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.

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English Corner – ‘Will’ and ‘Going To’

The phrases ‘will’ and ‘going to’ are very commonly used to express oneself in the future tense. It’s important however to know the difference in how they are used and under what circumstances should they be applied.

If you’re making a quick decision about something or someone, you’re going to use ‘will’ instead of the alternative of ‘going to.’ Also if you’re offering to help or assist someone, then you would use ‘will’ as well. When it comes to making a promise or a threat, ‘will’ is what you should be using before the verb. Lastly, ‘will’ is also used when you want to refuse a gesture or a gift from somebody. The five instances of making a quick decision, offering something, making a promise and/or threat, and refusing a gesture or a gift will all use ‘will’ when it comes to the future tense.

Examples:

1.) I will buy you dinner tomorrow night.

2.) He will help you get out of the car.

3.) She will promise us to watch the dog while we go out to brunch.

4.) If they don’t stop marching, we will shut down the bridge to stop them.

5.) They won’t help us if we are not willing to cooperate with them.

When it comes to using ‘going to’, the circumstances of usage are not as frequent when compared to using ‘will’ for the future tense. When ‘going to’ is placed in a sentence, it’s often for discussing a prior plan that you have confirmed with friends, family, or other people in your life and is a definitive plan. When something is likely to happen and the result is inevitable based on the current evidence, you would also use ‘going to’ to describe the outcome. The last instance where you would use ‘going to’ over ‘will’ is when something imminent is about to happen and there’s not much time left until it occurs such as an event.

Examples: 

1.) I’m going out dancing with my best friends tonight at the Salsa club in Havana.

2.) New England is likely going to win this football game. They’re up by 21 points at halftime.

3.) The race is going to start immediately after the gun fires in the air.

The one instance where ‘will’ and ‘going to’ overlap with each other in terms of usage deals with making predictions that are likely to happen in the future. In this regard, both ‘going to’ and ‘will’ are equal and both create the same kind of meaning in the sentence.

Example:

1.) I think it’s going to rain tomorrow evening in Seattle.

2.) I think it will rain tomorrow evening in Seattle.

As you can see in this example above, there is no discernible difference between these two sentences in terms of meaning even though they use ‘going to’ or ‘will’ interchangeably without any issues. If a student of the English language is to master the future tense in grammar, he or she will need to know the differences and similarities between the phrases ‘will’ and ‘going to.’ They can be applied in a number of different ways so it’s important to study the examples above and also think about their reasons for being used in the future tense.

English Corner – Demonstratives

When it comes to discussing one’s distance from objects, things, or other people, it’s necessary to master the grammatical concept of demonstratives. To describe the physical distance of something or someone to another is a key aspect of demonstratives. Depending if the speaker is near or far from the other object, person, place or thing, the demonstrative will change to reflect that change in closeness.

A key aspect of demonstratives to remember is that they can either be adverbs or pronouns for both singular and plural nouns. You can use demonstratives as well to describe both countable and uncountable nouns. In addition, when it comes to discussing actual events, you would use ‘near’ forms of the demonstrative to refer to the present while ‘far’ forms of the demonstrative would refer to the past.

For the demonstrative adverbs, the word ‘here’ refers to the subject who is close by and near to the object, thing, or person. For the opposite, the adverb ‘there’ refers to the subject that is far away from the object, thing, or person.

Here are some examples of demonstrative adverbs for near / far usage:

  • I am here at the police station.
  • They are here for the Science exam.
  • She was there for the graduation ceremony.
  • We will be there at 9 o’clock.

Based on these examples, it’s important to remember that the adverb ‘here’ for near situations should be used in the present tense whereas for far situations, ‘there’ is heavily used and often with either the past or future tenses.

As mentioned before, if you are near to an object, thing, or person and you’re looking to use a demonstrative pronoun, you’ll want to use the words of ‘this’ or ‘these’ depending upon if its’ with a singular, uncountable noun or with plural, countable nouns. The demonstrative ‘this’ or ‘that’ would be used with singular and uncountable nouns while ‘these’ or ‘those’ would be used with plural and countable nouns.

Here are some examples of how ‘this’ and ‘these’ would be used in sentences to describe objects, things, or people that are close in distance to the subject:

  • This cup is for my tea.
  • Is this your jacket?
  • Where have you been traveling to these days?
  • These bananas are delicious.
  • This is my friend, Dan.

As you can see from these examples, these objects or things are close to the subject rather than far away in distance. You can also see how the demonstrative ‘this’ is used for singular nouns while the pronoun ‘these’ are being used with plural nouns.

If the opposite occurs and you or another subject in your sentence is far away in distance from another, person, place or thing, you’re going to want to use the demonstratives ‘that’ or ‘those.’

Here are some examples of how ‘that’ and ‘those’ would be used in sentences to describe objects, things, or people that are far in distance to the subject:

  • What are those men doing over there?
  • That book in my shelf was really enjoyable.
  • That printer has a paper jam that needs to be fixed.
  • Those boys are heading off to play in the park.
  • Those tires are flat. They need air.

It’s clear from those examples above that those objects or things are considered to be far away from the subject of the sentence. You can also see how the demonstrative ‘that’ is used for singular nouns while the pronoun ‘those’ are being used with plural nouns.

When it comes to placing a demonstrative like ‘that’, ‘this’, ‘these’, ‘those’ in a sentence, you should remember that those pronouns can be placed before the noun or adjective that modifies the noun even if there is more than one noun in the same sentence.

Examples:

  • Those hungry people need to eat soon.
  • These tired citizens are waiting long hours in the unemployment line.

Another way to use the demonstrative is that it can be placed before any number by itself when the noun is understood within the context of a larger paragraph.

Examples:

  • These four need to be fixed.
  • That one gave me some trouble.

Sometimes, a demonstrative pronoun or adverb can be used by itself in a sentence without a noun even being present after the demonstrative. The noun can be understood from the context of a previous sentence or larger paragraph making the demonstrative clear the only necessary subject to have.

Examples:

  • This was not very fair to me.
  • That is really cool.
  • Those were really interesting.
  • What was the issue with these?

As with many other grammatical concepts in English, there are some rules and circumstances that have to be remembered in order to develop both spoken and written fluency. In order to become comfortable with demonstratives, study the examples, create sentences of your own, and re-read this article to remember the rules of usage.

English Corner – More Fun with Modals

In the last ‘English Corner’ post, I focused on introducing the topic of modals by beginning with ‘modals of ability.’ As I mentioned previously, there are different types of modals in the English language. We have already covered the modals of ability and permission so now this article will concentrate on those modals that deal with making suggestions, having obligations, seeking advice, going through with a decision, and getting an invitation. The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are going to be highlighted in this article in terms of when to use them in sentences and how those sentences are to be structured.

For making suggestions, the modal verb of ‘shall’ can be used to offer up something to someone or to give advice to them. You can also use this auxiliary verb in the future tense if you plan on doing some action decisively. The modal ‘shall’ can be used both in the positive for and also be posed as a question.

Examples:

1) Shall I pick you up from your house at 8 pm tonight?

2) I shall travel to Morocco and Brazil in 2018.

Once again, it should be noted that ‘shall’ like other modals is to be used as an auxiliary verb in the sentence and often goes before the main verb like ‘travel’ or ‘pick up.’

When it comes to giving out advice or seeking it from somebody else, the modal verb of ‘should’ will come in handy for English learners. You can use ‘should’ at both the beginning of a sentence if it’s in the question form and towards the middle of the sentence after the subject word if you’re using it in the positive form. Should can also be used negatively when you change the word to ‘shouldn’t’ to express that modal in its’ negative form.

Examples:

1.) You should go to the doctor since you have a high fever.

2.) Should we wait for the presentation to end before leaving here?

3.) They shouldn’t have been rude to the doctor yesterday.

When you have an obligation that you simply can’t get out of or a duty to fulfill that cannot be delayed, the modal verb of ‘must’ is key to put in your sentences. Similar to other modal verbs, it is auxiliary and comes before the main verb in the sentence structure. You can also use ‘must’ in the form of a question as well.

Examples:

1.) He must do his homework by tomorrow.

2.) Must I bear this burden alone?

When it comes to making a firm decision to be carried out in the future, choosing the modal word of ‘will’ is a good choice. It is a definite verb that can be used as a question, a positive and a negative. To create the negative form, you simply have to change ‘will’ to ‘won’t’ after conjugating ‘will’ and ‘not’ together to form ‘won’t. When you use ‘will’, you’re not just making a decision but you’re also making a promise to someone that you shouldn’t break.

Examples:

  1. I will play football with you guys this weekend.
  2. Won’t you join us for dinner tonight?
  3. She will be so tired from the party that she won’t be able to study later.

As shown above in the third example, you can use both the positive and negative form of the modal ‘will’ in the same sentence, and the same modal can be used more than once in the same sentence too.

For the last modal ‘would’, you are going to want to use this one when it comes to seeking permission, giving a request, or extending an invitation to somebody. There are a couple of different uses for this last main modal verb but it’s important to keep in mind that it can be used in all forms including positive, negative, and question. As with the other modals, it is an auxiliary verb that will always come before the main verb in the sentence.

Examples:

  1. Would you join me at the birthday party Friday night?
  2. I would like to go home now if that is fine with you.
  3. We wouldn’t climb Mount Everest because it is so dangerous.

The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are focused on the future tense and are very strong in terms of making suggestions or going through with a decision. In total, you now have a basis of understanding the nine main modal verbs. There are others in the English language but these nine words ‘can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would’ come up the most and are the most important to master.

English Corner – Prepositions of Place

In this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we are going to go deeper into the topic of prepositions, which we have covered previously but I want to highlight the specific ‘prepositions of place’ that are a large part of this expansive grammatical topic. The thing to keep in mind when reading this article is to focus mainly on the examples listed below to see how, when, and why these preposition words such as ‘at, on, and in’ are used. There are different reasons that are given when it comes to each of the ‘preposition of place’ words and how they end up being used in a sentence. Later on, I will highlight the ‘prepositions of time’ and how they are utilized when compared to the ‘prepositions of place.’

When it comes to ‘prepositions of place’, the main point of this type of prepositions is to show where something or someone is located, usually in a physical sense. The three major words that are ‘prepositions of place’ are ‘at, in, and on’, which also come up the most frequently in terms of usage. ‘At’ is used in a very specific manner in terms of being referred to for a specific location, place, or position.

Here are some examples where we can use ‘at’ as a ‘preposition of place’ in the right way:

  1. I was at Jonathan’s birthday party last night.
  2. We lived together at 8 Drury Lane for two years.
  3. They danced with each other for the first time at the Senior Prom.

When you use the prepositional word ‘on’, the meaning and usage for it is a little bit different than ‘at.’ For ‘on’, you’re going to use it to indicate the position of an object, thing, or person on a horizontal or vertical surface such as a desk, table, floor, etc.

Here are some examples of how we can the preposition ‘on’ in a sentence:

  1. The boy is playing on the playground.
  2. The basketball was bouncing on the court surface.
  3. I put my cowboy hat on the kitchen table.

Similarly to ‘at’, ‘on’ can also be used for positioning when it comes to streets, roads, and avenues.

Example: I used to live on Beacon Street.

The last major ‘preposition of place’ would have to be ‘in’ which is quite frequent in its’ usage. In terms of its’ meaning, the preposition ‘in’ is used for something or someone that is enclosed or surrounded.

Here are some examples of how we can use the preposition ‘in’ in a sentence:

  1. The check is in the mail.
  2. The letters are in the mailbox.
  3. She is in the high-speed train going home from work.

In addition to discussing enclosed or closed off places and spaces, the preposition ‘in’ can also refer to a position within a general area such as a town, city, country, region, country, continent, etc.

Example: I used to live in Istanbul, Turkey but now I live in London, England.

It’s important that the average English learner be made aware that there are many more prepositions of place besides the main ones, which are ‘at, in, on.’ There are many other prepositions of place words, and it would be an exhaustive list to go over the meaning and usage of each one. However, it would be better to highlight another couple of preposition of place words that come up frequently but not as often as ‘in, on, at.’ The other ‘preposition of place’ words would be after, among, behind, between, in front of, next to, beside, by, over, above, under, below, and beneath. Here are some examples of sentences that use these other preposition of place that were just mentioned above:

  1. The dog jumped over the wheelbarrow.
  2. He was hanging out by the pool on his off day from work.
  3. She checked under her bed to see if her pet gerbil was there.

There are dozens of examples that could be made with prepositions of place. However, it’s best to focus mainly on the particular prepositions of place such as ‘at, on, in’ and to understand clearly when, why, and how we use them correctly. While a sub-topic within ‘prepositions’, knowing what prepositions of place are and how to use them correctly in the grammatical sense will help you to become a better English learner and student.

English Corner – Second and Third Conditionals

To follow up on the previous article about the ‘Zero and First Conditionals’, it’s important to continue on with the ‘conditionals’ unit to explain the second and third conditionals as well. In order to fully understand conditionals, we need to know every type of conditional, and when and why do we use them in sentences. If you’re struggling with the second and third conditionals, it’s important to learn how to form either conditional in terms of its’ structure, and then learn how to use the conditionals by following the examples that I will be creating for you.

Let’s begin with the 2nd conditional first. As always, the second conditional is going to start with the word ‘If’ as is the case with the zero and first conditional. However, the second conditional focuses mainly on the ‘past simple’ grammatical tense, and how to make the second conditional compatible with expressing what you would do in the past if something were to have happened to you. Usually, the second conditional is good for talking about things in the future that are probably not going to become true.

It’s also used secondly for occurrences going on in the present, which are considered to be impossible or unfeasible because they are not true. The second conditional usually expresses desires, wants, and needs that are more unrealistic and unlikely than those that would be expressed in the first conditional. Also, with the second conditional, you’re going to focus on the past simple tense rather than the present simple tense to go along with the ‘If’ + the subject of the sentence. In order to get a better idea of the 2nd conditional, let us take a look at a few examples of this conditional in action.

Examples:

‘Talking about the future’

  • He would travel to Japan if he had the money.
  • If they did their homework earlier, they would have went to the movies.
  • If I won the Powerball lottery, I would have bought my parents a nice house.

‘Talking about impossibilities in the present’

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.
  • If you had studied harder for the exam, you would have done better.

The main thing to remember about the 2nd conditional is the unlikeliness of something to happen in the future or in the present. You’re also referring to an unlikely possibility in the past to discuss what is not realistic in happening in the future.

Last but not least, it’s important to know about the third conditional in terms of its’ formation, usage, and examples. It’s a very simple formula when it comes to creating the third conditional. While the second conditional focuses on ‘If’ + past simple, the third conditional focuses on a formula of ‘If’ + past perfect à would + have + past participle’ in order to create a complete sentence.

When we use the third conditional in a sentence, we talk mainly about the past as well as to discuss a situation that didn’t really happen. We can also imagine the hypothetical results of a situation that didn’t actually occur, but that we would like to think about the possibility of. It’s important to remember that the ‘past participle’ is often added to the second part of a third conditional sentence, and can be switched to the first part of the sentence as long as the ‘if’ remains part of the other half of the conditional sentence.

Examples:

  • If I hadn’t eaten so much candy on Halloween, I wouldn’t have gotten sick.
  • She would have become a doctor if she had been able to afford medical school.
  • If we had taken the subway, we would have arrived at the airport earlier.
  • If they had been telling the truth about the food fight, they wouldn’t have gotten in trouble with the school principal.
  • If he had showed up for the job interview on time, he would have been hired on the company.

When it comes to any conditional whether its’ the zero, first, second, or third, it’s important to take the time to really study this grammatical concept. You need to put in the time and the effort to study the formula, the usage, and practice with some example problems in order to memorize how to create the sentence. There are plenty of ways to practice the conditional sentences, and it’s important to study this concept consistently in order to master it.

 

English Corner – Idioms

If you are looking for a mainstay of most living languages, you should look no further than the concept of the ‘Idiom.’ The Idiom is the closest thing that humans have in terms of a universal connector among the diversity inherent in all forms of spoken language. The most important thing to understand about the idiom is that you are not supposed to take them literally but you are still supposed to take them seriously. There’s a deeper, implied meaning beyond any idiom regardless of the language it’s spoken in. This is especially the case in the English language where there are hundreds, if not thousands of idioms that can be used for any matter or circumstance.

Idioms can be extremely diverse in their range and can refer to any amount of unique subjects or topics. Idioms can also be used very locally, regionally, or nationally depending upon the language and the culture it comes from. A dialect, jargon, or accent can also lend to the idioms used by a certain group of people who share common interests and/or beliefs. Idioms can be used in reference to business, politics, science, art, music, and other parts of daily life.

It can be tough to decipher which idioms are the most used in the English language but there are a few of them that stand out in terms of their popularity and their different ways of usage. Most people who speak English are likely to be familiar with these idioms below or have used them themselves.

Examples

  1. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

Meaning: Don’t get ahead of yourself before things are accomplished.

  1. Have a chip of my shoulder.

Meaning: You’re bothered or annoyed by something that won’t go away.

  1. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Meaning: While not taking this statement literally, you shouldn’t pass judgment on someone or something before you receive all of the facts.

  1. A dime a dozen.

Meaning: Very common, easily found anywhere and everywhere.

  1. An ace in the hole.

Meaning: A secret advantage or a benefit that no one else knows about and is going to be used soon against an opponent or adversary.

Sentences

  1. The science project isn’t finished yet because we still have to build the volcano. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
  2. I don’t like critics doubting my basketball skills. They really give me a chip on my shoulder.
  3. We don’t know whether or not he’s telling the truth about his new invention, Let’s not jump to conclusions.
  4. These Amazon ‘Alexa’ AI devices are a dime a dozen. You can find them everywhere and they are really popular.
  5. I have Matt Ryan as my starting Quarterback in Fantasy Football this weekend. He’s my ace in the hole.

Idioms can refer to someone’s actions and the consequences of those actions highlighted in example idioms such as ‘Pay the piper’ and ‘Rub somebody the wrong way.’ Idioms can refer to people in general when you say that they are ‘sick as a dog’ or ‘six feet underground.’ Lastly, colors in English can often become part of idioms themselves such as when you describe somebody as feeling upset or depressed as having ‘the blues.’ You know that the person isn’t actually ‘blue’ in their color but rather they have ‘the blues’, which is referred to as when somebody isn’t feeling well. There is a whole musical genre that is devoted to this kind of mellow music called the ‘Blues.’ ‘Out of the blue’ is another example of a color kind of idiom that refers to something happening when you least expect it to.

It can be very difficult to get the hang of idioms especially if your proficiency level is at a low level. First, you need to be able to conjugate verbs, have a good grasp on the vocabulary by knowing a lot of different words, and then you need to be able to understand the meaning behind the idioms and use them with other native speakers in the right way. The idioms being used depends upon the region, the culture, and the social group you find yourself in. That is why there are such a sheer variety of idioms that can be used in any given situation regardless of the language that the idiom falls under. Idioms cut across language and cultural barriers and can have similar meanings to each other depending upon the situation.

The best way in which to comprehend and start using English idioms is to talk with native speakers who will use them throughout a conversation even if they don’t realize it at times. The more conversations you have with English speakers, the more idioms you will pick up on and remember. They will most likely want to help you out so do not be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand the meaning of the idiom or why it’s being used in a certain sentence.

Before you start using idioms yourself, you want to be absolutely clear that you’re using the idiom within the right context for the right meaning. It can be a bit embarrassing if you tell your American friend who is starring in a Broadway play that you want him to ‘jump the gun’ instead of to ‘break a leg.’ Idioms take time to understand, use, and master but they are an important part of learning any language, including English.
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If you have liked what I have written in this ‘English Corner’ post, and you are interested in improving your English language skills whether its’ with speaking, writing, or just boosting your knowledge of grammar, I would be happy to help you reach your language learning goals. Check out Learn English With Ben to book a private lesson with me today!