Posts tagged ‘example’

July 21, 2015

Articles – and now the exceptions

No rule without exception is the unfortunate truth with most languages – and pretty much any and all other rules.  In a prior post we were talking about the rules for the use of articles in English which leaves us to explore what the exceptions are. Here we go: certain fixed expressions of place, time and movement do not take articles.  Here are some examples:

  • I am going to school – not the school
  • He was in prison – not the prison
  • Let’s stay home tonight – not the home
  • we’ll go by car – not by the car.  However, it is “we’ll take the car” not “we’ll take car”

A more comprehensive list can be found here. Articles are also often dropped after the following expressions: after both, all, sort of, kind of and alike as in these examples:

  • Both boys and girls were playing soccer
  • All family members spent the weekend at the beach house
  • What type of food do you prefer?

Also double expressions often do not have an article:

  • Brother and sister came to visit
  • Cats and dogs often fight
  • We are available day and night

Also the following categories of exception exist: No article is needed for

  1. Words used in a general sense – “women love shoes” – it is a general statement, whether true or not or Japanese food is healthy – in general, not just the dish you are currently enjoying
  2. Countries, towns, continents, etc.  – I live in Germany – okay, there are exceptions to the exception such as “I live in the Netherlands” but the country is called “the Netherlands” (another: The United Kingdom) so it makes sense
  3. Languages – “I used to study Spanish”
  4. Acronyms as long as they are pronounced as one word such as NATO, FIFA, SCOTUS but an article is needed when the letters are pronounced independently such as UN, WHO, NIH, etc
  5. Holidays – Christmas is my favorite holiday.  Halloween is fun.

These are so to speak the official exceptions, those you can read about in books and on other webpages but then there are some that I have encountered repeatedly and I have grown used to but really can’t explain or find a proper explanation for.

Here is what I mean: When speaking about babies people often drop the article.  You will hear sentences like “make sure baby’s head is not covered with a blanket.”  If that sentence addresses a particular set of parents with a specific baby then the sentence should be “make sure the/your baby’s head is not covered with a blanket”.  If, however, one is speaking about babies in general the imperative would not be used and the sentence would be something like “Babies’ heads should never be covered by a blanket”.  I suspect “babies” or “baby” in such sentences is used as a placeholder for a name.  And since we don’t know whether this particular baby is called Michael or Michelle they are called “Baby” as name.  I suppose it is meant to sound more personal – to me it sounds weird to this day.

Keep the - aehm - your distance. pic source: http://www.drive-safely.net/safe-following-distance/

Keep the – aehm – your distance. pic source: http://www.drive-safely.net/safe-following-distance/

Something similar happens with legal counsel but probably not for the same reason.  In business you will hear sentences like “let’s run this by Counsel” or “we need to get Counsel’s approval.”  However, you wouldn’t say, “let’s run this by doctor/CEO” it would definitely be “let’s run this by the/your doctor/ the CEO.” Why Counsel here is treated like an general concept as in #1 above rather than an individual is unclear to me.  Maybe people want to give the impression that they have a whole, well-oiled legal machinery supporting them rather than one little lone lawyer – but I am just guessing here. Another confusion is around the use of “you/your” in certain instances where, e.g. in German and also in Spanish nothing would be used.   A recent example is from I trip I took to Austria.  On the freeways they had signs up that encourage people not to drive to closely behind the car in front of them.  And surprisingly, those signs were in English.  Discouragingly, though, they said “keep the distance!” “Wrong”, I screamed, “it has to be ‘keep your distance'”.  My German friends did not understand where the “your” is coming from and I couldn’t explain it.  I just knew that nobody would ever say “keep the distance”.  It just sounds weird.  Driving 90 miles per hour I missed the opportunity to take a picture of this faux pas – darn.

So here we have a few exceptions to mull over.  Like with all languages, the little things like keep your distance and keep the distance can make a the difference.

July 17, 2015

Especially devious false friends

My husband pointed out a particularly devious pair of false friends for the German speaking crowd out there to me the other day and so I decided to write a quick blog about it.  The culprits are:

Pathetic (engl.)

Pathetisch (d.)

Let’s tackle pathetic first.  The word has two meanings, both not particularly pleasant.  The first basically means “in such a bad state that it arouses pity”.  An example would be “the poor abandoned dog looked pathetic, I had to adopt him”.  Synonyms would be pitiable, heart-breaking, distressing.

The second, and probably more common usage means “miserably, completely inadequate”.  Examples would be “his performance was absolutely pathetic. It was a disgrace” or me to my son “a B in math is pathetic, you shouldn’t ever have a grade worse than an A-.” (I am not crazy, the boy is a math whiz and anything worse than an A- indicates laziness, not lack of understanding).

Let’s turn our attention to “pathetisch” – it means passionate, maybe a bit too much so, solemn, declamatory.    The word can have a negative connotation and indicate that the speaker is totally overdoing it, might be showing off , use overblown or sententious language.  What it does not mean is paltry, miserable, abject, pitiable.

So one needs to be careful here.  Though a “pathetischer” talk can be annoying and too much it is a far cry from pathetic.

Another devious pair is sensible (eng.) and sensibel (d.).

It is sensible to wear sunscreen, esp. if you have sensitive skin.

It is sensible to wear sunscreen, esp. if you have sensitive skin.

The English sensible means rational, practical, prudent and is used in sentences such as “She is wearing boots for the hike, that is very sensible” or “Although I really would like you to participate in the meeting it is sensible to stay home if you are sick.”

The German “sensibel” on the other hand means “sensitive” in English.  It is used for example when talking about people “eine sensible Person” is a sensitive person not a sensible person. The word is,  particularly devious in German as it is spelled “sensibel” in some cases (das Kind ist sensibel – the child is sensitive) but takes the English looking version “sensible” although pronounced quite differently, if used as an adjective in certain cases “das sensible Kind weint” (the sensitive child is crying”).

So you can see who a prudent, rational person can quickly become a sensitive one if Germans are involved.

 

 

 

July 13, 2015

Articles

Those little articles can be tricky beasts and their usage varies between English and German in subtle ways that are sometimes difficult to pinpoint.

Before looking at differences is usage it makes sense to first establish what the correct usage of the English articles – a/an, and the – are and when using an article would be wrong.

The rules are fairly simple.

For countable nouns – that is nouns that one can put a number in front of such as 1 blogger, 40 readers, 9 roses, etc.

  • both a/an and the can be put in front of the noun, depending on the context
  • A countable noun in the singular needs an article “I am talking to the teacher” or “I am eating an apple”
  • If used in the plural without an article one refers to all of that thing, e.g. “Apples are yummy.” Meaning apples in general are yummy, not just the one you are eating right now which would be “the apple is yummy.”
  • The first time you use a countable noun, generally, you would use the indefinite article “I am reading a book.” subsequently the definite article is used as one refers to a specific embodiment of that thing “Is the book interesting?”
  • The is also use when the listener knows which thing one refers to in the following example: “the phone is ringing”. e.g. when it is your one and only phone that is ringing vs. “a phone is ringing” when it could be your landline, your cell phone, your husband’s or even the neighbors’ phone.
  • “an” is used in front of words starting with a vowel sound, e.g. “an apple” or “an herb garden”.  If a word does not start with a vowel sound “a” is used such as “a flower”, a house” and “a user”. These examples make it clear why vowel sound is important, not vowel.  A word can start with a vowel but not a vowel sound such as “user” or it can start with a consonant but a vowel sound, such as “herb” as the h in “herb” isn’t pronounced making the word sound like “erb”. One needs to be careful with the h, though, not all h’s are dropped and hence it is “a history”, not “an history” because the h is not silent. After all it isn’t ‘istory, although the French might pronounce it that way.
IMG_7446

“water is precious” – no article, as this refers to water in general. But: “The water was very cold” – meaning that the specific water I put my hand/foot in was cold, which wouldn’t come as a big surprise in this case as it was winter in Germany. (c) Tina Baumgartner

The other group of nouns are uncountable words, which, obviously, you can’t put a number in front.  A few examples are: water, happiness, luck, money.  Of course in many cases you can put a unit of measure in front that makes them countable, as in 3 bottles of water or 2 suitcases full of money but then it is the bottles or suitcases you are counting, not the water or money.  Obviously that does not generally work with happiness or luck or hope, etc.

So in the case of uncountable words:

  • generally you cannot use a/an in front of them.
  • generally you can’t make an uncountable noun a plural “waters”, “lucks” and “happinesses” are not proper words, though is special circumstances that might work, e.g. “the waters are deep” – a case where “water” doubles for a body of water such as a lake or maybe river not water in general, or “monies” a technical term used in finance.
  • if you use an uncountable noun with no article if it means that thing in general, e.g. “water is precious”, “I am a great believer in luck.” etc.
  • and finally you use an uncountable noun with “the” to talk about a particular example of that thing. “The money I raised will be donated”, “The water in the Sierra Nevada tasted very good.” “you won’t believe the luck I had in the last poker game”.

This sounds like a lot but really isn’t too bad and rather easy to remember.

There are, of course, exceptions which sound weird to the ear of a non-native speaker and even my non-native ears with almost 2 decades of speaking English.  Those will be discussed in a later blog.  Stay tuned.

 

July 5, 2015

Stolpersteine

This is the first of a small series of German language blog entries that are designed to address some common mistakes Germans speaking English make.  Some content might be redundant with the content provided in the English language blog.

In dieser kleinen Serie fasse ich einige der haeufigsten Fehler zusammen, die Deutsche im Englischen machen.  Fangen wir mit den an sich einfachen aber doch haeufig verwirrenden Konzept des “besitzanzeigenden s” an, das im Deutschen am ehesten dem Genetiv entspricht.  Im Deutschen wird der Genetiv – der ohnehin fast nie benuetzt wird –  ebenfalls durch ein s signalisiert. “Das Haus des Grossvaters/Grossvaters Haus ist der Stadt” waere ein Beispiel.

Im englischen ist das ganz aehnlich nur ist das s mit einem Apostroph abgetrennt: “Grandfather’s house is in the city.”

So weit so gut. Was aber wenn man zwei Grossvaeter hat, die beide in der Stadt wohnen? In dem Fall wird der normale Plural gebildet und dann das Apostroph angehaengt um den Possessive anzudeuten: “The grandfathers’ houses are in the city.”

Unuebersichtlicher wird es bei Worten, die auf s enden, denn dann gibt es zwei Moeglichkeiten” Grandpa Charles’s house is in the city” oder “Grandpa Charles’ house is in the city.”  Beide sind richtig und haben ihre Grammatik-Gurus, die die eine vs. die andere Schreibweise befuerworten.  Die einfachste Empfehlung ist, dass man sich fuer eine Schreibweise entscheiden soll und diese dann auch durchgehend verwendet.

Natuerlich gibt es jede Menge zusaetzlicher Regeln und Empfehlungen, was man mit Worten, die auf x oder ch enden macht, was wenn es Eigennamen sind oder auf s enden oder Worte, die auf zwei ss enden und vor einem Wort stehen, dass mit s anfaengt?  “the hostess’s sink” – “das Wasch/Spuelbecken der Gastgeberin” waere so ein Beispiel – dass ja recht bescheuert aussieht.   In vielen Faell ist ebenfalles gesunder Menschenverstand und Konsistenz gefragt.  Wenn man schreibt dass man bei den Joneses zum Abendessen war dann sollte man mit den Sanchezes ins Kino gehen.  Wenn man allerdings bei den Jones’s diniert hat, sollte man mit den Sanchez’s ins Kino.

Wichtig ist erstmal, dass man die Grundlagen richtig hinkriegt, um Missverstaendniss zu vermeiden oder nicht wie ein Ignorant darzustehen.

possessive 2

Das ist ein ganz normaler Plural muesste also “Signs” sein, nicht sign’s. Das Schild macht so ueberhaupt keinen Sinn.

possessive

Das gleiche Problem, Hondas ist ein Plural – viele Honda Autos. Wieder ergibt das Schild so keinen Sinn.

Die Grundregeln sind:

  • In einem normalen Plural hat ein ‘s nichts verloren.  Meine zwei Soehne sind “my two sons” nicht “my two son’s” or “my two sons’ ” Das letztere waere richtig wenn es von einem Nomen gefolgt waere. z.B. my two sons’ boat- das Boot meiner zwei Soehne, also ein Boot das beiden gehoert.
  •  Ein Possessiv braucht ein Apostroph, sonst ist es kein Possessiv sondern ein Fehler.

Bevor es ganz bloed und umstaendlich wird kann man sich meistens mit einer Umschreibung behelfen.  Also statt “Illinois’s constitution” also “Illinois Verfassung” kann man ohne weiteres “the constitution of Illinois” sagen, also “die Verfassung von Illinois” oder – vermutlich korrekter im Deutschen “die Verfassung des Staates Illinois”.

Wenn man das gemeistert hat, kann man schon mehr als viele Muttersprachler.

January 27, 2013

Superbowl

Superbowl is coming up to the excitiment of everybody, pic: cartoonaday.com

Superbowl is coming up to the excitement of everybody, pic: cartoonaday.com

THE annual event is coming up.  No it is not Christmas and I certainly don’t mean Valentine’s Day either.  I mean Superbowl, one of the most holy and revered sporting events in the US.  There are others, but I don’t now anything about baseball and World Championships and basketball and whatever very important events they have.  But I know a thing or two about American football and I have been to a Superbowl party for 10 years straight.  That makes me an expert – at least for an expat from Germany.

Every year through some mysterious process which I don’t tend to follow, 2 teams end up playing the Superbowl.  Whoever wins is the champ.  I am sure they get something cute to put on the mantel and tons of money.  This year a catastrophe was narrowly avoided: the home team, the San Francisco 49ers, qualified and the Patriots (the Boston team) was a hot contender to play the 49ers.  Now that would have thrown me into a big conflict over whom to root for as I also spent two extremely educational and very pleasurable years in Boston.  Alas, the Patriots lost to the Ravens (Baltimore) and so I won’t have to face this conflict.  Go 9ers!

If you want to know about the football rules, there are better sources than this blog to educate you.  I can follow the game, yell “interference” with the best of them or say something like “3rd and 8” with a grave face if it pertains to “my team” but the subtleties are lost on me, sort of like off-side in soccer.

The point, though, is that Superbowl is an excuse to party.  And by that I mean drinking beer during the day  and eating food that would generally not pass the “healthy, whole-grain, gluten-free” test but will score high on fat, carbs, spices, and preservatives – and lots of it.  It’s also the day where the man cave turns into the center of the house and the poor schmucks who don’t have a man cave dust off all sorts of comfy reclining chairs that have been banned to the basement by wives with a finer taste in interior design .  Wives/girl-friend pass platters with nacho chips and salsa during the game, chat among themselves and wait for their moments: the abundant ads.  Superbowl ads are super expensive and legendary and anticipated as eagerly as the game.  A classical radio show host question has become: “what do you look forward to most?  The game, the ads or the snacks.”  In recent years companies have started to leak sneak previews of their anticipated ads a couple of weeks before the Superbowl – as if these things were big movies.  This years anticipated ads include VW and Mercedes Benz, Coke, Best Buy and a bunch of others to be found here.

I do enjoy these events, they are so quintessentially American (although, where I live the majority of the Superbowl party attendees are of Indian or Chinese origin) – and a perfect excuse to eat junk food.  Go, 9ers, go!

January 4, 2013

Drive Thru II

On our road trip over the winter vacation I saw something I referred to in my last post, not knowing whether it exists or not: the drive thru dry cleaner.

Walking around Bakersfield, CA after a long day in the car I came across one and here is the blurry picture to prove:

The drive thru dry cleaner.  I should have known it existed.  Pic: mine

The drive thru dry cleaner. I should have known it existed. Pic: mine

December 28, 2012

Drive-thru Nation

I never thought that eating while driving was a good idea.  I also always thought it was a rather good  idea to actually park your car, get out, walk 30 feet to a door, walk in,  order your food, sit down (or the other way around if you choose to not go to a fast food restaurant) and eat it without spilling ketchup all over yourself because you are eating that double burger with extra cheese and the curly fries with one hand while maneuvering a big ass truck (or a Honda Civic or anything in between).  Alas, I seem to be in the minority as some recent observations have confirmed.  We are all used to the Drive-thru fast food joints, all the big names of this world and slowly getting use to the drive-thru upscale coffee places (yes, I am talking Starbucks) although I am still wondering why I would want to pay almost $5 for a medium (they call it grande) Frappuccino and then not enjoy it because I am  negotiating Los Angeles/Bay Area/Toronto/add other places as appropriate traffic.

The latest, and I have seen it several times now including today, is a Drive thru drug store, like Walgreens, or Rite Aid or one of those.  I am waiting for Drive thru Safeways, and Drive thru fine dining (you’d get a complimentary linen napkin and probably one of those self-heating containers to keep the bisque warm ), for men only I could envision a Drive thru haircut place, I assume most women would not go for that one, but one could definitely drop off dry cleaning in a Drive thru kind of a way.  Why hasn’t anybody thought of that yet?  They probably have and I am just too out of touch to have heard about it – yet.

Drive Thru - so very convenient.  classbias.blogspot.com

Drive Thru – so very convenient. classbias.blogspot.com

What I still don’t understand is the appeal of all of that.  Is the act of getting out of the car so inconveniencing people that they avoid it at all cost, although we are reading constantly that even a little exercise every day helps a lot in terms of health outcomes or do people love sitting in their cars so much that they don’t want to get out ever?

One thing, I believe, Drive thru anything is often not: faster.  The Starbucks this morning had a line of at least 5 or 6 cars whereas we were the first in line inside.  I remember distinctly one time when, on a road trip, we went to have lunch at a fast food restaurant and on our way between tour parking spot and the door had to cross the Drive thru lane.  We almost got run over by a driver too focused on deciding between the tantalizing meal options so I remembered the car.  When we came out, after ordering food and eating it, sitting on a chair with a table in front of us, washed our hands in the bathroom, and walked out, that driver was just ordering his food at the Drive-thru window.

So much for faster.

I think it comes down to the word I have learned to hate: “convenience”.  Getting ones butt out of the car and walking a few steps  is so not convenient so people much rather sit in the car longer to avoid that hassle.  How sad is that!

September 13, 2012

Moral High Ground

pic: wrongcards.com

“Taking the moral high ground” is an expression you might hear used in discussions about controversial topics where ethics/morals play a role.  I realize that a discussion about different baseball teams or the advantages of certain cars over others can be controversial as well, but the opportunity to take/claim/seize the morale high ground are less abundant in these situations.

The clearest definition I found (and I found a bunch of confusing ones) is the following: The moral high ground, in ethical or political parlance, refers to the status of being respected for remaining moral, and adhering to and upholding a universally recognized standard of justice or goodness.”

And that, I might add, despite the fact that this position might not be the most personally advantageous one could possibly take.  The phrase implies a critique of other, less moral positions and a person who takes the moral high ground may come across as a bit of a snob.

I was looking for an example and only found ones pertaining to politics, seems that field is ripe with moral high ground but remains in dire need for it.  So here is one:

“Under the leadership of President Bush and Vice president Cheney, the United States has given up the moral high ground that we used to occupy as an international leader.” Marty Meehan 

September 11, 2012

Dirty words

dirty words, no longer just the usual suspects and now featuring what used to be honorable words like government and liberal, pic: http://new.exchristian.net/2011/09/dirty-words.html

In 1972 the comedian George Carlin defined seven “dirty words” – offensive or indecent words – that could not be used on TV.  To this day most of the words on Carlin’s original list remain taboo on American television and are bleeped out should they happen to escape somebody.

What these seven words are I leave up to your imagination or the power of a Google search or – as a shortcut – the clicking on the following link.

If that was it, this wouldn’t be much of a post but things have become a little more complicated as new “dirty words” in the second sense of the word – namely ” things regarded with dislike or disapproval” – are added all the time.  Good old terms like “government” and “liberal come to mind.  I thought of this as a rather recent development but at least for liberal I found an article complaining about this 10 years ago (here).  It is still quite unclear to me how liberals could let that happen, especially considering the definition (type define Liberal into Google) “Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” – who wouldn’t want to be that?  And who would want to be the opposite (that would be conservative then): “closed to new behavior or opinions and unwilling to let go of traditional values”.

Government as a dirty word goes even further back, it has it roots in the 60s but the person who made this way of thinking popular was Ronald Reagan in the 80s.  Here is a NPR article about this topic.

The worst of all dirty words appears to be atheist.  But that is a long story and deserves a separate blog post.

September 5, 2012

Even Madder

No text needed 🙂 , pic: vampyrekisses.com

As discussed the other day there are a number of slang words for a mental institution but that number pales in comparison to the words and expressions used to convey the idea of a person being insane.

Crazy is the probably the least offensive one, it can also mean cool in a with a bizarre or risky  edge to it.  “The way you skied down that double black diamond hill was just crazy.”

Others are:

nutty /nuts /nuttso, cuckoo, loony, lunatic, bananas, whacky, whacko  – are all possibilities (there are more, of course).  Obviously there are shades of grey here, bananas implies more unbelievable and ridiculous than seriously crazy, whereas wacko or whacky  has more of an element of stupid and strange to it “this plan of yours is just totally whacky, it will never work.”

For the geeks among us – and I haven’t heard this used in a long time probably since the days when I attended #1 geek school in the country – non-linear.  Which implies that a person, all of a sudden, displays some strange and out of character behavior, e.g. the quite withdrawn student who, suddenly, one night goes all out, parties until the wee hours and then pays a hefty price the next day in form of a hang-over and for the rest of his student days by having to endure jokes like “do you remember the day when Joey went completely non-linear.  I still remember his face before he passed out.”

There is more good crazy stuff here- enough for another post some time.