The BLC Blog

A forum and learning place for British Language Centre students

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

try + to infinitive or -ing

Try is one of a small group of verbs that can be followed by either the to infinitive or the -ing form. In this case, the meaning is different depending on which one you use. Let's try to illustrate this with a story.

My friend Don really wanted to get fit (get into shape). He was a little overweight and had an office job, and he never got any exercise. The thing is, he didn't have much time. He asked his doctor about it, and the doctor recommended that he try going to the gym, where he could get fit in a structured environment.

So Don called up his friend Peter, who worked about four or five days a week, and asked if he could go to Peter's gym with him. Off they went, and Don tried everything. He tried taking an aerobics class. Nope, he didn't like the music. He tried swimming. Nope, it irritated his eyes. He tried spinning, but that just seemed like a thing for crazy people. He tried running on the treadmill, but he got really bored and the headphones on his mp3 player kept falling out of his ears.

There was only one thing left to do: he would have to try weight-lifting. He went over to where Peter was working out and tried to pick up a 75-kilo barbell. Nope! It was impossible. He couldn't even get it off the ground. He tried to lift 50 kilos, but he couldn't do that, either. Peter told him to try starting with a much lower weight, something like 15 kilos. Don could just do that, but he was a bit embarrassed by how weak he was and didn't want to try to do 15 repetitions in front of Peter. Besides, by this time he was so tired all he wanted to do was go home and take a nap. Not a very successful visit!

With these examples, you may have figured out that the basic difference is between an activity which is difficult or requires a lot of effort, and an activity which you are doing for the first time or testing to see if it will work as a solution.

try + -ing (seeing if it works for you/testing)
Don wants to get fit. He doesn't know the best way to do this, so he tries a lot of new things: taking an aerobics class, swimming, spinning, runing on the treadmill. These were new things that he'd never done before, but that he was sampling. When he's having trouble with the weight lifting, Peter makes a suggestion of a possible solution: try starting with a much lower weight.

try + to infinitive (doing something difficult)
When he tried lifting weights, he found that some of them were just too difficult for him: he tried to lift a 75-kilo barbell and couldn't, the same happened when he tried to pick up 50 kilos. By this time he was so embarrassed and tired that he didn't want to try to do 15 repetitions with the 15-kilo weights.

This sentence might help you remember the difference: When we're trying to solve a problem, something which requires effort, we'll often try doing different a variety of things in order to find a solution. Another thing that might help you is to remember that the -ing form often works like a noun, grammatically speaking. So if you try weight-lifting, it's the same as saying you try lifting weights.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Word of the week

For a look at some of the new words being created in English, why not check out Macmillan's Word of the Week? Stay on the cutting edge of English and surprise your friends with crazy new vocabulary! I can guarantee you that you'll find some crazy stuff.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More simile stories

Here are a couple more simile stories, these ones written using as + adjective + as + noun similes in English. One's a brain teaser. Can you work out the answer?

A friend of mine wanted to set me a problem to solve. "It's as easy as pie," he said.

In the story, two friends meet in the street. One asks the other, "You were as crazy as a loon and you got married 20 years ago, didn't you?"

The second one answers, "Yes, and I am as happy as Larry."

The first one asks, "And do you have children?"

The second man answers, "Yes, I have three daughters with hair as black as coal. If you multiply all three of their ages, the product is 36. And the sum of theirages is the number of this house. If you are as clever as you think you are, you will be able to tell me my daughters' ages."

The next day, the first man phones the second and says, "Last night I was as busy as a bee trying to calculate your daughters' ages, but I thought you should give me another clue."
The second man says, "You're right, I forgot to tell you that the eldest plays piano."

What are their ages? [See below for the answer.]


My friend Daniela told me the most incredible story last week. Of course, she's as mad as a hatter, so you have to take everything she says with a grain of salt.

Now, the first thing you need to know is that she and her boyfriend Jeffrey are as different as chalk and cheese. He's as sweet as pie, and she's as happy as a cat with two tails to be with him. They were hiking in a national park when they suddenly came across a bear standing in their path as bold as brass.

As Daniela's as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, it's not surprising that she turned as white as a sheet and ran off as fast as greased lightning. Bob, however, remained as cool as a cucumber, and just stood there on the path as quiet as a mouse. And wouldn't you know it, as sure as God made little green apples, the bear slowly walked up to him. Bob was as pleased as Punch that the bear only sniffed [smelled] him a bit, cuffed [hit with an open paw] him hard across the head as playfully as a kitten, and ambled off [walked slowly away]. Jeff had been as helpless as a baby in the situation, but luckily he survived.

Why don't you try writing a story yourself using some other similes, and post it here?

[Answer: The girls are 2, 2 and 9. This is the only possibility, because there are only two sets of numbers which add up to the same total (13): 2, 2 and 9 and 1, 6 and 6. As the first man knows that 13 is the house number, he needs more information to determine which choice is correct. When the second man tells him that the eldest ONE plays the piano, he knows it can't be the 1, 6 and 6 option, in which there are two eldest daughters, six-year-old twins.]

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 16, 2007

What would Hermione say?

By now you've probably heard about the scandal concerning Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays Harry in the Harry Potter films (AmEng, usually movies). He's going to appear nude in a sex scene in a West End production of the Peter Shaffer play Equus.

My students read the Daily Mail article, and had some comments on the matter:

I wish Daniel the best in his career playing new roles! People have to choose their own path, but personally I think he is too young to appear nude in the scene. He could also have had enormous success playing other roles, knowing how many supporters he has at the moment. What more will he do to impress us in the future?
-- Student X

Oh my God! Have you seen him? I can't believe that a wizard could have this body. Congratulations, Harry, we love you as Alan more than as Potter.
-- Student Y

Thank goodness! I was ready to go with my daughter, but in the end she had a cold and stayed home. Imagine how shocking that could have been for her to see Harry Potter nude. That really makes no sense.
-- Student Z

What do you think? Leave your comments here or on the Daily Mail site.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

How's this for a Valentine's Day story?

Italy won't split up its Stone Age "lovers."

In a Valentine's Day gift to the country, scientists said they are determined to remove and preserve together the remains of a couple buried 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, their arms still wrapped around each other in an enduring embrace.

Read the whole story.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Word of the day

Want another way to help increase your English vocabulary? Try Transparent Language's word-of-the-day: get an English word sent to you every day by e-mail.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Similes with "as if/though"

We've been talking about similes in one of my classes, and my students wrote some group stories to practice similes with "as ... as ..." and "as if/though". They're really very interesting, so I thought you might like to read them. [The parts in quotes are my editorial suggestions] They were given themes to start them off:

I was in the middle of the Amazon, desperately running and escaping from someone, I don't remember very well who, when I suddenly fell down with no possibility of getting up [and couldn't get back up]. I realised five snakes were beginning to surround me as if an octopus was trying to embrace me. My skin felt dirty and sticky as if I were covered with amniotic fluid inside an octopus egg about to hatch. But my soul was as calm as that of a baby. I felt that peace inside, then I knew, I was dead.

Suddenly I found myself in the middle of an unrecognizalbe city. I was lost and felt like a dog abandoned at a petrol station [AmEng gas station] or a Touareg in the fog. Suddenly a noise coming from the end of the bridge made me move towards it, as alert as if an intangible force was drawing me. I could feel myself floating along quickly. The nearer the sound I was, the more excited I got, as if I were approaching to meet the one possessing the secret that could bring the world to a peaceful era. Suddenly the light of a headlamp focused on my eyes, I could not continue walking ...


If you notice the grammar, there are three different types of similes in these stories:

as + adj. + as + noun
as if/though + subj. + past tense
like + noun

NB: In the second type, you may have noticed that the forms of the verb 'to be' (was/were) do not correspond to those used in "real" time. This is because when we talk about "unreal" or "imaginary" time (for example, in the 2nd conditional), with I and he/she/it you can use either "was" or "were". Using "were" is normal in American English, and considered more formal in British English.

Many thanks to my students for allowing me to publish their writing here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Similes with colors

In English as in any language, you can invent any simile you like. However, we also have certain standard, or at least very common, similes that most native speakers will at least know, if not use. Today we'll look at some that incorporate colors (BrEng colours). We're going to stick to the simple as ... as formula.
  • as red as blood / a rose
  • as red as a beet (BrEng beetroot) (embarrased or angry)
  • as white as snow
  • as white as a ghost / a sheet (when you're ill or scared)
  • as black as night / coal / the ace of spades (playing card)
  • as good as gold
  • as blue as the sky
If you're really interested in similes, check out similipedia, which catalogues similes from literature.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

The spitting image

When someone is the spitting image of another person (or animal, if you remember all the George W. Bush and monkey comparisons from a few years back), they look remarkably or exactly like them. Speaking of famous people, there was even a British television show of the same name which used puppets to caricature them.

This is one of those strange coincidences: on Tuesday afternoon a student asked me the meaning of this expression. Then that very same evening, I saw someone who's the spitting image of a good friend of mine's mother, and I texted her (my friend) to say just that!


Friday, February 2, 2007

Size zero banned by Posh

It all started in Spain, but Posh Spice, herself a size zero, has banned models of the same size from modelling (AmEng modeling) her own label's clothes. Hmmm!

Read what the Daily Mail and Metro have to say.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Money: . & ,

One of those odd little differences that aren't really linguistic is that when writing numbers in English we use a full stop (AmEng period) where Spanish uses a comma, and we use a comma where Spanish uses a full stop.

For example, let's look at a very big amount of money:


In English this is said:
"23 million,
two hundred and fifty-six thousand,
nine hundred and forty-five euros
forty-six cents".

Notice that essentially, saying large numbers in English is exactly the same in Spanish with one small exception: the "and" that we put betwen the hundreds and the tens. Most of the time you can hardly hear this "and", as it sounds more like 'n' when we speak normally.

Also note a few other things about writing numbers and amounts of money:
-- The euro/pound/dollar symbol goes BEFORE the number. $198, €53, £4,500.
-- When we write numbers from 21 to 99 (except for the tens, 30, 40, 50, etc.), they are hyphenated: twenty-one, thirty-five, seventy-six, ninety-nine.

Labels: , , ,