Everything listed under: Real-World English

  • He, She, and They: Pronouns and Gender Politics

    If you’ve been studying English for a while, you know that parts of speech such as verbs, nouns, and pronouns are supposed to live in harmony. That means they need to “agree” with each other in a sentence—a rule called parallelism.

    You don’t need to know the “ism” that denotes the rule. I only bring it up so that you’ll know it is a rule, one that’s essential in both spoken and written English.

    But rules are meant to be broken, as the late General Douglas MacArthur famously said. Can you spot the traditional rule I’m breaking in the following sentence?  Read More...

  • When a question isn’t a question

    Why do Americans ask you how you are when they don’t really want to know how you are? When a U.S. native travels abroad and greets people with a breezy “How are you,” the unsuspecting European, African, Asian, or South American will try to answer the question as if it were real. That could lead to a serious communication snafu.   Read More...

  • Getting the Hang of it

    When teaching vocabulary, language teachers always encourage their students to use new words in a sentence rather than rely on dictionary definitions alone. That’s easy when a word is used in a precise, limited way—like sky, cat, or cook. But some words—often extremely common ones—are slippery little creatures that are at home in many different environments.   Read More...

  • Can you trust native speakers?

    Native speakers of American English, like native speakers of any language, know their own language without having to think about it much. But that doesn’t mean they always speak the language correctly. In fact, we American English speakers make mistakes—and we make them often.

    Here’s just one small example.  Read More...

  • The “ing” thing (Part II)

    Those three little letters—ing—seem to be everywhere! But before we move along to gerunds, present participles, and weird variations on continuous tenses, let’s take a look at the future continuous.  Read More...