The relativity of ‘if’

Old people believe if traditional medicines are more effective for long-standing health complaints than contemporary ones.

Indonesian flag Here an Indonesian student has used if as a relative pronoun. This is allowed in Bahasa Indonesia, at least after the verb ‘believe’, but it is not allowed in English.

Instead you need:

  • Old people believe that traditional medicines are more effective for long-standing health complaints than contemporary ones.

Cultural notes

  • The word ‘relative’ made me think of Einstein, and that’s why he appears on this post’s featured image.
  • Since there is a cultural note for ‘relative’ then I suppose we ought to include one for ‘if’. How about this inspirational poem by Rudyard Kipling?

Conservation Conversation

Zoos are good places for animals conservation.

This is an example of a noun pre-modifying another noun.

Say what?!

Well, sometimes we have to consider how nouns function within a larger noun phrase.

Come again?!

Well, animal is a noun, and conservation is a noun, but together they form a noun phrase: animal conservation.

So what’s the problem then, Pak Guru?

Well, in this example, the ‘main’ noun is conservation.

What do you mean main noun?

Well, in this example, are you saying that zoos are good for animals or good for conservation?

For.. conservation!

Right, so conservation is the main noun.

I see, so what’s wrong with animals?

OK, well in the example animals is pre-modifying conservation. ‘Pre’ means ‘before’ – the word ‘animals’ comes before the word ‘conservation’, right?

Wait. Did you say ‘modifying’? What’s that?!

Well, the word animals changes (modifies) the word conservation – it tells us exactly what kind of conservation.

OK. But I still don’t see what is wrong with the original sentence.

The problem is.. If you use a countable noun to pre-modify another noun, then that modifying noun (in this case animal) must be singular.

I see. Like ‘Computer scientist?’

Yes!

The featured image for this post is a photograph of the man who has done more than any other to conserve wildlife, the incredible David Attenborough – here conversing with orang utan.

Text reconstruction with ReText

This was going to be a suite of apps, with a fancy title, bundled together. But a lot of this stuff is really useless as stand-alone apps – they have to be integrated within a post to have any pedagogical value. And so they’re here, available via menus, but I don’t – at the moment – feel they deserve to be packaged and marketed in any way.

If anyone wants to use these as WordPress shortcodes, you’re welcome – please either email me or comment below this post.

The apps include:

  • Cloze your books (Converts any uploaded text into a total cloze, which you can then attempt to reconstruct online, one word at a time).
  • Sentence Repair Man (Shuffles words in sentences, which you can then attempt to reconstruct online, or print for classroom use).
  • Mind the Gap (puts gaps at every Nth word in a text, with the option to print for classroom use).
  • Linkin’ Text (Highilights 4 types of (spoken) link between words in a text).
  • AWLizer (Highlights words from the Academic Word List in a text).

Enjoy!

When easy is difficult

Animals that are used to perform are easy to get tired.

If we reduce this to its most basic grammar, we get:

  • Animals are easy.

Obviously that’s not what the writer intended. Maybe we should look at some examples!

  • My answer was pretty easy to understand.
    My answer was easy.
  • The daily instructions are very easy to follow.
    = The daily instructions are easy.
  • The game is really pretty easy to play.
    = The game is easy.

Now contrast the previous examples with the following.

  • Generally it is easier for men to handle horses.
    = Handling horses is easy (NOT men are easy!)
  • It is easy for smartphone users to use QR codes.
    = Using QR codes is easy (NOT smartphone users are easy!)
  • It is easy for people to misunderstand religious language and ritual.
    = Misunderstanding is easy (NOT people are easy!)

It is easy for us to correct our opening example if we begin “It is easy for.!”

  • It is easy for animals that are used to perform to get tired.
    [it is easy/difficult for + noun + to + v1]

This structure is shown in several previous posts – here, and in the song Lemon Squeezy. Check them out!

An alternative improvement would be to use an adverb:

  • Animals that are used to perform get tired easily.

..and for a higher IELTS score, avoid ‘get’ by using the verb form of ‘tired’:

  • Animals that are used to perform tire easily.

Animal rights

If you’re studying in Australia you should make an effort to see the amazing Circus OZ – an animal-free circus!

Mr Subject disagrees with Mr Verb

It could also be argued that removing individual animals from the wild are potentially threatening the population of wild species.

This kind of subject verb agreement problem is penalised in IELTS writing and speaking.

  • It could also be argued that removing individual animals from the wild are potentially threatening the population of wild species.

In this sentence, the subject removing individual animals from the wild does not ‘agree’ with the verb are. This disagreement happens when the subject is singular and the verb is plural, or vice versa.
Continue reading

Articles and sentient animals

New Zealand now recognises all animals as sentient beings!

Discuss with a friend.. If animals are sentient beings (they can think and feel pretty much like humans can), how does this affect our attitude to:

  • animals as food
  • scientific experimentation involving animals (vivisection)
  • animals in sport and entertainment

After your discussion, read the following text and select articles as appropriate. Continue reading

Preparing (for) disaster

Is this a good way for students to prepare their new academic environments?

Compare these:

  • I’m preparing dinner.
    (You’re mixing ingredients, boiling, baking, frying, etc.)
  • I’m preparing for dinner.
    (You’re washing your hands. You’re going to eat very soon.)

preparing for dinner

A baby prepares for dinner while
his mother prepares dinner!

  • I’m preparing an exam.
    (You’re writing the questions that someone will answer when they sit the exam.)
  • I’m preparing for an exam.
    (You’re reading and thinking about questions that might be included in an exam that you are about to take.)

preparing disaster

These men prepared a disaster.
They made the first atom bomb!

preparing for dinner

Some people prepare for disaster.

Returning to our opening example, you probably need:

  • Is this a good way for students to prepare for their new academic environments?

If students are preparing their academic environments, they’re already there – possibly they’re busy arranging furniture in their accommodation, putting books on shelves, etc. If they’re preparing for their new environments, they’re not there yet because they’re not yet ready – possibly they need to study more first, pass exams, save money, etc.

When to be possessive?

Interacting with many people expands students vision and broadens their horizons.

This is a tricky one! There are many exceptions to the guidelines that follow. First of all let’s compare the following noun phrases:

  1. students vision
    plural noun + noun – is not possible. It is grammatically incorrect.
  2. students’ vision
    plural noun + possessive + noun is possible, meaning particular vision – the vision of the group of students under discussion. This structure is common when the first noun is ‘animate’.
  3. student vision
    singular noun + noun – is also possible, meaning a kind of vision – ‘student vision’ as opposed to, say, ‘teacher vision’. This structure is common when the first noun is ‘inanimate’.

Returning to our opening example, meaning 2 would appear to be the most appropriate:

  • Interacting with many people expands students’ vision and broadens their horizons.

Notice also that we now have a parallel structure with two clauses containing possessives – expands students’ vision, broadens their horizons.

During a period of time

At the same time parents spend lots of money on their children because they consider traveling costs and additional expenses during their children take their gap year.

Indonesian flag Indonesians tend to translate selama as during, but then they run into this grammatical error.

In English, during requires the following grammar:

  • ..parents spend lots of money on their children because they consider traveling costs and additional expenses during their children’s gap year.
    [signal + noun (period of time)]

Indonesian flag Indonesians might consider using while as a translation for selama, in which case they can follow up with a sentence:

  • ..parents spend lots of money on their children because they consider traveling costs and additional expenses while their children take their gap year.
    [signal + sentence]

Since A is true, B is true

Since young people want to be considered independent humans. They try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.

This student is experimenting with alternatives for because but has found herself in hot water. There are two possible improvements:

  • Since young people want to be considered independent humans, they try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.
    [since + cause sentence + comma + effect sentence]
  • Young people try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well, since they want to be considered independent humans.
    [effect sentence + comma + since + cause sentence]

In both of these examples, since is indeed an exact synonym for because, and so is as. However, as and since are more likely to appear at the beginning of a sentence, whereas because is more common after a comma:

because since as
after comma beginning of sentence beginning of sentence

Returning to our opening example, we could also get rid of the word humans since it is clear we’re not talking about aliens or rocks:

  • Since young people want to be considered independent, they try to prove their ability for themselves and other people as well.

Indonesian flag The over-use of the word human may be cultural. See here, here and here.