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Learn English in Boston
Email us

copyright 2004 by
Learn English in Boston

Last Updated 2009

Free English Tips

ENGLISH USAGE

    1. it's and its
    Be careful about using it's and its. Many native speakers
    write these words incorrectly.

    It's is a contraction of "it" and "is".
    Example: It's cold today!

    Its is a possessive pronoun.
    Example: The cat licked its fur.


    2. affect and effect
    English has many words which sound similar but are spelled differently and have different meanings.

    affect=to influence (this word is always a verb)
    Example: The price of the airline ticket affected his decision to return to Boston on Sunday rather than Saturday.

    effect=a result (noun)
    Example: The medicine had a beneficial effect.

    effect=to result in, to bring about (verb).
    Example: We need to effect change in this organization.

    3. make and do
    Make and do are frequently confused.
    Make usually means to produce, create, or prepare.
    Example: I made dinner for my friends.

    Do is used to describe a general, non-specific activity.
    Example: What are you doing? Please don't do that.

    Use do when speaking about work.
    Example: My husband does all of the cooking.

    Do is often used in a generic sense (several activities may be included.) For example, Do the laundry. Here, several activities may be involved: sorting clothes, washing clothes, drying clothes.

    Common expressions are: make money, make a promise, make an offer, make a mistake; do business with, do a favor.

    4. myself and me
    Many writers and speakers use a reflexive pronoun,"myself"
    when a simple, personal pronoun,"me" is correct.
    Reflexive pronouns add emphasis.
    Example:I must do it myself.
    In this sentence "myself" refers back to "I".
    Don't use a reflexive pronoun when you haven't told your reader or listener
    "what you're talking about" or "to whom you are talking".

    Example:Please call Sue or myself if you need help with your English (Incorrect).
    "Myself" does not refer back to anyone.
    Example:Please call Sue or me if you need help with your English lessons. (Correct).

    5. lie and lay
    "Lie" (to recline) and "lay" (to place) are problems for many.
    For this reason, they are called "troublesome verbs".
    "Lay" takes a direct object.
    Example:Hens lay eggs.
    "Eggs" is the direct object.
    Example:Jane is laying her books on the table.
    "Books" is the direct object.
    The three forms of the verb are: lay (present tense), laid (past tense),
    and laid (past participle).

    "Lie"(meaning to recline) does not take a direct object.
    Example:At night I lie down on my bed to go to sleep.
    The three forms of "lie" are: lie (present tense), lay (past tense) and lain (past participle).
    Example:He likes to lie on the beach in the summer.
    Example:Last summer he lay on the beach every day.
    Example:He has lain on the beach many times in the past.

    The above verb (lie) is an "irregular verb.
    There is another form of "lie" which is regular.
    The three forms are "lie", "lied", and "lied".
    Example:He lied to me about his age.

    6. prepositional or phrasal verb
    English has many phrasal verbs such as "fill in", "fill out", and "fill up". These two-word verbs function as a single unit and are often confusing to nonnative speakers.
    Here are some examples:
    Fill in (to write words needed in blank spaces)
    You should fill in all the blanks on the application form.
    Fill in (to tell what you should know)
    The new boy didn't know the rules, so Henry filled him in.
    Fill in (to take another's place; substitute)
    The teacher was sick and Miss Jones filled in for her.

    Fill out (to put in what is missing; to complete, especially a form or report)
    Example: After Tom passed his driving test,
    he filled out an application for a driver's license.

    Example: The policeman filled out a report of the accident.

    Fill up (to put as much as possible into a container)

    Example: The host filled up all the glasses for his guests.
    Example: I filled up my gasoline tank at the gas station.

    7. idiomatic expression: sleep on it
    Sleep on it means to postpone a decision in order to think about it some more.
    Example: Your offer to buy my condo for $500,000
    sounds good, but let me sleep on it
    .

    8. business slang: across the board
    The expression "across the board" means that everyone is included.
    Example: The company gave everyone an across the board raise.
    This means that everyone received the raise, most likely the same amount or percentage.

    AMERICAN/BOSTON CULTURE

    1. Introductions in the U.S.

    People generally shake hands, especially when they are first introduced. This is the case in both social and professional situations.

    When you shake hands, smile and make eye contact. A firm handshake is preferred; it conveys confidence. A weak handshake does not make a good impression. However, do not grip another person's hand so tightly that you hurt his or her fingers!

    Both men and women shake hands with each other. In the past, a man used to wait for a woman to offer her hand first, but this is not the case today.

    2. More about Introductions

    To show respect for a senior person, a client, or a visitor, begin an introduction with that person's name.

    Example: Mr. LeGrand (senior person), I'd like you to meet Mr. George Smith, our director of marketing.
    Mr. Smith, this is John LeGrand from the Food and Drug Administration.

    ADDITIONAL TIP:
    Include information on one or both people so they can start a conversation.
    Example: Mr. LeGrand is here to learn about our new drug for psoriasis.

    3. Time

    Time is very important to people in the U.S., especially in the business setting. If you respect other people's time limits, it will be easier to work with them and to do business with them.
    Here are some suggestions:

    Make small talk brief. Examples of small talk would be: commenting about the weather, asking about another person's family, etc.

    When discussing issues with Americans, get straight to the point.
    If your colleagues need more information, they will ask for it.

    When someone asks you for "a minute" or "a moment", that means the discussion will not take much time. If more time is needed, it is usual to set up a time (e.g. 2 o'clock) to discuss the issue.


    4. Boston Tip--Half Price Tickets!

    If you'd like to attend a performance at one of Boston's theaters but want to save money, buy your tickets through BosTix at the Half Price Ticket kiosk in Copley Square. The ticket office opens at 11:00 a.m. and tickets are available for many same-day productions. Bring cash as credit cards are not accepted.

    5. Boston Tip--Zip Car

    A zip car is available for rent on an hourly or daily basis in Boston and Cambridge. Cars can be rented by signing up for membership at www.zipcar.com. This is a great way to run a few errands or get out of town if you don't own a car.

    6. Farmer's Market.

    Haymarket, located near Faneuil Hall in downtown Boston, is open from 6 a.m.-5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and other items are sold there. The nearest "T" stop is Haymarket on the Orange Line.

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