Query: I just want some advice....

1- When should I use the "past" (ex. I ate) instead of the "present perfect"(ex. I have eaten) or (I had eaten)? What's the difference? How can we say this in French?

2- In what situation should I use the "perfect progressive"?

Dear Every-Student:

We will be doing intensive practical work today (and from now on) involving these and similar problems (my favorites; have you noticed?). In a word... forget about "past" and "present", think the way we do in English: "current period", and "previous". These are the two ideas that cover most of the rest.

If something happened PREVIOUSLY to the moment of speech, but WITHIN the current period, you must use a "present perfect" or "present perfect progressive" (sorry about having to use these traditional terms). In other words, "I have (already) sent three letters (so far) today"; "I have been feeling flue-ish this week"; "I have had only one break this year"; the "current period" is determined by "today", "this week", and "this year", in each of these sentences.

Whether or not the additional idea of progression is present is a separate question. When you refer to an event or situation in the "ing" forms (to be doing / to have been doing), you cannot count it, because it is presented in a fluid way. For example, "I am eating a drippy piece of jack-fruit" doesn't say anything at all about when this started, how long it will go on, or when it will be completed. On the other hand, the perfect implicitly says something about the beginning point: the proof is that we can say, "Since I have been here (=Since 1990), I have met three thousand students". Put the progressive and the perfect together, and you get something fluid and uncountable that has only one clear-cut side, the beginning point: "Since I have been teaching here (perhaps steadily, perhaps on and off), I have met...etc.". Imagine trying to pick up a container that is only properly closed on one end: the contents will spill out all over the place. You can count containers that are properly closed at both ends; if the first container you want to count is spilling at both ends (the progressive), you cannot pick it up; you cannot even reach "1"! It's no better if only one end is closed (the perfect progressive). The ordinary perfect is felt to be closed, front and back, with the possibility of being opened up again later: "I have been to Charny three times (before, and I may go there again)"; "I have had Spinach Pizza three times before, and I am eating one now too (this is the fourth one)".

This explains why I am free to say, "I have worked here for twelve years (seen as an open-and-shut thing, and therefore as an accomplishment of some kind -even if you have no intention of quitting)", or "I have been working here for twelve years (seen as a continuous "flow" -even if my boss has plans to interrupt that flow and throw me out)".

Finally, the "past perfect" really means "something open-and-shut that happened before something else, in the previous (=non-current) period," for example, "I had worked at a few other schools before I came here in 1990." The previous, non-current period occurred before 1990. Compare this with "I have worked at a few other schools before (now)." The whole statement is about events in the current period: we know this from the "present" verb "have worked". It doesn't matter whether or not you can say when this current period started or when it will end.

Query: What's all of this about generalizing in English?

Dear Every-Student:

See the previous letter about "open or closed ends". In English, you usually have these closed points on the left (corresponding to the starting point of a situation or action). That's the meaning of time words starting with "Since", and it's part of the inherent meaning of the perfects (some situation or action starts somewhere and continues).

In English, you can have unbounded generalizations, free of restrictions imposed by any time boundaries or periods; use the simple present:

I eat instant spinach pizza when I'm home alone.


(Think of the phrase "when I'm home alone" as an adverb of frequency, like "every day" or "from time to time".)


Notice that the so-called simple "present" -really the "curent period"- is used for totally unbounded, "timeless" truths:


Black holes suck up all the garbage in space.


The other "simple" tenses, "past" and "future", are both the same in that they are "non-current", and any generalization made with these tenses is a bit more restricted. "Timeless" or "eternal" scientific truths don't make much sense in the simple past or future. In fact, an ambiguity comes in: the specific event meaning vs. the generalization (restricted by the non-current period that is referred to):


I ate some instant spinach pizza (when I got home that night vs. every night when I was a student)


I will serve my guests instant spinach pizza (tomorrow evening vs. from now on whenever unexpected guests come)


Then you can have generalizations that are a bit less general, so to speak: the action or situation is regularly true in the current period, which is definable in terms of starting and ending points; use the present progressive:


I am eating home-made spinach pizza for a change this week.


You may emphasize the beginning point of the current period by using the present perfect and present perfect progressive:


I have eaten / have been eating home-made spinach pizza for a change this week.


Notice that the time phrase "this week" doesn't emphasize the beginning point of the period. If, however, you use a time phrase with "Since" that emphasizes the beginning point or boundary, the generalization will be restricted to the current period (notice the ambiguity between specific event and generalization):


Since I moved here, I have eaten spinach pizza three times / every night.

Here is some evidence for the existence of these initial and final time period boundaries: the progressive is incompatible with a “Since” time phrase, which explicitly refers to the beginning point of the current period.


*I am eating instant spinach pizza since I moved here.


Query: I know that every time a verb follows a word like difficulty or problem I have to put an -ing verb. I would like to know if there are any other words that follow the same rule ?

Dear Every Student,

It is generally true that when a preposition takes a verb as an object, that verb must be in the "-ing" form. That makes sense, since this form is generally used to make a verb more like a noun (e.g., "Seeing is believing"). If you think of a preposition taking an object in the same way that a verb can do, it makes even more sense.

It is likewise true that many, many verbs (some of them compound, as in "to have difficulty") take a "deverbal" ("-ing") object. It is easier to learn the few exceptions than to formulate a rule (or some kind of semantic generalization) to learn which verbs must do this. A few examples may nevertheless be helpful, and a look at the apparent exceptions should make those examples all the more striking.

"To enjoy (doing sthg)" is a standard example: the verb refers to the experience of the event (inside the event, subjective view of the event), rather than to the event as a complete thing, a total incident (external, objective view). It thus makes no sense to say "to enjoy to do sthg.".

On the other hand, when a verb takes an infinitive complement, this is often because the construction originally (historically?) contained some specific elements which are no longer there, but are still understood, e.g., "I want to do sthg." means more or less "I want for me to do it"; "I stopped to get gas" is understood as "I stopped in order to get gas"; "I need to eat" means necessarily "I need for myself to eat". There is a handful of verbs which appear to fluctuate, although the potential difference between meanings is never far: "I like to ski", like other infinitival objects, means obligatorily that the speaker skis, and likes it when he does that; "I like skiing" does not obligatorily identify the speaker with the skier. That is because the "-ing" refers to the experience, possibly anybody's experience, or even the experience in general, of nobody in particular. The answer to "Who skis?" is arbitrary, or determined by context.

When you say, "I'm having difficulties getting on that site," of course the subject of "having" and the subject of "getting" must be understood as the same person, but that's not the fault of the grammar in this case. It's just that you can't conceivably experience someone else's experience. Life's like that. Lucky thing, isn't it?

So you have three "special" groups, lists of which you can find in Thompson and Martinet, etc. (check the bibliography in the course outline, or simply go to 0252 and look at the English Grammar shelf). These three are

1) those very few, like "stop", "try", "remember/forget", "regret", "go on", and "consider" which have very distinct meanings with infinite vs. gerundive complements

2) those few which take infinitival or gerundive objects, with a predictable difference in meaning, sometimes slight, sometimes not so: like, hate ("I hate to do this" -I'm about to do it; "I hate doing this" -This isn't fun, what I'm doing)

3) those which seem to be modals of some kind, expressing the subject's attitude about his own proposed action, with obligatory infinitival complements and coreference for the subjects of both verbs, e.g., want, need, think ("Did you think to water the Zebra plant?"), intend, would like to (compare with "like").

I think you get the idea. I believe the last two examples support my analysis rather well. I would love to hem and haw and pontificate about the pros and cons of all this some more, but tonight is the local Happy Human Taxidermy Club bingo night, and they're all WAITing for me. That is, they're all waiting for ME, if you get my drift.

Let me know if any of the above had anything to do with what you were wondering about.


QUERY: Hello, I have 2 questions. First, i am not sure of when i should use was and were. What is the difference ?? Can I have an example ??

Second, same problem for these and those !

Dear Every-Student:

"Was" is simply an indicative ("real") conjugation, the simple past of "to be": "I was happy in Durban," "She was not." "Were" happens to have two roles: It can also be indicative, "You weren't in the house during the earthquake, were you?" "They were starved for affection, weren't they!!" (I'm using tags here just for extra fun.) "Were" also has another role: conditional or non-real, for all persons, singular and plural: "I wouldn't do that if I were /*was you!" "If I were / *was a rock star, I would go get crocked at the Capitole!" and so on. So, in a word: there is one exceptional rule for the conditional regarding the verb "to be": you always use "were", never "was", whatever the person or number.

This rule is not observed in some variants of English you may hear among people who watch television and who unwittingly imitate the disingenuous idiom of crocked rock stars.

The choice of "this/these" versus "that/those" is another matter altogether. These are "demonstrative" or "locating/pointing" words. You must know the difference between pointing out something that is close at hand, and something further away, don't you? Sure you do. Now, the problem you most probably have is choosing when the thing you are pointing out is somewhere in mental space. Are you referring back to something you just said? Are you announcing something that you are about to say? And what is your attitude: insistent, or dismissive? Metaphorically, these correlate with "near" and "far", "here" and "there". French is not entirely the same in this use; don't bother comparing too closely. Spanish is worse: they have THREE degrees of relative proximity. For crying out loud!

So, if you mean something like, "Here is my plan: let's catch Finley with a rope when he's leaving class, drag him to the Director's office, and tickle his feet until he says "Uncle! There's my whole plan right there!!"" you consider what you are about to say as "close" and conclude by looking back at what you have just said, thinking of it as "far". You say: "This is my plan... That's what I think we should do!"

"This" and "That" do not correspond to present and past; that's not what I mean. They mean "near" or "far" in terms of your attitude. For example, you could admit something to someone about "what really happened". You could say: "I know you're jealous and worried about last night. Well, I have to tell you. Here is what really happened... This is how it went..." So you see, "here" and "this" can be about the past, if it'S something you are introducing. Similarly, you could end the confession, "You see? That's all it was really about. You didn't need to get upset."

When you are "between" ideas, or are linking paragraphs, you may conclude the first with "this" or "that", depending on whether the first idea connects intimately with the second ("this") or is being finished off so that you can proceed to the second, more independent one ("that").

THAT is all I have time to say about THIS for the moment, except that "these" and "those" are just the plural: "These are my reasons for refusing to give you samples of my hair and finger-nails: 1), 2), 3)..." vs. "I am almost bald and do not wish to give any of my hair away, my finger-nails are dirty and I'm shy to give you pieces of them, and my lawyer does not approve of DNA testing. This/that is why I refuse... These / *Those!! are my reasons for refusing..."

Can you see for yourself why "this" and "that" are both possible, while only "these" and not "those" may be used?


QUERY: What's this outline I have to write? What's the purpose of the essay? What's happening? Help!

Dear Every-Student:

For the outline, I just want a short page, a skeletal outline of what you will describe, compare, contrast, discriminate (classify), and argue for or against. That's all!

QUERY: Discrimination and persuasion? What'S the difference?

Dear Every-Student:

Discrimination simply means recognizing categories: what kind of thing something is, and what relationship exists between things with respect to their kind: subordinate? superordinate? equivalent? dependent? entirely unrelated? Consider, for example, the relationship between vitamins and drugs; then, think of the relationship between vitamins and moxibustion. You see? Methodologies hold similar relationships; so does everything, actually.

When I referred to persuasion, here I simply meant that once you have established the relationships (discrimination), you will want to assert something about that relationship. You will then have to defend the assertion. Maybe you have compared vitamins and drugs in various ways, and you have established categories, e.g., vitamines= slow preventive therapy, drugs = quick curative therapy. Then you might want to assert: the "right" or "wrong" approach to therapy and health maintenance can be assessed in terms of values and life-styles... I don't think I need to tell you all of the controversy and argumentative matter you can bring into this sort of debate-text.


QUERY: What is the difference between "real" and "unreal" (indicative mode vs. conditional mode)?

Dear Every-Student,

'Real' just means 'true in this world'. For example, we can say for sure that some day, we will die, even though our own deaths have not happened, and notwithstanding the fact that the exact time of a man's death cannot be known much before. We can even have arguments about who might know such a thing -the Creator? Is the time of death fated and inalterable? Is the human being merely a complex animal, who lives and dies like an accident that simply happens for no reason? We can make every sort of supposition and assertion about the How, the Why, and the Wherefore, but 'Death' is still perfectly REAL.

Similarly, if I buy a lottery ticket (sorry, I myself am beginning to despise this example, but it is the clearest) I have a 'real' chance of winning something -it's enough for the chance to exist objectively in this world for the conditional sentence referring to it to be in a 'real' form (simple present in the condition clause, simple present or future in the result clause). Thus, I may say 'If I win this draw, I will send the prize to Armenia' (real, specific); 'If / When / Whenever / Every time I win a draw (not 'THIS draw'!!), I send (not 'I WILL send') the prize (meaning 'all of the prizes, every time') to Armenia (real, generic).'

You have to actually buy a lottery ticket to have a real, objective chance in this world to win the prize. Anything that you say about winning the lottery when you have not bothered to buy a ticket may refer only to another, imaginary or somehow conceivable world. You may only refer to those suppositions and imaginings with the 'non-real conditional'. Thus, 'If I won tonight's lottery, I would send the prize-money to Armenia.' This sentence seems to indicate that you are only speculating without any commitment -you don't have any objective basis for setting up possibly concrete plans. I don't think it matters that your mathematical chances may be terribly small; that would be a 'real' situation.

Here's something to think about: isn't there something missing from our conditionals tree? Is there a 'specific/generic' distinction on the 'non-real' side, just like on the 'real' side?

Don't stay up too late thinking about it. The answer will jump out at you when you're doing something else.


QUERY: I have difficulties with the conditionals. First, I don't undrstand why a sentence like " If I had tried sth I would be indisposed today" is a real, non past condition, non past result. Tell me if I am right: the condition must be in the simple past form to be considered "past", the result is real because the person who is speaking is not indisposed today, and the result is non past because it talks about today "now". You gave us 5 conditional forms to learn and I am very confused with them. I would like more examples. I also have difficulties to choose between the present perfect and the past perfect. If you prefer, we can meet an hour before the exam.

Dear Every-Student,

I am sorry, but not really surprised, to see that you have discovered many complexities... deriving from a very small misunderstanding. It's just as well that we work this out now, and perhaps have a quick check before class, too.

Take your example:

If I had tried sth I would be indisposed today

and your analysis of it:

' ...is a real, non past condition, non past result.'

In fact, if you 'translate' this sentence into simple language, it essentially means:

'I DIDN'T try the shrimp, and that's why I'm NOT sick today.'

In other words, the first sentence is UNreal, not real! You are imagining the unreal situation, in which you ate the shrimp the night before, and you got sick and stayed sick until the next day. Such unreal conditionals are often called 'counterfactuals' because they are imaginary or speculative statements about a result that didn't happen because the cause didn't happen in the first place.

Now, here is what you say next about writing conditionals:

'Tell me if I am right: the condition must be in the simple past form to be considered 'past', the result is real because the person who is speaking is not indisposed today, and the result is non past because it talks about today 'now'.'

It's all a lot more straightforward than that. If you are speculating about a cause that did NOT happen in a specific, past, finished time-period, like 'last night', it's pretty much like French: "Si (hier au soir) j'avais mangé de ces hors-d'oeuvres..." (not *"Si j'ai mangé hier soir..."); likewise, in English, 'If I had eaten those things (last night)...' (not: *'If I ate those things last night...').

In other words, whether in a condition clause or a result clause, a past, finished time-period is indicated by forms like 'had eaten' and 'would have gotten sick' respectively. Forms like 'ate' and 'would get sick', in condition clauses and result clauses, respectively, do not refer to anything specific in time, nor, certainly, to the finished past.

Since you have asked for more examples, maybe that is the best way to root the problem out.

I didn't try the shrimp last night, and I didn't get sick

= If I had tried the shrimp last night, I might / would

have gotten sick

I didn't try the shrimp last night, and I'm not sick today (like everyone else who did try it!)

= If I had tried the shrimp last night, I might / would be sick today

I don't eat shrimp, because it makes my terribly sick

= If I (ever) ate shrimp, I would get terribly sick (but I'll never do that, because I know)

Eating shrimp (usually, often, always) makes me sick

= If / when / whenever / every time I eat shrimp, I get sick

Eating shrimp (the shrimp you're offering me now) will make me sick

= If I eat (that) shrimp, I will / may / could / am going to get sick


Now, Every-Student, this is what I would like you to do.

Try to replace these sentences with others about things you didn't do when you were younger, and what would have happened then, if you had done them; things you didn't do when you were younger, and what would be happening now, if you had done them; things you have never done, and probably never will, and what would or could happen, if you tried them; things that almost always happen when you do them; and finally, what is likely to happen if you do something that you are likely to do. Clearly, the last two are 'real', as generalisations about life, or as specific expectations or predictions, while the first three are purely speculative.

'I also have difficulties to choose between the present perfect and the past perfect.'

Actually, it's 'difficulties CHOOSING'. Alright then, maybe I need an example of your difficulty. Write to me again soon. In a word, the past perfect refers to an event which preceded another point, usually indicated by the simple past. The present perfect usually refers to something that occurred in the current, present time period -not the literal present, this very moment, but something like 'this week, today, this semester'. The event will be previous to this moment, but not really in the 'finished' past. Thus, 'I have had breakfast sixteen times so far this month'; 'I have had twelve exams this year', 'I have gone unicorn-hunting three times (so far, in my whole life).' You see? The perfects are relative. Past, present, and future perfect all refer to an action, event, or situation which occurred or started before some other action, event, or situation. Careful: French isn't that much different, overall, but the specifics are very different. For example, "J'ai mangé", without a context, is ambiguous. Does it mean 'I have eaten (today, this week, current time period), or does it mean 'I ate' (yesterday, last week, past and finished time period)?

Do you see how it works? Not much to it, really.


QUERY: I would like to know what can be a MODAL. I know that some are really
obious, but some not. Examples:

I don't think he can get up. Maybe he (Modal + "wait for help")is waiting
for help.

Look at how his nose is in the sand! He (Modal + not + can + breathe)

(I'm not able to do it) the only thing I can do is: He probably cannot
breathe. Is that ok?

Dear Every-Student,

The words 'maybe', 'possibly', 'certainly', and 'doubtless(ly)' express modal meanings in the sense that they convey the idea that what is about to be said reflects someone's belief, knowledge, or opinion, or even just his ability to know something.

These words belong to various parts of speech, conjunctions and adverbs, but are not themselves verbs or verb parts. English has other verb parts, known as 'modals' or 'modal auxiliaries', which mean things like 'maybe', etc., in addition to the non-verbal modal-like words. (Some languages have only adverbs.)

Thus, to take your example,

Maybe he is waiting for help

means almost the same thing as

He may be (TWO WORDS!!) waiting for help

In the first sentence, there is modal meaning ('Maybe' indicates that what you are about to say shows your belief in the possiblity of the truth of 'He is waiting for help'), but there is, as you see, no 'modal auxiliary' per se. In the second sentence, there is similar modal meaning, expressed with the modal auxiliary 'may'. With greater or lesser changes in meaning, you could have put 'might', 'must', and others.

Take your next example:

Look at how his nose is in the sand! He probably cannot breathe.

Here you have used an adverb again, with modal meaning. With a modal auxiliary, you could express almost the same meaning:

He must not be able to breathe.

(Notice that 'can', in your sentence, is also a modal auxiliary; two modal auxiliaries cannot usually 'pile up', which is why we say 'he must not be able' instead of '*he must cannot'.)

Modals usually fall into two groups, or functions. One expresses what is known, suspected, believed to be likely, and so on; the other expresses desire, duty, and obligation. Often the same modal auxiliaries can express either type of meaning; we discussed these occasional ambiguities in September, and we will concentrate on these matters over weeks to come.

Back to the corections!

QUERY: Hello, I am not sure how to write this compound in a paper I'm writing:

A criterion based on geometric relationship.

Is it:

A geometric-relationship-based criterion??

Dear Every-Student,

Making compounds in English is not quite the free-for-all it seems; there are many (at first) mysterious restrictions, mostly pertaining to the part-to-whole, possessive, or attributive (category-naming) uses of the compound. There are also restrictions on what can be added to what.

Taking your original,

"A criterion based on geometric relationship,"

which I take to mean something like

"A criterion based on geometric relationships"

or, less probably,

"A criterion based on (some particular) geometric relationship,"

I would only say

"??A geometric-relationship-based criterion"

in a very conversational, "improvisational" context; certainly, this is not what you would write. Rather, I would simply expect

"A geometric criterion"


"A geometry-based criterion."

I think the thing you have to remember is that whatever is inside the compound cannot be "referential", e.g.,

"A specific geometric relationship-based criterion"

while a possible construction in English, can NOT mean

"A criterion based on a specific geometric relation"

It can only mean

"A specific criterion based on a geometric relationship (specific or not) or on geometric relationships (generally, or some specific group)."

Do you get the idea? Nominal compounds are used to describe kinds of things, but not (usually) to refer to or describe specific relationships between specific things.


QUERY: Sorry, it's me again... I am trying to fill in the blanks on the sheet entitled "Replace the French/Latin based and other expressions..." and I don't know what to do with it. I can't find the expressions, I just don't know what they are. I am not even sure I understand the difference between a French/Latin and a Anglo-Saxon expression. I thought I knew it from what you said in class but if so I could do the exercise. Do you have a suggestion?

Dear Every-Student,

Truly, you do apologize more than is needed.

Thank-you for reminding me that you have that particular exercise. I've been sitting here like a lump of clay for days now, wondering what on earth we should do with our free time after the mid-term.

First of all, I must insist that a vocabulary exercise of that level makes sense as a preparation for the final exam, but by no means for the mid-term. Learning so many synonyms and idiomatic expressions is a long job, and we have only touched on them anyway.

The rough equivalence between various areas of the vocabulary has been noticed by many people for years. In particular, words of French (and ultimately Latin) origin often have synonyms in English which come from the kindred languages of the many Germanic invaders who settled in England well before William and his court. Consider "nourish" vs. "feed", "grief" vs. "sadness", "poultry" vs.
"chicken", "ovulate" vs. "egg", "odour" vs. "smell", and so on.

You will notice that some pairs are close in meaning and are in the same part of speech, while others are merely related in meaning, and may be of different parts of speech.

The exercise you are doing places particular emphasis on roughly synonymous pairs in which the Anglo-Germanic counterpart happens to be made up of a verb and some sort of particle, e.g., "to complete" vs. "to finish off/up", "to exterminate" vs. "to kill off / to wipe out", "to devour" vs, "to eat/gobble up", and so on.

The older language exploited the many possible combinations in order to expand the vocabulary without importing new words (just think of all the particles that can join with "run" -"up, down, in, out, aground, around, along, alongside," etc., etc.)

The problem with these pairs -there are hundreds of common ones- is that they are related, but usually not quite identical, in meaning. Each member of a given pair can be used in ! many contexts in which the other member would be inappropriate.

Thank-you for admitting so frankly that you don't know what to do to attack this kind of problem. It is, indeed, a special pain in the brain. My middle-to-long-term suggestion involves a more considered use of the dictionary in conjunction with other research tools, in particular the numerous "phrasal verb" dictionaries which have appeared over the years, a few of which can be found in our own DKN 0252, and several others at the main library. You will surely have to forget about translating dictionaries and abridged collegiate (pocket) dictionaries.

Dictionary methods will have to be the focus of our next class. Ho, hum.

Now, I must get back to my reversions, inversions, diminutions, and augmentations, or else I'm bound to be up all night. (Notice the synonyms with "return to" and "to be sure to".)


QUERY: Hello, For the "letter to Olga" text, I don't understand the following (from the
correction key):

I'm looking forward to (HEAR) HEARING from you soon, Love, Ludmilla

This conjugation doesn't seem natural for me. I would have written:

I'm looking forward to (HEAR) HEAR from you soon, Love, Ludmilla

I don't understand how it is possible to write a "verb+ing" after "to".

Dear Every-Student,

Ha!! Now you have stumbled onto the difference between the infinitive marker 'to', and its homonym, prepositional 'to'.

Actually, science has shown that these are one word, not two, but let's just pretend they are different.

'TO', as in 'to Montreal', 'from you to me', is a preposition connecting a thing with a thing, a person with another person, etc., or an action with its object or destination... or even with another action, situation, or event. Right? In the expression, 'to look forward to (something),' it is conceivable that the union of 'look forward' and 'something' can involve things, perhaps abstract ones, like time periods, as well as other situations. You look forward to vacations, you look forward to going on vacation. The 'ing' form is inevitable here: whenever a preposition connects with a verb, instead of a noun, that verb must be 'de-verbal', id est, it must become like a noun. In English, that means putting 'ing'.

On the other hand, 'to' can connect modals and other things with the verb root (no 'ing'). 'I want to...' is a different structure from 'I look forward to...'.

For the moment, just remember the superficial difference between 'infinitival TO' and 'prepositional/gerundival TO'. You can start by learning a few of the commonest expressions by heart; but I'm sure you've already done most of that. Just keep an ear open to the occasional oddity, like "look forward to..."


QUERY: Good evening dear, I almost forgot to send you my homework. I think I'm too happy to start my
reading week. Anyway it should be attach with this mail but normaly computers recognize me and do me troubles so if you don't have it please write back to me and I'll try again. You know, you may write back even if it worked I won't be mad at you. hihihi I have a stupid question for you. In what language is your email front page?? I had never seen such a writing before...
Yours truly (…) Hasta la victoria siempre

Dear Every-Student:

Now is as good a time as any to explain some of the bitter facts of life, regarding formulae of address in English.

There are some interesting - yes, that seems the best word- some truly interesting differences between French and English in this area.

For example, the term 'Mister', used alone, is actually rather abusive, while it's appearance before the last name, as in 'Mr. Schlemihl', is the normal respectful usage. Quaint, isn't it? The term 'Missus', alone, appears in some dialects, and while not disrespectful, is usually understood as a picturesque country-folk expression meaning 'the wife', e.g., 'I saw his missus at the fair,' 'I'll have to ask the missus before I go out with you, boys.' Many similar peculiarities attend to the use of 'Miss', and the distinctly pejorative (and rustic) 'Missy'. As for 'Ms.' (unfortunately pronounced 'Miz', a term of the deep South heavily-laden with special flavours of its own), this expression was invented, or let's say, hijacked, by some generally well-meaning but culturally quite insensitive feminists and phony intellectuals of the sixties. In France and elsewhere, there was an unsuccessful attempt to lauch an equivalent term, "Madelle". I wonder why that didn't work?

At last we come to the matter of familiar terms of address. Well, son-of-a-gun, the first time a drunken young Belgian gentleman struck up a conversation with me on a train headed from Nowhere to Outer Elsewhere, addressing me time and again as 'My dear, ah yes, my dear, let me tell you, my dear...' I was quite concerned. My concerns were, you understand, of a both ethical and hygienic nature. Any other speaker of English would have been similarly concerned (modulo the usual, trans-cultural 2%-10%; popular estimates vary). 'Dear' and 'My dear' have a VERY restricted usage, if you get my meaning. There is another, quainter, somewhat dated and ironical or literary- sounding usage, as in 'I say, my dear Watson,' 'My dear Mr. Holmes,' and so on.

And the funny language you noticed somewhere? I couldn't say, I'd have to see a sample. I could have been Hindi, Gujerati, or just about any other Northern or Southern Indian language. I doubt that the message was anything deeper than 'Click here for great mortgage deals' or 'Do you know where your kids are tonight?'

Now, if I don't get back to those corrections, one reading week won't be enough.


Dear Mr. Finley,
I'd like to say first that I'm sorry for the tactlessness of my last mail. I had no intention to offend you with this. I thought it could be used just like a joke or something like that. I won't do it again and thank you so much for the explanations. It's strange, but in all my language courses I've never learned such interesting and important things. I mean these are basic rules for a good understanding between two persons of different culture.
Thanks again (…)

Hasta la victoria siempre

Dear Every-Student,

'Methinks the lady protesteth too much...!' In fact, she apologises quite out of season. It WAS amusing, and ideas for future uses and misuses of your message for further mirth and light-hearted levity are just now dawning on me.

Speaking of tactlessness (oh, what the heck, go for it!), who is this Victoria Siempre I keep hearing about?


Dear Mr. Finley,

I'm not sure I understood every little part of your last message! Are you teasing me? I'm not mad at you, but if you continue... no no no I'm jocking! hihihi Normaly, I'm a fun person who likes very much to tease the ones a care for, but if sometimes you think it's too much or somewhat embarrassing just say it. I'll surely appreciate it and learn from it. And I think learning is the most important thing in a human life. If everyone had learned from their experiences or mistakes, I like to think that the world we're living in wouldn't be what it is now but that's another story...

To answer you "indiscreet" question (hihihi): The sentence you always receive with my message is the famous quotation of an extraordinary man called Ernesto Che Guevara. You must have heard about him in the 70's, he was "in" at that time!!! He's one of the famiest revolutionary of South America... The quotation is in spanish.

Yours truly (…) Hasta la victoria siempre


Dear Every-Student,

After some ponderous digging and investigation, it is with perplexity and regret that I must come to the conclusion that 'Guéverra' is NOT the name of a fashion-underwear manufacturer. Fiddle-sticks!

Since we're such good friends now, I thought you might want to know that 'hi, hi, hi!' means (something like) "Salut, salut, salut!", an expression which could be socially awkward, or misleading at least. My natural compassionate insight into the matter says that you intended (something like) 'hee-hee-hee', or even 'tee-hee,' which are common in familiar letter-writing and in many 'cinematographic-style' comic-strips.

Now you must do something for me. How, pray tell, back in the dark days before the current cd-spoiled generation, did French speakers (no pun) refer to 'high-fidelity' sound systems? Did they say 'hee-fee' (French pronunciation, English spelling) or "haï-faï" (English pronunciation, French spelling)?

Think about it.