Student Stumper 35: “As if” and “As though”

QUESTION: What verb forms can follow as if or as though? ANSWER: Hm. You’re asking as if I had all the answers! This question was posted on my community forum. The student wondered if we could say both “as if you didn’t know me” and “as if you don’t know me.” I felt stumped. Was…

Student Stumper 34: While or awhile?

QUESTION: Which is correct, for a while or for awhile? ANSWER: This question was posted on my community forum. It was easy for me to answer the spelling question.  I know that after the preposition “for” we write two words – a while.  That’s because we need a noun object after a preposition. The tricky…

Student Stumper 33: Is “would” more polite than “could”?

QUESTION: What’s the difference between would and could? ANSWER: This question was posted on my forum, and it began a discussion on modals. I first explored differences in meaning. I listed uses of would, including future in the past (You promised you would tell me!) and habitual past (When I was a child, I would ask…

Student Stumper 32: Can TO and FOR both express purpose?

QUESTION: Should I say that a knife is used to cut things or for cutting things? Can both TO and FOR express purpose? ANSWER: This was a question posed by a YouTube viewer. I responded by acknowledging that both forms were possible in the given example. I speculated about differences in context, but I didn’t explore them….

Student Stumper 31: Can abstract nouns be specific?

QUESTION: How can I know if an uncountable noun, which is modified by an adjective, is specific or not? Should I ignore the modifier when deciding the use of the definite article or zero article? ANSWER: This question was recently posted on my YouTube channel. The advanced ELL provided lengthy examples of abstract nouns in context…

Student Stumper 30: Is “rather than” a preposition?

Click to listen to my introduction to Student Stumper 30. QUESTION: Is “rather than” a preposition? ANSWER: Good question! Let’s study some of the examples from Student Stumper 29 and see if we can come to a conclusion. First, let’s not confuse rather than with would rather (…than). EXAMPLE 1: She said she‘d rather stay…

Student Stumper 28: Gerunds v. Present Participles

QUESTION: What are all the ‘-ing’ words in the following sentence? He doesn’t like to waste time sitting around talking and drinking coffee. ANSWER: I know there are some who don’t like using the term “gerund,” but I’m not part of that camp. In my mind, it’s easier to understand and teach English grammar when we distinguish…

Student Stumper 27: Embedded Questions

Click here if you’d like to listen to my discussion of Student Stumper 27. QUESTION: What’s an embedded question and how do we use it? ANSWER: These are the questions I’m trying to answer for my YouTube audience. A viewer made this inquiry a while ago, and I promised to address this topic in a…

Student Stumper 26: Phonetic Symbols

QUESTION: Why are there different phonetic symbols for the same sounds? Which ones should I learn? ANSWER: First of all,  I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for students to learn the IPA or any other set of phonetic symbols in order to master English pronunciation. However, I do think that familiarity with the symbols is…

Student Stumper 25: Identifying the Uses of “As”

QUESTION: I don’t understand the grammar in the following sentence.  Both paintings have as their focus women from that era amidst their everday lives. Can you break it down for me? ANSWER: This question was posed by a YouTuber who had faith in my ability to make sense of that long sentence. I got as…

Student Stumper 24: Causative Verbs

QUESTION: What are causative verbs? Can you give me a list of them? ANSWER: “Causative verbs […] indicate that some person or thing helps to bring about a new state of affairs” (Biber, Conrad & Leech 108).  In other words, we use a causative verb to show that someone or something somehow causes something to happen….