Japan earthquake – tenses

There have been a lot of earthquakes recently, including this one on Japan’s Hokkaido island. Current news stories – although often tragic – are full of interesting grammar as they include past and finished, recently finished, as well as ongoing events and situations. See if you can choose the correct tenses from the news coverage. Continue reading

Have you tried present perfect recently?

Social media are the most common media to be used to share information recently.

This looks like as though it might function as the opening sentence of an IELTS Task 2 essay. Let’s first of all remind ourselves about some ideal features for the IELTS Task 2 opening sentence:

  1. We’re introducing the topic as stated on the IELTS question paper.
  2. We’re thinking about our reader and what might be interesting to him / her. (Our reader is an educated non-specialist, someone quite educated who reads a lot and knows what’s happening in the world.)
  3. We’re relating the topic to a current situation or event, because current situations or events are automatically interesting.
  4. We’re relating the topic to a local context, because that’s also interesting to our reader, and because we know more about local than about distant contexts.

Hmm, even without seeing the question paper we can see that our writer has generally ticked these boxes. Now let’s focus on the word recently. That’s a good word to use as it helps to tick box number 3 – it helps us to focus on a current feature of the topic. It’s important to understand, however, that current is communicated in various ways and we have to choose time expressions and matching tenses carefully.

Current = now

  • Social media are the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media are today the most common media to be used to share information.
  • These days social media are the most common media to be used to share information.

All present simple tense.
Notice that present simple tense can mean ‘now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.

Current = around now

  • Social media are becoming the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media are today becoming the most common media to be used to share information.
  • These days social media are becoming the most common media to be used to share information.

All present continuous tense.
Notice that present continuous tense can mean ‘around now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.
Notice also that ‘to be ‘ cannot be continuous. In this case it is easy to use ‘become’ in the continuous, but only if you feel the situation is changing over time.

Current = up to and including now

  • Social media have become the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media have become the most common media to be used to share information recently.
  • Social media have recently become the most common media to be used to share information.

All present perfect tense.
Notice that present perfect tense means ‘up to and including now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.
‘Recently’ is a strong ‘present perfect’ time expression and if you don’t believe me, browse over and check out countless other examples at forbetterenglish.com.

Conclusion

Returning to our opening example, clearly our writer wants to communicate either ‘now’ or ‘around now’, and so ‘recently’ is not the best time expression! My advice would be to use present simple + ‘today’:

  • Social media are today the most common media to be used to share information.

Recounting Rainy Rugby

In this post we practice the recount genre. This is a very common generic text form in IELTS Speaking Part 2, when you are asked to recount some kind of experience.

In this example the candidate might have been asked to describe a time when they experienced very bad weather. If you’ve experienced bad weather, why not tell us about it in the comments below?

Fill in the gaps with the correct forms of the verbs in brackets. then click ‘Check your answers!’. Continue reading

Since I discovered present perfect

Since 2010, I am IT Specialist at Purwodadi Botanical Gardens.

Here we need to think about (1) meaning and (2) form.

1. Meaning

The word since means from a time in the past up to and including now.

2. Form

If you mean up to and including now then you need one of these:

How do I know I mean up to and including now?!

  1. You mean up to and including now if you use the word since followed by a time expression describing a past point in time.

Since 2010 I have been an IT specialist at Purwodadi Botanical Gardens.

  1. You mean up to and including now if you use the word ‘for’ followed by a time expression describing a period of time that began in the past and includes now.

For 8 years I have been an IT specialist at Purwodadi Botanical Gardens.

  1. You mean up to and including now if you don’t use a signal (since, for) and you don’t use a time expression, but you do imply past time up to and including now.

I have repaired many computers.

In example (3) you are using present perfect to assure us that NOW (in the present) you are an experienced computer repair person, and we can trust you! We don’t need to know exactly when you did the repairs, or exactly how many computers you repaired – we just want to make sure that you are experienced!

Men and women and work

This article from the Economist includes some nice vocabulary and structures for IELTS Task 1 writing. Click linked words and phrases for more information or head directly to the analysis below.

Women in England and Wales are having 1.9 children on average, fewer than their mothers who had 2.2 offspring, according to the Office for National Statistics. That’s a small decrease but the lowest level on record and continues the downward trend of the past few years. The decline is in part due to a growing number of women not having children, with one-fifth now childless. There has also been a fall in the number of teenage pregnancies. About 6% of women have a baby before their 20th birthday, again continuing a long-term downward trend. But “it’s not just childlessness,” said Emily Knipe of the Office for National Statistics. More and more women are having fewer babies. The data showed about one in 10 mothers today having four or more children, compared with one in eight of their mothers’ generation.
role reversal
Women are also having babies later. By their 30th birthdays, women today are likely to have had one child. Their mothers were likely to have had 1.8. The ONS suggested this is because more women are going into higher education and are also delaying finding a partner. Ms Knipe said: “It’s not just a biological factor of people leaving it too late. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests people are choosing not to have children.”

Analysis

Trends

Indonesian flag The word ‘trend‘ is only used once, and even then it is used together with ‘downward‘! See this post for further discussion of ‘trend‘.

Although is used to contrast two trends at the same time. This is a good thing to do, if you can, in your IELTS Task 1 overview.

Indonesian flag Indonesians notice the contrasted items are separated with a comma without ‘but’ (akan tetapi).

  • Although female-dominated industries have suffered fewer job losses from globalisation and technological change, they also pay less.

Referencing and substitution

One way to avoid repetition in your writing is to refer to nouns using referencing words as substitutes (it, they, this, those, etc). using these will improve your score for coherence and cohesion (CC). Examples here include:
  • This form of segregation.. (= men and women pursue different lines of work)
  • ..those that have long employed women.. (those = ‘the fastest growing industries in America)
  • This does not mean.. (This = slow growth of sectors dominated by men)
  • ..they also pay less. (they = slow growth of sectors dominated by men)
  • ..the figure (= % of American doctors and lawyers who are women)
  • ..this process takes time (= changing male and female roles in the workplace)
  • At this rate.. (= the rate at which full gender equality is to be achieved)
Indonesian flag Notice that the pronoun ‘it’ is not used at all as a substitute! Read this post to find out why.

Vocabulary (Lexical Resource)

In IELTS terms there is some high-band vocabulary and interesting collocation:
  • pursue (v) + lines of work (n)
  • segregation (n) – in this case male / female
  • better off (adj) – comparative form of well-off (wealthy)
  • capture (v) + jobs (n)
  • mere (adj) – to emphasise a low figure
  • gender (adj) + parity (n) – sophisticated synonym for gender equality
  • the field – the work field (Make sure you establish a context before reducing a phrase like this!)

Tenses

Present simple is used for situations that are true all the time:
  • Men and women often pursue different lines of work.
  • etc.
Present perfect is used to talk about trends that began in the past and are still happening now:
  • ..many sectors…have grown much more slowly..
  • etc.
Will is used for prediction:
  • ..the field will not achieve gender parity for another 200 years.

Percentages

When a percentage is mentioned for the first time it is always followed by of + the whole. If you’re not sure what is meant by the whole, I suggest you read this.
  • In the 1960s, less than 10% of American doctors and lawyers were women.
  • Today over 60% of chefs and cooks are men.
  • ..a mere 10% of all nursing jobs.
If you’re preparing for IELTS Task 1, I strongly recommend that you read my other posts that deal with percentages.

Structures

The writer uses a participle clause to add information about a trend. In IELTS Task 1 this structure – comma + __ing – is often used to present the result(s) of a trend. For more information, see this post.
  • Today, women graduate from university at higher rates than men, putting them in a stronger position for many well-paid professional jobs that were once male-dominated.

Babies, trends, and past perfect

This story from the BBC features some useful language for IELTS candidates. Click on the highlighted words for separate analysis. Alternatively, jump straight to the summary analyisis at the bottom!


Women in England and Wales are having 1.9 children on average, fewer than their mothers who had 2.2 offspring, according to the Office for National Statistics.

That’s a small decrease but the lowest level on record and continues the downward trend of the past few years.

The decline is in part due to a growing number of women not having children, with one-fifth now childless.

There has also been a fall in the number of teenage pregnancies.

About 6% of women have a baby before their 20th birthday, again continuing a long-term downward trend.

But “it’s not just childlessness,” said Emily Knipe of the Office for National Statistics. More and more women are having fewer babies.

The data showed about one in 10 mothers today having four or more children, compared with one in eight of their mothers’ generation.

Women are also having babies later. By their 30th birthdays, women today are likely to have had one child. Their mothers were likely to have had 1.8.

The ONS suggested this is because more women are going into higher education and are also delaying finding a partner.

Ms Knipe said: “It’s not just a biological factor of people leaving it too late. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests people are choosing not to have children.”

The data showed that the number of women having children in their teenage years, after peaking in the mid-20th Century, now matches figures for women born in the 1920s.

Imogen Stephens of Marie Stopes UK said it “shows that young people are taking better control of their fertility”.

“It is a big financial commitment to start a family and it is completely understandable that more women are choosing to complete their education, develop their careers and get on the housing ladder before having children.

“What is vital is that we support women’s choices to have children at the age that is right for them.”


Analysis

v/n collocation

  • (to) have children
  • (to) have offspring
  • ..continue (a) (upward/downward) trend
  • ..continues the downward trend of the past few years.
  • ..again continuing a long-term downward trend.

Noun form as sentence theme

  • The decline is in part due to..

Noun form of used rather than verb form

  • There has also been a fall in the number of teenage pregnancies.

Describing a trend without using the word trend

  • More and more women are having fewer babies.
  • Women are also having babies later.
  • ..more women are going into higher education and are also delaying finding a partner.
  • ..people are choosing not to have children.
  • ..more women are choosing to complete their education, develop their careers and get on the housing ladder before having children.

By + time expression

  • By their 30th birthdays, women today are likely to have had one child. Their mothers were likely to have had 1.8.

By their 30th birthdays is a future time expression for ‘women today’ (= future perfect), and a past time expression for ‘their mothers’ (= past perfect).

For more information about past perfect click the past perfect tag.

Postmodified nouns

Statistics noun postmodified with a preposition phrase, __ing, and another preposition phrase:

  • ..the number of women having children in their teenage years

Noun post-modified with V3 – without the Indonesian ‘yang’ (the English ‘that’!).

  • ..women born in the 1920s.

Indonesian flag For more information about the Indonesian ‘yang’, see this post.

It’s depend

Happiness is depend on a person’s view of their life.

Students often mistakenly add to be to V1 to make present simple tense. It could be that they have seen other structures using to be and apply the same ‘rules’ to present simple verb forms.

Let’s take a look at some structures that use to be and think about those that do not.

‘to be’ + adjective

  • Roses are red.
  • I’m tired.
  • Isn’t it hot today? (Positive: It is hot today.)

In these examples, adjectives give information about nouns: ‘red‘ tells us about ‘Roses‘, ‘tired‘ tells us about ‘I‘, etc. Notice that the verb to be needs to ‘agree’ with the subject. ‘Are‘ agrees with ‘Roses‘ (3rd person plural 1), ‘Am‘ agrees with ‘I‘ (1st person singular 1), etc.

‘to be’ + noun

  • I’m a doctor.
  • These chairs are office chairs.
  • Indonesia is an Asian country.

In these examples, nouns give information about other nouns. ‘Doctor‘ gives information about ‘I‘, ‘office chairs‘ gives information about ‘these chairs‘, etc. Notice again that in each example the verb to be agrees with the subject. ‘Am‘ agrees with ‘I‘ (1st person singular 1), etc.

‘to be’ + preposition phrase

  • He’s in his office.
  • The chairs are on the back of the truck.
  • Indonesia is in south-east Asia.

In these examples preposition phrases give information about nouns: ‘in his office‘ tells us about ‘He‘, ‘on the back of the truck‘ tells us about ‘The chairs‘, etc.

‘to be’ + verb

In our opening example, to be is put before the verb depend (V1).

This is incorrect! The only time to be appears before a verb is when the form of the verb is continuous:

  • My brother is preparing to sit the IELTS test.
  • This time next week I will be sitting on a beach sipping martinis.
  • In 2005 they were living in Australia.

Notice the tense may be past, present or future! Again, make sure that subjects ‘agree’ with verbs!


Note

If you are not familiar with the conjugation of verbs (1st person, 2nd person, etc.), see here.

The King dies/(has) died?!

Which of the following would you expect to see in a news headline?

  1. The King dies
  2. The King has died
  3. The King is dying
  4. The King died
  5. The King will have been dying

(I was being silly with number 5!)

Let’s consider the grammar first of all from the context of natural disasters. We’ll return to the King of Pop later!

quake

Recently I was reviewing tenses with students when I saw this news item and remembered the grammatical quagmire I’m struggling to drag students through. How to explain tenses in news articles?! I’ll have a go, but feel free to correct me (add comments) if I’m wrong.

  • Deadly magnitude 6.5 earthquake hits Aceh in Indonesia.

News headlines often feature present simple tense. Even after an event is ‘finished’,  its effects may be being felt right now. And since news is supposed to be ‘new’, the ‘nowness’ of simple present communicates ‘newness’.

  • An undersea earthquake off Indonesia’s northern Aceh province has killed at least 52 people.

Verbs in the body of news items are often written in present perfect tense. This is the essential function of present perfect – to highlight a connection between past and present. Events that appear in the news often have immediate repercussions that are felt in the present.

  • The magnitude 6.5 quake struck just off the north-east coast of Sumatra island where dozens of buildings have collapsed and many people are feared trapped under rubble.

Events leading up to the main news event are often written using past simple tense. They may be coincidental, or they may have contributed directly to the main event. Notice that this sentence also features present perfect and present simple tense, for the reasons described above.

The King of Pop
Returning to Michael Jackson – any idea which headline fits best?
(Answers in comments below!)

Please share news stories that illustrate these uses of these and other tenses. Feel free to add links and post comments in the box below. I will attempt to respond to any questions! As I say, it’s a quagmire!

When ‘become’ is not becoming

Full-day school becomes an important issue because it concerns a wide range of people, especially parents.

Indonesian flag This is the influence of Bahasa Indonesia. In English ‘become‘ is used to describe a change, rather than a constant:

  • People become sleepy when they drink a lot of beer.
  • Most knives become dull after a while and need to be sharpened.
  • When there’s a problem, Clark Kent becomes Superman.

In each of these three cases, a change is implied, from alert to sleepy, from sharp to dull, and from newspaper journalist to superhero. They are all familiar, recurring situations, and so we use present simple tense to describe them.

If we say “Full-day school becomes an important issue,” a change is indeed implied (from non full-day school to full-day school), but since this is a unique, rather than a recurring situation, then we need a time frame.

If the change happened in the past, but we’re not sure exactly when, then we use present perfect tense:

  • Full-day school has become an important issue.

If the change is happening right now – continuously – then we can use present continuous tense:

  • Full-day school is becoming an important issue.

However, if we are analysing a situation that is true now, constant and without change, as though we are looking at it under a microscope, then we use present simple tense:

  • Full-day school is an important issue.