The present perfect can be a hard tense to understand and a beautiful tense to explain.
The problem for students is that it looks like and feels like the past. But it isn’t. The clue is in the title: The present perfect. It’s all about the present!
The present perfect tense isn’t about what you did yesterday, or what you did when you were a child or that time you forgot your key or any of that. It’s all about now. More precisely, it relates past actions to the present.
Some readers may not be sure what I mean by the ‘present perfect’. I have done my homework is an example. The simple past tense is I did my homework. So what’s the difference? This is the sixty-five thousand dollar question.
First, let’s think about the past.
When I think back through my past life I think about all the things I did, the things I enjoyed and tasted and felt and saw and experienced and messed up. And as I think about my past there is not one appearance of the word ‘have’. When I think about yesterday or last year, for example, I don’t think I have done, I think I did.
‘Have’ is all about now, in every sense of the word.
So back to the point. I saw the film and I’ve seen the film. What’s the difference?
When we say I saw the film, we have a particular past time in our minds, even if we don’t say it. We are thinking about the action AND the time in which it occurred. For example, if I say I met the president, not only do I think about myself and the president shaking hands but I also think about the particular time in which it happened. I’m thinking last week or three years ago or that summer I broke my arm. The past tense connects a past action with the past time in which it happened.
When I say I’ve seen the film I am not thinking about when I saw it. It’s just not important. It could be yesterday or a hundred years ago, it doesn’t matter. What is important is the action, and it is important for NOW. Where the simple past, I saw the film connects the action and the time in which I did it, the present perfect tense (the clue is in the title!) connects the past action with now.
So why do we want to connect past actions with now?
The answer is, for many reasons. For example, I want to explain to my friend that I don’t want any food now. I say No thanks, I’ve eaten. My eating in the past explains why I am not hungry now. I want to tell someone that I know about a place so I say I’ve been there. If I want to show how important I am now, I can say I’ve met presidents and kings. The I have done something is using my arsenal of past actions to have an effect on the present. I want to explain that I can’t pay for my drink so I say I’ve forgotten my wallet. I’ve finished my work tells my boss that’s it’s okay for me to leave now. I’ve cut myself says that I need a plaster and I’ve never done that could mean I’m interested.
Using the present perfect is like reaching back into the past and pulling a past action back into now and then using it to comment on the present in some way:
I’ve seen the film…I don’t want to see it, I know all about it, I can talk about it – are all possibilities.
You can say that we are the sum of all our past actions. Everything we do builds us and develops us for better or for worse. Sometimes, to show how we feel now, or what we know now, or what we want now, we use one of these past actions to demonstrate. We use the present perfect tense.
Imagine a man standing in an empty space. He stands there looking straight at you. Behind him, just a millimeter to his left stands himself again. Like a shadow. Again, a little further to the left, there is another image of the same man and this continues back and back, smaller and smaller. Each image of the man is a little younger than the previous going back. As you move further down the line into the distance the man becomes younger, then a teenager and then a child and then a toddler until the furthest speck is him when he was born.
If I point to any one of these ‘men’ I can say that they did particular actions. Some of them did their homework and when they got older they went to college or they travelled around the world. They had girlfriends and got into fights. They saw movies and slept on floors or in beds. The man we see now, he has a past, a history snaking behind him like a tail leading back to his first moment, his birth.
If the present man wants to talk about his past experiences, he will use the past. ‘In 1987 I had a beautiful girlfriend and we went to Bolivia and climbed the highest mountain.’ But here, he is simply talking about a particular past time, in this case, 1987. But sometimes in life we do not talk about the past time. Rather we use a past action to explain something about the present. We carry all those past actions in our heads and hearts, and suddenly we pull them out and say ‘this is me!’ ‘This is who I am’. ‘I’ve been to Bolivia!’, ‘I’ve had a beautiful girlfriend’, ‘I’ve climbed mountains!’
Reaching back into the past
It’s like we reach back into the past and pull a past action back into the present and use to comment on the present in some way:
I’ve seen the film
The present perfect tense uses the past to give the listener a message for now. I’ve seen the film may mean I don’t want to see it now or perhaps now I want to talk about it. The basic message is now, I know about this film.
The present perfect illustrates present knowledge by using the past as example.
Une école bon marché peut-elle être une bonne école ?
À Dublin, il existe un large choix d’écoles enseignant l’anglais ayant toutes différents rapports qualité/prix.
Vous savez votre budget, mais comment savoir la qualité d’une école ?
Lire les avis
Vous pouvez vous faire une idée de l’école en question en consultant les avis des élèves. Ces derniers ont souvent tendance à publier leurs avis, qu’ils soient satisfaits ou non de l’école. Il est donc utile de les lire. Généralement dans les avis négatifs, les plaintes ne sont pas mensongères et sont souvent répétées par de nombreuses personnes. Lisez les commentaires sur la façon dont les étudiants sont traités. Si l’école ne traite pas bien ses élèves, alors il vaudrait probablement mieux l’éviter.
Du côté positif, les commentaires qui complimentent l’école et ses professeurs peuvent vous aider à affiner votre choix.
Et l’enseignement en lui-même ?
Les écoles d’anglais sont juste… des écoles qui enseignent l’anglais ! Recherchez des preuves qui montrent que les professeurs sont passionnés par l’enseignement de la langue plutôt que de proposer des offres pour gagner un maximum d’argent. Regardez aussi leur site internet : celui-ci mentionne-t-il le détail des cours ? Leurs méthodes d’enseignement ? Recherchez-les sur les réseaux sociaux. Même chose : Mentionne-t-ils la méthodologie de leurs cours ou évoquent-ils seulement des offres et des promotions afin d’attirer le plus d’étudiants possible ?
À côté de cela, il existe beaucoup d’écoles qui tiennent à cœur à enseigner l’anglais. Trouvez ces écoles et faites votre choix.
Soyez attentifs à la taille de l’école
Les nouvelles écoles sont souvent pleines d’attentions. Elles prennent soin de chaque étudiant individuellement jusqu’à ce que le succès arrive car les élèves sont de plus en plus nombreux et il y a donc moins de suivi individuel.
Les professeurs qui ont commencé à travailler dans de nouvelles écoles se sentaient important aux yeux de leurs élèves et essayaient d’innover leurs cours. Une fois les écoles surchargées d’élèves, les enseignants sont moins motivés car ils ne peuvent plus les traiter au cas par cas. Et ce sont les élèves qui en font les frais. Le message de tout cela n’est pas que toutes les grandes écoles sont mauvaises, mais méfiez-vous de certaines d’entre-elles. Nous vous conseillons de choisir une école qui sera capable de vous offrir le suivi individuel dont vous avez besoin.
Une qualité reconnue
En Irlande, il existe plusieurs labels qui certifient aux écoles un certain niveau de qualité. Par ses labels, les écoles permettent à des inspecteurs indépendants de vérifier leur réel niveau de qualité d’un point de vue académique et administratif. Regardez si ces écoles contiennent des labels tel que ACELS ou MEI
Le professeur est l’élément le plus important de votre cours car il est la première personne avec qui vous serez en contact chaque jour. Lorsque vous prenez contact avec une école, posez-leur le plus de questions possible. Concernant les professeurs, voici deux questions que vous devriez poser : Les professeurs sont-ils nés en l’Irlande ? Quels sont à chacun leur spécialité, leur point fort ? La façon dont l’école va vous répondre montrera la façon dont ils se comporterons avec vous. Plus vous en saurez sur leurs professeurs, mieux ce sera. Généralement, les professeurs les mieux payés font les meilleurs cours !
Tout est dit. Ce que tous les étudiants désirent c’est une école bien située, accueillante et professionnelle où apprendre l’anglais. Dans votre recherche d’école, ne sélectionnez que les meilleures. Si vous avez besoin de plus d’informations sur ce sujet, merci de bien vouloir vous adresser à email@example.com
Bonne chance dans vos recherches !
Como saber si una academia de ingles barata es buena y ofrece calidad?
A veces, cuando queremos elegir una academia de ingles hay tanta variedad de escuelas que nos resulta difícil elegir la correcta.
Solo en la zona metropolitana de Dublin hay mas de 100 academias de inglés. Cada una ofreciendo una gran variedad de precios y muy variadas con respecto a la calidad que ofrecen relacionada con su precio.
Sabemos exactamente lo que nos podemos gastar (lo que hace excluir a las más caras), pero ¿cómo sabemos si la escuela que elegimos es buena?
Leer las opiniones
Aprovecha la experiencia de otros estudiantes para hacerte una idea de la escuela que están considerando.
La gente tiende a colgar sus opiniones cuando están muy satisfechos con la escuela, así que es importante leer las opiniones de otros estudiantes. Normalmente cuando hay opiniones negativas sobre el mismo tópico y de forma repetida tiende a ser verdad.
Busca los comentarios sobre los profesores y sobre cómo se trata a los estudiantes por la administración de la escuela.
Si la administración de la escuela no trata bien a los estudiantes lo mejor es no elegir esta escuela barata.
Por el contrario, las opiniones positivas de la escuela y sus profesores te ayudaran a reducir el mínimo de escuelas que son ideales para ti.
Busca el “idioma”
Escuelas de inglés, son exactamente eso, escuelas que se dedican a la enseñanza de idioma.
Busca pistas en las que se vea que en esa escuela están apasionados por la lengua y no sea solo negocios de hacer dinero.
Mira sus paginas web. ¿Tienen escritos material original sobre la lengua? Mira sus paginas en redes sociales y observa si tienen contenido sobre cuestiones como el idioma o sus paginas tienen solamente un objetivo para anunciarse para venderse a un gran número de estudiantes.
Hay escuelas que les importa de verdad ensenar Ingles. Encuéntralas y decide.
Mira el tamaño de la escuela
Las escuelas de ingles normalmente se fundan con las mejores intenciones. Al principio de su creación les importa cada uno de sus estudiantes, pero cuando triunfan, los estudiantes en vez de personas se convierten en números
Los profesores que al principio trabajaban en una organización la cual velaba por sus intereses y podían innovadoras dentro de la enseñanza al cambiar la escuela de tamaño solo pasan a ser piñones en un gran engranaje y al final son los estudiantes que pagan las consecuencias de este crecimiento. No quiero decir que todas las escuelas grandes o que crezcan sean malas, pero algunas sí. Encuentra una escuela que te apoye individualmente y que su estructura sea de tu agrado.
En Irlanda hay marcas de calidad que garantizan niveles mínimos de calidad en las escuelas.
Al ser parte de este sistema las escuelas son frecuentemente visitadas por inspectores independientes que investigan si las escuelas ofrecen a sus estudiantes lo que anuncian ofrecer, en su aspecto académico y administrativo
Busca escuelas reconocidas y dentro del marco ACELS o MEI. Puedes encontrarlas aquí pinchando aquí.
El profesorado es lo más importante a la hora de elegir tu escuela ya que durante tu curso es la persona principal que tendrá contacto diario.
Un buen profesor te guiara a través de la lengua y un gran profesor te inspirara el resto de tu vida.
Cuando contactes con una escuela, pregunta tanto como quieras. ¿Con respecto a los profesores hay dos preguntas esenciales, Son tus profesores nativos?
¿Cuál es la experiencia combinada de tus profesores? La forma en que te respondan te dará una idea de cómo aprenderán y te trataran si decides elegir esa escuela barata.
Contra mas sepas de los profesores mejor será.
¡Los profesores bien pagados como su profesión corresponden que serán más felices y sus clases serán las mejores!
Lo que cada estudiante le gusta es una escuela bien ubicada, una escuela profesional y de trato amable, la cual te ensenara ingles adaptándose a tus necesidades. En la búsqueda de la escuela barata perfecta, considera los puntos anteriores y te deseamos buena suerte.
Si necesitas más información, no dudes en contactar conmigo firstname.lastname@example.org
Deciding which cheap school is the best for me
Sometimes when choosing an English school, we are spoilt for choice! In the Dublin area, there are over one hundred English language schools. Some are cheap schools and some are expensive and they are also very different when it comes to quality. We know what we can afford (which rules out a lot of the more expensive schools) but how can we tell if the school we are booking is good?
Read the reviews
Use other people’s experience to form a picture of the school you are investigating. People tend to post reviews when they ae very happy or very unhappy with a school so read these reviews to see what previous students have thought. Generally, with negative reviews, there tends to be truth in a complaint which has been repeated by a number of people. Look for comments about the teachers and about how the students were treated in the office. If the school administration does not treat students well, then this is probably a school to avoid.
On the positive side, reviews which compliment the school and its teachers can help you to narrow down your choice towards finding the right school for you.
Look for the language
Language schools are just that – schools which teach language. Look for clues which show that they are passionate about teaching language and not just businesses to earn money. Look at their websites. Have they written original content about language? Look at their social media pages. Again, do they post content about language or are their pages simply marketing tools to find more students? There are schools out there who care deeply about teaching English. Find these schools and make your choice.
Look at the size of the school
Language schools often start out with the greatest intentions. When they are young they care about each student individually, but as success comes, students stop being faces and start being numbers. Teachers who before worked in an organisation they felt cared about them and were innovative in their industry now feel like cogs in a giant wheel and of course, it is the students who suffer. The message here is certainly not that all big schools are bad, just some of them. Look for a school which you feel can offer you the individual support you need as well as the school facilities.
In Ireland, there are quality marks which assure minimum levels of quality in schools. With these marks, the schools are open to independent inspectors who can check if they are doing what they say they do, both academically and from an administrative point of view. Look for quality marks such as ACELS or MEI. You can see their lists of members at https://www.acels.ie/schools or https://mei.ie/
Your teacher is the most important element of your course as it is they who you have primary contact with each and every day. A good teacher can guide you through the language and a great teacher can inspire you for the rest of your life. When you are making contact with a school, ask as many questions as you like. Regarding teachers, there are two questions you can ask: Are your teachers native speakers? What is the combined teaching experience of your teachers? The way schools answer your questions will give you a clue as to how they might treat you in the future should you become a student and of course, the more you can learn about their teachers the better. Happy, well-paid teachers give the best classes!
What every student would like is a well-located, friendly and professional school which will teach you the English language. In your search for this school, consider the above points and we wish you the best of luck! If you need any more help or information on this topic, please contact email@example.com
By the way, one last thing. The word ‘cheap’ in English can have a negative connotation meaning ‘poor quality’. A positive way of saying ‘cheap’ is ‘inexpensive’.
Please click on the link below to read Edition 1 of Newshour.
Accuracy is obviously an important part of speaking a language. A lot of English teachers would say that not making mistakes is important but at the same time students shouldn’t worry too much about it as long as their mistakes don’t affect understanding. Students though don’t really accept this idea (they want to speak correctly!) and I think rightly so.
People care about the impression they make when communicating
After all, people worry about the impressions they make. Whether it’s a good impression in a first meeting or the impression you give people generally, we have an image of ourselves which we want to portray. And this image is generally positive. We want to be seen as educated, dynamic and/or successful people, not as someone who makes mistakes. The result of this in the English classroom students often say ‘please correct me’ to the teacher.
For the teacher there is a little bit of a dilemma here. On one hand they want to correct the learner to promote accuracy in the language. On the other hand they don’t want to undermine the learner’s confidence and correct too much. Correct to a point and let the other stuff go. Tomorrow is another day.
So as teachers, we don’t want to correct students every time we hear a mistake. But there are times we most certainly do correct. And one of those times is when we hear the habitual mistake. These are mistakes which are engrained into learners (often) of particular nationalities. They are mistakes which the same (nationality) learners make again and again.
Here are a few examples of common mistakes:
The last week I went to Cork. This is a common habit with the words next and last. Basically, there is no the when next or last refers to now. Last week I went to Cork is correct.
One means not two…
I want one coffee please. Here, the problem is one. In English, one means ‘not two’. What that means is that you only say ‘one’ when the listener is expecting you to say ‘two’ (or ‘three’ etc). Imagine you have been in a bar with your friend for a couple of hours ordering and drinking beer. Every time you order another round you ask for ‘two beers’. Your friend now however, doesn’t want another beer. You decide to have one more for the road. You call the barman over. What does he expect you to say? Two beers! Of course, as this is what you have been ordering all night. But you ask for ‘one beer’. One means not two, and in this case it’s correct. Usually you ask for a beer. Therefore the correct version of the sentence above is I want a beer please.
He’s 19 years. Here, you have an option. You can either say he’s 19 years old, or just simply, he’s 19.
Thanks for all. This is not correct. It should be ‘thanks for everything’. The word all is a modifier used before nouns to mean everything. But it is not a noun itself. All the money, all the world, all Dublin…is correct. Without the noun, you need to say everyone or everything etc.
Active voice or passive voice?
I cut my hair. Although this is possible it probably isn’t correct. Here you should use the passive form to have/get something done. The idea is that there are things we don’t do ourselves but rather we pay someone to do them for us. Perhaps we don’t do it because we are lazy (I get my grass cut every week) or we don’t have time (I have the dog walked in the evening) or we don’t have the necessary skill to do it (I’m getting my car serviced tomorrow.
I want that he comes to the party. When you want a person to do something the structure is want+person+to+verb…I want him to pay me. She wants me to help her. Therefore, the correct version of the sentence above is I want him to come to the party.
Next week I will come back to Italy. Here, the problem is come. Basically you always come here and go there (except on the phone!). Come is to where you are and go is to all other places. When in Ireland, Italy is there, and so the sentence should read next week I’m going back to Italy. I have also changed the tense to the present continuous as it is a planned arrangement (I have the ticket).
So what mistakes should teachers correct?
The great thing about correcting the habitual mistake is that it opens doors which have some very interesting language items to explore on the other side. Open the door, take some steps (how many according to the level you are teaching) and then go back and move on. This makes for an interesting and dynamic class.
Another error to correct is when the learner makes a mistake using the target language being dealt with in the class. If the class has a grammar theme, for example future forms, the teacher should be dealing with issues which arise around this area of grammar. Again, level plays a key role in what to correct and how far to go with it.
With these errors in mind, how should we as teachers go about correcting them?
There are of course a variety of ways. Some teachers can correct as they hear them and some will gather them for a language focus session at the end of the class. Some teachers will advocate peer correction and some will create a task around them for the next session. All ways are valid. The important thing is that the teacher promotes understanding in the learner. They must present the language in context and show the learner why one form is used and another is not. The key then is once the learner has understanding the teacher then facilitates the learner to use the target language as much as possible through tasks, eliciting or homework. The key to language learning is production on the learner’s part.
In my experience of observing teachers, I have found that the most successful ones are the teachers who ‘sit’ on the target language. How long you sit and how deep you dig depends on the learner’s level. In the classroom, the teacher is the filter. Some things pass and others are stopped and dealt with. Through the teacher, the learner can develop their communication skills to the point where they are making language choices which are appropriate to the situation within which they are communicating.
After all, this is what the learners want isn’t it?
By John Ryan
When communicating through English, there will always be options presenting the speaker with a language choice. In this blog, we will show you ‘Switching’, a technique which will open up the range of language choices available to you.
In English, the language choice of the speaker will be either in a formal style or an informal style or perhaps somewhere in between and the formal style is often a direct translation from the learner’s language:
I told Peter everything he needed to know
The informal style will not be a direct translation but could rather be a PHRASAL VERB:
I filled Peter in.
In Englishour, we believe that learners today who come to an English speaking country to learn English want to become familiar with the informal side of English. To them, it’s new and exciting and is often something they have never come across before.
As well as opening up exciting new learning opportunities, there are clear advantages to making these language choices. Firstly, the informal side of English is often much shorter; more concise. English speakers love this! When non-native speakers use idiomatic language, English speakers really appreciate this and the door to a deeper communication is opened a little more. The journey from formal (translation) to the informal is something I call ‘switching’.
Switching is moving between the formal and informal. It is moving away from direct translation towards metaphor and image-based language.
Here are some examples:
A journalist, Peter Factotum, is talking about a corrupt director of a company who he suspects is destroying the environment illegally. In telling us about the director and his experiences he has used several phrasal verbs giving us information:
He has to answer to the shareholders
He tried to play down his role in the forest’s destruction
I tried to sound him out to see if he would reveal anything
He let it slip (it slipped out) that his company was responsible
He left out the fact that he had been in prison
I can’t wait to fill in my editor
Now lets understand!
- – To answer to someone – To whom do you answer to? Do you have anyone to answer to?
If you have a boss, then the answer is yes!
If you have parents, then the answer is yes!
You answer to the person who is responsible for you. The person to whom you answer to is the person to whom you have to justify your actions. People, who are self-employed have nobody to answer to (except perhaps themselves). Single people have nobody to answer to. Do politicians have anybody to answer to? Of course! The electorate. So who do you have to answer to?
- – To play an action/a fact down – This means that you try to make it seem less important than it really is. People often play things down because they are modest. For example, if I won a gold medal in the Olympics and I say ‘Oh it’s nothing’, then I am trying to play down the medal. In the case above however, the director is trying to play down something negative, saying it has no importance when actually, it does!
Politicians often try to play down their mistakes and play up their successes!
- – To sound someone out – This is where you get a ‘preview’ to see how someone feels about an issue. You may feel that is too early to ask them directly, so you ‘sound them out’ first to get an idea how the reaction might be. For example, if you want to ask your boss for a raise you don’t ask directly ‘can I have a raise?’ Instead, you sound them out by talking about money in general and getting a feel for what they might think. Then you may or may not ask for the raise.
Therefore the idea of ‘sounding someone out’ is the idea of talking loosely about something to gauge their reaction.
- – To let it slip – The phrasal verb is to slip out, but let it slip sounds better so we will use that form. This one is easy. It means that you told a secret accidentally. You opened your big mouth and said something to someone that you shouldn’t have! Perhaps you let it slip that he was hiding in the next room or that Mary’s surprise birthday is on Saturday. Basically, you let the cat out of the bag! Have you ever let something slip? Was it something important? What did you do?
- – To leave out (a fact) – If you leave out a fact, you don’t say it. It’s that simple. I told the police my name and address but I left out the fact that I’m not staying there. Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s what you leave out. Think about your CV. Did you write EVERYTHING or did you leave out a few things? Be honest!
- – To fill someone in on something – This means to give someone the necessary information about a situation. It basically means ‘tell them everything’. For example, if you go on holidays, when you arrive back in work/school, your colleague will fill you in on what has been happening and all the gossip. When Steven fills in his editor, he will tell her everything about the story he has. Look again at the original sentence at the top:
I told Peter about the project.
So with switching, we try to replace the formal with the idiomatic:
I filled Peter in about the project.
‘Switching’ is being able to manipulate language
Now, let’s add some more verbs that you can ‘switch’:
When Peter Factotum fills his editor in about the story she will either think that it is a good story or a bad story. If she thinks it is bad, then Peter will have to persuade her that he should write it.
He will have to talk her into letting him write it.
When you were a teenager you had to talk your parents into letting you do things. Like what?
You can also talk someone out of doing something.
He wanted to sell the house but we talked him out of it. – We dissuaded him!
If there was a situation where several journalists wanted to write the story:
Peter would pitch for the story
The idea of ‘a pitch’ is important in English. People pitch ideas to others in order to sell a product or get support.
We pitched the idea of an environmentally-friendly car to the managers and they loved it!
When there is competition to ‘win’ an account, for example, you pitch for it.
Every advertising agency in the city pitched for the McDonalds account.
In this case however, it is unlikely that Peter would have to pitch for the story as:
He came up with it.
He thought of it. It is his story.
Formal ➙ Informal
Informal ➙ Formal
The context will decide which option you use.
It’s up to you – You choose!
|Literal translation (formal)||Native equivalent (informal)|
|He is responsible to nobody|
|He answers to nobody|
|He made the situation seem less important|
|He played down the situation|
|I tried to get an idea of what she was thinking|
|I sounded her out|
|He accidentally said it|
|He let it slip|
|I omitted it|
|I left it out|
|He told me everything|
|He filled me in|
|I persuaded her to do it|
|I talked her into doing it|
|I dissuaded him from doing it|
|I talked him out of doing it|
|We gave a presentation to get the job|
|We pitched for the job|
|He thought of a great idea|
|He came up with a great idea|
|It’s up to you|
Look at the following sentences. You will see the long formal version. Translate to the shorter informal version by switching:
Eg: He told me accidentally___________➙_He let it slip.
- I asked him questions to see what he was thinking_➙
- He persuaded me to sell my car to him__➙
- We presented hoping to attract the new client__➙
- I told them that the situation was not as bad as they believed__➙
- Her only boss is the owner, nobody else_➙
Now try to do the opposite. Look at the informal and make it formal:
Eg: I left out the fact that I was unavailable___➙_____I failed to say that I was unavailable.
- He came up with a brilliant plan__➙
- They played down the disaster in the interview_➙
- She talked me out of selling_➙
- I let it slip that he wasn’t qualified_➙
- They pitched for the Medford account_➙
- Start using switching in your everyday life. Every time you want to say something, try to think of two ways to say the same thing and make a language CHOICE.
- In your professional life, try to use all of the above verbs in the next week.
- In your personal life, try to use 5 of the above verbs in the next week.
- Write a list of ten situations you know you will be in, in the next 7 days. Identify if they are formal or informal situations. Which side of the English language would you prefer to be using in each? When going to each, make decisions about the language choices that you will make before the event and then follow them!
- Show your colleagues the two versions and ask them which they use. Try to talk about language to as many people as possible.
- Keep switching. Learn to manipulate language so that you sound like you WANT to sound!
By John Ryan ©2018
Auxiliary verbs are fantastic little things!
They act like mini-discourse markers at the beginning of sentences, except instead of signaling an emotion or intent, they signal a time. That’s how we know when an action happened in a question or a negative form, by the auxiliary.
Discourse markers are words or phrases which prepare the listener for what is to come. Like if you’re driving and you see a signpost which tells you that your destination is 200km away and to the left. The sign not only tells you the distance and which way to turn, it also mentally prepares you for the journey ahead. It gets you thinking about whether or not you need petrol, if you need to go to the toilet. You think about when you will stop for a break, now or towards the end of the journey? That sign situates you within your journey. It offers you comfort and the power to make informed decisions. Signposts are important not only for telling us where to go but also for making us feel more comfortable whilst going there.
In language we use signposts too. If a teacher is talking to a student and says I read your essay. Unfortunately…. The student gasps upon hearing this word. There is a small intake of breath as they prepare themselves for what surely will be bad news. Can I be blunt with you? Another signpost. Whatever they are going to say, it’s probably terrible! They will tell me some horrible truth about myself. The answer to can I be blunt with you? is of course, always yes! As human beings we are naturally curious about other’s perception of ourselves. I’ve got some good news and some bad news is an old favourite. Which do you want to hear first?
Which brings me back to auxiliary verbs. They are words like is, was, have, do, will and did. They go with a verb and through them we know the tense. For example, if I ask do you walk to work?, you know that I am asking if you walk to work generally, every day, usually. Did you walk to work? Now we’re talking about a specific point in the past. But that’s an important idea. The listener must know when you are talking about if you use did. They know because you either say it or it’s implicit in the idea. If you walk up to a person and ask did you go to the cinema?, their impulse is to immediately ask when? They need a time because you asked did.
Auxiliary verbs are like little clocks…arrows pointing through space-time.
If I ask have you walked to work?, it’s not necessary to specify the time. Have you implies a time before now. Any time. Have you been to Japan? Yes? When? Now you talk in the past. I went three years ago etc. Have you been …ing? Again, the listener knows that the question refers to recently, to a time close to now. This is the present perfect continuous tense, a tense we use when we see evidence of an action. For example, I see someone out of breath (the evidence) and I ask have you been running? As soon as they hear have you been…? They know that my question refers to something recently and also to some evidence that they have spotted. If someone asks you out of the blue have you been sewing? You would most probably respond with why do you ask? You are wondering what possible evidence they see to ask whether or not you have been sewing.
In class, students often have a problem between the simple past (I did), the present perfect (I have done) and the present perfect continuous (I’ve been doing). There is no need for this to be problematic as long as you think about them in relation to time. I did requires a specific named past time. Either you say it or the other person knows exactly what time you are referring to. If you name the time, use the simple past and NOT the present perfect. The present perfect refers to an action which happened in an unnamed time in the past but has importance for now. Perhaps a message for now. If you say I’ve eaten, the message for now is I’m not hungry. If you say I’ve done everything to your boss, the message for now is perhaps can I go now?
If you name the time, use the simple past and NOT the present perfect
Having said all of that, there is a challenge for students regarding understanding the concept. It is often not the same in other languages and does need time to sink in. The good news (nice discourse marker!) is that there is a ‘eureka’ moment. A moment when the student suddenly gets it. It’s one of those really satisfying moments when learning a language which can be so frustrating at times.
In the meantime, learners need to be as aware as possible of those little magic words, auxiliary verbs.
Understanding phrasal verbs with ‘out’
‘Out’ means ‘outside’. There is a journey from inside to outside, a journey which takes you into the light, or into the darkness.
Let’s say you have a problem, like a maths problem. The solution is hidden deep in the problem. Your job is to work it out. Here, the image is slowly removing the answer from a dark hidden place into the light. When you’ve worked it out, the solution is there, in the light. You can see it!
Jim and Mary are trying to work out their marriage problems. By talking through their problems they begin to see solutions.
Likewise, you can also figure something out. Again, figuring out a problem means thinking about it until the solution can be seen.
I couldn’t figure out how to open the door.
It took me ages to figure out the complicated bus timetable.
When you figure it out, you can see the light!
Another case is to find things out. This involves bringing information into the light.
Sometimes you can find out accidentally:
I just found out that Mary is going to have a baby!.
I went on the internet and found out that the company doesn’t exist!
For working out, figuring out and finding out, a solution sees the light.
To come out can simply mean ‘come outside’.
Are you coming out tonight? Possibly to the pub, or the cinema etc.
Come out also means to reveal that you are gay. The idea here is that it is a secret. When someone is secretly gay, they are ‘in the closet’. Then one day, they tell their friends or family or the world that they are in fact gay. This is when he/she comes out.
Elton John came out years ago.
Again, the secret reaches the light.
To make something out means to be able to see or hear something under difficult circumstances. It is often used with ‘can’. For example, if something is far away and you can see it or read it:
I can’t make it out. A car registration for example or a bus number.
I can’t make out the signature. Here, it’s not far away, the quality is bad.
You can also use it for things you can/can’t hear, usually because of the clarity of the sound.
I find heavy metal lyrics difficult to make out.
I couldn’t make out what he was saying because of the noise.
When you can make something out, there is the lightbulb moment of throwing light onto the unknown.
Sometimes friendships can fall into darkness:
People can fall out. It means that they are no longer friends. They usually fall out over something:
Myself and Peter fell out over the money he owes me
They fell out over a stupid argument
Here are some more verbs which mean ‘go into the darkness, away from the light’:
The first is literal. To blow out a candle or a flame.
He made a wish and blew out his birthday candles.
What do you do with a finished cigarette? You put it out. (extinguish it)
Or when the room is too hot, or your blood pressure is very low? What can happen? You can faint. Lose consciousness and fall onto the floor. You can pass out.
When you pass out, what do you see? Darkness!
As well as flammable material, people can burn out. This is due to excessive stress, usually in work:
He was a stock broker, but burnt out after five years.
When you burn out, you’re finished!
We often hear of governments trying to stamp out crime. (destroy it)
Sometimes, they will phase something out.
At the moment they are phasing out free medical care. (little by little it will be gone)
When you close the curtains, you block out the light. You can also block out sounds.
Some people try to block out bad memories.
Out can be also associated with negative experiences:
If you decide to stick it out, you decide to remain in a bad situation:
I hate my new job, but my friends have advised me to stick it out, at least for another month.
Sometimes, you can stop a negative experience:
We talked him out of doing it. We persuaded him not to do something we viewed as being bad.
He was going to sell the company, but we talked him out of it.
The purpose here is to show that there is a logic and a clear line of thought running through seemingly unrelated phrasal verbs. This logic is, I believe, contained in the preposition. If you can unlock the meaning of the prepositions, you can understand better the idiomatic side of the English language.
Shortcuts in English
When thinking about phrasal verbs and idioms it occurred to me that they are just like shortcuts on a computer. Shortcuts are things like:
• Ctrl+C (Copy)
• Ctrl+X (Delete selected item and save a copy to the clipboard)
• Ctrl+V (Paste)
• Ctrl+Z (Undo)
Obviously, when you start learning how to use a computer, you don’t immediately start learning shortcuts. You learn the long version first and when you have reached a particular level of expertise you can then start learning and using shortcuts. People who are very proficient on computers use shortcuts all the time. People who have an elementary level of knowledge usually don’t.
The reason shortcuts exist is that there are certain things which we do over and over again.
For example the copy and paste function is one you perform many times daily if you regularly use Word on a computer. Because of the frequency with which we perform the action, it can be tiresome repeating the same actions over and over again, hence the shortcut.
It’s exactly the same in language. There are thousands of ideas which we regularly express to each other. These are specific ideas which may convey a feeling that we have in a particular situation at a particular time. The nuances of the idea may be really subtle and therefore to express it properly might take a lot of words. That’s where the shortcut comes in. Here are some examples of the long version and the shortcut expressing the same thing.
Everybody worked together and therefore saved time and effort – shortcut – We all pitched in
He spoke for a long time about his car. It was really boring! – shortcut – He went on and on about his car
I don’t know where it came from. It might have been stolen – shortcut – It fell off the back of a lorry
From the A1 to the B1+ levels we don’t learn too many phrasal verbs and idioms. It’s really at B2 that this side of the language comes into the spotlight for the learner who then begins to use language in a more metaphorical way. This is a very exciting time for the learner because this is when they feel that they are speaking and listening ‘like native speakers’.
Native speakers of course love and use this type of language all the time.
Instead of saying I was very ‘excited and nervous’ before my speech, I was ‘keyed-up’. Instead of saying ‘it is very isolated and nobody goes there’ say ‘it’s off the beaten track’. These little phrases are shortcuts. They are a means of saying a lot with little language. And that is a thing of beauty.
Learners who get good at these shortcuts sound very natural when they speak. They also find it easy to understand native speakers as the language is common and familiar. However, it’s not easy to get there. There are many phrasal verbs and the lists of idioms are long indeed. But it is possible. Here are some more examples of shortcuts:
I said something stupid socially – I put my foot in it.
I managed not to laugh when I really wanted to – I kept a straight face
I am very busy at the moment and probably have to refuse your offer – I have a lot on my plate.
In Englishour, this form of language plays a large part of our syllabus. It’s fun to learn and it’s fun to teach. So in future, when faced with a phrasal verb or an idiom, don’t think of it as ‘hard language to understand’. Just think of it as a shortcut – an easy path to expressing an idea.