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in or at the restaurant?

hungry-angry-unhappy-man-waiting-for-dinner-poor-service-bad-review-restaurant-pen-ink-drawingSo the other day this student of mine asked me “should I say in or at the restaurant?”
Well, both options are correct but they mean slightly different things.

First of all, let’s put things into context: imagine that you were supposed to meet a friend for lunch and he or she phoned and asked you “where are you?”

option 1: you answer “I’m in the restaurant”

What you mean is that you’re inside the restaurant (maybe sitting at a table sipping some red wine). If you go for this option, you emphasize the physical space where you are.

option 2: you say “I’m at the restaurant”

This case is less clear in the sense that you could be either inside or around the restaurant. So you could be sitting at a table or you could be waiting for your friend outside, in front of the restaurant.

The following example should help you understand why sometimes speakers choose one option over the other.

Situation 1: “I’m at the supermarket”

Your girlfriend is waiting for you at home, she phones you and says “Where the hell are you? I’m starving!”
In this case the most appropriate answer would be “I’m at the supermarket” because what you mean is that you’re doing the shopping. You don’t want to emphasize exactly where you are as it’s not relevant in this situation. You want to stress what you’re doing. You could have said “I’m doing the shopping” and it would have been a sensible answer.

Situation 2:  “I’m in the supermarket”

Now, you were supposed to meet up with your girlfriend in front of the supermarket and do the shopping together (since you both hate doing it). She’s running late and she calls you up and says “Where are you? I’m 10 minutes late”. In this situation, if you were inside the supermarket and you wanted to make it clear to her so that she won’t look for you outside, you would probably say “I’m in the supermarket” (and maybe you would also add “because I was freezing my ass off waiting for you outside” :).

Hope it makes sense!

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What I call the “fake past” in English grammar

downloadToday I’d like to write about tenses and walk you through what I call the “fake past” in English.

In some languages you use the subjunctive to express a wish or describe an unlikely or impossible event. However, such a tense doesn’t exist in the English language.

Does that mean that everything is certain and possible in the English speaking world? Obviously not!

What happens is that you use a past tense where you would have used a subjunctive if you were Italian or Spanish. These are a few examples I could think of:

  1. I wish I was a millionaire
  2. If only the baby was sleeping
  3. I’d rather you didn’t see her tonight, I don’t like her
  4. It’s high time you went to the hairdresser, you hair is so long!
  5. If I spoke Chinese , I’d move to China

Do the above sentences refer to a present, future or past situation?

All five examples, despite the use of the past simple tense or past continuous (example 2), talk about the present or the future.

So what if you actually want to use structures such as “I wish” or “I’d rather” etc to talk about the past?

Well, you simple have to go one step further back in the chain of past tenses. So if you use the past simple to talk about the present, you’ll have to use the past perfect to describe an event or situation in the past. Here’s a few examples:

I wish I spoke English. (PAST SIMPLE)
I wish I had studied English at school. (PAST PERFECT)

I’d rather you went with her to the meeting.  (PAST SIMPLE)
I’d rather you had gone with her to the meeting yesterday. (PAST PERFECT)

If I had known you were coming, I’d have gone to the party. (third conditional)

Hope it helps!

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‘Ever’ and the present perfect

6a00d8341d417153ef01116862dd4a970c-800wiUsually when as English teachers we explain the present perfect to students we take as example sentences questions with the word ever like ‘have you ever been to London?”. As a teacher I use such an example to highlight that because the student I’m asking the question to is most certainly alive (maybe bored to death but still alive), the question refers to an unfinished time. One could also add ‘in your life?’ at the end of the question to make this point clearer:

‘have you ever been to London in your life?’

For the sake of simplicity, some students end up thinking that every time they use ‘ever‘ (or the negative ‘never‘) the tense to be used is the present perfect. This is fairly normal as people often feel the need for some rules to cling to when learning a new language.

These same students when given the sentence “did you ever play/have you ever played truant* when you were at school?” and asked to choose the right option  will go for ‘have you ever’.

Even though you might usually have heard ‘ever’ used with the present perfect, in the above sentence we are talking about ‘when you were at school’** and therefore about a finished past experience. Hence, as with all events in a finished time, the right tense to use in this instance is the past simple: ‘did you ever play truant when you were at school?’.

To this question, you could answer ‘Yes, I did. ‘ or ‘No, I never did’ (if you go for the latter, you’ll obviously sound like a nerd 🙂 )

Along the same lines, if I asked you about your great-grandfather ‘did he ever take you to the stadium?’ , I would be using a past simple and assume you don’t have the longest living great-grandfather in town.

Again on the same topic, remember that ‘ever’ can also be used with the present simple when asking about your habits or everyday life like in the following examples:

‘Do you ever go to the cinema?’
‘Do you ever phone in sick when you’re not ill?’ 

I hope this post has cleared some of your doubts, folks!

*You play truant when you don’t go to school and you don’t tell your parents.
** I am assuming you’re not at school anymore, in the sense that you finished college/uni.

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‘get’ and its thousands meanings

doubtful-situation Let’s be honest, the verb ‘get’ can be a real pain in the arse for students. I bet people use  this word at least 30 times a day (or more!) in the English speaking world. “Get” has many  different meanings and today I’m going to take you through the most common ones.

Get to mean RECEIVE
 i.e. I got an email from Paul this morning.  (RECEIVED)

Get to mean BUY
 i.e. I got my boyfriend a jumper for his birthday.  (BOUGHT) >> note the structure of this  sentence: to get + somebody + something

Get to mean FETCH
 i.e. Can you get me that bag please? (FETCH) >> note the structure again: to get  somebody something

Get to mean ARRIVE
i.e. I got home very late last night . (ARRIVED)

Get to mean UNDERSTAND
i.e. I don’t get why people rush all the time in London (UNDERSTAND)

Get to mean BECOME
i.e. He got very sad when he heard the news (BECAME)

Get to mean BRING
i.e. What can I get you guys? (BRING)  often said by a waiter/waitress who wants to get your orders

Get to mean ACCOMPLISH
i.e. I don’t know how he got to be this company’s CEO.

and these are just a few examples!