Thursday, February 21, 2019

Confusing English

The top complaint from my students is: “English is so confusing!” And, well, they’re right. Using a single word incorrectly, even using the wrong preposition, can change the whole sentence! Here are a few examples:

“He threw the ball to me” versus “He threw the ball at me”

You would think these sentences are the same, but they aren’t! If someone said to me “He threw the ball to me,” I would respond with “Oh, were you guys playing baseball or something?” However, if someone said to me “He threw the baseball at me,” I would respond with “What?! That’s so mean! Why would he do that?!”

You see, the difference here is that if you say “threw the ball to me,” it implies that it was a gentle throw and the receiver knew it was coming. They were probably playing a game. When you say “threw the ball at me,” this implies that it was an aggressive throw, and the person was trying to hurt the receiver with the ball. Not nice!

More examples:

“She stopped to call him” versus “She stopped calling him”

Saying “she stopped to call him” means that she was in the middle of an action but stopped that action in order to call the person. If you say “she stopped calling him,” it means that she was probably angry at him, and therefore didn’t want to talk to him.

“I sent a letter to my brother” versus “I sent a letter for my brother”

If you say, “I sent a letter to my brother,” it means that you are the sender, and your brother is the receiver of the letter. If you say, “I sent a letter for my brother,” it means that your brother is the sender, but you did him a favor by putting it in the mailbox for him!

There are so many more of these, but practice makes perfect! By listening to the news in English, watching TV in English, you’ll start to see patterns. You can also go online to see more examples!


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