I realize it’s been a long time between posts.  My life has been particularly busy this semester.  Anyway, thanks to all of you who have posted with encouragement and questions… I guess someone out there really is reading!

So, now that I’m back I’d like to answer a couple questions from Can Duman, who according to his blog appears to be from Turkey.

Can asked how Americans generally use the word “nasty”.  Here’s my answer and also some tips on finding how native speakers usually use words.

Here is the dictionary definition, but Can has also asked how Americans generally use it.

“Nasty” is often used to talk about a sickness or injury with the meaning of “severe” and/or “disgusting”

He has a nasty cold.

He fell and got a nasty cut.

“Nasty” can also be used to talk about the weather with the meaning of “severe”

It has been a nasty winter.

That was a nasty storm last night.

“Nasty” can also be used to describe communication between people with the meaning of “very rude”

That was a nasty thing to say.

Her neighbor left a nasty note on her door.

All of the meanings above are negative.

However, in the context of sports “nasty” is sometimes used as slang with the positive meaning of “very effective”, especially against an opponent.

The pitcher throws a nasty curveball.

The boxer was knocked out by a nasty punch.

I hope this helps for understanding common usage of this word.

In general, if you want to find out how a word is commonly used by native English speakers. I would suggest using Google News.  Search for the word that you are interested in and you will get a list of current news articles using that word in context.  Here is what I got when I searched for “nasty“.

First of all, sorry for the long delay between posts. As you may have guessed, I took the summer off. Now that school is back in session, I hope to update this blog 1-2 times per week. Ok, back to work.

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In English, when we are ready to sleep at night we say we are “going to bed.” When we are preparing to sleep, it is very common to say we are “getting ready for bed.”

What time do you usually go to bed?
How long does it take you to get ready for bed?

Because of this special meaning, the prepositions can be confusing.  “In bed” means that you are under the covers and (usually) ready to sleep.  If you are not ready to go to sleep (or under the covers), we use “on the bed”

While I was in the bed, the phone rang. (NOT COMMON)

While I was in bed, the phone rang. (idiomatic usage)

The children were sick in their beds all week. (NOT COMMON)

The children were sick in bed all week. (idiomatic usage)

Many women think it is romantic to be served breakfast in their beds. (NOT COMMON)

Many women think it is romantic to be served breakfast in bed. (idiomatic usage)

I was sitting on the bed when the phone rang. (OK – literal usage)

I like to study on my bed. (OK – literal usage)

Children like to jump on their beds! (OK – literal usage)

As you can see in the examples, you should not use an article (a/an/the) or other determiners (my, your, this, that, etc.) when you use “bed” with this special meaning of sleeping (usually with the prepositions “to” or “for”.  You will also notice that this usage is never plural.)

However, when you use the preposition “on” it is common to use determiners and plurals.

Sometimes words in English are countable (you can add an -s) or not depending on their meaning.  A very common example is birds that you eat, such as chicken and turkey.  When you are talking about the whole animal (alive or dead), chicken and turkey are countable.

The farmer owned many chickens.

Since they could not find a large turkey, they bought two smaller turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner.

However, when you are talking about part of the animal, or the meat itself, chicken and turkey are uncountable.

I bought 1kg. of chicken at the store.

I ate so much turkey on Thanksgiving I felt sick.

Another word which can be countable or uncountable depending on its meaning is paper.  If paper has writing on it (handwritten or printed), it is countable.

Please pass your homework papers to the front of the class.

She left the important papers on the bus.

If paper is blank (no writing), then it is uncountable!

The printer was out of paper.

Students should never come to class without paper.

If you want to count blank paper you can use the counting marker “sheet” or “piece.”

I need two sheets of paper.

Can I have a piece of paper to write on?

Some other words which are sometimes countable and sometimes not are experience(s), fruit(s), and trouble(s).

For more information, check out this site.

“How about” is often used by native speakers to repeat a question but with a different subject (often after a “no” answer).  The best way to explain this is to use some examples:

A: Do you like horror movies?

B: No, they give me nightmares (bad or scary dreams).

A: Do you like How about action movies?

B: Yes, action movies are my favorite.

The part of the question that would be repeated, “Do you like”, is replaced with “How about”.  Notice that the person being asked the question can also use “How about” as in:

A: Would you like to play baseball?

B: No, I don’t like baseball. How about football?

A: Sorry, I don’t know how to play football. How about tennis?

B: Sure.  Tennis sounds good.

As long as you are asking the same kind of question, you can use “how about” as many times as you want.  You are also not limited to replacing nouns in the question; you can also replace verbals (infinitives or gerunds).  For example:

A: Do you want to go shopping this weekend?

B: No, I don’t have any money.  How about playing a board game?

There is just one final note.  You must use a gerund (verb + ing) after “How about”, you can’t use the infinitive (to + verb).

Native speakers use “How about” very often in conversation because it is shorter and faster than repeating an entire question over and over.  Try it yourself in your next conversation.

When I go out shopping on the weekend here in Korea I often see the following English signs at new businesses:

Grand Open! (WRONG!)

New Open! (WRONG!)

Renewal Open! (WRONG!)

Unfortunately, these signs are NOT standard English!  There is a reason you will not see these signs in the U. S.  They are not grammatical.  In all of these signs, “Open” is a verb.  The only time you see verbs on signs written in English is when the verb is a command, such as “STOP”, “YIELD”, or “WATCH FOR FALLING ROCKS”. Most signs in the U.S. are nouns or adjectives.  The signs above should say:

Grand Open –> Grand Opening! [a noun – an event; this store is celebrating a grand opening]

New Open! –> Newly Opened! [adjective – what kind of store; this store is newly opened]

Renewal Open –> Grand Re-opening (after a store has remodeled) [a noun – an event; this store is celebrating a grand re-opening]

Here are a few other signs you might see:

Closed for Remodeling (the store is changing it’s layout)

We Have Moved to ________

Going Out of Business (the store is closing – this is a sign that everything in the store is on sale)

(for the sake of simplicity I only talk about “girlfriends” and “wives” in this post, but everything also applies to “boyfriends” and “husbands” as well)

Many ESL speakers make the mistake of using the verb “make” with girlfriend or wife. English speakers do use the verb “make” when talking about platonic (not romantic) relationships:

It is important to make friends when you move to a new school.

It is difficult to make close friends.

However, we do not use the verb “make” when talking about romantic relationships:

I want to make a girlfriend. (WRONG!)

When will you make a wife? (WRONG!)

Instead, we use the verbs “find” and “get”. (“Find” is more common.)

I need to find a girlfriend.

Where can I find a wife?

It is easy to get a girlfriend, but hard to keep one.

It is hard for some divorced men to get new wives.

“Find” is also sometimes used when talking about platonic friendships.

If you are willing to meet people, you can always find new friends.

There are many questions in English that start with “what do you do?”

What do you do for fun? (What are your hobbies?)

What do you do for exercise? (How do you exercise?)

What do you do after work?

What do you do on the weekend?

All of these questions ask about a person’s habits or routines. However, the most common “what do you do” question is:

What do you do?

This question has a special meaning: what is your job? In my last post, I called phrases like this hidden idioms – common phrases that have been shortened and have a different meaning than expected. (The full phrase is “What do you do for a living?”)

How should you answer this question?  The most common answer is to reply with your job title:

I am a professor.

I am a businessman.

I am a hairdresser.

We do NOT say “My job is a professor.”  Another way to answer the question is to describe your job duties:

I teach English at Korea Nazarene University.

I sell accounting software to local businesses.

I cut hair at a salon.

Finally, if you are unemployed, a common euphemism is: “I’m between jobs.”