English Corner – The Active Voice

Every writer has a voice but it’s important to be able to distinguish which is the correct voice to use depending upon the context. There are two main voices in English writing to be aware of: the active voice and the passive voice. In this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we will be focusing specifically on how to use the active voice in your writing, which means that the subject of the sentence is actually creating the action and not the other way around.

The ‘active voice’ adds more impact to your writing, which is why most writers use the active voice instead of the passive voice. Overall, I would argue that the active voice is more important than the passive voice yet you should know how to use both effectively as an English writer.

Active Voice Usage

Sentences written in an active voice flow better and are easier to understand. When you use the active voice, the emphasis is on the subject of the sentence, which is doing the action itself. This makes the sentence straightforward and concise. Examples are:

  • I really love this TV show.
  • Gorillas live in the jungle. 

Sentences that use a passive voice are often harder to understand. Passive voice can make a sentence awkward and vague. The emphasis of the sentence changes to the receiver of the action. Some examples are:

  • This TV show is loved by me.
  • The jungle is where the gorillas live.

Passive sentences usually have more words than active ones, which is one reason why the reader has to work harder to get the meaning of the sentence, and the sentence structure can seem disorderly. If you have a composition that is too difficult to understand, you may be able to change some passive sentences to active ones. Two examples are:

  • The electoral ballots were counted by the volunteers. (passive)
    The volunteers counted the electoral ballots. (active)
  • The flowers were stepped on by the dog. (passive)
    The dog stepped on the flowers. (active)

Active Voice Adds Impact to Your Writing

The active voice adds substantial impact to your sentence; however, you may sometimes want to use the passive voice to lessen the impact of your sentence.

  • Sometimes the active voice is used to deliberately obscure who is responsible for an action, like if a politician said, “Mistakes were made” or “Shots were fired.”
  • Businesses may use the passive voice to lessen their impact like “Your service will be shut off” which is passive, rather than “We are going to shut off your service.” which is active.
  • In crime reports, a policeman would write, “the bank was robbed” because he does not know who actually robbed the bank.
  • In a mystery novel, you may want to place the emphasis on what was taken, like “the jewels were taken” rather than focus on the unknown person who took them.

In most English sentences with an action verb, the subject performs the action denoted by the verb. These examples show that the subject is doing the verb’s action:

The boy must have eaten all of the hot dogs.

            The boy (subject) is doing the eating (verb).

Jennifer mailed him the love letter.

            Jennifer (subject) is doing the mailing (verb).

Colorful iguanas live in the Amazon rainforest.

            Iguanas (subject) are doing the living (verb).

Because the subject does or “acts upon” the verb in such sentences, the sentences are said to be in the active voice. As you go through an individual essay, article, or paper, please be sure to check that you are primarily using the active voice. The passive voice definitely has its place but if you are especially trying to be persuasive, make a congruent argument, or back up your hypothesis, then you should mainly be using the active voice in those types of writing. 

If you find that the ‘subject’ of your sentence is clearly not at the beginning and your action / object is taking its place, then your sentence is not an active one by a passive one instead. The active voice always places the subject within the first word or two at the beginning of the sentence so that the reader will be well aware of who is committing the action. Please keep in mind how to use the active voice in terms of the sentence structure, what the examples show above, and in which types of writing the active voice is mainly used. If you would like to take your English writing to the next level, you must first know what the active voice is and in a later ‘English Corner’ post, the passive voice will be discussed in terms of its usage and some examples.

Lastly, think of the ‘active voice’ and the ‘passive voice’ as the Yin and the Yang of English writing. Both have their separate and unique uses but you can’t only have one in your writing. You must be able to know how to use both because there cannot be one without the other. 

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English Corner – The Rules of Capitalization

Understanding the rules of capitalization is a key part of taking your English grammar understanding to a very advanced level. If you are able to know when, where, and how to capitalize letters and words correctly, you will definitely be ahead of most other English learners.

Some people may tell you that there are far more than just the main ten rules of capitalization in English, which may in fact be true. Other folks may say that there are only three rules of capitalization, and they may also be correct. However, The truth is that, depending on how you organize the rules, the rules of capitalization may be many or few based on how narrow or broad your definition of these rules are.

Most of the things we capitalize in English are what we refer to as ‘proper nouns.’ They are the names of specific and unique things.

  • If you are talking about one specific mountain (Mt. Fuji), state (Idaho) or street (Atlantic Avenue), use a capital letter for every word in the name.
  • However, when you are talking about a common thing of which there are many of them- like a mountain, a state or a street – you don’t have to use a capital letter for those words.

It’s important to remember as well that Capital letters are not used for articles (a, an, the) or for prepositions (of, on, for, in, to, with, etc.).

The Ten Main Rules

  1. Names or titles of people

This one may seem obvious, but there’s also a catch. Of course, you capitalize the first letters of a person’s first, middle and last names (John Quincy Adams), but you also capitalize suffixes (Jr., the Great, Princess of Power, etc.) and titles.

Titles can be as simple as Mr., Mrs. or Dr., but they also apply to situations wherein you address a person by his or her position as though it’s their first name. For example, when we talk about President Lincoln, we are using his role as though it were a part of his name. We don’t always capitalize the word president. Indeed, we could say, “During the Civil War, President Lincoln was the president of the United States.”

Another way to look at capitalizing job titles is to look at the position of the job title in the sentence in reference to the person’s name.

  • You should capitalize the title when it comes immediately before or after someone’s name.
  • You don’t have to capitalize the job title if it comes after the word “the.”

For example:  “Dr. Rogers was the Cardiac Surgeon.” “The cardiac surgeon allowed me to come into the room and observe the patient.”

  1. Names of mountains, mountain ranges, hills and volcanoes

Again, we’re talking about specific places. The word ‘hill’ is not a proper noun, but Bunker Hill is because it’s the name of one specific hill. Use a capital letter to begin each word in the name of a mountain (Mt. Olympus), mountain range (the Appalachians), hill (San Juan Hill) or volcano (Mt. Vesuvius).

  1. Names of bodies of water (rivers, lakes, oceans, seas, streams and creeks)

From here, it gets pretty easy. The same rules that apply to mountain names also apply to water names. A river is just a river, but the Mississippi River is a proper noun and must be capitalized, just like Lake Erie, the Indian Ocean and the Dead Sea.

  1. Names of buildings, monuments, bridges and tunnels

Man-made structures also often have names. The White House, The Eiffel Tower, The Statue of Liberty, The Golden Gate Bridge and The Lincoln Tunnel are a few good examples.

  1. Street names

It’s necessary to capitalize both the actual name part of the name (Capital) and the road part of the name (Boulevard); both are necessary for forming the entire name of the street (Capital Boulevard).

  1. Schools, colleges and universities

All of the words in the name of the educational institution should be capitalized. For example, Harvard University, Wilkesboro Elementary School, Cape Fear Community College.

  1. Political divisions (continents, regions, countries, states, counties, cities and towns)

As is the case with regions of a country, the divisions may not always be political, but you get the idea. When you refer to New England, the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest or the South as a region (as opposed to a compass direction), you capitalize it. Also, continents (South America), countries (Belgium), states (Wisconsin), counties (Prince William County), cities (London) and towns (Lizard Lick) get capitalized.

  1. Titles of books, movies, magazines, newspapers, articles, songs, plays and works of art

This one’s a little tricky when ‘and,’ articles or prepositions are involved. If ‘the’ is the first word in the given name of a work, it must be capitalized (The Washington PostThe Glass Menagerie). If ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the first word, it too is capitalized (A Few Good Men), and if a preposition leads the way, you guessed it: Capitalized (Of Mice and Men). However, if any of these words come in the middle of the title, it is not capitalized.

  1. The first letter in a sentence

The last two rules are easy. Always capitalize the first letter of a sentence. If the sentence is a quotation within a larger sentence, capitalize it, but only if it’s a complete sentence. If it’s merely a phrase that fits neatly into the larger sentence, it does not require capitalization. Study the following two examples for clarification:

  • The waiter said, “My manager will be here shortly,” but he never came.
  • The waiter told us that his manager would “be here shortly,” but he never came.
  1. The pronoun ‘I’

It’s only necessary to capitalize other pronouns when they begin a sentence, but ‘I’ is always capitalized.

Remembering the Rules

How can you possibly remember all these rules? Well, first of all, you should ask yourself three questions:

  • Is this the first letter in a sentence? If the answer is yes, capitalize.
  • Is this the pronoun I? If yes, capitalize.
  • Am I using a name that someone gave to this thing or person? If yes, capitalize.

And if you want to remember all the specific categories, try memorizing one of the following sentences.

  • “For Bob Barker, the price is wrong sometimes,” Adam says.
  • Susan Sarandon bought my wife fancy toilet paper in Boston.

The first letter of each word stands for a category:

  • F– First letter in a sentence
  • B– Buildings (and other man-made structures)
  • B– Borders (of regions, states, countries, etc.)
  • T– Titles
  • P– People
  • I– I
  • S– Schools
  • W– Water
  • M– Mountains
  • S– Streets

Other Examples of Capitalization

First Word of a Sentence

The cat is sleeping in my bedroom.

Where did I put that book?

Hey! It’s great to see you! How have you been?

Names and Personal Pronouns

My favorite author is Jonathan Franzen.

Tom and Diane met at Jill’s house.

Have you met my dog, Barry?

The First Word of a Full Quote

Mario asked, “What is everyone doing this weekend?”

Stacy answered, “My sister and I are going to the theme park.”

Days, Months, and Holidays

I hate Mondays!

Harry’s birthday is in July.

Oh no! I forgot about Mother’s Day!

Words in Formal Titles

Lord of Rings is better than A Song of Ice and Fire.

The first movie of the series is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Cities, Countries, Nationalities, and Languages

English is made up of many languages, including Latin, German, and French.

My mother is Italian, and my father is German.

The capital of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa.

Time Periods and Events

Most of the World War I veterans have now passed away.

In the Middle Ages, poor hygiene was partly responsible for the spreading of the black death.

High school history students often enjoy studying the social changes that took place during the Roaring Twenties in the United States.

In this article, it is not just the ten main rules of capitalization that we have to be aware of. There are many other additional rules where you can use capitalization on a consistent basis. The examples shown above should help you, the reader, to understand when and where these words can be capitalized and to notice a pattern in terms of how these rules can be applied. 

Overall, capitalization is a very tricky topic to fully master but if you know the rules and you know when not to capitalize at all just for definite / indefinite articles along with prepositions, you will be well on your way to having a handle on this advanced grammar topic. It’s important to not be overwhelmed by all of the rules out there including the additional ones that were highlighted here. Starting off with the ten main rules of capitalization is a sufficient enough starting point to focus on. With Capitalization, you do not want to bite off more than you can chew and while the ‘additional rules’ of this grammar topic are important, it’s best to focus on the main rules such as geographic features, names of people / titles, the first letter in any sentence, etc. Good luck!

The Producer vs. Consumer Mindset

We are all consumers but not all of us are producers. This dichotomy between producing vs. consuming has become especially relevant in the 21st century when levels of consumption are at historic levels. When you think about it, being able to consume in different parts of life has never been easier or faster. You can stream vast amounts of music, download movies within minutes, and have food delivered to you at the click of a button. These days, you don’t even have to leave your house or apartment to consume food, books, music, movies, etc. Everything has become more widely available to the average person and that also includes education.

The Internet and other forms of technology have made it easier than ever to consume but despite that fact, is that all we should be doing? Aren’t we met to do more than to order food online, surf Amazon.com for the latest book, or listen to multiple Pink Floyd albums for hours thanks to Spotify? I believe that recently we have strayed too much to being only consumers without realizing that what is most fulfilling is to produce something of value. There should be a balance between consuming and producing and it’s best to strive for a mix of producing and consuming in your life with the former being more of a priority. Consuming is easy but it’s been shown to not be fulfilling and the utility of consumption decreases consistently the more you do it.

While consuming is incredibly easy and requires little to no effort, producing is the exact opposite. Producing something of worth or of value takes some or a lot of effort and the results are not immediate. To be a producer, you need to be determined, patient, put your skills to the test, and be able to think outside the box. Even though producing may not be the most fun or most enjoyable thing to do, it’s really what we as human beings are meant to do and what also gives us the most satisfaction.

If you think about it, our ancient ancestors had to produce or create in order to stay alive and sustain themselves. Back in those times, you had to catch a fish, spear a buffalo, or even a build a hut or you would not last very long. Simply put, our intrinsic value as people is based off of what we can contribute to our friends, families, communities, and the greater society. Now, this does not imply that you have to be producing something of value for others all of the time in order to be considered valuable. You don’t have to produce something for the sake of it or just to impress someone. You should find something to produce for yourself because you’ll build up some self-confidence as well as create more skills and abilities for yourself. You should choose to produce over consume yet you must figure out on your own what you would like to contribute whether that’s writing a blog, creating a piece of music, making an invention, or starting a business.

Why do we choose to produce? It reflects our innate sense of purpose and wanting to leave an imprint on the world regardless of how small or big it may be. There’s a true sense of satisfaction that you get from creating something out of nothing. Our ideas and our thoughts when they are put into actions can create a massive ripple effect that can change our lives if we do big things. The richest companies in the world such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook started out as simple ideas in the minds of their founders but they became real through actions and deeds after starting out just as words.

A producer takes their thoughts and ideas and turns them into something real. For each person, what they would like to produce is going to be different but the simple act of deciding to produce something instead of consuming all of the time is a beautiful thing in its own right. You can start out small by producing a poem, a painting, a piece of music, and then once you successfully create those things, you can aim bigger and better for producing things like a screenplay, a novel, a film, a multi-million-dollar business, etc. If you do not know what to produce but would like to start somewhere, think of which skills and abilities you currently have and make a list of what interests and hobbies you have as well. It’s also best to realize that producing something of value takes serious hard work and effort. It is not an instantaneous event and takes months and sometimes years depending on how big the thing is you’re producing.

Once you get the first thing you produce out of the way, you’ll start to realize how useful, fun, and innovative it can be to be a producer instead of a consumer. As mentioned before, there’s an innate sense of satisfaction out of crafting something from nothing as well as the fact that you used either your mind or your body or both to make it happen. Happiness, I would argue, does not come from consuming the things of this world but rather producing things to bring into the world that weren’t in existence before.

Depending on what you produce, you’ll also be helping people with what you make whether it’s a house that a family will live, a business that will hire employees, or a bridge that will connect town and city together. Also, the thing that you produce will last beyond your life here on Earth and can even transcend time if it is that impactful. Beyond the creation and production, what you’ll be creating is a legacy that you’ll be remembered for. Could you say the same for someone who doesn’t produce anything at all and just consumes? That person won’t be remembered for anything because they will not have left a legacy of producing for themselves, their family, and humanity while they were around. Consumers may benefit in the short run but not in the long run.

Our lives can both be about consuming and producing but think about what would be a better use of your time. Is it binging Netflix for multiple hours or creating a garden to grow fresh vegetables? Is it about playing video games or coming up with ideas for a new novel? Is it better to eat ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s or to make it from scratch? Depending on what answers you gave for these questions, you will be better off as a consumer or a producer.

Everybody has different priorities with what they value in their free time. If you find that you’re producing enough in your day to day work, keep doing that. However, if you find that you’re consuming all the time and not really producing beyond what you’re paid to do, you may want to reconsider how you spend your time. Giving yourself a chance to do more, write more, build more, play more, etc. is likely to be much more satisfying for you and give you a sense of fulfillment and even happiness that can’t be found in Netflix, Spotify, or UberEats. By being a producer, you’re creating value for the world and you’re building your skills, abilities, and knowledge at a time when you can do more than ever if you’re willing to educate yourself and put those traits and turn them into conceivable actions.

I’ll leave you with the idea of compiling a list of your day-to-day activities, map out the amount of time you spend on consuming or producing. If you’re consuming for hours on end and you feel listless, demoralized, or sad, you can turn it around by starting to take those free hours of your time and turning it into something productive. Producing is simply harder and more intensive than being a simple consumer. However, the return of investment on your time put into producing something far outweighs any benefit(s) you would receive from consuming a video game, an order of take-out, or a pop album.

Start from scratch and do your best to take the skills and abilities you have and turn out something totally original that only you and you alone came up with. The books you’ve read, the movies you’ve watched, the music you’ve listened to, the classes you’ve enrolled in, the people you’ve met; that kind of consumption isn’t inherently bad but you should take the time you spent consuming other people’s products and using that knowledge to create your own product. Your own novel, your own play, your own symphony, your own business, or your own recipe: these are all ways that you can find fulfillment and meaning as a producer in this life. You won’t have forever to do both producing and consuming so why not choose producing because you may find that you’re not only good at it but you like it just that much more than being a consumer.

English Corner – Fun with Adverbs

In a previous ‘English Corner’ post, we covered the topic of ‘conjunctive adverbs‘ and also briefly touched upon ‘adverbs’ in the articles on ‘basic parts of speech‘ but now I would like to go much more in depth to talk about adverbs and why they should matter to the English learner. To put it quite simply, Adverbs are a basic part of speech in English that add clarity to your written and spoken sentences. Adverbs are used to modify, change, or quantify an adjective, verb, or another adverb in the same sentence or group of words.

Without adverbs, sentences in English wouldn’t have the same zest and flair that they do with this basic part of speech being used correctly. Adverbs can draw relations between places, people, times, causes, degrees, etc. While Adverbs are not the most popular form of basic speech, you cannot be well-versed in understanding English grammar without having a formal knowledge of what adverbs are, how they are used, and what kind of examples need them within the sentences you create. Please use this article on ‘adverbs’ to improve not only your understanding of the English language but also your ability to write, speak, and use it freely. 

Traditionally considered to be a single part of speech, adverbs perform a wide variety of functions, which makes it difficult to treat them as a single, unified category. Adverbs normally carry out these functions by answering questions such as:

  • When? She always arrives early.
  • How? He drives carefully.
  • Where? They go everywhere
  • In what way? She eats slowly.
  • To what extent? It is terribly

These examples help bring light to the fact that they are all adverbial functions and may be accomplished by using adverbial clauses and adverbial phrases as well as by adverbs that are singular as well. There are many rules for using adverbs, and these rules often depend upon which type of adverb you are using. Remember these basics as expressed in the examples above, and using adverbs to make sentences more meaningful, and expressive will be easier for you.

  • Adverbs can always be used to modify verbs. Notice that the second of these two sentences is much more interesting simply because it contains an adverb:
    • The dog ran. (You can picture a dog running, but you don’t really know much more about the setting.)
    • The dog ran excitedly. (You can picture a dog running, wagging its tail, panting happily, and looking glad to see its owner. You can paint a much more interesting picture in your head when you know how or why the dog is running.)
  • Adverbs are often formed by adding the letters “-ly” to the end of adjectives. This little tidbit of information makes it very easy to identify adverbs in many sentences. There are many exceptions to this rule; everywhere, nowhere, and upstairs are a few examples where an –ly isn’t apart of the adverb itself.
  • An adverb can be used to modify an adjective and intensify the meaning it conveys.
    • Examples: He plays tennis well. (He knows how to play tennis and sometimes he wins.)
    • He plays tennis extremely well. (He knows how to play tennis so well that he wins often.)

As you read the following adverb examples listed below, you’ll notice how these useful words modify other words and phrases by providing information about the place, time, manner, certainty, frequency, or other circumstances of activity denoted by the verbs or verb phrases in the sentences.

There are many different words that function as adverbs. The following list is broken down into different categories, which list adverbs by their function. After reading, you will be able to think of additional adverbs to add to your own list – after all, there are thousands of adverbs that appear in the English language.                   

The vast majority of adverbs out there end in “-ly”. This makes it very easy to spot the adverbs in most sentences so please be on the lookout for that as you discover this basic part of speech in more detail.

Abruptly

Boldly

Carefully

Deliberately

Excitedly

Financially

Horribly

Mildly

Naughtily

Openly

Poorly

Quickly

Sadly

Terribly

Willingly

Yearly

Some adverbs tell us where the action happened. These are known as adverbs of place.

Everywhere

Here

Inside

There

Underground

Upstairs

Certain adverbs let us know when or how often the action happened. These are known as adverbs of time and adverbs of frequency.

After

Always

Before

Later

Now

Today

Yesterday

Many adverbs tell us the extent of the action.

Almost

Enough

So

Too

Quite

Rather

Very

Some adverbs are used as what’s known as intensifiers.

Absolutely

Certainly

Completely

Heartily

Really

Certain adverbs called adverbs of manner tell us about the way in which something was done.

Briskly

Cheerfully

Expectantly

Randomly

Willingly

___________________

Now that you are more familiar with what ‘adverbs’ are, have seen a good amount of examples of how they are used, as well as been shown a list of the most popularly used ones, you should be better able to use adverbs correctly in written or spoken sentences. Please be sure to study the definition of an adverb, the different ways it can be used, and the list of words that are adverbs themselves. If you do not apply the information that you learn about adverbs such as in this article, you won’t be able to improve your English grammar as much as possible. Good luck and remember to have some fun with adverbs!

English Corner – Direct and Indirect Speech

One of the biggest challenges that the average English learner can face is not being able to interpret or understand the difference between direct and indirect speech. In order to really understand how they are formed and used, we first need to define these two terms and what they are supposed to represent.

Let us start first with what ‘direct speech’ is. Direct speech simply repeats or quotes the exact words that were spoken word for word without any hesitation. If you need to use direct speech in writing, in English, we use quotation marks (““) to highlight the words that the person spoke so as to not to give false representation. Direct speech in writing always goes within the two quotation marks so that there is no confusion as to who said what words. For direct speech, you can highlight what was said in the present but also what was said in the past. I have listed a few examples below that could be used both in the spoken and written contexts.

Examples

  1. Jimmy says that, “We will need to come home early tonight for dinner.”
  2. Katherine shouted, “There’s a bee in my hat! Help!”
  3. My mom asked me earlier, “What time will you be home? I said to her, “I don’t know yet, mom.”

It is important to keep in mind that direct speech can refer to both the past and the present which is a key difference from indirect speech as I will go on to discuss further.

Indirect speech, also known as reported speech, often discusses what was said or what was written about in the past and may not always be 100% in its accuracy so that is important to keep in mind. The words are often used in the past tense and there are different verbs used for indirect speech such as ‘say, tell, ask, hear, see.’ The word ‘that’ also comes in handy in sentences that use indirect speech and commas are not used as frequently as they are when it comes to direct speech.

Examples

  1. Janet said, “I spoke to him earlier. “ (Direct)                                                                      Janet said that she had spoken to him earlier. (Indirect)
  1. The principal stated to the class, “He will not accept bullying in this school.” (Direct)                                                                                                                                      The principal stated to the class that he will not accept bullying in this school. (Indirect)
  1. They told him that he would never receive a work promotion. (Indirect)
  2. We told the children yesterday that it was time for them to go to bed. (Indirect)

As you can see from a few of these examples, the word ‘that’ is a key part of differentiating indirect speech from direct speech. It is also common to see indirect speech or reported speech not using commas as well. If you weren’t actually there with the person who said those words or had heard it from someone else afterwards, you need to use indirect speech because it wouldn’t be right to quote someone when you weren’t actually there to hear them.

You don’t always have to use ‘that’ to make it indirect speech. However, you never really want to use commas in sentences with reported speech. Lastly, as mentioned before, indirect speech always refers to the past tense whereas direct speech can reflect the present as well since you can quote people’s words in real time as you’re there listening to them speak. That distinction is key to understanding one of the differences between direct and indirect speech because there are a few of them to be aware of.

There are certain verbs for the act of speaking in English that are going to come up in direct and especially indirect speech. You’ll want to use the verb ‘to say’ in a sentence where there is no indirect object. You can use the verb ‘to tell’ when you know who it is the person is talking to in the sentence and can verify who they are. When it comes to communicating with other people, the verbs ‘to speak’ and ‘to talk’ come in handy for both direct and indirect speech.

It’s important to note that the future tense cannot be used for direct speech since you would be basing those quotes or words on your own speculation rather than what you are hearing the person say or would have heard what the person said. Direct speech is for present and past tense while indirect speech is used for the past tense only.

While the tenses are either present or past tense when it comes to the direct speech or indirect speech verbs of ‘talk, speak, say, tell’, etc., it is important to keep in mind that the quoted parts of the sentence referencing the speaker can refer to the past, present, and the future. The direct and indirect speech verbs maintain their present or past tense format while the rest of the verbs can be past, present, or future tense depending upon the context. I have listed a few examples below to make this bit of information more easily digestible.

Examples

  1. Alice said, “She will go to the farmers market tomorrow to get some vegetables.” (Direct)
  2. I heard Alice say that she will go to the farmers market tomorrow to get some vegetables. (Indirect)
  3. Murphy says to the other teachers, “I don’t understand why my students didn’t pay attention in class yesterday. (Direct)
  4. The Math teacher told us how Mr. Murphy didn’t understand why his students weren’t paying attention in class yesterday. (Indirect)

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to indirect or reported speech are that modal verbs such as could, might, must, should, etc. do not change their actual form at all.

Examples

  • They explained to us that this tax bill could have negative consequences for the middle class.
  • We were told earlier that there might be consequences if we don’t finish all of the assigned homework by the end of the semester.

While there are many small differences between direct and indirect speech in English, the main thing to take away from this blog post is that how to phrase and quote speech is really important and must involve practice and effort. Being able to write stories or quote dialogue correctly are integral skills in the English language that can only come from being able to understand and use both direct and indirect speech. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know and best of luck in using this article to further your English language goals!

English Corner – Prepositions of Time

In other blog entries, we covered the general topic of ‘prepositions’ and then we broke it down even further by highlighting certain ‘prepositions of place.’ For this post, I am going to focus on the other half of prepositions which can be categorized as ‘prepositions of time.’ If you are able to master both prepositions of place and prepositions of time as an English student, you are going to do very well in terms of writing complete sentences that make grammatical sense and also improve your conversational skills. There are many prepositions of time similarly to how many prepositions of place there are but I am going to focus on the ones that will come up the most during your studies of this important grammatical topic.

I am going to focus on the five most popular prepositions of time starting with the three main ones known as ‘in, on, at’ which are also used as prepositions of place in different ways. As prepositions of time, ‘in, on, at’ are used in various ways and have different intended uses.

For example, the preposition ‘in’ can be used for describing months, seasons, years, decades, centuries, longer periods of time such as millennia as well.

Months – in March, in October

Seasons – in the Summer, in the Winter

Years – in 1991, in 2018

Decades – in the 2000s, in the 1960s

Centuries – in the 21st century

Unspecified Periods of Time – in the past, in the future

Below I have listed some example sentences where the preposition ‘in’ is being used in various ways associated with describing time.

  • My birthday is in October.
  • It is the hottest time of the year here in the summer.
  • In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy was President of the United States.

As you can see, the preposition of time ‘in’ can be used towards in the middle of the sentence but also at the beginning of a sentence as its first word especially when describing a decade.

When it comes to the preposition ‘on’, it can also be used in a number of ways. ‘On’ is specifically used for describing days of the weeks, part(s) of the day, specific dates, and special days such as anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, etc.

Days of the week – on Monday, on Saturday

Specific part(s) of the day – on Sunday afternoon, on Tuesday night

Specific date(s) – on December 31st, on April 1st

Special days – on our anniversary, on my birthday, on the wedding day

Here are some examples below of how the preposition ‘on’ can be used correctly according to its various usages related to the descriptions above:

  • On Friday evenings, I like to go to the movies with my girlfriend.
  • We went to the baseball game together on my birthday.
  • April Fools day is known to be on April 1st.

‘On’ can be used in various parts of the overall sentence and is not solely restricted to the beginning or end of a regular sentence. It’s important to note that ‘on’ is a preposition that is more specific in its purposes when compared to the preposition ‘in’ when it is used for time.

Next, we have the last preposition of time which could be considered one of the three musketeers of prepositions. ‘At’ has a variety of uses and is known for being the most specific of the three main prepositions of time. ‘At’ can be mainly used for describing times on the clock, festivals, holidays, and more general times of the day or night.

Times on the clock – at 5:30, at 4:15

Festivals / Holidays – at Christmas, at Thanksgiving

General times of the day – at night, at lunchtime

Listed below are some key examples to draw from when it comes to being able to use the preposition ‘at’ in the right context and with the right usage:

  • Chris gets out of his soccer practice at 5:00.
  • We get together as a family at Christmas time.
  • The couple likes to go out and dance Salsa at night.

Two additional prepositions of time to be aware of as an English student are ‘for’ and ‘during.’

‘For’ is a more specific preposition of time that is used to describe a length of time where an action or event is taking place. You use ‘for’ to discuss how long something or someone will be going on for with whatever kind of action that they are doing. Here are some examples to make it easier for you reading this post to master this preposition of time.

  • The volleyball tournament lasted for four hours total because there were so many teams competing.
  • The music festival lasted for three days and three nights since there were a lot of bands playing.

The 2nd additional preposition to be aware of is ‘during’ which is used as a preposition to discuss when something happens during a certain timeframe. It’s more general in terms of the timeframe when compared to ‘for’ but it can discuss an action that happened in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening or in the night. Here are some examples to help you with this very specific preposition of time:

  • The blizzard happened during the night and school was closed as a result.
  • During the summer drought, farmers had to conserve their use of water for their agriculture and cattle.

As you can see from these examples, ‘during’ is a more general preposition of time when compared to ‘for’ which discusses a specific timeframe in hours, days, or weeks.

Unfortunately, there are more than five prepositions of time but I believe from my experience that ‘in, at, on, for, during’ are the most common prepositions for this kind of usage. In addition, if you wish to know all of them, there are also other prepositions of time such as since, ago, before, past, to, from, until, by.’ I may have another blog post focused on these prepositions but the most important ones to know to get by in describing time accurately in the English language are in, on, at, for, during.

 Good luck with the prepositions of time and please leave a comment if you have any questions about this grammar topic.

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/