me, so it stays.)
I came across a short passage the other day that illustrates rather well, I think, the advantages a rich palette of tenses can give. It was on the language blog Pain in the English (link below), where people ask questions about 'grey areas in English', and others give their opinions. I recently joined in one of the discussions

Song - 'Time in a bottle' by Jim Croce - exercise with Second Conditional

Jim Croce (1943 – 1973) was an American singer-songwriter. His song Time in a Bottle was recorded shortly before his death in an air crash, and was a No. 1 hit in the Billboard Hot 100, as was his other well-known song - Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. (Wikipedia)
Song exercise with Second Conditional

Q & A   Is 'outwith' a word?

It most certainly is, although you might get funny looks if you use it outwith Scotland. A detailed description of its usage would be outwith the scope of this Quick Answer, and might well be outwith my area of knowledge. And should my employers happen to stumble on this blog, I would like to assure them that it is written totally outwith my contracted hours.
You're probably beginning to get the picture. Most dictionaries, if they list outwith at all, usually define it as meaning outside, but it's a little more complicated than that. I think Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary has hit it on the head:
outside of something; not within something
It's usually this 'not within' or 'not part of', that we are stressing when we use this expression. I wouldn't say that this is a dialect word, being used rather in educated language, also known as Standard Scottish English. It is most often used in Scotland in quality newspapers, on serious programmes on TV etc.
In register I would say it is neutral to formal. You can see a selection of examples at the British National Corpus, link below, and I wrote a rather longer piece about it a few months ago, also linked to below.

Update - "outwith Scotland" etc

I've seen someone comment on one discussion board that this example is rather forced, and that he wouldn't use outwith in a geographical sense. I would tend to agree with him, neither would I, but it is used like this, especially in relatively formal contexts. Just google outwith Scotland, outwith Edinburgh, outwith Glasgow or outwith Aberdeen. See 'Further Update' below for more links.

Google Books and Google Ngram Viewer

You can also check outwith in Google Books, eg:
Hat tip to And here's a historical timeline of the use of outwith in a selection of Google Books, courtesy of Google Ngram Viewer - one of the best toys on the Internet.

NB. It is only used as a preposition.

It should also be stressed that outwith is only used as a preposition, whereas outside can be a noun, adjective and adverb as well as a preposition. So in Scotland we'd say:
  • Archie's outside in the garden with the dog. (adverb) Not he's outwith ...
  • Ewan's painting the outside of the house. (noun) Not he's painting the outwith ...
  • Senga's got an outside chance of winning. (adjective) Not she's got an outwith chance ...

Update - collected quotes

I thought it might be a good idea to collect examples of outwith from well-known writers, where possible linking to them in Google Books. I've also included a section with more historical use, often using facsimiles from the books themselves. These can be found on a separate page - Outwith

Further update - "outwith Scotland" etc

As there have been a couple of doubts expressed in the comments as to the use of outwith in a geographical sense, I've decided to add these links to show that that there is plenty of evidence that it is indeed used in this way by educated Scots and by Scottish institutions (as can also be seen by clicking on the city links above):

In Scots

This is the first part of the definition for outwith from the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL):
A. prep. 1. a. Of position: Outside of (a place or boundary); on the far side of; beyond.
For some early examples in old Scots see my reply to acme_54 in the comments section (more in the DSL).


  • Nigel Tranter, well-known writer on Scottish history, in A History of Scotland

    They cannot all be leaders, and consequently none are, and more united and less argumentative outsiders step in to lead them, whereas outwith Scotland, their natural energies and drive find scope amongst less combative folk, and they ...

  • John Prebble, another well-known chronicler of Scottish history, in John Prebble's Scotland:

    although he cared little for the Massacre, believing its importance exaggerated outwith the district

  • The Oxford Companion to Scottish History, by Michael Lynch

    Only 5 to 8 per cent of all transportees were Scots, half of these sentenced outwith Scotland (hence the range).

  • The Edinburgh Companion to Hugh MacDiarmid by Scott Lyall, Margery Palmer McCulloch

    ... in the Scottish universities or in universities outwith Scotland

In Parliament etc

Legal publications

See the links in my reply to Artisan in the comments section below

Links for selected site searches - "outwith Scotland"

Site searches for websites of some of the main instititions in Scotland, the media, education, politics, the law and the church. Instances of "outwith Scotland" are pretty plentiful.

Related links

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Q & A Does snow lay or lie?

Until recently I had the dubious pleasure of topping the list for longest blog posts on the register of language blogs at One Stop English. It was, I have to say, the only list I topped. Seeing I no longer have to defend my title, I've decided to go the other way occasionally, and write some really short posts.
So this is the first of what I intend to be a regular series answering some of the questions googled by people who have landed up on this blog. And if you think this is just a shameless attempt to get more hits, damn right it is.

Does snow lay or lie?

Snow lies - from lie, lay, lain, lying (intransitive). We use this expression especially at the beginning of snowy weather when talking about new snow:
  • Look it's snowing. Is it lying?
  • No. The snow's too wet. It's not lying.
In other words, is it staying or just disappearing? But in narratives you will also see expressions like:
  • Snow lay all around the house.
  • The snow lay deep and thick.
  • A thick blanket of snow lay between the trees.
Remember that lay here is simply the Past Simple tense of lie. It has nothing to do with the transitive verb lay - lay, laid, laid, laying. Well it does etymologically, but that's another story.
Other weather phenomena like mist and water can also lie.
  • In the early mornings light patches of mist often lie in the bottom of the valley.
  • After the rain storm, water lay in puddles all over the road.
  • A thick fog has been lying over the area all morning.
  • The sun was hidden all day behind the low-lying stratus clouds.

Related posts and links

WhomWatch #2 - Sometimes the comments are the best part

For the second post in the WhomWatch series I have decided to soften the tone a bit. I'm not going to rant at anyone this time. Instead I would like to discuss two newspaper articles I've read recently, one in the voice of liberal America, the New York Times, and the other in the voice of conservative England, the Daily Telegraph.

Awesome revisited

It seems I'm not the only one to regret the passing of the sense of sheer wonder that the word awesome used to have before it became 'the contemporary superlative of choice'. Jemima Kiss at the Guardian (whose quote that is) apparently has a similar feeling of loss.
She, like me, evokes the Grand Canyon as being something truly worthy of the description, and also sees the technological industry as the main culprits in its overuse.
And also like me, she wonders what word people will have available when they see something which truly is awesome.
  • My original post - Nowadays awesome is not quite as awesome as it used to be.
  • The Guardian - SXSW 2011: A crash guide to 'awesome', by Jemima Kiss

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Song lesson - 'She's got issues' by the Offspring

This song is rich in contemporary expressions to do with relationships and personal psychology, such as: to have issues, baggage, closure, validation, as well as alluding to possible past incest. It also has some interesting verb phrases and a couple of grammar points.
  1. Pre-listening vocabulary matching exercises
  2. Lyrics gapfill exercises
  3. Grammar exercises 1 - if type questions
    Grammar exercises 2 - constructions with I wish and if only

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Random thoughts about If I were a boy, You've got another thing coming and if clauses.

Since I wrote my last post I've been thinking about these lines from 'If I were a boy'
If you thought I would wait for you
You thought wrong
When I originally saw this, I was thinking 2nd Conditional, because I only paid attention to the first line. It was only later that I realised it didn't quite fit that pattern. In fact it's a good example of a another pattern that we sometimes use, especially when we think somebody is wrong in their opinions or thinking. This pattern is especially used with these verbs:

think, expect, believe, reckon, suppose, imagine

Here are a couple of exercises, involving some idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs, to illustrate this pattern.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The question of whether (or not) to use whether (or not)

It can sometimes be confusing when it's better to use whether or when we can use if. Random Idea English takes a look with some exercises.

Song lesson - conditionals in If I were a Boy

One of the good things about blog stats is that you can see what search terms are being used by the people who land up on your blog. A couple of days ago, somebody from Winnipeg in Canada googled 'teaching conditionals using If I were a boy'. I had included a line from the song in an exercise about conditionals in songs, but thought that perhaps it was worth a closer look.
And it proved to be a very interesting song indeed from a grammatical viewpoint. So I've decided to have a go at doing a little lesson based on it.