Monday, 29 June 2015

Discussions--Series 2--EFL English as a Foreign Language

Please visit Post 68 and then come back here. Thank you.

Discussions—Series Two
Topic 20
What is the difference between English as a second language and English as a foriegn language?
Ali Farag English Teacher at Ministry of Education  Top Contributor

@...i @...: have both of you typoed on purpose ? Just kidding.. I do it myself all the time.

From WIKI

EFL,
English as a foreign language, indicates the teaching of English in a non–English-speaking region. Study can occur either in the student's home country, as part of the normal school curriculum or otherwise, or, for the more privileged minority, in an anglophone country that they visit as a sort of educational tourist, particularly immediately before or after graduating from university. TEFL is the teaching of English as a foreign language; note that this sort of instruction can take place in any country, English-speaking or not. Typically, EFL is learned either to pass exams as a necessary part of one's education, or for career progression while one works for an organization or business with an international focus. EFL may be part of the state school curriculum in countries where English has no special status (what linguistic theorist Braj Kachru calls the "expanding circle countries"); it may also be supplemented by lessons paid for privately. Teachers of EFL generally assume that students are literate in their mother tongue. The Chinese EFL Journal[2] and Iranian EFL Journal[3] are examples of international journals dedicated to specifics of English language learning within countries where English is used as a foreign language.

ESL

English within English-speaking countries

The other broad grouping is the use of English within the Anglosphere. In what Braj Kachru calls "the inner circle", i.e., countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, this use of English is generally by refugees, immigrants, and their children. It also includes the use of English in "outer circle" countries, often former British colonies and the Philippines (a former US colony), where English is an official language even if it is not spoken as a mother tongue by a majority of the population.

In the US, Canada, and Australia, this use of English is called ESL (English as a second language). This term has been criticized on the grounds that many learners already speak more than one language. A counter-argument says that the word "a" in the phrase "a second language" means there is no presumption that English is the second acquired language (see also Second language). TESL is the teaching of English as a second language. There are also other terms that it may be referred to in the US including; ELL (English Language Learner) and CLD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse).

In the UK, Ireland, and New Zealand, the term ESL has been replaced by ESOL (English for speakers of other languages). In these countries TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) is normally used to refer to teaching English only to this group. In the UK and Ireland, people usually use the term EAL (English as an additional language), rather than ESOL, when talking about primary and secondary schools, in order to clarify English is not the students' first language, but their second or third.
K R Lakshminarayanan, and 11 others like this

Me
Top Contributor
A few months ago, this was the topic of a discussion in this community started by Kimberly Illescas Traductora e Intérprete. Estudiante de Ciencias Lingüísticas en la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala.

I copy here my contribution to that discussion:
I provide summaries of  my two letters that were published in October 1976 issue of The English Teaching Forum., a journal for teachers outside the USA published by the USIA.

(1) TEFL, TESL, and TESOL
This was a clarificatory letter expressing my concern over the free use in ELT literature of TESL, TEFL or TESOL to refer to the teaching of English to non-natives. I wanted to know where the distinction lay—in the children involved or in the motives? Is it negligible enough to permit disregard of it?

In her reply the Editor said the distinction lay in the following criterion: TESL refers to the teaching of English in a country where English is an official language or the language of education..., and in the remark of Dr. Marckwardt: TESL students need to listen to speak while TEFL students need to acquire a reading knowledge of the language.

She further added: The acronym TESOL (the teaching of English to speakers of other languages) that includes both TESL and TEFL came into existence because of this primary distinction between English for natives and English for non-natives By making correct use of these three designations, we can convey our meanings rather accurately.

(2)
More on TEFL, TESL and TESOL
I thanked the editor for publishing my letter. I further said that I wanted to share my opinions regarding the ‘criterion’ and Dr. Marckwardt’s remark . I found the remark wanting in the light of certain contexts I was aware of.

To support my observation I cited Ethiopia and India where the role of English is that of a second language according to the criterion. But the “remark” does not fit. Ethiopians don’t use English at all for communication—oral or written. In India, English is a second language in one sense but not in another. Though interaction between people from different states is on the increase and so there's a need to speak, reading and writing skills are more important because English is still the medium of communication in “higher” educational institutions and for correspondence—official, social, and business at the national level. Thus the criterion and the remark seem to me rather inadequate.

I went further to say that covering ALL non-English-speaking children under general terms seems inadequate because non-English-speaking children in
1. English-speaking countries do need English for oral communication before anything else
2. countries (the West Indies, Singapore) where the only communication medium is English
3. countries (like Ethiopia, Iran) where English is not needed for oral communication
4. countries (like France and Germany) where English is not required for any purpose.
This letter was also published.

I add this here:
So these acronyms don't really help to clear the air. Wherever possible, I refer to English as (Learning/ teaching) ANOTHER language since motives of learners are based on the social / educational context of where they live or stay.
Two like this.
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Topic 21
There was a request to suggest novels for students below upper intermediate.

Me
Abridged versions of famous novels like Ivanhoe, Emma, The Tale of Two Cities could be read with profit and enjoyment.

For Upper Intermediate and above, I suggest:
Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Perry Mason Series,
Arthur Hailey, Jeffrey Archer, Ken Follet, John Grisham, Dan Brown, Sidney Sheldon, Wilbur Smith, Robin Cook, Michel Crichton, Lee Child, David Baldacci, Robert Ludlum and a host of others

Another member said this:
Time for holidays! 
I have just recommended books from the Cambridge English readers collection to elementary or lower-inermediate level adult trainees. This collection offers a good variety of books + audio-CDs, which learners do appreciate. The right pronunciation is often a big issue for them. And those books are not too expensive (paperbacks): 
http://www.cambridge.org/us/cambridgeenglish/catalog/skills/cambridge-english-readers
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Topic 22
Whats the difference?
Alexander Tsmokalyuk IT engineer Top Contributor
Hello, 
What's the difference:
- Tell me
- You tell me

Both are correct depending on the context. "Tell me...." is imperative - e.g. "Tell me your name." "You tell me..." could mean either "You, (the person you are pointing to) and then the imperative or not a complete sentence "You tell me that ..... "

English is difficult when we don't say the whole sentence. I like students of mine to get used to re-adding the missing words so that they can see how these imperative forms are derived.

"You tell me." is the basic sentence. It is usually softened with more polite language...
"Can you tell me...(please)" Which is a more polite request/question

Once we have that we can then see that "tell me!" is a more harsh instruction/order/demand.
As Zoe described it. (The imperative)

The absence or presence of the modifying words gives a slightly different feel to the sentence.

You say 'you tell me' when you know s/he is lying to you or not telling the whole story and you are suspicious, etc... Example, when a couple are fighting, one of them is pretty sure the other is betraying him/her with someone else, and instead of directly answering the question with '... yes, there's someone else...', s/he is trying to avoid it by asking incredelously 'Do you think I'm betraying you?' Here the other person says, 'You tell me.' The meaning is clear. I do not believe you. I know you are. Just admit the truth.

It is context specific. The semantics, intonation and the use of the 2 are different.
4 like this

Yes, a lot depends on the emphasis. For example,

"YOU tell me"--You must/should/definitely know the answer. Not Jenny, not Fred, YOU.

"YOU tell ME"--You asked me the question, but you should reverse the roles and tell me the answer, as we both know you know it.
"What time is dinner?"
"YOU tell ME. YOU are the one who's cooking it."

"Tell me" is a command. Without context, we don't know if it's polite or not.
"TELL me"--don't shout at me, don't play games, just out with it!
"Tell ME"--Everyone else knows, so share the news with me.

As the others mentioned, context is everything.
2 like this

 “You tell me” can be used to demand an explanation for something bad when this person is very angry.
Let’s imagine this situation:

My daughter had a party and somebody spilled black currant juice on my expensive carpet. I wasn’t at home at the time. I came home the following day and found out about this, and had this dialogue with her:

Omar: Sarah, come here! (Shouting because I’m extremely annoyed)
Sarah: Yes dad. Oh no! What is this? Who did it?
Omar: You tell me! You were here, weren’t you?
 Zoe HarwoodNada Stojanovic and 4 others like this

Me
'You tell me' can also be used to mean with emphasis on the pronoun: Why don't you enlighten me?
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Topic 23
Little confused with this question-"What are your parents hoping you to do for them?" How this question can be answered?
Stephy George Jacob English Language Trainer at Navis Global Services Corporation Top Contributor

Is "hoping" always followed by a preposition? Can anyone help me with the proper grammar rules.

There are no such things as 'always' and 'never' in grammar.

- I hope that we'll manage to finish the project on time. (No preposition)
- The charity is hoping to raise $400,000 for the maternity ward.

The question can be answered in a variety of ways:

- To help them financially.
- They want me to forgive them for what they did to me.
- They want us to visit them more often and help them with the chores.
etc.

At the risk of "splitting hairs" on this one ...

Somehow, the use of "hope/hoping" doesn't sound quite natural to my ears ... unless the parents want something to happen, which they don't think is going to happen. Hope implies a desire for something to happen in the future, but that "something" has little or no probability of occurring.

I would re-write this sentence to read, "What would your parents like you to do for them?" or, (stronger) "What do your parents want you to do for them?" These sound more natural to me, as my relationship with my parents implies that what they want is more likely to happen because I'm involved in making it happen.

I could say:
I hope for (something to happen).
I hope that (something will happen).
My hope is in (something outside myself).
I'm hoping for (something to happen).
I'm hoping that (something will happen).

Let's see what our colleagues also have so say :-)

I am a little lost with this sentence as a whole.
I have had a thunk about it. I cannot be totally confident with the forms but this is what I thunked so far...

First, hoping is not always followed by a preposition.
I was hoping (that) something...
I was hoping (that) you would be here.
The something seems to need a full sentence. Is that right?
Any way, that answers the 1st question.

It can also be joined with a 'to infinitive'
"I was hoping (what?)."
"I was hoping to see you here."
Notice how there is no object. Notice also in your question you have an object (you) which makes the sentence sound wrong.
I propose that you can't use an object inside a to infinitive.

It can also be used with 'for'
I was hoping (for) something...
The something doesn't need to be a full sentence.
"I was hoping for sunshine."
It can however take an object + to infinitive. That is nearer to your sentence.
"Your parents were hoping for you to do (what) something for them."

This sentence therefore can be manipulated to create the question form:
"What are your parents hoping for you to do for them?"

How'd I do?
8 like this

I think you all did quite well and have offered excellent explanations and examples. However, I'm just as concerned about the second question. Time for one of James' "Ha's!" If it didn't carry a question mark, it would be fine. But since it is in the form of a question, the auxiliary "can" must appear between "How" and "this". The first question is fine if we just eliminate the unnecessary word "to" or replace it with "that". There's my 2 cents!

Me
The question in the discussion sounded 'strained' to say the least. Thank you Neal and Richard.
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Topic 24
I am a vegetarian versus I am vegetarian.
Netty Weijenberg ZZP EFL teacher and tutor
In the learning English for Dutch app Duolingo the sentence "I am a vegetarian" was corrected as "I am vegetarian". Is this allowed in American English or what?!

Several members said both were correct

For what it's worth, I go with both being ok too.
vegetarian as a noun and an adjective seem ok. ( the first dictionary entry I checked)

noun
a person who does not eat meat or fish, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.

adjective
relating to vegetarians or vegetarianism.
"a vegetarian restaurant"

My first instinct is to say "I am a vegetarian" though.

Me
Reading the kind of interpretations of 'vegetarian' reminds me of an incident that took place years ago in Nigeria. I was hungry and looking for a vegetarian restaurant. A Nigerian passing by asked me: where's your car?' I said: I walk. Looking at me strangely (because almost all foreigners owned a car) he said extending his hand: There you have one. I waked and crossed the road, entered the hotel and asked for rice and a vegetable dish to go with it. The server brought me a plate of rice and stew. I said: This has meat in it. He responded: vegetable dey (=there). I said: Please take it away and get me a dish with only vegetable in it. I watched him as he walked back and saw him dip his hand into the stew and pluck meat balls or pieces, put them in the large container and returned with the same concoction. I tried to explain to him that I wanted a dish cooked with only vegetables. He just stared at me and went back. I wondered for a moment what to do. I could of course leave but not before paying for the order, consumed or not. So I just ate the rice (for first time and hopefully the last) and paid 15 Naira worth almost 10 Pounds.
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Topic 25
There was a discussion thread asking for the common mistakes among EFL students

Spelling mistakes are the most frequent that I encounter. Apart from that it's getting them to use Present Simple and Present Continuous correctly. They constantly forget to put the "s" etc for third person singular and also the auxilliary verb for interrogative and negative (Present Simple). With Present Continuous they nearly often forget to put the verb "be".

Teacher of English as a foreign language, Private tuition of English
French students: 'to depend of' instead of: to depend on someone. Still got the wet towel round my head so I'll be back later. Also have guests from London, a mixed couple!

We can't depend on the weather today as it looks like it's going to rain again...

Educational Consulting and Training
The most common mistakes are confusion of prepostions like in and on, also as Zoe mentioned, use of third person singular without the s.
Good discussion.
Marita G.Kim P. and 2 others like this

Determiners and poor mechanics.

Business English Teacher at ASC International House
Make or Do - for French students! There is a great little book to help FCE students: Cambridge - Common Mistakes at FCE - really useful, with visuals, to help students understand their mistake and hopefully self-correct!
Zoe HarwoodKim P. and 3 others like this

English Instructor at American University of Culture & Education (AUCE)
Spelling mistakes are the most common.In grammar students dont put s in present and the verb after modals cofuse them.

Independent Higher Educational TESL/TEFL Professional
I assume that your question is about standard English usage mistakes. One of the factors, of course, is the students' level of English skill. Another factor is the influence of their first language. For Chinese students the main areas of mistakes are these: (a) the different personal male and female pronouns, for which their is one spoken word in Chinese but different written/printed characters; the plural -s and -es for nouns and the -s ending of third person present tense verbs--missing signals in Chinese; verb tenses, especially the present perfect and also the need to stay in one time when there is literally one time; and, perhaps needless to say, the use of the definite and indefinite articles--missing in Chinese.

Professora - Tradutora na ESL
Perfect tenses since it doesn't have the same meaning in Portuguese.
Prepositions since they don't always have rules.
Simple present 3rd person singular because it doesn't apply in our language the same way, either.
Adjectives since ours take plurals and auxiliaries which don't exist in Portuguese.
Rosanna Carlostella likes this

ESL Instructor
Subject-verb agreement

PhD Candidate in Linguistics / English Language Department at Aristoteleion University
All verb tenses seem to be complicated as some students tend to pay no attention to details and inconsistencies between English and their mother tongue. They translate directly from their mother tongue (for example from Greek). Thus they cannot avoid making mistakes. In this vein, structures which do not exist in Greek (for example the Causative Form) appear to be difficult especially for novices. Not to mention verbs with a special structure (for example gerund or infinitive or preposition+gerund) plus change in subjects are especially difficult for them as they involve a lot of memorizing.

Lecturer in Western Management at Henan College of Finance & Taxation
In Chinese, there are no propositions so Chinese students either miss these out completely or use an incorrect one. Also, they have problems with using the present form of verbs in questions about the past, e.g. saying "Did you had a good time yesterday?" instead of "Did you have a good time yesterday?".

English and French as a foreign language trainer
Verb tenses, especially the use of present perfect simple/present perfect continuous

Me
placing 'the' where it's not required and not placing it where required. Not using 'a/an' where required and not using 'a' with 'few' and 'little' where necessary.

Experienced English & Dutch Teacher (groups & individual) / Owner at Lost Twin Language
It depends on the learners' L1 and on their level, as Nancy V. Lee remarks.

A great help with first language issues is "Learner English" by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith, subtitle: "A teacher's guide to interference and other problems", published by Cambridge University Press.

It deals with the specific problems that speakers of other (groups of) languages encounter when learning English, both grammar, vocabulary, speaking / pronunciation. A very useful book!

Language Department Chair; Academic Coordinator for International Students at Watkinson School
In addition to the other comments about Chinese speakers, I would add that my Chinese students often mix up parts of speech--that is, they use a noun where an adjective is necessary or a verb. Ex: Childhood is a very happiness time.
Rosanna Carlostella likes this

Em busca de recolocação
I am a Brazilian,but i'm not teacher .I know in my classroom and the teacher did tell me in general is the speaking / pronunciation .
Rosanna Carlostella likes this

Professor of English at SK University
Many Indians use a common question tag for all statements: "isn't it?" -- an instance of MTI.
Rosanna Carlostella likes this

Account Executive Telecommunications
Pronouncing is by far the biggest issue.
Rosanna Carlostella likes this

English Language Teacher at Orbit International School
Top Contributor
usage of V + ing . Spelling : silent letters in the word " for Arab students ".

Experienced English teacher (individuals and groups), owner at CHATTERBOX
Consistent usage of tenses and aspects but also the difference between adverbs and adjectives seem to be problems of my Dutch students. They also have difficulty with "little" , "few", "a little" and "a few". For advanced students formal versus informal language is a big issue too.

tutor at non specific
All the "like" I put mean that I'm learning a lot form this discussion. I have noticed that Italian EFL- students have problems with continuous tenses, adding the "s" in the 3rd person singular Simple Present (which is quite strange, because the Italian verb conjugation is very difficult), the difference between Simple Past and Present Perfect and the usage of "to do" as an auxiliary. Personally, when I started learning English, i.e. in the 5th school year, after 7 years German (kindergarten and Primary School), I "suffered" from a lot of interference as far as vocabulary and meanings were concerned, in other words the so called "faulse friends". For example: D="bekommen=to receive, E="to become"/D="Haare (always plural)= E=hair (uncountable); D="wissen"=E= to know/ D= "können"= E= "can", to be able to; D= "wollen" = to want; E= "will", and many others...
Martha H. likes this

English Major Professor at Jianghan University
@Nancy V: Definitely what I have encountered teaching English at a university in Wuhan...

vocational English teacher
In Sri Lanka I teach Government officers as well as mature students common mistakes are tenses and writing singular and plural in the same sentence. They have a basic understanding of the subject but they do not have enough exposure to English on a daìly basis.
Rosanna Carlostella likes this

Associate Professor at Ahfad University for Women
For our Arabic speaking students its also the use of ( the) and the extra (that) besides spelling mistakes. I noticed that students place the (s) everywhere so as not to miss suing it besides the apostrophe even in plurals like (table's) , (mens). They also find the passive very difficult to master even advanced students.

Of course Arabic speaking students find difficulties pronouncing the /p/ and the /v/ sounds besides consonant clusters ( always adding an extra vowel)

Fomratrice d'anglais, English Teacher at CFAI
With French students I find it is that they put the adjective after the noun. With speaking my students pronounce an 'h' when a word begins with a vowel but don't pronounce an 'h' when they should.

Me
Another area that causes problems to Indians is the indirect speech. The direct speech is reported without changes in the languages that I know. So when they use English, they tend to follow the local language pattern. While this might not cause problems among Indians, a foreigner might find it difficult to follow what's being said.

freelance writer and editor
Top Contributor
Not using the definite and indefinite articles in the correct way (sometimes omitting them altogether). There are many others but this is the most common.

English teacher at Microbits institut
Hi there, I'm teaching English to Spanish and Catalan students and I think the most striking mistakes are the ones of pronunciation mainly as far as word and sentence stress and intonation are concerned. As Spanish is a time syllable language, students tend to stress every single word: articles, auxiliaries, prepositions...etc. sometimes it's very hard to understand them, you always have to make a guess! Also, their intonation is very flat, the don't differentiate between statements, requests, questions...etc.
As far as grammar is concerned and as they tend to translate to their mother language, sometimes they have trouble with prepositions, tenses, passive voice and the use of some verbs like: do, make and have.
The list is very huge so if you are asking about something specific i can give you specific data.

Owner, Alex Drougas School of English
Top Contributor
In my opinion - and reading the rest of the comments - one of the most common mistakes that EFL students make is translating from their mother tongue to English. This is due to different rules in Grammar as well as in syntax. For example, in Greek we say "I never visited Brazil" while in English the correct Grammar is "I've never visited Brazil" or "I've never been to Brazil". Also in Greek there is no rule where to place the subject, e.g. "Went my mother to the supermarket to buy groceries" or "My mother went to the supermarket......" both are correct.

Online English Teacher at caccamoenglishonline.com
KR Lakshminarayanan's comments about articles are significant because in some languages, they simply aren't used at all. Students find them conceptually difficult and often initially irrelevant, from their perspective, until they get the measure of them.
As others have said, students tend to make more mistakes at lower levels but even at the higher levels, bits of structure from students' own languages, when transferred into English, sound strange sometimes because the mechanics are alien to English. I have found this occasionally with German and Russian business English students.

I personally believe that when the majority of language schools tell students that they are now at.......whatever the level is, it is normally false. I have yet to come across any student whose level in written English matches their spoken English and reading skills. Normally speaking, I find that their written English as at least 1 level below, sometimes considerably more. (I accept that they have to be graded somehow of course.)

From my perspective, the hardest mistakes to correct are when students have understood something incorrectly a long time ago, or devised a way round a piece of grammar they don't understand. Once the mistake is entrenched through frequent use, it can be extremely hard to correct.

Certainly, if students can self-correct, possibly with gentle questioning or a subtle hint, any mistake is likely to be corrected with longer lasting effects.

Confusion between been and gone and its and it's are fairly common at lower levels.

translater
Well, most of the mentioned problems are common for the Russians too. But I have learned how to eliminate most of them with the help of very good textbooks that contains a lot of drilling exercises. But still I have a problem with clauses of time and condition because our language interfers here. At the intermediate level It takes me a lot of time to teach students to use Gerund and Infinitive constructions correctly. Especially with the words which can require both. And I also have a difficulty how to differentiate the usage of to or for in the Infinitive construction: It is difficult for smb. But why do we say: It is available to us. It is clear to you. Who can explain? Maybe there is a special list of such verbs? I have never come across it.Thanks in advance

English Tutor at TAC_C language center
typical ones are those Zoe already mentioned.
Rosanna Carlostella likes this

Ms at Stafford College of Further Education
Agree as mentioned above. Incorrect use of tenses. Distinguishing between past and present perfect. Either overuse of articles, or omission can be a problem, especially in writing. Often word collocations can be confusing, such a get, just, give....... even with advanced learners.
Rosanna Carlostella likes this
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English Teacher at Satri Islam Vitya Mulniti of Yala
Top Contributor

1. Never will I go there again = Not on your nelly
2. Not until yesterday did he change his mind = He's beginning to regret that
3. Rarely did he visit his grandparents = They just nag, nag, nag
4. Hardly had I left before the quarrelling started = The things they say behind your back

8 people like this

If I may, I'd like to add that we use negative inversions (inversions with negative adverbials) to make a sentence more emphatic and/or dramatic. The links below contain some useful exercises.

https://elt.oup.com/student/headway/advanced/a_grammar/unit05/hwy_adv_unit05_3?cc=us&selLanguage=enhttp://random-idea-english.blogspot.com/2011/05/negative-inversion-practice-exercises.html
4 like this

Me
I agree with Omar and I certainly enjoyed Lincoln's humourous implications.
Lincoln Lambert likes this
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Topic 27
In your opinion, what are the top qualities/skills a teacher must have to become a GREAT teacher?
Elsa Hoff  Partner/Teacher at Outsourcing English Services
Top Contributor

Apart from our education and the knowledge we possess, I believe the following points are very essential: 

- Vocation for teaching. 
- Patience and perseverance. 
- Keep up to date with the new teaching methods and techniques. 
- Keep learning and educating ourselves. 
- Approachability and the ability to develop an excellent rapport with our learners. 
- Self-assessment. 
- Effective management and communication skills. 
- Organized and well-prepared for the lessons. 
- Ability to explain and clarify things in a simple way. 
- Treat our learners fairly. 
- Ability to anticipate the learners’ difficulties / problems.

Me
Untiring commitment to helping the learner in whatever ways we can and empathy for the below-average learner and not getting frustrated at our failures or learner's failure for that matter.
Omar SattarCindy Leader and 2 others like this

Great teachers never stop learning from anyone including students. They are churned butter. Humility marks them.
7 like it.

I very much like the last comment @KR Lakshminarayanan thats exactly what I wanted to say. Dear Elsa I think acknowledging your students' efforts and showing genuine interest in their individual needs and concerns will make them trust you in a lot of ways. It doesn't have to be too personal but giving them enough recognition and time will definitely help. Also, your teaching techiques have to be student-centered where they would feel included and not neglected. Aim for the student's role not the teacher's one (although it is impotant as well).
4 like this
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Topic 28
Telling Time
Mansoureh IR English Teacher Top Contributor
Is "half after seven" natural to a native American ear? Or like British they would say "past"?

I don't like "after" with half and a quarter but it seems fine with numbers. Ten after ten doesn't seem wrong. Odd!

I believe 'half after seven' is natural to the native US ear, but they may also say 'half past'? In Britain, you hear more and more people say '7.30' (seven thirty). Whether this is is also used across the pond - I'll leave for others to comment..

I grew up with "seven thirty."

Me
Advanced Learner's Dictionary has this:
half past one, two etc.(US also half after one, two, etc.) (also British informal half one, two, etc.) 30 minutes after any hour on the clock
So I imagine 'half' is an alternative expression in the US.

I don't use it myself.
I wouldn't stop others using it.... apart from a little constant nagging...

@LinkerLambers: I lived in various parts of the States for 54 years before I (finally) left, and I don't ever remember once hearing "half after seven" - just "half past seven" or, much more commonly, "seven thirty." I remember saying "20 after 7" for 7:20 and "20 to 8" for 7:40, but if someone used "past" as in "20 past 7", then I would probably have assumed they had been watching Masterpiece Theatre or other British telly. I've used textbooks by Oxford, Cambridge, Longman which use the British variants, so I've "absorbed" those, but teach both the American and British variants for telling time. And then, I once lived in a country where 7:55 is "5 without 8" and 7:30 is "half eight."
3 like this

British English tends to favour using "Half past...rather than "half after...." when speaking more formally. Informally, we tend to drop the word "past"completely. US English speakers tend to err always towards their formal wording of "after". Meanwhile, the rest of continental Europe uses their native equivalents of "half TO the hour!!! ie where we would say "half past 3, they would use "half to 4". A lot of US people get confused when the Brits speak informally and think we are using the European format, simply because we DON'T say the word "past" or "after".

We will tend to use the numerical equivalents (5,10,15 etc) when a more accurate timing is required.

I am American and I always say 7.30 Half after any time just sounds wrong to me!

@ Neal and Richard: Thank you for the information. I didn't know that apart from rules written in grammar books people use various interesting ways to tell time. I really liked it.

Oh please, don't say that something sounds "wrong"...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sdVx5gQz6w
... "incorrect" is so much more tactful ... :-)

It's strange because here in the U.S. people do say "seven thrity" and never half past seven, however you hear quarter til seven or quarter after seven quite often. It seems like the numbers are just spoken at any other time with the exception of midnight and noon.

After is distinctive to US English. With British English we use 'past'. However 'seven thirty' is more common with American and used about equally in the UK.

Me
Neal, yes, someone saying 'wrong', especially when vociferously, definitely hurts.

It's interesting to learn how people belonging to one nation use different expressions to say time. We in India say seven thirty. The other variants are rarely heard.
 Cindy Leader likes this

Me
Your thoughts on these:
•Approximately
around/about/nearly/just before/coming up to three / three-ish = 2.56 and 2.59
just after / just gone three = 3.01—3.04

• Accurately
6.45 / 6:45
six forty-five / (a) quarter to seven / (a) quarter of (before) seven
6..55 /6:55
five to seven / five of seven?

Is it true that the English use one period and the Americans, a colon between the numbers indicating time?

@ JR:
Approximately: All suggestions correct.
Accurately: I wouldn't say (a) quarter of (before) seven for 6:45 or five of seven for 6:55

As a Brit, I used to use a period/full-stop, but find myself more commonly using a colon to separate the numbers - see above.
2 like this

Me
Question:
What time is it?
What’s the time?
What time do you make it?
Do you have the time? (BrE)
What time do you have? (NAmE)

Response:
Threeish.
Just gone three./ Just after three

Are these responses common to both the British and the Americans? Or are there variations?
What about ‘a little after three’?
 Mansoureh IR likes this

I think Americans would state, " A little after three." However, since we are living in the digital age, it is so easy to glance at our phones or computers and state, "3:05" (I don't believe we would say a.m. or p.m.). In a setting where there is a pre-determined set time, I clearly see this as a more common response. When a situation plays itself out to be more flexible (e.g., the start of a parade, perhaps "Just after three." is more common. All of KR's responses would be acceptable. Then of course there is military time. This I do use. Drives my children and my

@ JR:
Threeish can (as you say) be just gone/just after or be:

about three/around three/almost three/not quite three/nearly three/a fraction after three...

@Sir Lincoln. Yes. I use "ish" as a general approximation of time. Again, I would like to use it less than I do. I think it's because with a lot of my students, since they are between the grade levels of 3-12, are constant clock-watchers and time limits are constantly being set. Drives me crazy! :)
 Lincoln Lambert likes this

Me
Thanks, Lincoln. 'A little after three' isn't in the list, I guess. We say in Thamizh 'it's going to be three' for 2.56--2.59 and 'it just struck three' for 3.00--3.04.
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Topic 29
Collocations
K R Lakshminarayanan active member, Expert Panel at Quadruple Education Network Private Limited, Chennai
Top Contributor
Vocabulary acquisition is an integral part of language learning. And collocations are an essential part of such acquisition.

We all breathed / heaved/ let out a sigh of relief.
We were on the brink of defeat.
It’s a crying shame to waste all that food.

Can collocations be taught or learnt naturally through listening and reading?
 Omar SattarZoe Harwood and 1 other like this

--
Even though collocations be learnt, but mostly, learners get confused with the prepositions and articles, so the outcome is rather poor!

Me
Of the several aspects of the English language I like most, this is one. I never made any conscious effort to teach them but did point out when I came across them and told them that they should enjoy such expressions that English offers to its users.
 Zoe HarwoodOmar Sattar like this

Learning collocations from listening and reading has produced the best results in my experience. Context is very important. I've had more success teaching them by highlighting collocations in a reading passage rather than teaching them from a list, like one may do with vocabulary.

I agree with Lakshminarayanan and Ryan. Highlighting them when you come across them is the best thing to do because you can see them in context.

And I agree with all of you too.
Zoe Harwood likes this

And I agree with all of you three..

Combinations with 'make' and 'do' (as pointed out in another thread) seem to be the most difficult to acquire , I mean students ability to use ALL of them correctly.

I think, like many other aspects associated with teaching a language, collocations can be taught but as mentioned by some of the contributors they should be taught in a context for better results.
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Topic 30
words as both count and noncount nouns
Top Contributor
I found these in David Baldacci’s The Forgotten

(a) Landry went for sandwiches and waters.
(b) “The people there are good. They like to work hard. They love their freedoms.

‘Water’ is generally an noncount noun. It can be used in the plural when it refers to
i. an area of sea or ocean belonging to a particular country
ii. the water in a particular lake, river, sea or ocean
iii. (unchartered/murky etc. waters) describes a situation that is difficult, dangerous or not familiar

How do we understand the noncount noun in plural?

I thought that freedom was a noncount noun until I came across this sentence. Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says: rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.
Is it in this meaning that the writer has used ‘freedom’?

Me
Sorry for the typo: 'an' instead of 'a' with reference to 'noncount noun'.

To my ears, in (a), I'm assuming that Landry is going for (bottles) of water, but the author's style is to say "waters." That's cool with me :-)

In (b), "freedom" can be either singular (when used as a concept), or plural when we are speaking of individual freedoms which can be enumerated in a list such as the freedoms listed in the Constitution of a country.

Consider a non count noun as a banner.
Furniture, money, water.
If you can subdivide them into types you may be able to speak of them in the plural.

I have two different teas in my shopping
I have been losing different freedoms since this party took control of this country.

Put your noun into this sentence "I like..."

If the noun is in the plural then it is uncountable "I like money."
I the noun is countable (For a particular context) it will show in the plural form. "I like different teas...Earl grey, Assam etc."

It won't work for uncountable nouns that don't work. "I like all of your furnitures..."

Indefinite pronouns are words which replace nouns without specifying which noun they replace.

Singular: another, anybody, anyone, anything, each, either, everybody, everyone, everything, little, much, neither, nobody, no one, nothing, one, other, somebody, someone, something 
Plural: both, few, many, others, several

Singular or Plural: all, any, more, most, none, some

* have been taught clear cut rules from above (englishplus.com) on indefinite pronouns; however, I see many websites challenging these rules.

Quoted from (Grammar girl)....below
Everyone Versus Everybody Lately, listeners have asked a lot of questions about indefinite pronouns, such as everyone. For example, Dean asks, “When is it appropriate to say everybody, and when is it proper to say everyone?” Well, Dean, the short answer to your question is that the words everyone and everybody are interchangeable. They both mean “every person,” so use whichever one sounds best in your particular sentence. Everyone Versus Every One And a cutely named listener from New York, Pinky, wants to know, “Is everyone one word or two?” Pinky, everyone can be two words or one word, but nine times out of ten it's one word. When you use it to mean the same thing as “all people,” then it’s one word. Singular or Plural When it comes to indefinite pronouns, grammarians disagree about whether words such as everyone and somebody are singular or plural when you use a pronoun to refer to them. Several listeners have recently asked about this conundrum. - See more at:http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/everybody-singular-or-plural#sthash.7kbf35Qj.dpuf
 K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

Top Contributor
K R: This is a very interesting thread! Thanks for starting it!

I categorize nouns into five groups.

1. Used strictly as uncountable and always have a singular form e.g. news, information,   
    advice, furniture, love etc.
2. Used strictly as uncountable and "always" have a plural form e.g. clothes, regards (as in       
      best regards), scissors, outskirts, suburbs, stairs, species, goods, means (as in means of
      transport) etc.
3. Used as countable e.g. book and books, car and cars etc.
4. Irregular countable nouns e.g. child and children, goose and geese etc.
5. Generally used as uncountable but can also have a plural form when wanting to be specific  
    e.g. water and waters (as in territorial waters), freedom and freedoms (as in the Four
    Freedoms OR Freedom of speech is one of the most important freedoms), liberty and  
    liberties (as in civil liberties), experience and experiences (e.g. After a couple of bad
    experiences with car accidents, Eve decided to give up driving) etc.

    There is a tricky thing with some plural uncountable nouns when we want to from
    compound nouns. For example:

    - The lift is out of order, we have to take the STAIRS. But we say "The STAIR case is
    always dark."

     English is a beautiful and fascinating language, isn't it?

      Looking forward to your feedback! -)
     K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

Richard: I don't understand what you mean with 'If the noun is in the plural then it is uncountable "I like money."' Kindly clarify!

Neal: It's really nice to see your comments flowing again! -)

Sorry Omar just a typo.
I like ...plural... = countable object.

I like dogs.
Simples....
 Omar Sattar likes this

Me
Neal
I could never see 'bottles of water' in 'waters' . Thanks.

Virginia Roberts
The bit from 'grammar girl' provides answers to some questions that are likely to strike nonnative students and teachers. Thanks for the link

Richard
I join Omar in the request.

Omar
Yes, English IS a fascinating language with all its myriad seemingly complex usages. Thanks for the simple, clean and clear categorisation. How many of us nonnatives will know the difference between 'stairs' and 'staircases'? Thanks.
Omar Sattar likes this

K R: Thanks! "Staircase" is one word just like "stairwell" and stairway." I really need to start proofreading my comments!

KR Sorry, which request?
Always ready to have a go...

Me
Richard
I had the same confusion that Omar had. And you cleared it with your 'typo'.
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Topic 31
Teaching One-to-One (feedback requested please)
Anne Huscroft EFL Academic Manager & Freelance Copywriter Top Contributor

What challenges do teachers face regarding:
1. our role in the classroom
2. course design and lesson planning
3. materials/resources used
4. feedback/reflection

Finally, do you prefer 1-2-1 or group teaching?
Many thanks to anyone with time to respond.

Me
I'm afraid each challenge merits a discussion on its own.
i. getting the learner to learn
ii. it's not in the teacher's hands with reference to teaching in a school or college, and lesson   
    planning is more a ritual
iii. Again the teacher has to use the prescribed textbook chiefly to cover the syllabus
iv. getting students to provide genuine feedback
     the level of sincerity teachers have in their self-assessment

In India, the concept of one-to-one teaching isn't lucrative; even in private coaching, it's group teaching; of course in schools, it's mass teaching.
4 like this

We all face the same challenges but how many teachers have control over the course design? Some teachers are simply given a teacher's book with notes and told to follow it. The can lead to problems in itself.
Some teachers can produce their own brilliant material which could be undervalued by students and parents because it is not published between glossy covers.
We need time to reflect on our teaching, and perhaps keeping a diary is useful for some people. As for feedback, we need observations and feedback from our students.
Personally I prefer group teaching as teaching one-to-one can be like drawing teeth on occasions!
4 like this
galina osrroukh said this:
Actually, teaching one-to-one is a challenge to a real teacher. A person comes to you with his own aim ( mostly to pass ILTES or TOEFL for immigration or studying at English University) and he has already got some knowledge in the language. It's good if it's correct, but mostly you have to disaapoint them and persuadthem that we should brush up his mistakes. And as you know it's easier to teach smth anew than to do away with deep-rooted mistakes. So you have to define his level of knowledge then to map out his course of studies,then to choose proper textbooks. After that you must get acquainted with psychological pecularities and only after that you can start teaching. Every lesson will be a challenge for you because you can never be sure whether he will prepare his homework or you'll have to do it at the lesson in order to move on. You should be a real actor on the stage. But it's a real delight when they inform you that they have got 7,5 or 8 in ILTES. Teaching a group is easier because you have a definite plan and try to stick to it .
5 like this

Me
galina has enumerated the difficulties of the teacher in one-to-one teaching. Here are some from the perspective of the learner. There's neither competition to challenge the learner nor kindred spirits to support the learner. The learner is alone. With whom will he/she converse to learn the language? The learner must be extremely motivated and sustain this for meaningful learning to occur.
3 like this
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Topic 32
Possessive ‘s (Again!)
Omar Sattar EFL/ESL Instructor (Willing to Relocate) Top Contributor

While looking at the mistakes that my learner made on her English test at school, I came across this sentence:

………………………..children love playing computer games.
A) John’s and Clara’s B) John and Clara’s C) John’s and Clara

This is a stand-alone sentence taken from a multiple choice task. The learner chose answer A. The teacher marked it as incorrect.

Do you think the teacher was right?

B. is logically correct for me. Why? John and Clara are married to each other. Their children love playing computer games

A. could also be correct. John and Clara are not married to each other (i.e. they are have different partners). They have children with their respective partners and the children love playing computer games.

C. is incorrect.

Me
As far as I know, ’s is used after
• singular proper nouns:
Balaji and Devi’s home (The home belongs to both)
Balaji’s and Devi’s homes (Balaji has a home of his own and Devi, her own)

By this analogy
choice 'a' refers to John and Clara as two different parents and so the learner chose correctly, I'd say.
Choice 'b' refers to John and Clara as one couple whose children are referred to in the incomplete statement. This was probably the teacher's choice. But then when we generally refer to children of one family we tend to say John's children or Clara's children, don't we?
Choice 'c' refers to John and Clara as one couple whose children are referred to in the incomplete statement. But the apostrophe is attached to the second name.

By the way, I'd say '... made in her English test...'. What do you say?
2 like this

K R:
- (BrE) a good mark IN the test.
- (AmE) a good grade ON the test.

Source: Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary 2000 (page 1342).
Regards
Me and another like this.

Me
Omar
I raised the question of 'on' or 'in' with reference to yours:
... the mistakes that my learner made on her English test ...
which doesn't refer to 'marks' or 'grades' but to 'mistakes'
Omar Sattar likes this

Hi K R:
As far as I know, it doesn't make any difference.
- I made some mistakes in the test. (BrE)
- I made some mistakes on the test. (AmE)
 K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

B is corrrect !

C is incorrect and I think Zoe has explained it best! A & B are both correct. That teacher was a bit harsh marking A as incorrect.

Me
Thanks, Omar.
Can I repeat:
Choice 'b' refers to John and Clara as one couple whose children are referred to in the incomplete statement. This was probably the teacher's choice. But then when we generally refer to children of one family we tend to say John's children or Clara's children, don't we? Or
do we still say as the choice indicates?
Omar Sattar likes this

Janice: I still not convinced about A, but if it is found to be correct then the question should not have been used. Questions in exams should not allow for 'opinion'.

I have just realised that A can be correct if John and Clara have different children and they do different things
John's and Clara's children like playing football and tennis.
The differentiation suggests that John's children play football and Sara's, tennis.

Michael Swan says:
[Note the difference between, for example:
- Joe and Ann's children (one lot of children: Joe and Ann are their parents)
- Joe's and Ann's children (two separate lots of children: Joe's and Ann's)]

Source: Fully Revised - Practical English Usage, first published in 2005, page 414.

Me
Thanks, Omar. I now understand that the names of both the parents are also used to refer to their children.

Anyway, I told the learner that her answer was also correct and explained the difference between the two (A and B). Later, she met her teacher and talked to her about it. The following day, the teacher admitted that the learner was right and corrected the score. Happy End!

When it says "choose THE correct answer", only one answer has to be correct!
Me and 3 others like this

Very good, Omar! So kind of you! K.R.L and you have been perfect. Genius, indeed!
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Topic 33
Grammar question
Clayton Ive digital busker - www.kuchiplay.com Top Contributor
I have been thinking about how to phrase something, and it always feels awkward ...

My partner and I work together on a project, and when I try refer to it using the possessive, it feels awkward

"My partner's and my project" ... ugh, that sounds weird to me. "our project" works, but isn't necessarily clear about who is in the project ... if you don't talk about that beforehand.

I feel tongue tied trying to think about how you talk about something that belongs to yourself and to another person

maybe writing this post has cleared my thoughts a bit ... possibly the solution is along the lines of - specify who is being talked about, then use "our"
"My partner and I have a project. Our project is etc etc"

I would simply use a relative clause - "The project, which my partner and I are working on, blah blah blah ... "

Me
I wonder if there's a workable solution:
My partner's project and mine--this will be seen as two
My partner's project and my project--this will also be seen as two
My partner's and my project--the first phrase is vague, the apostrophe can perform the role of ellipsis.
My project and my partner's--nothing indicates here we are talking about 'project' of both

You can only use 'our project', I guess.

I wouldn't use "My partner."

I'd say: Amanda Jayne and I are currently working on a project that ........
OR Amanda Jayne and I are currently working on a project involving ............

Now, it's clear that Amanda and I are partners in this project.

There is nothing grammatically wrong with "My partner's and my project..." although I do agree that it sounds a bit weird.

What about: "The project my partner and I are working on." It's clear and concise; you can then use "our project" after that.

@Clayton : It's no wonder that "My partner's and my project . . . " sounds weird to you . . . because it is wrong. The correct construction is: "Me and my partner's project . . . "
Omar Sattar likes this

I think you found the right approach. It's clear; not awkward and "clears" up any potential confusion that others may have! Well done and thanks for sharing this
James Powell likes this

Me
James
'Me' as a subject?
 Zoe Harwood and 1 other like this

@Lincoln & K R: Finally, an argument! "Me and my partner's project. . . " is normal colloquial spoken English. (The pronoun "me" comes first, and the possessive is applied to the end of the phrase as in "Lincoln and K R's bottle of cognac.") However, it's not proper English. Grammatically, there is nothing wrong with, "My partner's and my project . . . " but I hate the sound of it, wouldn't use it, and would rather opt for the colloquial and incorrect first. And it wouldn't be the first time . . . Of course, there is something else that isn't quite right with, "Me and my partner's project . . . " and that is the somewhat archaic rule of politeness which dictates that we put other people first and ourselves last. But still, it is nice to be disagreed with. Oh shit! I'd better watch my Latin and not end a sentence with a preposition. Ha!

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to consider this question.
I can see myself using ...

- My partner and I are working on a project. Our project is ...
- The project my partner and I are working on ... or
- [project name] is a project that my partner and I are working on.

I can see other phrasings working, but the above fit the way I speak.
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Topic 34
Is there any difference between "fill in " and "fill out" ?
Amanda Jayne Schwarcz Language Instructor at The Open University of Israel
Top Contributor
Fill in the form or fill out the form. Both are correct, so what is the difference if any..?

Tricky one Amanda! 'Fill sth in' is mostly BrE and 'fill sth out' is AmE. I think they're used interchangeably in BrE nowadays.
But I'd choose to say "fill in" in the following situations:

- Please fill in your name and surname.
- Fill in the blanks / gaps. (Such sentences are very common in coursebooks, tests and exams)
- Come and help me fill in the details.

@ AJ: I don't think there is a great deal of difference? In my line of business, I might say to a prospective client: "Please FILL IN the form whilst I draft out a contract" (there and then, in the presence of) or "Please FILL OUT the form and send/post/email me later" (on leaving them to it). Very subtle difference only?

Is it a question of British English (fill in) as opposed to American English (fill out)? Being British I naturally say "fill in the form"

Top Contributor
I would fill in the individual blanks (spaces and text boxes) on the form, but I would fill out the (entire) form.

Me
Advanced Learner's Dictionary terms 'fill in' as BrE while 'fill out' has no such remark. Oxford Concise English Dictionary says 'fill in' is BrE and 'fill out' is 'chiefly N.Amer'. And Reader's Digest's Wordpower dictionary considers them synonymous like the other two:
Just fill in your name and address on the coupon.
Fill out the application form and mail it today.
There appears to be no difference.
Amanda Jayne Schwarcz and 3others like this

Top Contributor
Thanks to everyone who has replied so far. After reading all the answers so far, I am still not sure I understand this.

I like Nada's explanation re the difference between "fill in" and "fill out" in general, and would probably use these myself (nothing to do with a form). but I am still a little hesitant of what to tell my students next week re a form. I didn't realize there was a difference between BE and Am E? Or that one was finite and the other not? "Fill IN sounds just as natural to me as fill OUT and I am British.
@Linkie: wouldn't you also say " "Please FILL OUT the form whilst I draft out a contract" (there and then, in the presence of) or "Please FILL IN the form and send/post/email me later" (on leaving them to it). ??
@Omar: When would you use fill OUT?
Trying to imagine a scene at a goverment office...
AJ- "Please could you fill in the form ASAP, but I can also hear "Please fill out the form ASAP"
Have I gone bonkers ? Don't answer ... :-)

Me
Amanda
One phrase is as good as the other. Period. Or take Neal's help: complete the form. Chic, isn't it?

Me
@ ...
'Fill out' cannot replace 'fill in' in your first sentence where as the latter can replace the former in your second example.
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Topic 35
A famous person need not be popular, need they be?
K R Lakshminarayanan active member,
Expert Panel at Quadruple Education Network Private Limited, Chennai
Top Contributor

Or vice versa? What about well-known or notorious? Is 'get on/along famously' still popular?
Zoe Harwood, Omar Sattar and 1 other like this

jagdish Gangal  wrote:
Since the word 'person' is a singular noun which can be used to refer to both the masculine and the feminine gender, the statement : 'A famous person need not be popular, or A popular person need not be famous will take the question tag 'need they be' in stead of he or she be. This is as per the latest trend in the English language .So the sentence,' A famous person need not be popular, need they be? ,or A popular person need not be famous, need they be?- is considered grammatically correct these days. J.K.GANGAL

Fred Martin said:
'they' is correct, but just 'need they? No-one would say 'need they be?'

If by "famous" you mean "well-known," and if by "popular" you mean "well-liked," then the use of "need" or "need not" makes the sentence illogical, in my opinion. Famous people are always popular with some people, and highly unpopular with other people ... just ask any king, queen, world leader, politician, actor, actress, or TEFL teacher :-)

Another rightly pointed out:
I presume we're talking about the ENGLISH of the statements rather than our opinions on the subject, which isn't an EFL discussion?

Sunitha Sethi felt:
Giggle, giggle, giggle
Neal Baker likes this

K R: If you're talking about the question tag, BE cannot be there. I'd say: 
A famous person need not be popular, need they?
Zoe Harwood, and another like this

Me
Omar 
The topic isn't about the question tag though it sounds like one, but I agree with you about 'be''s presence in the tag. 

Neal 
What I meant was: A famous person is not necessarily a popular person; in other words, because a person is famous, it does not follow that he is popular. 

to all 
I'm interested in knowing about any distinctions in meaning between 'famous', 'popular' and 'well-known' and to spice this discussion, I added 'notorious'. To add salt, I posed the last query.
Omar Sattar likes this

In answer to your questions - 'What about well-known/notorious or get on/along famously?' YES - they are both still popular!
Zoe Harwood likes this

The famous (well-known) actor John Carradine was once asked if he minded always playing villains (notorious) in his movies. He said: "God did not bless me with the looks to become a leading man (popular). Besides, villains are more interesting."
Lincoln Lambert likes this

That is why we have another word for contrast -- "infamous".

A famous person need not be popular, need they be? It just seems a bit tortuous... 

A famous person doesn't need to be popular does he? 
Now how smooth is that?

English for Academic Purposes Instructor at Algonquin College
@ K R I understood your meaning and find your phrasing fine.

However, I did notice the absence of "infamous". That was mentioned already

Can one be famous and popular? Yes.

Famous and unpopular? Yes, because some people use "famous" to describe someone well-known - for any reason. They choose not to use "infamous" for whatever reason.

Infamous and unpopular? Yes. Pick your favourite (used sarcastically here) despot.

Infamous and popular? It shouldn't be so, but it is sometimes. Think Bonnie and Clyde. I'm sorry American examples come to mind only. Robin Hood is not infamous in any living person's estimation.

Infamous but not necessarily well-known? Yes, when infamous is used as a synonym for "evil", "vile", or "wicked" - such as "an infamous deed". (The deed in question need not be known by many.)

A qualified yes to your vice versa because you can be popular among a relatively small group of people... you know where you are a big fish in a small pond. So popular but not really well-known beyond that pond's parameters.

Also, someone not really famous in society can nevertheless be "famous for X" among his or her circle of acquaintances. I could say "My Uncle Dave is famous for his Yorkshire pudding." (This is true incidentally, among his family members.) 

K R, you actually muddy the waters (sorry for moving away from an edible analogy) somewhat by also asking about "getting on/along famously".

However, I do hear that phrase still. I have a hunch it's older (40 or older) people who use it most often.

Finally, "notorious" is always conveying the idea of infamy/evil and has a dramatic flare. It is used at times, especially in the media.

Me
Thanks very much, Heidi. I couldn't have put the whole thing better.

Me
When we say X is famous, we remember them because of their achievements. When we say X is popular we remember them because we like them for their achievements. 

In other words, it's the 'cause' that 'famous' focuses on whereas it's the 'result' that 'popular' focuses on. Hope I'm not splitting hairs. 

In both the cases, X is well-known; the difference lies in the reason, I guess. 

Agree? Say, 'Isn't that right?', I'll be relieved because my gut feeling is right once again, say,'Hey, they ARE synonyms and so can be substituted one for another,' I'll be happy because I'll have learnt something.
Prof Iyer, Omar Sattar likes this
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Topic 36
Articles
Mansoureh IR English Teacher Top Contributor

Explaining about a particular picture, you would say:
1. Grandmother is watching TV.
2. The grandmother is watching TV.
3. 1 and 2

Not explaining about a particular picture, just a practice in sentence making, you would say:
1. Grandmother is watching TV.
2. The grandmother is watching.
3. A grandmother is watching TV.
4. 1, 2, and 3

In the first group of three sentences:

I would use 1. if there is only one person in the picture, or if only one person in the picture is watching TV, and that person is MY grandmother.

I would use 2. if there are two or more people in the picture watching TV, and one of them is a grandmother, but she is not MY grandmother.

In the second group of three sentences:

I would use 1. to talk about MY grandmother watching TV.

I would use 2. if there are two or more people watching TV and the grandmother is not MY grandmother.

I would use 3. if I were speaking in a narrative sense or in hypothetical terms.

Gosh, aren't articles fun :-)

Me
Explaining about a particular picture, you would say:
1. Grandmother is watching TV.
2. The grandmother is watching TV.
3. 1 and 2

I’d choose 1 if the grand mother is common to the speaker and the listener(s), it’s not necessary to qualify the common noun.
As for choice 2, I’d agree with Neal. Obviously 3 is out of the race.

Not explaining about a particular picture, just a practice in sentence making, you would say:
1. Grandmother is watching TV.
2. The grandmother is watching.
3. A grandmother is watching TV.

For 1 and 2, I’d agree with Neal. As for 3, I’d use it if I wanted to indicate indefiniteness: ‘a’ in the sense of ‘one’— we don’t normally say, ‘one grandmother is watching TV’, do we?

Top Contributor
Explaining about a particular picture, you can say either:
"A grandmother(one of many possible grandmothers) is watching the (one of one) TV."
or
"The(one of one) Grandmother(in the picture) is watching the TV." (probably preferable)

We only need 'a' or 'the' for the grandmother if it a stranger.
If it is a grandmother known by either in the conversation we can say:
"(My/Your) Grandmother is watching the TV."

We do need 'the (one of one)(for the TV that we can all see.)

Not explaining about a particular picture, just a practice in sentence making, you would say:
"A(one of many) grandmother(of many possible grandmothers) is watching the TV."
or
"(the) Grandmother is watching the TV."
IF the grandmother has been previously identified.

Hello all,
I believe you’re all correct to some extent, here’s my version:

In the first case, i.e. “Explaining about a particular picture”, both statements are correct. The difference between them is as follows:
1. Grandmother is watching TV (you don’t specify which grandmother you’re talking about –or maybe when you refer to your grandmother)
2. The grandmother is watching TV (when you specify the grandmother you refer to. For instance, you’re pointing to a particular picture showing different family members doing different things. Then, you say: “The parents are playing football with the kids and the grandmother is watching TV”. This means that you refer to the members of this particular family, in this particular case.

In the second case, they are all correct –depending on the context:
1. Grandmother is watching TV (general, it could be any grandmother or yours (instead of saying “my grandmother”).
2. The grandmother is watching- Same as the 2nd example in the first case.
3. A grandmother is watching TV (No particular grandmother- e.g. in a narrative: “the boy passed by a house and he saw, through a window, a grandmother watching TV).

Hope this will help ...

Thanks everyone and special thanks for ... who stimulated our brains for a while.

And don't forget to explain that in Br. Eng., we say, 'She's in hospital' and in Am. Eng. we use the definite article here, even though the particular hospital need not be known, eg. 'She's in the hospital.' The same applies with university. Am. Eng. 'She studies at the university'. Don't ask me why. The British structure makes much more sense to me.

For what it is worth, I would say both 'She's in (the) hospital.'
and 'She studies at the university'. or to throw another spanner in:
'She is studying at the university today' and 'She is studying at university' for the next year."

That is because I am mad of course....

@Prof.lyer: When some places (prison,school,hospital and all of the ones you mentioned)are not used for their original purpose,then you should add "the"before the noun.e.g. "The prisoner is in prison for 10 years- In this example "prison" is where the prisoner belongs,so we don't use the def article.But, if you are the prisoner's wife and you are going to visit him in jail, then you would say that you are going to THE prison to visit him.Same with "school" -My daughter goes to school every day,but I am going to the school to speak to her teacher.
Institutions with short-term 'customers/clients' (patient at doctor/dentist, customer at post office) take the.
Institutions with long-term 'members' (student at university, patient in hospital, prisoner in prison) take no article.
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Topic 37
1)Between you and I ? or Between you and me? 2) Amanda, Marty, and I or Amanda, Marty and me ? Which is correct?
Amanda Jayne Schwarcz Language Instructor at The Open University of Israel
Top Contributor
I was always taught that "I" should come at the end (as in the example above) . But I just read that "This is an example of hypercorrection, which is when native speakers make an accidental error in their zeal to avoid a different error." Any thoughts?

The correct option is : Between you and me. I also agree with Lynne when she says that 'me' is not a preposition but the object pronoun. Then in the second alternative the correct option is Amanda, Marty and I is the correct option. Incidentally , when we are required to use first person (I), second person ( you) and third person pronoun( he/she/they) together we follow the formula of 231 ( you, he and I) ...
James Powell likes this

Great ... (the first contributor).
Your technical comments are always worth listening to and I always learn something.
This is a bit of a blind spot to me as I was never taught this properly when I was a puppy and so I often forget myself when speaking without thinking.

@..., your brain is not so useless that the rest of your justification for using "me" rather than "I" is spot on.
@Iyer, yes, absolutely! There's also the longer version of "Between you, me and the gatepost" :-)
K R Lakshminarayanan, and 6 others like this

It shivers me timbers to keep hearing how so many people (mainly the young, including my 2 girls) still say "Me and such-and-such...!" With them, it's all about me, me, me and far less about you, you, you. *sigh* I mean, you'd never here our Queen addressing an audience with "Me and Phil think it's great you've all turned up", would you???

Me
I don't think there's anything beyond what has been stated, as far as I know.

the easy way is always to take any one else out of the equation. If it was 'Janet, John and me are going shopping' take out Janet and John and then would you say 'me is going shopping'? no! Would you say 'good night from Tom and I' or 'good night from I'?

As KR has rightly put ... and Lynne have given an excellent explanation. What helps me is Latin. If it is Nominative then it is " I" and in that case usually the subject of the sentence. "ME" is usually accusative or dative. "Give it to me" or "He saw me at school". To me it is not difficult as my native tongue has seven cases.

Diana Grayland observed:
My late husband was from Norfolk, and told me that there they were quite happy to say "Who do her think her is? Us don't know she!" (with a Norfolk accent). Dialect, of course.....

Between you and me" was a former pet peeve of mine.

Yes, people wanted to sound educated, proper or whatever and did indeed guess wrong with "between you and I" (hypercorrection). It's me, me, me.

However, I've heard so many people, including a famous Rhodes scholar say "between you and I" that I am bracing myself for this usage to become normalized. I suspect that English going global (exponentially) will hasten this possibility. You can hear "between you and I" everyday on television talk shows, news interviews...

I've stopped cringing. However I won't stop teaching "between you and me" - of course!


I hear it all the time too, hence this thread. I also think that globalization is affecting our use of the language. What was once a hard fast rule, now has many alternatives. Let's take "flight attendants" for example.  ....

No fisty cuffs .... We are all entitled to our own opinion and still respect the other !! Anyway what I was saying was that "The terms "stewardess" and "flight attendant" describe the same basic job of tending to airplane passengers' needs and safety. "Stewardess," however, is an outdated term that has been replaced by "flight attendant" on all airlines. Whether fairly or unfairly, stewardesses became associated with the negative impression of being little more than models in the sky. The push in the 1960s and 1970s to remove the gender bias of job descriptions, combined with an increase in the number of men entering the field, made the term "flight attendant" the more appropriate and preferred term." PC or globalization, it is what it is. It's my opinion, even if you think it's rubbishimo

"Sometimes I think the whole world is crazy except me and thee and at times I suspect even thee."

The Oxford Dictionary says:
In standard English, it’s grammatically correct to say ‘between you and me’ and incorrect to say ‘between you and I’. The reason for this is that a preposition such as between should be followed by an objective pronoun (such as me, him, her, and us) rather than a subjective pronoun (such as I, he, she, and we). Saying ‘between you and I’ is grammatically equivalent to saying ‘between him and she’, or ‘between we’, which are both clearly wrong.

People make this mistake because they know it’s not correct to say, for example, ‘John and me went to the shops’. They know that the correct sentence would be ‘John and I went to the shops’. But they then mistakenly assume that the words ‘and me’ should be replaced by ‘and I’ in all cases.

Remember: the correct expression is ‘between you and me’:

I appreciate your post but I do not think that there is anything called "objective pronoun". In a sentence "He gave me a book for my birthday" "ME" is an indirect object and "a book" is a direct object. In the sentence "She gave it to me" "ME" is not an object but what is called "dative" in Latin and in English usually goes with a preposition. You are quite right that "I" is used when it is a subject of the sentence. "You and I can fix it" because both "you" and "I" are the subject of the sentence. "Let it stay under the hat, just between him and me." In the last sentence both "him" and "me" are used because they are not the subject of the sentence but they are not an object either strictly speaking.

Me
@ ...
‘you are taller than me’
Isn’t ‘me’ used in comparatives in informal contexts and ‘I’ in formal, where the persons compared is evident?
Note: ‘where the persons compared is (are) evident? Clarify please.

Again look at these:
She likes you better than me.
This is correct if she likes me, too, but if the comparison is between ‘she’ and ‘I’ about liking ‘you’, it should be: She likes you better than I. Right?

hi all yes i agree with you my dear colleague LAKSHMINARAYANAN concerning the use of"ME" with the comparative and you are when you say "she likes you better than "I".thanks for clarifying this point.
 K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene expressed her views:
@Amanda
I am not very bold to put in a word on your question when native speakers who are excellent advisers on questions of this kind are present here and offer their responses. But I have been teaching English grammar and I know that modern English grammar, ('The Cambridge English Grammar' by Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy (CUP, 2007), for instance), assesses 'Amanda and I' as formal and "Amanda and me' as informal (and the same applies to 'It's I' and 'It's me.'). What is more, I hear that young learners and teenagers pick 'Tom and me' in no time and use it on every occasion. So I think that 'Tom and me' is informal as it seems to be current everywhere in casual contexts. I have also read comments in an online discussion last year in which one woman said that 'My husband and I' was really formal to her.

Some members objected to the way youngsters use these expressions and felt they should be corrected.
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Topic 38
Collective nouns - a gaggle of geese, a flock of sheep... let's go!
Lynne Hutchinson-Sor Director at Executive English Top Contributor
Leading on from James's comment on another thread about "a murder of crows", how many collective nouns can the group think of? English has some weird and wonderful examples!

A gaggle of.... girls (any comments?) , a swarm of (disappearing !) bees...

A pride of lions, a flock of birds, a pack of wolves.

I'm not sure - so forgive me - a pod of dolphins/whales

A tango of tadpoles, a bevy of beauties and a collection of several species of small furry animals (gathered together in a cave and grooving with a Pict.)

a deluge of calls, a pack of lies, a body of laws, a load of rubbish, a paraxism of pain, a bunch of examples, a sequence of events, a shred of evidence, a group of handpicked English teachers
a host of possibilities, a constellation of stars, a clump of trees

A flight of stairs, a herd of elephants.

Check this link out. 
http://www.thealmightyguru.com/Pointless/AnimalGroups.html

A 'Murder of Crows'!

Many thanks to Zoe for that VERY enlightening link. Just scrolling down, I had to admit thinking "who on earth invented/found/chose these words?"... 
I also found this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_collective_nouns_in_English 
Why, do you think, do we use the same word to talk about a group of elephants and a group of one of the smallest birds, wrens??? This is why English is brilliant, because I don't have the answer :-)

A herd of nerds , a network of geeks,

@ Zoe: Great list - I especially like 'a band of coyotes' and a 'sounder of swine' (pigs.)

A parliament of owls. A business of ferrets. An intrigue of kittens. A rhumba of rattlesnakes. A storytelling or unkindness of ravens. An implausibility of gnus, a prickle of porcupines makes sense.
James Powell
@Evelyne: And since the bees are disappearing, I vote for dropping the /s/ from swarm and call them a warm of bees!

Good list but it doesn't have a kindle of kittens.

A drove of donkeys , A wedge of swans, A class of students, A camp of transvestites, A decanter of deans, A melody of harpists.......................

Me
a comb of bananas a compendium of games
an anthology of poems a cluster of spectators

a reel of thread/film a roll of film/cloth a row of houses
a series of events a set of china a set of tools
a sheaf of papers a shower of blows a shower of rain
a stack of arms a stack of hay a string of beads
a string of pearls a suit of clothes a suite of furniture
a suite of rooms a tuft of grass a tuft of hair
a wad of currency/notes a wreath of flowers

I love the idea of a 'decanter of deans'!
A goring of butchers (sounds appropriate), a shrivel of critics, a sneer of butlers, an obstruction of dons, a conjunction of grammarians and a superfluity of nuns!
 Zoe HarwoodLincoln Lambert and 6 others like this

Me
This has been a learning experience I don't think I'll ever forget!
 Zoe HarwoodLincoln Lambert and 1 other like this

Enseignante chez Institution Sévigné
A convocation of eagles, a bale of turtles, a bale of hay.

@K R: And a string of polo ponies.
 K R Lakshminarayanan likes this

A web of lies!

A bevy of girls (not to be mistaken for a bevVy - not at all the same thing!)
Omar SattarZoe Harwood and 1 other like this

A clove of garlic
A bulb of garlic
A fleet of taxis/buses/ships/aircraft
A squadron of fighter jets
A handful of coins
A chest of drawers
A cluster of grapes
A troop of Scouts
A ream of paper (500 pieces)

A watch of nightingales, A panel of experts, a galaxy of governesses

the avalanche of e-mails

Lynne, a great and very useful thread. Thanks. I'd like to add the following:

A ray of light.
A set of cutlery (BrE) / silverware (AmE).
A column of cars / tanks / soldiers.
A shot of vodka / whiskey.

I'm lovin' it (McDonald's slogan), it's a fantastic brainstorming session.

A stack of mail / books.
A pile of books / papers / clothes / rubbish / rubble.
A school of whales / dolphins.
A case of beer / wine / Fanta / Coca Cola / Pepsi etc.

From the link posted above, I love "a congregation of alligators".... I'm sure it's a good place to hear a snappy sermon.

An array of hedgehogs seems delightful, no two are the same!

And I'm pretty sure I'd want to avoid a herd of asses!

@Dianna: If you'd want to avoid a herd of asses, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place!

Sorry but that's a f***load of comments!
 Omar SattarJames Powell and 1 other like this

@David - is that a new one?! Trying to get that into a classroom might prove challenging!


a fog of smokers, a mendacity or avarice of MPs (Members of Parliament), a gabble of students
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Topic 39
Are the limits of English grammar known?
Asgar Mahmoudi University Lecturer at Islamic Azad University (IAU)- دانشگاه آزاد اسلامی
Top Contributor

Answer to question. No. Grammar is changing (Good or bad you decide...)
Asgar Mahmoudi likes this

No limits? I AGREE.
Explain the following example of recent grammar "rule change":
"She saw YOU AND I coming along the road." HORRIBLE in my opinion but incredibly common misuse of "I" as an accusative It's so common that it's in danger of being incorporated into grammar books.
BUT YOU NEVER READ OR HEAR
"She saw I coming along the road." (EXCEPT possibly West Country vernacular). . LOGIC??????? Comments invited!
Asgar Mahmoudi likes this

As the universe expands, so does English grammar, and the space between us all becomes more and more rarefied.
Asgar Mahmoudi likes this

Me
A language (=lexis and syntax) is a medium for thoughts, and thoughts are limitless, well...

On second thought, for instance, can there be more than four sentence types:simple, complex, compound and compound-complex?
Asgar Mahmoudi likes this

Me
Peter
Native speakers of English (if they are) seem to fare no better.
Asgar Mahmoudi likes this
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Topic 39 A
I live in/on ...
Mansoureh IREnglish TeacherTop Contributor
The response to the question "Where do you live?" would be a country/ city/ town, a street, a neighborhood or all of them?

Mansoureh: Nice thread! Here in Poland, learners make mistakes with live in/on on a daily basis. It's simply because of L1 interference.

But in English, I think it's quite clear. Examples:

- I live in Warsaw / in Poland / in New Zealand / in Cuba / in Cyprus. (I'm thinking of NZ, Cuba, Cyprus as names of countries, not islands)
- I live in the Philippines (as a country, although it's a group of islands)
- I live in a small village / in the country / in the countryside.
- I live on a remote island off Australia.
- I live on a houseboat in Amsterdam (because the houseboat is on a river / canal)
- I live on/in the Canary Islands (I believe both on/in are correct)
- I live on/in Tenerife (I believe both on/in are correct)
- I live in the Maldives (as a country, although it's a group of islands)

Hope this will help! Sorry, couldn't come up with more examples after a hard day's work and it's 11.08 pm here.

It would depend where I was when the person asked the question. If I'm in another country, then I would answer "France", if I'm in France then I'd answer "Toulouse", if I'm in Toulouse I'd give the area of the town. I only give my precise address when it's absolutely necessary :-)

I live in a flat on ____ Street in (City) in (Country). If you are a British English speaker, you would say "in _____ Street."

The most honest answer I could give would, however, be that I live in a state of confusion.

Where do you live? I live in Delhi at Patparganj. or I live at Patparganj in East Delhi.
Normally, we use 'in' when we refer to big cities or countries or big areas like the West Delhi or the North Delhi. But when the point of reference is a small town or a small place we use 'at' in stead of 'in'. J.K.GANGAL

teacher at society of international education
i would go for the context . if you are abroad you talk about the city and the country but if someone asks you within your city, i would prefer to tell him the area or the street

Lecturer of English at The State Islamic University Sunan Ampel Surabaya
"In" is used for country, city, town.
"On" for street, "at" house number. E.g. I live in Jakarta. My office is on Sudirman street. I live at no. 15, Sudirman street, Jakarta.

Me
I live in Chennai/India, yes.
I live in a (small) village/ town, yes.
I live in a house / a flat (an apartment), yes.

What about
i. when you name a village or small (big) town (I live at/ in Vandalur (a village) / Chidambaram)?
ii. when you live in a particular section of a town/ city:
(I live at/in Thirumal Nagar--an area) / I live on/in the thirteenth Avenue/ the 6th Cross Street?

teacher at society of international education
personally i would suggest that if you are abroad it's better to respond with city and country but if someone asks you within your city i would go for street or area so it all depends on the context

1) Outer galactic Alien: 'Where do you live?" I live on planet Earth!
2) Amazonian tribesman: 'Where do you live?' I live far away!
3) Fellow Trog: 'Where do you live?' I live in the cave next to you!
4) Stranger at my local boozer: 'Where do you live?' Mind your own business!

Answer: All (or none) of them - depending on who's asking! ;)
Neal BakerOmar Sattar and 8 others like this

English Major Professor at Jianghan University
You would say: I live in a house, on a street, in a neighborhood, in a town / city, in such-and-such country. You use the preposition "on" only for living -on- a street; all the others are "in"...

T.eacher of E.nglish to S.peakers of O.ther L.anguages
In........unless it's one of the (Hawaiian, etc.) islands. Then it would be I live on Oahu,etc. Or, a street: I live on 'A' street.

Thank you Sladjana. Then what would the question(s) be if we want to know if someone lives in a house/ apartment, X street or X neighborhood?

ZZP EFL teacher and tutor
"Live"ly discussion/conversation. I live in the Netherlands. Very confusing for my students is that in Dutch you "study on school" "live on a village/on the countryside". So I guess the question will be relevant for many EFL students.
 Neal Baker likes this

Substitute ELSA instructor, Vancouver Canada
I live ina quiet neighbourhood, at#1304 Breeze St. or in a small town, in a house on a hill/ on top of mountain...

Supply Teacher at Athona Recruitment
I haven't read other replies so might be repeating.

There's also "at". I would use at for a house name or number.

Example: I live at number 123 Grammar Street in Englishtown.

When there's a more detailed address I use on for the smallest entity and in for the larger one.

I live on Random Close in Cambridge in England.
I live on Earth in the solar system. (this is an exception!)
I live in Cambridge in England (although "I live in Cambridge, England" sounds more natural)
[But you can't say: I live on Cambridge in England]

When just referring to a single entity I use at for a specific address as detailed before; on for a road name, and in for a larger entity from a district upwards (with the above exceptions).

I live in the Milky Way.
I live on Earth.
I live at 123 Any Street.
I live on Any Street.
I live in Cambridge.
Mansoureh IROmar Sattar and 1 other like this

I truly thank you all for your comments AND especial thanks to Omar and Marcus for their comprehensive replies, Neal for his philosophical comment which I like his style, and Lincoln for his good sense of humor showing in his comment.

As a matter of fact, I am aware of how to use these propositions properly. The thing that I wanted to check with you is that I have seen different responses to question "Where do you live?" Ex: "I live in an apartment." "I live in China." "I live in London." "I live on X street." and was wondering if, regarding these answers, native speakers use any particular questions in daily conversations.

If someone asked me that question in my hometown I'd say, "I live downtown - right in the center." - unless he/she wanted my exact address.

Owner, BEI-EDU
Something that is gotten wrong a lot and that is in/on/at for it goes by degree
of detail.
Examples
I live in Europe. Large area
I live on Elm street. More detailed
I live at 23 Elm street. Exact
Which differs when you are talking about placement of something.

Student at Ashford University
@Michael: I agree that prepositions of place are confusing for English learners, but not for native speakers. I just got a strong sense of deja vu. It seems we have recently had this conversation. However, since I've grown rather accustomed to repeating myself, I'll just make myself feel at home by forging ahead. I live in the USA and so I live "on" Olympic View Drive. However, if I lived in England, I would live "in" Olympic View Drive. Either way, I had better get the he'll out of the street! Now I know that several of you are saying, "That's right, James did say that before."

Prepositions are a group of words I find it useful to focus on quite early. If you look at the prepositions, most of them are logical.

In class, I focus on the preposition and not the 'place'. By doing that the preposition makes more sense (and is transferable) and the student is able to logically make a 'best guess' even before coming across the example.
It makes a good topic for a quiz game based on Trivial Pursuit, Cludo or Monopoly etc

'in' something: a house, an estate, neighbourhood, town, country, group of islands etc
'at'(x marks the spot/beside/close up to) an address
in a building at a place: So you could be 'in school' or 'at school', 'in the office' or 'at work'
'on' something: (literally). On the Earth, a river, a road,
around(in the vicinity of) around here.
off (getting off): 'off this Rd'
over something: over the Rd/river/lake/way

Ok, I think I've narrowed this down to a set of rules.

If it's an area that can be defined (a village, city, country) use 'in' (She's in a village, he's in London, they're in England).

If it's a place name that includes the word island(s) or infers an island identity then use 'on' although 'in' is less common but is often acceptable and may have different local meanings.

Examples:
I'm in/on Ibiza. (in the city of Ibiza or on Ibiza island)
I'm in/on the Soloman Islands.

For unnamed boats or mass transportation on or in can be used (I'm in/on a plane/submarine/boat). For named boats or mass transportation use 'on' (I'm on the Titanic, I'm on flight 815).

For private transportation apart from boats use 'in' (I'm in my car, he's in a hot air balloon, she's in a taxi, they're in a helicopter).

When talking about small boats, generically about an unnamed island, or planet (whether named or not) use 'on' (I'm on a boat, he's on an island, the aliens are on Mars, there are aliens on this planet).

'At' is used for specific addresses where there is a number or named building or identifiable place within a building. Use 'at' for landmarks unless the subject is physically inside them. When a more specific location is specified 'at' is generally preferred for the most specific.

Use 'in' when implying that you physically inside a specified building or room. Use 'at' or 'in' when it's a larger place. However be careful as at/in can have different meanings.

Examples:
I'm at/in the university in/at Springfield.
I'm at/in the Simpsons building in/at Springfield University.
I'm in the staff room at/in the Simpsons building in/at Springfield University.
I'm at the fountain in/at the Simpsons building in/at Springfield University. (Being in the fountain has a different meaning)
Similarly: I'm at the swimming pool; I'm in the swimming pool.
OR: I'm at the Eiffel tower; I'm in the Eiffel tower.
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