Defying The Odds

What are the odds that you should be alive right now reading this article and my website? We don’t normally think about the likelihood of our existence on this planet but I believe that it’s something to ponder and be thankful for. We tend to not think about the odds behind being alive and breathing but it is quite fascinating if you do a little bit of research. According to Business Insider, the probability of you or any other human being existing comes out to 1 in 10^2,685,000.

That’s a huge number and leaves us with the very low probability of you actually existing at all. The odds of any of us actually believe according to this calculation is quite slim. In order for all of these events to align, your parents have to have met each other, fallen in love over a period of time, etc. for you to have been born as you are. When you consider the odds, the process of creating life is truly a miracle and is a reminder that we all have defied the odds at the first moments of our life.

When we consider the unlikely event of our births, it’s something that we should remember and take pride in. There are no greater odds against us than being able to experience existence as human brings after birth. If you are able to take into account how lucky and fortunate it is to be alive, then perhaps you’ll be able to defy the odds when it comes to how you live your life and meet the challenges that are in your way. No odds are greater than the probability of existence so when you keep that in mind, other goals that you have should not seem so insurmountable.

What must you do in order to defy the odds? Well, the first thing that you must understand is that you are going to have to put the work in. That is truly an undeniable fact of life is that the odds will be stacked against you when you’re first starting out but the only way to lessen those odds effectively is to put the time and effort in in order to have your best chance of success. If you do nothing at all and expect everything to instead be done for you, you’re not going to defy the odds and won’t be able to reach your goals.

When you’re working hard at a goal or an objective, there are always going to be the naysayers. If they are not somebody who has your full trust and confidence, it’s honestly better to ignore them than to take their critiques of you seriously. They know the odds are stacked against you and are rooting for you to fail. There is a clear difference between those people who give you sound advice to help you defy the odds and those other folks who would rather see you fail just for no other reason than they take pleasure from that happening.

If they are not giving you good advice or are helping you reach your goals despite the odds, then you need to cut those people out of your life. It’s okay to have critics when you are trying to do something big with your life especially when you’re trying to do something new but it’s not okay when they are actively trying to undermine you and prevent you from trying at all. Whether it’s trying out for the basketball team, starting your own business, or pursuing your PhD, you’re going to have some people out there doubting you and your abilities. Those people are not worth your time and energy. You need to invest your time instead on those people out there willing to support you in your goals despite how insurmountable and challenging they may be.

If you think the odds are stacked high against you, it’s best to chip away at them little by little. If it’s a long-term project or goal, you can make progress to keep you going over time and make you feel better about what you’re doing. If you know that you are getting better or improving in some way, then you are on the right track.

To give you all some perspective, let’s take a look at three people who had the odds stacked against them in life but still were able to have major success in their pursuits. These three people are Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and J.K. Rowling.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and helped to save the union from splitting into two thanks to his leadership during the Civil War. He is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history along with George Washington. Assassinated while in office, Lincoln is immortalized in U.S. society as a brave man who was guided by a steady moral compass in his commitment to freeing the slaves.

What most admirers of President Lincoln forget is that his path to the Presidency was set back many times with failures and shortcomings. Unlike other American presidents including our current one, President Lincoln was not born into wealth or privilege. He was born into poverty and had to work from a young age to support his family especially after the death of his mother when he was only nine years old. Although he was not able to have consistent access to formal schooling, young Abraham was an avid reader who considered himself to be a lifelong learner.

This love of learning helped him to pursue his profession as a lawyer and later as a politician. The road to becoming President of the United States was not an easy one for Lincoln as he lost eight different elections before winning the highest office in the land. As if that weren’t enough, he twice failed in starting businesses and also battled severe depression even during his presidency. Him and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, also lost two children that would have broke anyone but President Lincoln never gave up on his goals and his vision for the United States as a truly free nation. Even when the odds were stacked against him, he knew never to give in to failure totally and to throw in the towel. He kept fighting to succeed and that drive and determination is why we remember him as being one of America’s greatest presidents.

Thomas Edison is known as America’s greatest inventor. We often take the light bulb as an invention for granted since it is so ubiquitous today as part of our daily lives. However, if you can imagine it, the light bulb was only patented in 1879, which is a little more than one hundred and twenty five years ago today. What would have happened had the light bulb never been invented? Would we be able to power our modern, technological society without being able to harness electricity without this invention so easily? While there is much debate about who actually invented the light bulb, Edison is acclaimed as the one who patented it along with a 1,000 other U.S. patents to his name. In addition to the light bulb, he is also credited with developing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the stock ticker.

Despite the massive amount of success Edison eventually achieved, it took a whole lot of failure in order for him to be world-renowned. As an inventor, Edison had to work extremely hard to get his inventions to actually work. The most famous example of him defying the odds is when it took him over one thousand recorded attempts to get the invention of the light bulb to actually work. When a local reporter asked him, “How did it fail to fail 1,000 times?” Edison said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As you can see from the quote above, Edison injected a little bit of humor and self-deprecation into his failures. When you’re striving to defy the odds, you have to make sure that the failures you’ve had don’t stick with you and that you are able to rise above them. If Edison gave up after try #500 and chose to quit, I would not be referencing his powerful story today. He had the tenacity and drive not to give up and chase his dream of being a successful and innovative inventor.

Most importantly, Edison believed in himself and what he was doing. A teacher of Thomas Edison once remarked that, “he was too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was also fired from his first two jobs as an adult when his bosses thought he was “not productive.” Thomas Edison knew his self-worth and did not let others opinions of him stand in his way. He worked hard at his inventions, did not let his failures stop him, and became an American success story. He is a perfect example of literally defying the odds.

Before millions of fans would stand in line for hours to read her latest book or to go to midnight showings with their friends dressed as wizards and witches, famed J.K. Rowling was a struggling author trying to sell the first Harry Potter book to different publishers. She was a single mother living on welfare in the mid 1990s and was only able to sell the first book in the Harry Potter series for only $4,000. Now, over two decades later, she is one of the wealthiest women in the world and is a living example of the ‘rags to riches’ story. The Harry Potter series has installed a love of reading for my entire generation.

I have my own fond memories of going to the midnight book releases and racing home to read the latest book in the series throughout the night when I got my hands on a copy. More than just her writing, she inspires people both young and old with her standing up for those who have less in life and advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all people. J.K. Rowling didn’t let the success of her book series get to her head but has used her wealth and resources to donate to the causes of anti-poverty and improving children’s welfare.

While there is much debate over her views of politics and religion, the Harry Potter series is not only the biggest selling book and film series of all time but also a needed reminder of how we should treat other people with decency and respect despite their similarities and differences to us. Her actions in her writing and in her philanthropic work show us the importance of observing and following the ‘golden rule.’ Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Hopefully, we all choose to remember that due to her example.

What do these three men and women have in common? They never gave up and they never gave in. Even when the stakes were raised against them, they were able to turn things around to become great successes in their pursuits. Although they were born in different eras and had different callings in life, they shared the common trait of fighting onward even when the odds were against them. That is why I am imploring you if you are reading this to keep going and keep fighting.

You have to defy the odds even when they look slim. Sometimes as shown above in the stories of these storied people, the greatest successes can come when all hope seems lost. You’re going to have to work harder than ever, you will have to put up with obstacles and barriers thrown in your way by life, and you will hear comments from the critics and naysayers but you must keep doing your best. To bring a pop culture reference into this weighty yet meaningful article, you must remember the words of the Jedi Master Yoda from the Star Wars series, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Good luck to you if you’re reading these words and I wish you much success in your endeavors.

Sources

1.) http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-the-odds-of-being-alive-2012-6

2.) http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/failures.htm

3.) https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/OnFailingG.html

4.) https://lifebeyondnumbers.com/people-defied-odds-find-success/

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English Corner – Conjunctive Adverbs

Today’s English grammar topic is one that is often overlooked but can really help you become more advanced in using the language if you know how to do so correctly and by following the rules behind it. What I am referring to are ‘conjunctive adverbs’ which can help improve your sentences in terms of the meaning and to explain further about each independent clause within the sentence.

Conjunctive adverbs are words that are used to join two or more independent clauses into one sentence. A conjunctive adverb can help you to create a shorter sentence that still contains the necessary details to be complete. When you use a conjunctive adverb in a sentence, it’s necessary to follow the main rule otherwise it won’t work out.

The main rule for the placement of a conjunctive adverb is to put a semicolon (;) before it and a comma (,) after it. There are very few exceptions to this rule and without observing it, the sentence structure will suffer as a result. 

Example

  • We have many different sizes of this shirt; however, it comes in only one color.

Some examples of conjunctive adverbs are: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, finally, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, otherwise, still, therefore, then, etc.

More Examples

  • The due date for the midterm paper has passed; therefore, I could not submit mine on time.
  • There are many history books; however, some of them may not be accurate.
  • It rained hard; moreover, lightening flashed and thunder boomed.
  • The tired baby fell asleep; then, the doorbell rang, waking her up.
  • The law does not permit drinking and driving anytime; otherwise, there would be many more car accidents.

Conjunctive adverbs look like coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, so, for, yet, nor); however, they are not as strong as coordinating conjunctions and they are punctuated differently. Compared to coordinating conjunctions in particular, there are many more words out there that can function as conjunctive adverbs. There are a lot less coordinating or subordinating junctions out there when compared to the amount of adverbs that can be used for conjunctive purposes. 

A conjunctive adverb is also used in a single main clause. In this case, only a comma (,) is used to separate the conjunctive adverb from the rest of the sentence. There’s no semicolon (;) in the case of these examples so it’s important to remember that you don’t always need a comma and a semicolon together in between your conjunctive adverb.

  • I woke up very late this morning. Nevertheless, I wasn’t late to school.
  • She didn’t take a bus to work today. Instead, she took the commuter train.
  • Jack wants a toy car for his birthday. Meanwhile, Jill wants a dollhouse for her birthday.
  • They returned home. Likewise, I went home after the party.

List of the Most Popular Conjunctive Adverbs

  • accordingly
  • additionally
  • also
  • anyway
  • besides
  • certainly
  • comparatively
  • consequently
  • conversely
  • elsewhere
  • equally
  • finally
  • further
  • furthermore
  • hence
  • henceforth
  • however
  • in addition
  • in comparison
  • in contrast
  • incidentally
  • indeed
  • instead
  • likewise
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • namely
  • nevertheless
  • next
  • nonetheless
  • now
  • otherwise
  • rather
  • similarly
  • still
  • subsequently
  • then
  • thereafter
  • therefore
  • thus
  • undoubtedly
  • yet

Overall, there are dozens of conjunctive adverbs that can be used in the English language but the ones I’ve listed above are definitely the most common. The job of an adverb is not to always connect two main clauses but it can happen so it’s important to be aware of how and when the ‘conjunctive adverb’ can be used in a sentence.

We do sometimes used adverbs to connect ideas together. In addition, conjunctive adverbs are supposed to connect words, phrases, and clauses together in order to create great sentences that flow really well and have a deeper meaning. By using conjunctive adverbs well, you can provide smooth transitions in a sentence from one independent clause to another one. The conjunctive adverb has a really important purpose within English grammar and I hope this blog post will help you, the reader, to use it to better your writing skills and reading comprehension. 

English Corner – Possessive Nouns

Being able to discuss ownership in English over a person, place, or thing is quite key when it comes to developing your grammar proficiency. In order to do that, you must be able to understand, use, and master possessive nouns. The function of possessive nouns is to essentially demonstrate ownership or some similar relationship over something else. Plural nouns indicate more than one person, place or thing. Listed below is a key hint about how to create the possessive noun as well as the five key rules that you can utilize in order to figure out if there is ownership of an object or not.

When you’re unsure of how to find the ‘possessive noun’ you have to look for the Apostrophe! Possessive nouns typically include an apostrophe!

Examples:

  • Jennifer’s imagination ran wild as she pictured the horrible car accident.
  • The kitten’s toy is a stuffed mouse, which she plays with every day.

You should be able to think of the apostrophe mark as a ‘hook’ reaching out to take possession of the object or person involved. Without the little hook or hand grabbing onto the ‘s’ or the next word, the noun is in its’ plural form simply but not actually possessive of anything or anyone.

In addition to looking out for the apostrophe to indicate that the noun is possessive, there are five major grammar rules for possessive nouns to understand and use.

Grammar Rules for Possessive Nouns

There are five basic grammar rules that cover the majority of times where writers encounter possessive nouns.

Rule #1: Making singular nouns possessive

You must add an apostrophe (‘) + s to most singular nouns and to plural nouns that do not end in the letter -s.

You’ll use this rule the most, so pay particular attention to it. English has some words that are plural but do not add the letter ‘s’. Words like children, sheep, women and men are examples of some plural words that do not end with an ‘s.’ These plural words are treated as if they were singular words when making the noun possessive.

Examples:

  • Singular nouns: kitten’s toy, Joe’s car, MLB’s ruling
  • Plurals not ending in s: women’s dresses, sheep’s pasture, children’s toys

Rule #2: Making plural nouns possessive

Add an apostrophe only to plural nouns that already end in the letter -s. You don’t need to add an extra ‘s’ to plural nouns that already end with the letter ‘s’. You only need to put the apostrophe onto the end of the word to indicate that the plural noun is now a plural possessive noun as well.

Examples:

  • Companies’ workers
  • Horses’ stalls
  • Countries’ armies

Rule #3: Making hyphenated nouns and compound nouns plural

Compound words can be tricky for the average grammar student. However, you’ll need to add the apostrophe (‘) + ‘s’ to the end of the compound word or the last word in a hyphenated noun.

Examples:

  • My father-in-law’s recipe for meatloaf is my husband’s favorite.
  • The United States Post Office’s stamps are available for purchase in rolls or packets.

Rule #4: Indicating possession when two nouns are joined together

You may be writing about two people or two places, or two things that share possession of an object. If two nouns share ownership of the object or the person in question, indicate the possession of that noun only once, and on the second noun itself. Add the apostrophe (‘) + ‘s’ to the second noun only.

Examples:

  • Jack and Jill’s pail of water is a common nursery rhyme.
  • Abbot and Costello’s comedy skit “Who’s On First” is a classic comedy sketch.

Rule #5: Indicating possession when the two nouns are joined, yet ownership remains separate

This is the trickiest rule of them all, but luckily you’ll only need to use this rule infrequently. When two nouns indicate ownership, but the ownership is separate, each noun gets the apostrophe (‘) + ‘s’. The written examples below may help you to understand exactly what this rule means.

Examples:

  • Lucy’s and Ricky’s dressing rooms were painted pink and blue.

Explanation – (Each person owns his or her own dressing room, and they are different rooms).

  • President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s educations are outstanding.

Explanation – (Each government official owns his or her education, but they attained separate educations).

Possessive nouns is a tricky grammar topic but by understanding the need to use the apostrophe in the correct place and studying the rules surrounding its’ usage, you’ll be going in the right direction. Nouns can be singular, plural, compound, hyphenated, etc. so that is why you must be aware that the formation of the possessive will change depending upon how the noun is formed.

These rules, examples, and explanations for possessive nouns will help you develop your English grammar proficiency especially for this particular topic. However, you as the student must take the time to create your own sentences, study these examples and review this blog post in order to master the subject of possessive nouns.

English Corner – The Oxford Comma

One of the key debates in English grammar is the role of the ‘serial’ comma or what’s otherwise popularly known as the ‘oxford’ comma. Depending on whom you might ask, there are constructive arguments to be made as to why the Oxford comma is useful or why it may not be necessary at all. It all depends upon your personal preference in using or not using this kind of comma but it is important to be aware of how it is used and why it is used. Having proper grammar is a key part into developing one’s fluency in English and the Oxford comma is often considered to be necessary to developing that skillset.

The Oxford or serial comma is the last comma for a list of things, people, or places. I’ve listed some examples as to make it clear what this kind of comma is. The Oxford comma is always the last comma and cannot be classified as a serial comma if there is only one comma in the sentence. There has to be at least two or more commas in the sentence to have an Oxford comma take its’ place as the serial comma.

Examples

  1. Please bring your books, pencils, and some paper to class tomorrow.
  2. Remind Jimmy, Patrick, and Tina that they have a Math test today.
  3. I had a salad, an appetizer, steak, and dessert at the restaurant tonight.

As you can see from the examples, the Oxford comma is highlighted and bolded as the last of the commas in the sentence whether the subject(s) are people, things, or places. The thing with the Oxford comma to understand is that it is not mandatory to use and that there is a lot of debate over whether it should be even used at all. The use of the Oxford comma is stylistic and different style guides differ in terms of their views on the serial comma.

For example, the AP style guide for English grammar does not mandate the use of the Oxford comma. However, this is in contrast to other style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style or The Elements of Style, which mandate and support the use of the Oxford comma. Certain professional organizations and agencies such as the United States Government Printing Office and the American Medical Association are supportive of the Oxford comma and encourage its’ use in their employees. Depending upon whom you work for or what line of work you’re in, views on the Oxford comma are likely to differ.

The debate over the Oxford comma extends to across the pond in the United Kingdom where there is also a divide over if it should be used at all. The Oxford Style Manual and the MHRA Style guide support the use of the Oxford comma whereas well-known national publications such as The Times Style Manual and The Economist Style Guide oppose the use of the Oxford comma. When it comes to the serial (Oxford) comma, British and American style guides both fall on opposing sides of this debate.

The main argument in support of using the Oxford comma is based around how it can clear up any ambiguity that comes with using ‘and’ instead of another comma to finish up the sentence. Supporters of the Oxford comma generally wants to make them understood without confusing the audience regardless if they’re writing a newspaper article or a research paper. I’ll give you an example to see how a sentence’s meaning could be ambiguous without the Oxford comma being used.

Example

I love my siblings, George Clooney and Katy Perry.

Because there’s no Oxford comma here, it’s definitely strange if you read it out loud. Instead of the intended meaning being that you love your siblings separately and then you also love George Clooney and Katy Perry who are known celebrities, it comes off as being that your siblings are George Clooney (brother) and Katy Perry (sister) which is likely not true.

Let’s look at the same example with the Oxford comma implemented into the ending of the sentence.

Example

I love my siblings, George Clooney, and Katy Perry.

From this re-written example with the Oxford comma included, it becomes more clearly that the subject known, as ‘I’ loves his or her siblings, George Clooney, and Katy Perry. It’s clearly distinguished in this case that the siblings are not the famous celebrities and that they are separate people. However, if you are really opposed to the Oxford comma, you can re-structure the sentence so that it can make sense grammatically and you won’t have to insert the serial comma for it to work.

Example

I love George Clooney, Katy Perry and my siblings.

In this re-written example, you don’t need the Oxford comma to clear up the ambiguity.

Unlike other debates, this debate within English grammar about the Oxford comma will never end. There are always going to be supporters and opposition to its usage. However, it’s important that every English learner or teacher be adaptable to its usage or non-usage. If your student wants to use the Oxford comma, they should be able to because it’s apart of how they learned English grammar and they are technically allowed to do so. If the teacher doesn’t want to teach the Oxford comma to their English students, they also should not have to if they don’t believe in it. We can learn and teach English in a world where the Oxford comma can exist and not exist.

English Corner – Regular and Irregular Verbs

Having a deep knowledge of verbs is crucial in order to develop one’s English vocabulary especially when it comes to differentiating between their varied forms. In order to understand verbs in general, we need to know that there are both ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ verbs depending upon how their past tense and past participle are formed. It can be difficult to distinguish between the two types, as there is no set rule on what specifically makes a verb regular while another one can be irregular. In the case of this particular grammar topic, memorization and practice will make you better at using the correct form of the verb and to have a list of the verbs to study whenever possible.

When it comes to regular verbs, you should know that most verbs are regular verbs and that it’s very easy to change them to the past tense or the past participle. You’re simply going to add ‘-d’ or ‘-ed’ to the end of the verb in order to make it regular in the past tense. A good example of a regular verb would be ‘to play.’ In order to keep ‘play’ as a regular in either the past tense or in the past participle, you would add ‘-ed’ to the end of this word to make it ‘played.’

Example: “I played soccer with my friend Jeremy last night.”

Sometimes, you don’t even need to add –ed to the end of the regular verb but rather just the letter ‘-d’ to make it grammatically correct. A good example of that would be for the verb ‘to dance.’ In this case, you could add ‘-d’ to ‘dance’ to make it ‘danced’ for it to be a regular verb in the past tense.

Example: “We danced as a couple for the first time on our wedding night.”

Short List of Regular Verbs

Talk

Create

Walk

Want

Use

Help

Move

Call

Live

Follow

In each of these ten regular verbs, the simple past and the past participle are both the same and come with an –ed at the end of the verb. When it comes to a few select regular verbs, you may change a ‘y’ in the word for ‘-ied.’ For example, ‘try’ is the regular form of the verb in the present but to change it to the past tense, you need to drop the ‘y’ and add ‘ied’ to become ‘tried.’ Also, the regular verb ‘stop’ is an exception in that you add an additional ‘p’ after ‘stop’ as well as put on ‘-ed’ after the ‘p’ to create ‘stopped’ for the simple past and past participle. Regular verbs may have some variation to their formation but not as much when compared to irregular verbs.

Unfortunately, to the consternation to those English learners looking for an easy fix to the regular v. irregular verb debate, there is no magic wand or solution to know a rule to differentiate the two categories. It is known to most that there are over two hundred and fifty irregular verbs in the English language, which is a manageable amount for the average learner to remember since there are thousands of active verbs in the English language. While there is no strict formula or rule behind what separates a regular vs. an irregular verb, there are some fairly common forms of the irregular verb to be aware of.

Short List of Irregular Verbs

Arise

Become

Choose

Deal

Drink

Eat

Forget

Leave

Lose

Mean

Examples:

(Simple Present – Simple Past – Past Participle)

Break – Broke – Broken

Swim – Swam – Swum

Drive – Drove – Driven

Bear – Bore – Borne

Begin – Began – Begun

Examples:

  1. He broke his guitar strings from jamming too hard.
  2. Ben drove all through the night to get to his brother’s soccer game today in Chicago.
  3. Jackie swam for over ten miles to reach the final line of the triathlon competition.
  4. The Russian army bore the mass majority of military casualties during World War II for the allies.
  5. We began our day with a hearty breakfast before beginning the climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

When it comes to irregular verbs, there are three types of verbs that we can remember in terms of formation.

The first type is when the verb is the same for the simple present, simple past, and even the past participle. (Examples: put, hit, read)

Put – put – put, hit – hit – hit, read – read – read

The second type is when the verb is the same for two of the three grammar forms. (Examples: sit, keep, lend)

Sit – sat – sat, keep – kept – kept, lend – lent – lent

The third and last type is when the verb is formed directly for each of the three grammar tenses. (Examples: know – grow – freeze)

Know – knew – known, grow – grew – grown, freeze – froze – frozen

Regular and irregular verbs can be even trickier when you realize that a verb can be both regular and irregular at the same time. Now, while that isn’t very common, it can happen every now and then so it’s important to familiarize yourself with those few examples that can be both regular and irregular as a verb.

Examples:

Burn – burned – burned (regular)

Burn – burnt – burnt (irregular)

Learn – learned – learned (regular)

Learn – learnt – learnt (irregular)

Smell – smelled – smelled (regular)

Smell – smelt – smelt (irregular)

In the case of these verbs, the difference between what’s regular and irregular is the ending of the word. Instead of adding an ‘-ed’ to the simple past or the past participle, you can add an ‘-t’ to the verb to make it irregular.

Overall, the topic of regular and irregular verbs can cause some confusion to the average English learner. However, the best way to be better adept at this topic is to really study these grammar tables and to consult your dictionary as well. Building up your vocabulary by using these verbs in your sentences will help you better understand whether or not it is regular or irregular in terms of its’ usage in the past.

Having a list of both regular and irregular verbs is key in terms of mastering the usage of them. There are also only two hundred and fifty irregular verbs so with time and effort; you will be able to separate them out from the thousands of regular verbs in the English language. Patience, diligence, and a good dictionary will help you become proficient in learning and using both regular and irregular verbs.

English Corner – Question Words

Knowing how to pose a question in English is a key component towards developing proficiency in the language. You’ll be able to better get around a city, ask for directions, find nearby places, and ask for the meaning of something among other uses. When it comes to getting the specifics in characteristics, times, places, people, and things; having the ability to create a question is a key part towards getting the information you need to make a decision or understand something new.

In order to do that, we need to become familiar with the different options for question words in English. Question words mainly come at the beginning of a sentence and come in seven different forms although there are variations within each question word. For this article, we will be focusing on the seven main question words: ‘why, when, where, what, who, which, and how.’ Each of these seven question words are used under different circumstances and for different reasons. First, I’ll break down how we use each question word and also give examples about how to use each of these words in a basic sentence.

Why

When you use the question word ‘why’, you’re trying to get a reason, a meaning, or an explanation from someone about something that happened. You are trying to get the purpose out of what has happened or occurred. ‘Why’ is most often used in the past tense and can be related to a prior event or procedure. If you’re looking to understand what the cause or reason for something is, you’ll want to use ‘why’ for this kind of question.

Examples:

  • Why did you cheat on your final exam?
  • Why is he not telling the truth?
  • Why were you chewing gum during class?

When

For the question word ‘when,’ its usage centers around being able to know about a general or specific time and/or place. If you’re on public transportation, ‘when’ would definitely come in handy when you need to ask about the arrival or departure of a bus, plane, or train. Asking about a person’s preferences when it comes to how they manage their time is also useful for ‘when.’ The past, present, and future tenses can all be used with ‘when’ as well with no problem.

Examples:

  • When are you and your friends going to the movies later?
  • When did your flight arrive from Istanbul?
  • When will the next train be leaving the station?

Where

If you want to inquire specifically about places and locations, you’ll need to use the question word of ‘where.’ In order to get to know somebody better, you can also ask about where they have been to as well as where are they going. ‘Where’ is often focused about inquiring about places but it can be used to get to know somebody better as well.

Examples:

  • Where is the bathroom?
  • Where did you go on vacation this year?
  • Where is your family from?

What

Out of all of the question words, the word ‘what’ has the most potential uses compared to the others. You can ask about people’s preferences such as their likes and dislikes. You can use ‘what’ in order to describe people, places, and things in greater detail. The physical and character descriptions are easy to make when you ask the question starting with ‘what.’ Lastly, one can inquire about the kind / type of people, place or thing by beginning the question with ‘what’ in order to get more details.

Examples:

  • What does she do for fun on the weekend?
  • What were the Pyramids in Egypt like?
  • What does New York City look like?
  • What kind of person is Jack?

Who

For the question word of ‘who’, you’re always going to be using it to ask about people. You’ll never be using ‘who’ to describe a thing or an object. With ‘who’, you’ll mainly be making object kind of questions as ‘who’ will form the subject and which will also form the answer to this question. The person’s name and/or their personal preferences will be highlighted in the answer to a ‘who’ question.

Examples:

  • Who does Tina like?
  • Who is studying both Spanish and Portuguese?
  • Who went to the post office earlier today to send the package?

Which

The last of the –Wh question words is ‘which.’ While it may be the least used of all English question words, its purpose is quite important. If you’re making a choice between a number of options such as people, things, or objects, you’re going to start this kind of question off with ‘which.’ Additionally, if you’re inquiring about the type or the kind of an object or thing, you will use ‘which’ to understand the specific model or function.

Examples:

  • Which boy did Tim choose for his Kickball team?
  • Which Harry Potter book did you like the best?
  • Which kind of sports car do you want to buy?

How

Not every question word in the English language begins with –Wh and so last but not least, we have the important question word of ‘How.’ When you use this question word, you usually combine ‘How’ with an adjective right after to form the sentence. The main usage of ‘How’ is to ask about the specific characteristics, qualities, and quantities of persons, places, or things. When it comes to discussing a price, a length of time, a frequency of an event, or height / weight measurements; using ‘How’ would be your best bet.

Examples:

  • How old are you?
  • How long was the drive from New York to California?
  • How much does this fruit cost?

In order to use question words, we first must understand and memorize why and how they are used. The functions of each question word are very important to know about. Without a base knowledge of their similarities and differences to each other, it will be much more difficult to form the correct question. These seven question words in English have a lot of overlap but it’s important to know how they are unique as well as how they can best be used to make sure you’re understood.

A Lifetime of Learning

Contrary to popular belief, one’s education does not stop when you finish high school, college, or even graduate school. While formal education is often necessary and useful especially for skilled and professional fields, it is not the end all be all for actual learning. Even if you have been through 12 – 18 years of formal schooling, that doesn’t mean that you should stop learning. If anything, you may have the time, the money, and the ability now to study and learn about subjects that you never had the chance to before. Learning doesn’t stop in your teens or in your 20’s. It’s a lifelong process and you should never want to stop learning.

In a previous article titled, “A Wealth of Knowledge”, I highlighted a number of ways and places where you can continue to learn new things to broaden your horizons and expand your interests. As I mentioned previously, we are currently living in a time where knowledge is seemingly infinite, more affordable, and easier to access than ever. While information, data, and subject matter is limitless in the ways that it can be obtained and analyzed, the ways in which you can stand out as a learner is in how much time you devote to the learning process and how dedicated you are to absorbing this knowledge.

Whether it’s coding, learning a language, or developing financial literacy, the amount of effort you put into it will decide how much you get out of it. Even if you’re just learning a new skill or subject as an interest or hobby, it will help you to stand out from the crowd. If you use part of your free time to develop yourself by learning a new skill or trade, it is guaranteed to help you both personally and professionally. There are also different types of learning so if you happen to decide to revisit subjects you forgot about from high school like algebra, physics or chemistry, you may be doing your brain a favor. If you’re not so much into math and science but enjoy the written word much more, perhaps you would be better suited for strengthening your reading, writing, and editing skills. You may want to start your own blog like I did, or become a freelance editor to make extra money, but you are using your personal interests to further your learning to make yourself well rounded.

Reading a new book each month, learning a language for one hour each day, or doing a daily crossword puzzle takes both discipline and effort. A lifetime of learning is not for everyone because it takes some characteristics that some people aren’t capable of implementing. You have to set goals when you’re learning outside of a university or a class setting. Only you will be accountable for your actions and how far you go when it comes to your outside the box learning experiences. It can be difficult to learn new things when you don’t have a teacher or professor looking over your shoulder but you’ll develop more self-confidence, maturity, and intellectual depth by being able to learn and study on your own.

When it comes to learning by yourself, in addition to no one holding your hand through the process, don’t expect others to recognize the work or effort you put in to it. You should be learning for yourself and not for the approval of other people. If you’re expecting recognition just for reading a lot or creating your first website, the world doesn’t work like that. Being confident in your abilities, proud of your efforts, and seeing the fruits of your labor change the world in some way is the icing on the proverbial cake when it comes to taking the initiative to learn.

To make the excuse that you don’t have time or you’re too old or it’s going to be too hard are not good enough. There’s a popular expression that you never know until you try. How can you know that you’re going to fail if you haven’t even tried yet? Don’t limit yourself based on your educational background as well because you may find that you were bad at mathematics but ended up becoming a great coder when you gave it a shot. If you find that you don’t like what you’re learning or that you’ve made little progress over the period of at least a few months of serious effort and hard work, then it may be a good idea to do something else.

You should always be learning something, especially when it’s something new. Letting your creative and intellectual juices stagnate is not good for either the mind or the body in my opinion. Even if learning new things may become more difficult as you get older, it’s still not impossible and it would be good for your mental dexterity. Do not let pressure from your friends and your family prevent you from learning. If they love and care about you, they’ll support your thirst for knowledge. Reading a book, learning a foreign language, or playing an instrument are activities that we should always be encouraging in people regardless of their age and background.

Learning new skills has many mental benefits especially for the brain. ‘Myelin’, the white matter that makes up a good portion of our cerebral nervous system becomes denser when we learn new skills allowing us to improve our performance when it comes to processing new information. In addition to your brain chemistry seeing a boost, the more you learn, the more neural pathways are formed in the brain allowing the electrical impulses to fire off quicker than ever making it continually easier to learn new things. It’s a positive feedback loop for your brain when you learn on a consistent and unyielding basis.

Existing knowledge that you’ve compiled is also more easily retained because you’ll be making connections between the new information you’re learning and the old information that you remember clearly. Having more knowledge and more learning experiences is proven to make you a more interesting person as well. Being able to discuss a wide variety of books or have a detailed conversation with another person in a foreign language are great ways to form deeper connections with people and to boost your self-esteem.

If you’re bored and don’t have much of a challenge in your life, then try something new! Putting yourself to the test with learning a new skill is perhaps the most rewarding thing you can do in your life. In this hyper-technological age, adapting to change is a key trait that you’ll need to take on in order to succeed both personally and professionally. Adapting to the times often means learning new skills so if you embrace this process, you won’t be as afraid of change and you will be better able to meet those challenges.

As mentioned before, your brain is full of muscles that need to be exercised like any other part of the body. You don’t want one of your most important organs to atrophy and stagnate. A good way to prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s is to keep learning throughout your life to make those degenerative, painful diseases less of a possibility. Learning is contagious so if you have a friend or a family member who seems bored by life or wanting to pursue something new, give them a few suggestions and see what they do with them. Practicing a new language or joining a book club are examples of ideal social activities that are focused around these new learning experiences. A lifetime of learning can truly do a world of good.

SourcePreventing Alzheimer’s Disease