Friday, March 30, 2012

Podcast: Stuff You Should Know

Good afternoon, and welcome to Fun Friday! Today's post is short but sweet. I want to recommend a podcast called "Stuff You Should Know." It's part of the site called "How Stuff Works," which has a large selection of podcasts, programs, and other interesting information. 

Every few days "Stuff You Should Know" posts a new program about a different topic. You can follow them through iTunes (that's what I do) or another podcast manager, their Facebook page, or you can also get the podcasts directly from the website

Some recent programs that I liked included one about tipping (definitely appropriate for people traveling to the US) and one about how dueling works. Check out the podcast and the site if you want listening and vocabulary practice.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vocabulary: Podcast About "Like" Expressions

Welcome to Word Wednesday! It's getting late, I'm still having computer problems, and it's almost Thursday, but I wanted to be sure to put up a post about vocabulary. So today's post will be fast.

Hmm, an interesting group of musicians. What do they look like? What do you think they like? What do you think they're like?

If you've ever confused the phrases...

What do you like?
What are you like?
What do you look like?

...then don't worry, you're not alone. I'll try to write more about these types of phrases soon, but I noticed that a podcast called ESL Aloud recently did a whole episode on this topic. You can listen to the episode (or download it) and read many examples of sentences like these here on their page. It's a great way to practice and learn some new vocabulary.

Thanks for reading, and have a great night!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Computer Vocabulary

"They just don't make them like they used to." I've only had my computer for a couple of decades and already it has a major problem! (Image)
Welcome to "Mistake Monday"! We normally look at Common Errors on Mondays, but I had a major computer problem this morning. My computer doesn't work at all, so that obviously makes it hard for me to use it. But it did inspire me to talk about computer vocabulary; after all, computer errors are some of the most common errors there are!

I chose 10 words and phrases that are very useful for talking about computers and technology in general, but there are certainly many more:

1. hard drive - This is the part of the computer that contains the information and files. These days, a common size for a laptop hard drive is between 250 and 500 gigabytes, also pronounced "gigs" and often abbreviated as "GB."

2. start up and shut down - These are two phrasal verbs that mean to start and stop your computer. For many electronic devices including computers, you can also use the phrases "turn on" and "turn off." If you restart or reboot your computer, you turn it off and then turn it on again right away.

3. keyboard - The keyboard is the part of your computer with letters, where you type words. The verb to type describes using a keyboard to write.

A USB cable (Image Credit)
4. cords and cables - These describe the pieces of metal covered in plastic that connect computers to power or accessories. Common types of cords are AC adapters (to connect the computer to power) and USB cables (to connect an accessory to a computer).

5. plug in - Another phrasal verb. This means to connect something electronic to a power source, or to connect two pieces of electronic equipment.

6. desktop, laptop, and tablet - Desktop computers are ones that have a separate monitor and keyboard. As their name indicates, they usually are on a desk. Laptops are smaller and portable, and have everything together in one unit. A tablet is a newer type of computing device with a touch-screen and no physical keyboard. The iPad is the most popular tablet at this time. 

7. download and upload - These are verbs that mean to transfer a file from the Internet to your computer (download), or from your computer to the Internet (upload).

A flat-screen desktop computer monitor (left) plugged into a laptop (right). (Image)
8. screen and monitor - On a desktop computer, the monitor is the part of the computer that shows you images. It looks like a TV. Computer monitors, TVs, and laptop computers all have screens, which is the display surface where you see the images. The word screen is also used for movie theaters.

9. hardware and software - Hardware refers to the physical parts of your computer like the hard drive, sound card, and other tangible things. Software refers to the programs or information that your computer has. For example, Microsoft Word is an example of word processing software.

A motherboard. Wait, that's a motherboard? Oh no, this is going to be expensive! (Image)
10. motherboard - This is apparently the thing that doesn't work in my computer. I don't really know what it is (if I knew what it was, I might not be having trouble with it right now), but I do know that when it breaks, you have a major problem and it costs a lot to fix or replace it.

What other computer vocabulary do you know or have trouble with? Feel free to join in the conversation by leaving a comment below.

Thanks for reading, and good luck with your computers!

Friday, March 23, 2012

When In Rome...

Hello, and welcome to "Fun Friday"! Also, welcome to this blog's 100th post! Thanks to everyone who's been following Sitzman ABC and liking it on Facebook! If you know anyone who might be interested in this site, please tell him or her about it.

Since the last two "Fun Fridays" were not especially "fun" (unless you're a geography nerd like I am!), I decided I'd put up a video today. It's a song called "The Promise" by the group When In Rome:

The song is from 1988, but it became popular again a few years ago when it was featured on the soundtrack for Napoleon Dynamite, a 2004 comedy. Let's look at the lyrics and find some good vocabulary (you can also just read the lyrics while listening to the song, since the video hasn't got too much interesting stuff going on except a lot of bad late-80s fashion):

If you need a friend,
don't look to a stranger,
You know in the end,
I'll always be there.

And when you're in doubt,
and when you're in danger,
Take a look all around,
and I'll be there.

I'm sorry, but I'm just thinking of the right words to say. (I promise)
I know they don't sound the way I planned them to be. (I promise)
But if you wait around a while, I'll make you fall for me,
I promise, I promise you I will.

When your day is through,
and so is your temper,
You know what to do,
I'm gonna always be there.

Sometimes if I shout,
it's not what's intended.
These words just come out,
with no gripe to bear.

(Repeat Chorus)

I gotta tell ya, I need to tell ya, I gotta tell ya, I gotta tell yaaaa ...

(Repeat Chorus)


stranger - A stranger is a person that you have not met. It's different than a strange person; a strange person is someone who isn't normal for some reason.
Example: "A stranger walked into the room and introduced himself as 'Robby Smith.'"

doubt - My students often confuse this word with "question"; it's similar to a question, but it's not the same. If you are in doubt or if you doubt yourself, then you are not confident about your abilities or your understanding. Also, notice that the "b" is silent, and the word rhymes with "out."
Example: "It's pretty late, and I've barely started this project. I doubt I can finish it by tomorrow morning, but I'll try."

fall for (someone) - If you fall for a person, it means that you fall in love with him or her. It can be fast and sudden, but often it's a gradual process.
Example: "At first Tina thought Charlie was arrogant and mean, but after she got to know him, she fell for him and they eventually even got married!"

temper - Temper refers to your mood, but it's most common in the phrase lose (your) temper. If you lose your temper, you become angry and impatient, and sometimes begin to yell or shout.
Example: "Kate was very patient with the kids she was babysitting until one of them spilled juice on her. Kate lost her temper and sent the children to their rooms."

gripe to bear - Honestly, this phrase is very rare, and you'll probably never hear it outside of this song. But I mentioned it because it stood out and I was sure someone would ask about it if I didn't. If you bear a gripe, it means that you complain about something. The word "gripe" generally means to complain, and it's more common.
Example: "I don't mean to gripe about this, but we really need to get some new coffee mugs. All the ones we have are broken."

Finally, the band's name can illustrate an interesting vocabulary point.
The phrase "When in Rome..." is a shorter version of:

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

This phrase means that if you are visiting a different culture, you are the person who should adapt, and that you shouldn't expect the culture to adapt to you.

For example, if you go to Japan and notice everyone bowing as a greeting, instead of shaking hands or kissing on the cheek, you can say, "Well, when in Rome..." and bow like everyone else:

An American military officer bowing in Japan, following local customs. (Image credit)

So, that's it for today. I hope you liked the song. If you have any questions or comments, please join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Miss, Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.

Three beauty pageant winners wearing their "Miss" title sashes. If you don't know the difference between "Miss USA" and "Mrs. USA," then this post is for you. Photo by Glenn Francis.

Good afternoon, and welcome to Word Wednesday! This will be our final post on titles for addressing people in English. In the last week we've talked about how to use the title "professor" and the job description "teacher," and a while ago we talked about naming customs in the USA, where we looked at a few titles.

Today we'll look at how to use some of the most common titles in English. Remember that if you use any of these titles, you should normally say:


It's sometimes appropriate to include the person's first name, but only if you also include the last name. For example, you could call me "Mr. Sitzman" or "Mr. Ryan Sitzman." The first is more common if you're talking to the person, and the second is used more when writing. You should not say something like "Mr. Ryan," though, unless the person you're speaking to asks you to do so.

Another quick note: If you don't know a person's title, then it's normally perfectly acceptable to ask "What should I call you?" to a person you meet. If he or she includes a title like Doctor, Admiral, or Professor, then use the title they tell you. Or, they may say something like "Just call me Jimmy"; if they do, don't call them something like "Admiral Jimmy Akbar" if it goes against their wishes.

So, let's look at the most common titles:

Titles for men and/or women:

There are some titles that are the same for men and women. The most common examples of these are:

Doctor (often abbreviated "Dr."): This is used for people who have an MD (doctor of medicine), DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine), or other doctorate-level degree. It's more common for people in the medical profession, but often university professors use the title "Doctor" after completing a PhD (doctor of philosophy degree).

Professor: As we discussed a few days ago, this is normally for people who have graduated from the university with a PhD (doctorate of philosophy degree). My friend Marie also pointed out that often university instructors with an MA (master's degree) are addressed with this title.

Any military rank: Depending on the branch of the military, these titles can include Private, Captain, Lieutenant, General, Admiral, etc. 

Titles for men: 

A joking sign featuring Mr. T. What does the "T" stand for? 
The world will never know. (Image credit)

Mister (normally abbreviated "Mr."): This is the common, general title used for all men, married or unmarried, who don't have a different title (like Doctor or any other title mentioned above).

Titles for women: 

So if she's "Miss USA," does that mean her last name is "USA"? Good question. 

If a woman doesn't have one of the titles mentioned above (like Professor or Doctor), then there are three main titles specifically for women: Miss, Mrs., and Ms. Here are some guidelines:

Miss: (click for pronunciation) Used for unmarried and/or young women, and generally followed by the last name.

Mrs.: (click for pronunciation) Used for married women, and generally followed by the husband's last name. Important note: this is not the "plural" of "Mr."!

Ms.: (click for pronunciation: notice it's pronounced with a /z/ sound, not /s/). Used for married or unmarried women. If you don't know if a woman is married or not, this is a safe choice. Also, some women choose to use this as their title since it's really nobody's business but their own if they're married or not, and the title "Ms." allows them to keep that information private.

So, that's it for today. Hopefully that'll help you in your social interactions in English. 
Have a great day!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Common Error: Addressing a Teacher as "Teacher"

Welcome to Mistake Monday! Today's Common Error is very basic but very common, at least in almost all my classes in Costa Rica.

My face wasn't this skeptical until my students started calling me "Teacher Ryan" continuously.
Common Error: Addressing a teacher as "Teacher"
DON’T say this:"Hello Teacher, how are you?"
"Teacher Ryan, could you repeat that?"
(To get my attention): "Teacher! Teacher!"
WHY?I realize that in Costa Rica this is common for some reason, but it still sounds ridiculous to me (and to any teacher from the U.S.A. I talk to about this). Whenever my students call me "Teacher," I respond by calling them "Student" or, if I know their jobs, "Baker," "Engineer," "Airport Cop," "Carpenter," etc. If that sounds strange, then you understand why calling me "Teacher" is strange for me. My name is Ryan, so call me Ryan or, if you absolutely need a title, you can call me "Mr. Sitzman."

Don't confuse a personal title with a job description. Common personal titles include Mr., Mrs., Miss, Doctor, Professor, Principal, President, and a few others. If you call someone by their title, you say Title + Last Name, as in:
-"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is the title of a famous movie."
-"Principal Jefferson gave a teaching award to Miss Holmes, the Math teacher."
-"Dr. Henderson prescribed the old man some medicine for his back pain."

In English, "teacher" is a job description, but not really a title. Think of this: I have a friend named Brad who is a lawyer, but no one calls him "Lawyer Brad." I have another friend named Andrea who cleaned hotel rooms, but no one called her "Housekeeper Andrea." Those are just job names or descriptions, but not titles for people.

Also, as I mentioned last week, you shouldn't address your teacher as "professor" unless she or he has a PhD degree. If that's the case, then you can call them "Professor + (last name)." For example you could call Albert Einstein "Professor Einstein," but not "Professor Albert," and definitely not "Teacher Albert."
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Hello Ryan, how are you?"
-"Hello Mr. Sitzman, how are you?"
-"Ryan, could you repeat that?"
-"Could you repeat that?" (If you're already looking at me, then you don't need to say my name over and over.)
-(To get my attention): "Excuse me, Ryan?"
-(You can also just silently raise your hand... I'll probably see you and help if I can.)

So, that's it for today. If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The United Kingdom, Ireland, Britain, England, and Other Confusing Geography Concepts

An administrative map of the British Isles. Click here for a full-sized view.
Hello, and happy Friday! Last week we talked about confusing capitals in English-speaking countries, and I mentioned that today I'd talk about England and Ireland, since that part of the world is even more confusing. It's important for English learners to understand at least a little about that part of the world because England is obviously one of the places where the English language came from, and many resources you find online may use British English.

First, if you want to understand why these geographical and political place names are so complicated, you can check out this video (the speaker talks very quickly, but if you click here you can find a script for the video and read along):

That's obviously a lot of information and it goes very fast, even for a native speaker like me. But the point is, that part of the world is very confusing politically and geographically. The capitals aren't as confusing, though.

Road signs in Ireland, some of which are in English and Irish. (Image)
For the Republic of Ireland, the capital is Dublin, and the residents are called "Irish." The two main languages spoken there are Irish English and Irish. Many signs are written in both languages.

The United Kingdom coat of arms. It's pretty awesome that it has a unicorn! (Image)
For the United Kingdom (as the video says, the full name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), the capital is London. Most people there speak British English, but there are some people who speak Scots, Welsh, and other minority languages. As the video mentions, the UK is also divided into different countries, and each of those countries has a capital. The four countries in the UK, along with their capitals, are:

England - London
Scotland - Edinburgh
Wales - Cardiff 
Northern Ireland - Belfast

The adjective for each of these places can be "British," but each country also has its own adjective, like "English," "Scottish," "Welsh," and "Northern Irish."

Here are a few examples:

"Princess Diana was Welsh, since she was from Wales."
"I often have trouble understanding some dialects of Scottish and Irish English."
"There are many differences between British and American English, but if you understand one, you can normally understand the other." (Read here and here for more information)

That's it for today! If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

False Friend: Profesor vs. Professor

Is the man in the white lab coat a teacher or a professor? (Image)
Hello! Today we have another False Friend. If you're not sure what a False Friend is, check out this introductory post. Today we'll look at the difference between profesor in Spanish and professor in English. We'll look at the word "teacher" next Monday, since this topic comes up in almost every class I teach.

False Friend: profesor vs. professor 
This SPANISH word...
Looks like this ENGLISH word...
...but they are DIFFERENT because...
In Spanish, at least in Costa Rica, profesor/a can be used for any kind of teacher or instructor:

"La profesora de cuarto grado habló con sus alumnos."
("The fourth grade teacher spoke with her students.")

In English, professor (note the spelling) refers to a person who has a PhD (doctorate of philosophy) degree from a university. Normally a person becomes a professor after studying in the university for at least 7 years total. The word can be used for a man or a woman, and it can also be used as a personal title:

"I got bad grades in my university Chemistry classes, but at least my professor was good. She was always helpful and patient."
"Professor Smith will be giving a lecture on tropical ecosystems."

You can refer to any instructor or teacher who isn't a professor as a "teacher," but "teacher" is just a job description and generally not a title. We'll look more at this on Monday.

So, in the picture above, is the person in the white lab coat a teacher or a professor? Possibly both. He's definitely a teacher, but if he has a PhD, then he's also a professor. In this case, the picture information says his name is Professor Hellmuth Stachel --we capitalize "professor" since it's his title. Because he has a doctorate degree, we can also call him "Doctor Hellmuth Stachel," but in academia it's more common to say "professor" instead of "doctor," since "doctor" can cause confusion with medical doctors.

If you don't understand this, you can ask me or your normal English teacher or professor. But remember that I'm  not a professor, because I only have an M.A., not a PhD. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for other False Friends or Common Errors, please tell me.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Common Error: Phrases For Introductions

What phrases should these people use to say their names? (Image)

Welcome to Mistake Monday! Today's Common Error is short, but it does cause problems. I used to work as an English teacher in a call center, and believe it or not, the phrase we'll look at today caused many communication problems between agents and callers:

Common Error: Phrases For Introductions
DON’T say this:(Answering the phone): "Hello, I am Ryan."
(Introducing someone): "She is Jenny. She's my sister."
"Yesterday in class I introduced me."
WHY?These phrases make sense if you translate them from other languages, but if you're introducing or presenting someone, normally we use different phrases.

Normally, if you're answering the phone and want to identify yourself, say:
"This is (your name)."
If you say "I am (your name)," it sounds strange to many people, and even though it's good English, it can cause confusion.

If you're introducing a person, it's most common to say:
"This is (person's name)."
Don't say "She/he is (name)," since it also sounds strange to many people.

Finally, if you're introducing yourself, it's best to say:
"My name is (your name)."
If you use the phrase "I am ____," it's normally connected with professions or personal characteristics, but not names:
"I am a teacher," "I am tall," "I am optimistic," OR "I am 31." 
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-(Answering the phone): "Hello, this is Ryan."
-(Introducing a person): "This is Jenny. She's my sister."
-"Yesterday in class I introduced myself."

How do you answer the phone or introduce people in your country or language?
Is it similar or different from English?

If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Confusing Capitals

Get ready to use your brain.


Answer the following questions-- you have 3 minutes, and you can't use the internet.

1. What is the capital of The United States of America?
2. How many capitals does South Africa have, and why?
3. What's the capital of Canada?
4. How many states are there in the USA?
5. What's the largest city in New Zealand?
6. How many provinces and territories are there in Canada?
7. What's the capital of California?
8. Fill in the blank: Toronto is the capital of ______ . 
9. Fill in the blank: Sydney is the capital of ______ .
10. What's the largest city in British Columbia?

OK, time's up! Pencils down! You can read this post to find the answers to the quiz.

Today we're obviously going to talk about capitals. I know that this topic is technically geography, not language, but geography is related to culture, and culture is related to language. Plus, I really like capitals, for some reason. I guess I'm just a nerd.

I wanted to talk about this because many English-speaking places have "strange" or unexpected capitals. This isn't the case in many countries. In lots of places, the largest city is also the capital: think of Berlin, Germany; Paris, France; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Bangkok, Thailand; San José, Costa Rica; and many other examples. Today we'll look at a capitals in English-speaking areas, including many places where the largest city isn't the capital. Next Friday we'll continue this topic and look at the British Isles, since they're a lot more complicated than the countries we'll look at today. 

I'm from the U.S.A., so we'll start there.


The largest city in the U.S. is New York City, New York, followed by Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Houston, Texas; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, none of these cities is the capital of the country, and none of them is the capital of their state, either! In fact, the capital of the U.S. is only the 24th largest city in the country.

Washington, D.C., with the Washington Monument and the White House. (Image)

If you've been studying English for a while, then you probably know that the capital of the U.S. is Washington, D.C. ("District of Columbia"). Washington, D.C. is a city, not a state, but people often confuse it with Washington state. Washington, D.C. is on the east coast between the states of Virginia and Maryland, and Washington state is on the west coast, between Oregon and Canada. Washington, D.C. is home to the federal government, and it's where there executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government have their main offices.

Casa Bonita restaurant in Denver, Colorado. This isn't the official capitol building, but it should be.

In addition to having a national capital, each of the United States' 50 states also has a state capital. For example, I used to live in the state of Colorado, and the capital of Colorado is Denver. Denver is also the largest city in Colorado, but in many states (33 to be exact), the largest city isn't the capital. You can look at the lists in the links above to find more information about each state. By the way, I mentioned the country's five largest cities above, and said that they weren't state capitals. The capitals of each of those states are Albany, New York; Sacramento, California; Springfield, Illinois; Austin, Texas; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

A panoramic view of Sacramento, the capital of California (Image)


These two countries are often grouped together because they are close geographically, but don't forget that they're two separate countries!

Australia's national capital is also commonly mistaken. Many people think it's Sydney or Melbourne (Australia's two biggest cities), but it's actually Canberra. Australia is made up of 6 states and two territories, and each state and territory also has a capital. The biggest difference here is that in each of the states and territories, the capital city is also the largest city in that area.

New Zealand's capital is Wellington, but its largest city is Auckland.

A view of Wellington, New Zealand. (Image)


South Africa is a very interesting case, since it technically has three capitals. The largest city in the country is Johannesburg, but it's not one of the capitals. Instead, each of the three capital cities houses a specific branch of the government. Cape Town is the home of the South African parliament, and is therefore the legislative capital. The judicial capital is a city called Bloemfontein. Finally, the executive branch is in Pretoria, which also makes the city the de facto national capital.

Oh, there's Ottawa! It's even got the little star and everything!
Canada, the world's second-biggest country in terms of area, is made up of ten provinces and three territories. The three largest cities in the country are Toronto, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; and Vancouver, British Columbia; but the national capital is actually Ottawa, the fourth-largest city in the country. Of these four cities, only one is a provincial capital: Toronto. The capitals of Quebec and British Columbia are Quebec City and Victoria, respectively. You can check out the list of other provincial capitals and the largest cities. In most other provinces and territories, the largest city is also the capital.

This is a picture of me in Vancouver. It's the largest city in British Columbia,
but not the capital. That would be Victoria.

So, that's it for now. I hope this post was interesting for you. I'm personally a big geography fan so if you ever want to talk about capitals and countries, send me an email!

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend! 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Clothing Vocabulary: "A Pair Of..."

Finally! A man who knows how to wear a pair of pants with style! (Image)

Good afternoon, and welcome to Word Wednesday! On Monday we looked at a common word we say when we talk about clothing: "wear." Today I wanted to talk about a vocabulary point that is different in English and other languages:

Common Vocabulary Error: "a pair of..."
DON’T say this:Today I am wearing a jeans and boots, and she is wearing a short and tennis.
I need to wash my clothes; I don't have a single clean underwear.
She always wore a glasses.
WHY?All of the following words are considered plural in English, and can be "counted" with the phrase "a pair of...":

-a pair of glasses / sunglasses / reading glasses / etc.
-a pair of ski goggles / swimming goggles / etc.
-a pair of ear muffs
-a pair of headphones / earphones
-a pair of underwear / boxer shorts / briefs / panties / etc.
-a pair of jeans / pants / trousers / slacks / dress pants / etc.
-a pair of shorts / swimming trunks / board shorts / hot pants / etc.
-a pair of leggings / tights / pantyhose / etc.

In some languages (like Spanish and German) many of these can be singular. For example, in Spanish you can say "un pantalón," and in German "eine Hose"; in English, both of these are "a pair of pants" (or "a pair of trousers" in British English).

But why do we say "a pair" if it's only one piece of clothing? That's a good question. Notice that most of these words are for clothing related to your legs, ears, or eyes. I normally tell my students to count the number of legs, ears, or eyes to remember that certain pieces of clothing are always plural in English.

If that's too complicated, remember that in many cases, we can even eliminate the phrase "a pair of," as long as we say the clothing in plural:
"She's wearing shorts and tennis shoes."
"He wears goggles and swimming trunks when he goes to the pool."

Obviously, if you're talking about clothing that has two parts (like shoes, gloves, boots, etc.), then those are also going to be considered plural.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Today I am wearing a pair of jeans and a pair of boots, and she is wearing a pair of shorts and a pair of tennis shoes."
-"Today I am wearing jeans and boots, and she is wearing shorts and tennis shoes."
-"I need to wash my clothes; I don't have a single clean pair of underwear."
-"She always wore a pair of glasses."
-"She always wore glasses."

Hopefully that makes sense. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.

If you're reading this in Costa Rica, hopefully you can enjoy the beautiful day-- go for a nice walk, but be sure to wear a pair of shorts and a pair of sunglasses!

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Common Error: "use" vs. "wear"

What are these mannequins wearing? (Image Credit)

Hello again, and welcome to Mistake Monday! Today's post is technically related to vocabulary, but since it's still a common problem for my students, I decided to include it in the Common Errors section. Last week we talked about using the phrase "used to" for customs, as in "I used to be a little boy" or "I am used to waking up late." There is another problem that is related to the word "use," and I mainly notice the problem when people are describing clothing. Take a look:

Common Error: "use" vs. "wear"
DON’T say this:Today I am using a jeans, a shirt color blue, and tennis.
He's easy to find in a group of people because he always uses a big hat.
WHY?-Remember that we can say the word "use" if we're utilizing an object for a specific purpose. The word "use" is normally combined with tools and other types of equipment, as in:

"Use the key to open the door."
"I use a special pan to make pancakes."

BUT, we don't normally say "use" with clothing. There is a specific verb for clothes, and that verb is "wear." The past of wear is wore, and the past participle is has/have worn. Here are a few examples:

"To prevent sunburns, you should wear a hat and sunscreen while working outside."
"The mean dog was wearing a collar with spikes, so we decided not to pet it."
"The girl was used to wearing pants, and she had never worn a nice dress before she went to the formal dance."

Notice that we use wear even with things like sunscreen, makeup, shoes, and protective clothing. Basically, you can use the word wear for anything that you can put on your body.

On Wednesday and next Monday I'll focus more on special words and phrases for clothing, such as plurals and descriptions of clothes.
INSTEAD, SAY THIS:-"Today I am wearing a pair of jeans, a blue shirt, and a pair of tennis shoes."
-"He's easy to find in a group of people because he always wears a big hat."

Some common questions related to these words are:
-What do you usually wear?
-What are you wearing today?
-What do you wear to exercise / to go to work / to go out?

If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment or contact me. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Friday, March 2, 2012

English Conditionals: 3rd Conditional

It's hard to find pictures to illustrate grammatical concepts, so here's a nice flower.

Hello, and welcome to "Fun Friday" on Sitzman ABC! Today we'll talk about the Third Conditional in English.

"Wait!" you're possibly thinking, "That doesn't sound like fun!" Good point. I know that grammar can be difficult and complicated, but it's also very important to learn how to use grammar correctly, especially if you want to be an advanced English speaker. So, I'll try to make this post interesting, at least, but you'll have to forgive me if you don't think it's fun.

You might remember that late last year we talked about the 1st and 2nd conditionals in English, and I had meant to write a post about the 3rd conditional immediately after those. However, I had trouble finding a song I liked that used the 3rd conditional. Some English sites mention that Taylor Swift's song "Should've Said No" is good, and it does have some examples of 3rd conditional, but it's not a good song. I just don't like it, so sorry (you can still check it out here if you want). A few songs by artists like Meat Loaf and Rancid use a little bit of third conditional, but Meat Loaf's song only uses it once, and Rancid's song is difficult to understand and a bit too vulgar for a "family" language site like Sitzman ABC.

But then I finally noticed a Journey song that uses the 3rd conditional! You can listen to the song here and read the lyrics below, or you can go to the video's YouTube page to see the lyrics.

So, where is the 3rd conditional in this song? We'll identify that in a moment, but first let's do a quick review about when we use the different conditionals:

1st Conditional: real, probable situations
Example: "If I still feel hungry after dinner, I'll order a piece of pie for dessert." 
(In this case, there's a definite possibility that I will feel hungry, so I can use the first conditional.)

2nd Conditional: unreal, improbable situations
Example: "If I were a cat, I would sleep all day."
(This is obviously an unreal situation: I'm not a cat, and I'm not going to be a cat unless a science experiment goes terribly wrong.)

Now, for the 3rd Conditional:

3rd Conditional: unreal situations in the past
Example: "If I hadn't missed the bus, I could have arrived to class on time."
(This is how we can speculate about past events that could have happened differently. In this sentence, I missed the bus, but I'm imagining a different past condition and result.) 

The 3rd conditional is structured very similarly to the 2nd conditional, except that the 2nd conditional talks about the present and the future, but the 3rd talks about a fictional past. It also has two parts:

1. The "if" part (also called the "if phrase," "if clause," or "condition")
2. The "fantasy" part (also called the "would clause" or "result")

Let's look at another example:

If I hadn't come to Costa Rica, I might never have learned Spanish.

I can say this sentence in the 3rd conditional because I'm speculating about the past. I did come to Costa Rica, obviously, but I'm just imagining what my life might be like if I hadn't come to Costa Rica. We can usually invert the two parts, like in the other conditional tenses:

I might never have learned Spanish if I hadn't come to Costa Rica.

Both sentences mean the same thing, and the condition and result are the same in both.

Forming sentences in 3rd Conditional:  

The structure of a 3rd conditional sentence is very similar to a 2nd conditional sentence, with one important difference:

In the third conditional, the condition is written in a past perfect tense ("had / hadn't" + past participle), and the result is written using would / could / might / should + "have" + past participle

Here are some more examples:

If Shelly had known Mike was a vegetarian, she wouldn't have cooked steaks.
If Jim hadn't traveled to India, he wouldn't have met his wife in Bangalore.
If Ryan had thought this would be so complicated to explain, he wouldn't have written this post.
No one would have believed it if Costa Rica had won the 2006 World Cup.
We might not have had transmission problems if we had changed the transmission fluid earlier.
They probably wouldn't have gotten hypothermia while camping if they had brought warmer clothes.

In other words:

If (had/hadn't) + (past participle), (would/could/might) + (have) + (past participle) 

Notice that in many cases, like in the Journey or Taylor Swift songs, we often only say the result, and the condition is often implied or not mentioned.

Can you complete the following phrases?

Roger might have gotten a better grade on his exam if ___________ .
Elaine would have felt happy yesterday if ___________ .
If Timothy had read his email, he ___________ .
If the baby hadn't spilled its juice in the car, the parents ___________ a new car seat.

(You can find many more 3rd conditional exercises herehere, here, and here.)

For more practice, listen to the song again and try to find some phrases that use the third conditional (remember that in this song, it only uses the result, and not the condition). Here are the lyrics (I'll put the third conditional phrases at the end of this post so you can check your answers):

Journey - "It Could Have Been You"

We were so close yet so far away
I'd reach out, you'd be gone
Moments that still take my breath away
There's so much more to life than loving you
You don't need me, no...

I can't wait all my life, on a street of broken dreams
It could have been you my love (where are you now)
Oh I still wonder if you remember the night
It could have been you

Time washes over memories
I can't look back no more
Change has forsaken our promises
There's someone else for you to hold again
So please stop your crying

I can't wait all my life, on a street of broken dreams
It could have been you my love (where are you now)
Oh I still wonder if you remember the night
It could have been you

Remember, remember, girl I remember
I can't wait all my life, on a street of broken dreams
It could have been you my love (where are you now)
Oh I still wonder if you remember the night
It could have been you (where are you now)
Should have been you my love (where are you now)
It could have been you my love (where are you now)

Aah! An 80s pop song about heartbreak, regret, and lost love... the perfect place to use third conditional! Any time you talk about a past action that you wish you had done differently (a regret), then the third conditional can be your grammatical weapon of choice!

So, what phrases did you find in the 3rd conditional? Yep, they're basically "It could have been you" and "It should have been you." So as mentioned before, we often only use one half of the third conditional. 

That's about it for today-- maybe it wasn't "fun," but at least you got to listen to some Journey!

As usual, if you have any questions or feedback, please leave a comment below or contact me.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!