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4 Steps to Perfect English

June 30th, 2013 by dimpledbrain

I read with amusement articles posted on facebook recently regarding the deteriorating standard of English in this country. I offer a quick guide to those who wish to better themselves in this area.

A few areas to take note:

(1) Parts of speech

  • Like the grand architect, we must first know the materials at our disposal. There are 8 parts of speech, i.e. (1) verb (2) noun (3) adjective (4) adverb (5) pronoun (6) preposition (7) conjunction and (8) interjection. Every standard sentence must contain some, if not all of them, within a specific layout.
  • At the simplest form, it should be noun/pronoun + verb + adjective + adverb.
  • Do you know that nouns do not have gender in modern English vs say Spanish? Table is considered a ‘male’ and chair is considered a ‘female’ in Spanish.

(2) Subject Verb Agreement (SVA), Modal Verbs, Auxiliary Verbs & Tenses and Dangling/Misplaced Modifiers.

  • Basically the first rule SVA says that the noun/pronoun must agree with the verb, like how one must cement, and not nail, bricks.
  • There are just 5 modal verbs, i.e. can/could, may/might, must, shall/should and will/would. Like royalty, when a modal verb meets another verb, the latter is always in the root verb form.
  • Auxiliary verbs are the various forms of (a) be (b) do and (c) have. This area plus the various tenses could create confusion so it is good to dive deeper into this area, which I will not elaborate any further here.
  • Courtesy of facebook, I produce the following sentences for our analysis: (these are real sentences used by real humans)
    • it can goes very far –> Can is a modal verb so the next verb ‘goes’ must be in the root verb form, i.e. it can go very far
    • i lazy go google.. –> pronoun + verb + adjective. Lazy is an adjective so we need a verb in between ‘I’ and ‘lazy’. I feel lazy to google. Since ‘google’ is a verb here, we do not need another verb ‘go’.
    • i‘m welcome you to unfriend me –> Pronoun + verb. There are 2 verbs here ‘m‘ (am) and ‘welcome‘. I welcome you to unfriend me.
    • Difference between ‘-t’ and ‘ce’. Example, ‘intolerant’ and ‘intolerance’. The former is an adjective and the latter is a noun.
  • As a general rule, we place the modifiers as closely as possible to the clause we want to describe.
    • After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing –> After reading the original study, I find the article unconvincing.
    • We should be mindful of the above since we are permitted to write in a few different ways. Can you tell the difference?
      • Only John hit Peter in the nose.
      • John hit only Peter in the nose.
      • John hit Peter only in the nose.
      • John only hit Peter in the nose.
      • Just John was picked to host the programme.
      • John was just picked to host the programme.
      • John was picked to host just the programme.

(3) Pronunciation

  • The first thing to pay attention here is how we pronounce diphthongs, i.e. gliding vowels.
  • For example, the vowels ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’,’o’ and ‘u’.
  • ‘A’ is pronounced as ‘ei’ and not ‘eh’. It has 2 sounds to it. Click here for the table and pay attention to those with 2 symbols. These are diphthongs.
  • The other 3 things to pay attention to are (a) long vs short vowels and (b) voiced vs voiceless consonants and (c) primary and secondary stress.
  • The following is the online dictionary that I use. (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/).
  • Say for instance we want to pronounce words like ‘capitulate’. From the dictionary the symbols are /kəˈpɪt.jʊ.leɪt/. So the pronunciation is ka + pit + u + leit. 2 things to note (a) the symbol ə is called schwa. The pronunciation is as in ‘about’ and not ‘after’. ‘j’ is pronounced as ‘y’ as in ‘yes’. There is a diphthong at the end, i.e. ‘leit’.
  • How about words like ‘zeitgeist’? From the dictionary, the symbols are /ˈtsaɪt.ɡaɪst/. So it is ‘site’+’gai’+’st’. Pay attention to the primary or secondary stress. Also note that symbols that are italicized are silent.
  • I only use Cambridge dictionary. Other dictionaries like Oxford and Macmillan have different sets of phonetic symbols.
  • If you are confused about the symbols, refer to similar symbols in the words you know how to pronounce.

(4) Putting It Together and Collocation

  • Collocation is a set of words used repeatedly. Example we would say ‘strong tea’ and ‘powerful computer’ and not ‘powerful tea’ and ‘strong computer’ although they actually mean the same thing.
  • So to add more punchline to our sentence construction, we use collocation. (Click here for Oxford Collocation Dictionary).
  • Refer to the first sentence of the post: “I read with amusement articles posted on facebook recently regarding the deteriorating standard of English in this country.”
  • The basic sentence structure is: “I read articles about the standard of English in this country. I added 2 modifiers (a) ‘with amusement’ and (b) ‘posted on facebook recently’. Note it will be a case of misplaced modifier if I say “I read articles posted on facebook with amusement recently regarding the deteriorating standard of English in this country.”
  • Now I want a better word to go with ‘standard’ so I look it up in the collocation dictionary. The dictionary offers, “low, poor, drop/fall in the standard.
  • The new sentence could read, “I read with amusement articles posted on facebook recently regarding the fall in the standard of English in this country.”
  • Simple choice of words but collocation works like booster.

There you go. I hope you enjoy this post.


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