Some of us

For your entertainment! A song featuring the amazing Moya (L) and Dita (R). For those of us who are still not sure about some / some of, most / most of, etc!

Some of us work
Most of us play
All of us pray for success one day

None of us read
Some of us write
Some of us dance ’til the morning light

Some students like to stay out all night
Most teachers tell them that isn’t right
All study time their eyes are shut tight
How will they ever succeed?

Some of us smoke
Some of us drink
Few of us know how to write with ink

Some of us seek
Some of us find
None of us want to be left behind

Some students like to stay out all night
Most teachers tell them that isn’t right
All study time their eyes are shut tight
How will they ever succeed?

Reading’s boring; We end up snoring;
So many pages; But zero drawings
We only study; When there’s a test to take; Big mistake!

Some students like to stay out all night
Most teachers tell them that isn’t right
All study time their eyes are shut tight
So ineffectual; Unintellectual;
How will they ever succeed?


Success failure effort belief – Part 2

Spoiler alert! If you want to test your ability to use these words, try the gap fill challenge first!

In my previous post I challenged you to complete a text using the words success, failure, effort, and belief. In this post I give the completed text plus some advice about common collocations used in the text.

1. If you tried the challenge, read the text and check your answers.

Bill is a successful olympic runner. He has won several gold medals and has achieved success in many other competitions. Ever since he was a child, he has always been a success. Last year he successfully broke several world records. What does he think are the factors influencing his success? Clean living, plenty of training, and of course the desire to succeed!

Budi is unsuccessful as a runner. He fails every time he enters a race. Ever since he began running he has been a failure. As a child he failed. As a teenager he failed, and now as a middle age man he continues to fail. He believes his constant failure to win may be related to his fondness for nightclubs and the fact that he eats nothing but bakso.

It seems that in order to succeed, a runner needs to make an effort to maintain the correct lifestyle and to maintain a belief in winning. It is only when we believe we will win that we can avoid failure and achieve success.

2. Notice the underlined collocations!

  • achieve success (without ‘a’)
  • be a success (with ‘a’)
  • be a failure (with ‘a’)
  • make an effort to + V1
  • failure to win (failure uncountable)
  • a belief in + n

I searched in my favourite online collocation dictionary OZDIC and found some other collocations for success, failure, effort, and belief. Try searching for other forms of these words and look at different collocates.

3. Talk about it! (IELTS Speaking Part 2)

With a friend, share successful and less successful experiences. Talk about how much effort you made in order to achieve a goal.  Are you ‘a success’? How do you know?

4. Write about it! (IELTS Writing Task 2)

  • What are the factors that cause success or failure?
  • Does failure mean that the desire to succeed wasn’t strong enough?
  • What are some different ways to measure success and failure? What is the best way? Why?

Post your writing in the comments box below and I will give feedback.

Writing ‘rights’ right!

Indonesia has rights to withdraw from ASEAN if trade agreements are not adhered to.

When rights are the simple object of a sentence I rarely see any error in student writing.

  • Women have rights.
  • Workers’ union members have rights.
  • etc.

My own students write sentences like this without error. However, when adding information about these rights in a more complex sentence, they soon run into problems.

I think it’s best to look at this as a lexical issue, rather than a grammatical one.

The word rights (with ‘s’) is often used as part of a lexical phrase, like ‘human rights’, or ‘animal rights’, or ‘rights for women’. Each of these phrases refers to a set of rights (more than one) that belong to a particular group.

On the other hand if you’re only talking about a single right, as in the opening example – withdrawing from ASEAN – then the following structures are common.

  1. (to have) + the + right + to + V1
    • Sony had the right to distribute the recordings in 1985.
    • The president has the right to overturn the new law.
    • The right to vote is under attack across the country.
  2. (to have) + the + right + to + n
    • Every citizen has the right to free medical care.
    • The right to privacy is often ignored by the authorities.
  3. to have + a + right + to + V1
    • I have a right to park here. I live here!

Notice that the right in example 1 is one that is seldom exercised (= used), while the right (‘a right’) in example 3 is probably exercised regularly. The structure in example 3, which is not as common in academic writing, very often begins with either a proper noun or personal pronoun (in this case ‘I’).

So to return to our opening example, we need one of these:

  • Indonesia has the right to withdraw from ASEAN if trade agreements are not adhered to.
  • The right to withdraw from ASEAN if trade agreements are broken, is held by all ASEAN members.

Withdrawing from ASEAN is not a right that is exercised regularly, and so the right is more appropriate than a right.

Notice also in an earlier comment I used strong verb-noun collocation: exercise + right. For other words that collocate with right, see here, and for more examples of the structures demonstrated in this post, see here.

Prevent Avoid Protect

Indonesia should prevent its resources from the threat of bio-piracy.

Meaning can become distorted or even lost when you translate directly. In this case we have a direct translation of the Indonesian mencegah, which – in many situations – does indeed translate as prevent.

As usual, I strongly advise Indonesian scholars to forget about the grammar here and to think in terms of vocabulary, or lexis. The following lexical options are NOT possible in English:

  1. prevent + n + from + n (not  __ing)
  2. avoid + n + from + n

Next we have the  ‘good‘ structures. If you like you can click on prevent, protect, and avoid to see examples of these structures.

  1. prevent + n
  2. prevent + n + from + __ing
  3. protect + n
  4. protect + n + from + n
  5. avoid + n

So which structure is best for the bio-piracy example? Well, all are possible!

  1. Indonesia should prevent bio-piracy.
  2. Indonesia should prevent bio-piracy from occurring.
  3. Indonesia should protect its bio-diversity.
  4. Indonesia should protect itself from bio-piracy.
  5. Indonesia should avoid bio-piracy.

See also this post for further analysis of avoid.

Bring take carry

You can also use Gojek if you don’t bring much luggage.

Indonesian flag This is another common Indonesian translation that results in ugly collocation.

As a general rule, when you use take and bring then you’re usually also talking about places. But you also need to think about where you are at the time of speaking, and where the thing is that is being taken or brought.

If you say “I took my lunchbox to work and brought it home again,” then at the time of speaking:

  • You are at home.
  • Your lunchbox is at home.
  • You took it from here to there. (not bring from here to there)
  • Brought it (back) from there to here. (not take from there to here)

Let’s look again at the opening example:

  • You can also use Gojek if you don’t bring much luggage.

Here the writer uses bring but does not mention any place, and it’s difficult to imagine a specific space. The Gojek ride can begin anywhere and end anywhere.

If you use bring or take then you need to mention either a start or a finish location, or both!

  • If you have a lot of luggage then you cannot bring it home by Gojek.
    • you are at home
    • bring from there to here (home = finish location)
  • If you have a lot of luggage then you cannot take it to the airport by Gojek.
    • you are at home
    • take from here to there (home = start location)
  • If you have a lot of luggage then you cannot take it from home to the airport by Gojek.
    • you are at home
    • take from here to there (home = start location)
  • etc.

If you don’t mention start or finish locations and it is difficult to imagine one, you probably need  carry:

You can also use Gojek if you don’t carry much luggage.

Contribution, cause, effect

The experience I got from this job has strong contributions in changing my character from employee to leader.

This is a word that has been borrowed from English and is now used in Indonesian as the noun kontribusi. However, it’s difficult to find a verb that collocates with the noun contribution in English. Certainly you would not use ‘have‘ + ‘contributions‘. In English, contribution usually appears before the verb, as the subject of a sentence. In addition, contribution (subject) often refers either to money or to the efforts of a person or people. In the example above, however, experience and changing are both abstract nouns where one is the cause and the other is the effect.

If you want to communicate cause effect then you need the verb form contribute. There are still collocation issues, but heck – that gives you something to show off in your IELTS writing, right?

  • The experience I got from this job has contributed greatly to changing my character from employee to leader.


Remember that when both nouns are abstract, contribute to behaves as a cause effect signal. This is a relatively low-frequency signal and is therefore a good signal to use in IELTS writing as an alternative to the more common verb cause.

Contribute to is also weaker than cause and is therefore useful when you want to express less than 100% certainty:

  • Greenhouse gases cause global warming. (Strong – implies no other causes)
  • Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. (Weaker – implies there may be other causes)

Using weak verbs is one of several strategies for weakening debatable claims. I deal with other strategies in other posts. You can find two more strategies here.

It is called as ‘bad grammar’

People call this as the ‘big data era’.

Indonesian flag In Bahasa Indonesia disebut (called) collocates strongly with sebagai (as). Not so in English. Indeed, sebagai is often redundant in English, except when it collocates with certain verbs.

The correct options here are:

  1. People call this the ‘big data era’. (active call without as)
  2. This era is called the ‘big data era’. (passive call without as)
  3. This era is known as the ‘big data era’. (passive know with as)

Most native speakers would probably use number 1, except when the term being introduced is somehow scientific:

  • Liquids tend to travel quickly along very narrow spaces. This phenomenon is known as capillary attraction.

Be careful. If you want to use known as then you need to begin with some of the defining characteristics of the ‘known’ phenomenon:

  • Recently data has become so complex that traditional data processing application software is inadequate to deal with it. This data is now known as ‘big data’.

Indonesian flag Indonesians.. Once again, be careful with sebagai! It collocates differently in English.

Ask the menu!

I’ll ask the menu!

menu couple

Non-native speakers having dinner!

Indonesian flag This is a common mistake made by Indonesians translating ‘tanya‘ instead of ‘minta‘.

The options in English are (take a deep breath!):

  1. I’ll ask the waiter. (ask someone)
  2. I’ll ask the waiter to bring us the menu. (ask someone to do something)
  3. I’ll ask the waiter about the menu. (ask someone about something/someone)
  4. I’ll ask the waiter for the menu. (ask someone for something)
  5. I’ll ask for the menu. (ask for something/someone)

Most native speakers would probably use Number 5.

Notice that ask something is not in this list. The picture below shows what might happen if you ask the menu!

talking menu

Most menus cannot answer questions!

Indonesian flag Possibly there are different ways to translate the correct forms into Indonesian. I know that I’m never confident when using tanya and minta in Indonesian. If you have any suggestions, please share in the comments box below!

Spend Spend Spend!

Governments have spent quite a lot for space exploration using public money.

Indonesian flag Indonesian collocation? (Let me know if I’m wrong in the comments below..)

Spend money (on someone/something)

The preposition you need in English is spend on:

  • Governments have spent quite a lot on space exploration using public money.

(examples here)

Spend money (doing something)

Another way to express this is using __ing:

  • Governments have spent quite a lot of public money exploring space.

Spend money (somewhere)

You can also spend money in a particular place:

  • Governments have spent quite a lot of public money in developing countries.

In this case, of course other prepositions of place will be possible (around, at, etc.)

Spend time

The language used to talk about spending money also applies to spending time, except that we don’t often spend time ‘on‘ someone, rather we spend time ‘with‘ them:

  • Last weekend I spent some time with my girlfriend. We spent Saturday evening at the cinema and after that we spent some time walking along the beach. She noticed that I had gained weight and urged me to spend more time on physical exercise.

Spending time is also discussed in a previous post.