Alison

Recent Posts

Speech is Silver, Silence is Golden: How Pausing in Conversation can Transform the Way you Communicate

Posted by Alison on 7/21/17 6:00 PM

Many people probably recognize the second part of that proverb as an oft-quoted adage to dictate the importance of quiet in our busy, noisy lives. The full version, as written above, originates in English thanks to Thomas Carlyle, who translated it from part of a larger German work in 1831 (which can be found on phrases.org/uk). The translated passage begins, "Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together," according to the same website.  

If we stopped to think about this, in a moment of peace and quiet, we might recognize the truth in this idea. Silence gives us the chance to pull together information or speech to which we have just been exposed but which perhaps we need more time to process. To think about what you want to say before speaking is common advice, especially to avoid realizing a different idiom, that of "I spoke too soon."

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Tags: English

Why Does English Borrow So Many Words From Other Languages?

Posted by Alison on 5/22/17 6:30 PM

The Canadian blogger and free-lance reviewer James Nicoll created the following epigram on the English language: "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."

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Tags: English

The Five Key Difference Between American and British Spelling Conventions

Posted by Alison on 5/1/17 5:57 PM

Before America became a nation, the colonists who arrived to establish the country spoke English. From England. As there was not yet an authoritative source for how to spell words correctly in English, the colonists spoke the English they were used to back home and wrote much the same way, using the way language was written in English literature as a guide, according to this brief mental floss video. The first official written authority on the English language was Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, which served as the trusted reference for English language use in the United States until Noah Webster invented one of his own. Webster reasoned that a new country should have a new language, and thus the first American dictionary was born. Webster's A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1806 partly to solidify America's cultural as well as linguistic independence from Britain.

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Tags: English

No butter? No bother! How context impacts meaning when speaking a language

Posted by Alison on 3/27/17 7:07 PM

A friend and I recently traveled to Dublin, where we were struck by how accessible the history and beauty of the city seemed, in a way that was easy to get to know. The people we encountered were friendly and eager to strike up a conversation, and they often did – with what we considered wonderfully melodic Irish accents. Notwithstanding the fact that the spoken language there is also English, however, we were not able to catch the meaning of every word we heard. One evening at a casual local restaurant, one of the waitresses who took our order followed up with what we heard as "no butter?" We were confused because it seemed an unlikely question, to have butter or not, on the dish my friend had ordered. The waitress, on seeing our perplexed faces, quickly clarified with a smile, "no worries!"

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Tags: English

Don't Actually Break Your Leg - Common English Idioms Explained

Posted by Alison on 2/27/17 4:51 PM

One of the recent lessons I gave to my English Language Learners involved English idioms and their origins. An idiom is a saying that does not mean what the words literally express, but rather it has some representative meaning behind the words. Often, the reasons for the meanings of idioms are obscure; in this post, I will try to bring to light a few commonly used idioms and where they come from.

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Tags: English

Back to the Basics: Past, Present, and Future Tenses in English Explained

Posted by Alison on 1/30/17 6:34 PM

As an English teacher and literature major in college, I am passionate about the English language. I am a self-identified stickler for grammar, and I will correct a text to a friend if I notice it lacks an apostrophe or contains an erroneous punctuation mark.

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Tags: English

What is the subjunctive tense in English?

Posted by Alison on 12/24/16 9:52 AM

One grammar category that seems to be widely untaught is the names and functions of various verb tenses. For those who have studied a foreign language, the existence of these constructions is not so foreign, but native English speakers rarely learn what the subjunctive – in English – even is, let alone how to use it correctly. The same goes for past perfect and conditional or hypothetical phrases. If you knew what these tenses were called, maybe you would better understand the rules for combining them. If you had known these rules earlier, perhaps you could have used them more often. 

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Tags: English

What is the Difference Between Then and Than? Allusion and Illusion? To, too, and two? A List of Common Homophones and their Differences

Posted by Alison on 12/12/16 6:03 PM

What is a Homophone?

There are many more words in the English language than one might expect, given how similar their pronunciation and spelling can be. They're usually nouns and adjectives, except for those that function as conjunctions or contractions. Once you accept that English contains many pairs or groups of deceptively similar words with different meanings, then you will have a better understanding in sight of how to speak and cite and write the right ones.

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Tags: English, expository writing

One for All and All for None? Grammatical Rules for One, Neither, and Each!

Posted by Alison on 11/7/16 6:07 PM

In this blog post, our resident grammar girl reviews the impossibly confusing rules for singular subjects that refer to plural groups; subject-verb agreements involving"each", "all", and "none"; and last (but not least!) "neither", "neither", and "nor" and how they relate to your verb choice. Read More

Tags: English, expository writing

The Most Common Prefixes and Their Meanings

Posted by Alison on 10/17/16 6:00 PM

The English language comprises a plethora of words that can change meanings with the addition of a prefix or a suffix. For example, the prefix re signifies that the base word to which it attaches is happening again, as in "do" and "redo". In theory, one could add re an infinite number of times to the front of a word, and the effect would continue to do the same thing; the word's function would be repeated however many times the prefix re appears. The fact that such a pattern exists in English recalls an aspect of the language (there it is again, re in recall to call to mind again) that dates back to its origins. As much as English is a language full of exceptions to the rules, it also presents patterns that, when understood, can shed light on how and why we use the words that form the English language.

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Tags: study skills, English, SAT