Tagged: grammar

To show purpose, that’s why!

ūüė¶ I would like to study abroad one more time, especially for achieving a doctoral degree.

flag-of-indonesia¬†This is an Indonesian translation for ‘untuk’ as a way to explain purpose.

In English the answer to this kind of ‘why’ question is¬†nearly always ‘to + V1’:

ūüôā I would like to study abroad one more time, especially¬†to achieve¬†a doctoral degree.

Questions that focus on purpose include:

  • Why do you want to..?
  • Why did you..?
  • What did you (do that) for?

In these examples the answer – ‘To + v1..’ is sometimes referred to as ‘the infinitive of purpose‘.

‘For + noun’ is¬†used to explain some kind of¬†function:

A: What’s that machine for?
B: It’s for pounding¬†rice. (function)
A. Oh. I see. But why use a machine?
B. Maybe to save time. (purpose)
A. Ah. Right.

flag-of-indonesia¬†Indonesians – next time you want to translate ‘untuk’, stop and think. Are you talking about function or purpose?


When is a school not a school?

ūüė¶ I have also been a teacher in one of high schools in Padang.

flag-of-indonesia¬†This is a common mistake¬†made by Indonesians desperate to translate ‘salah satu’ or maybe ‘sebuah’.

In English, when we want to communicate ‘one of many’, we use the indefinite article ‘a/an’:

ūüôā I have also been a teacher at a high school in Padang.

This is sometimes called ‘generic’ reference. The school in the example is not a particular school – we don’t yet know the name of the school, its address, etc. So far we’re just imagining a typical school. The image of the school in the writer’s mind will not be exactly the same as the image of the school in the reader’s mind, and that doesn’t matter.

I might¬†use¬†‘one of’ if I’m introducing¬†more specific information about ‘a’ school. For example:

ūüôā There are many schools in Padang. One of them is close to my house.
(information about the location of the school)

ūüôā Only one of the schools in Padang offers an international curriculum.
(information about the curriculum of the school)

ūüôā I studied at one of the best schools in Padang.
(information about the quality of the school)

Notice also that ‘one of’ is followed by certain words, in particular:

  • the / them (pronouns)
  • these / those (demonstratives)
  • my/his/their (possessives)
  • superlative adjectives

For more examples, click here.

As a general rule – if you’re talking generally (generically!), use ‘a/an’ for countable nouns. For uncountable nouns use ‘some’.


The King dies/(has) died?!

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

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

(I was being silly with number 5!)

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


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

Deadly magnitude 6.5 earthquake hits Aceh in Indonesia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A many-headed doctor?!

ūüė¶ I¬†am a doctor. My first sister is a doctor. My second sister is a doctor. And my third sister is a doctor. My father wanted us to become a doctor.

For a second, this is what your reader imagines:


You need:

ūüôā I¬†am a doctor. My first sister is a doctor. My second sister is a doctor. And my third sister is a doctor. My father wanted us to become¬†doctors.



Goodbye to ‘By’

ūüė¶ By paying more attention to corruption can improve the welfare of a country.

Yet another Indonesian structure that doesn’t translate directly into English!

If you really must begin with ‘by’ then you need…

By + [name of solution] + subject + verb (+ etc):

ūüôā By paying more attention to corruption, a¬†government¬†can improve the welfare of¬†a¬†country.

However, native speakers would probably just say “Goodbye to ‘By'” and go straight to the solution as the theme in the sentence:

ūüôā Paying more attention to corruption can improve the welfare of a country.


When ‘become’ is not becoming

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

flag-of-indonesia¬†This is the influence of Bahasa Indonesia. In English ‘become’ is used to describe a change, rather than a constant:

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

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

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

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

ūüôā Full-day school has become¬†an important issue.

If the change is happening right now Рcontinuously Рthen we can use present continuous tense:

ūüôā Full-day school is becoming¬†an important issue.

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

ūüôā Full-day school is¬†an important issue.


The human’s wife is an alien

In my opinion, artificial intelligence should be kept away from humans’ civilisation.

OK, here are two specimens – a human (Bill), and an alien (Zarka). If I talk about the human, I’m talking about the gentleman on the left. If I talk about the alien, I’m talking about the lady on the right.


Bill and Zarka

We can say that the human’s nose is longer than the alien’s nose, and the human’s neck is thicker than the alien’s. Also, since the alien has no body hair, we can assume that the alien is interested in human hair.

Let’s look at the grammar.

  • I use the possessive when I’m talking about a particular human (Bill) or a particular alien (Zarka). I could also be talking about a specific group of humans or aliens.
  • On the other hand I don’t use a possessive when I’m talking about all humans (their hair). The alien is interested in the phenomenon of hair as it grows on all humans, everywhere.

When you’re using ‘human’ as a noun modifier, stop and think! Are you referring to an individual human or a specific group of humans? Or are you talking about all humans? Only add the possessive if your reader knows exactly which human (or specific group of humans) you are referring to.