In other articles I have chosen various aspects of the English language system to examine as a whole. For example, I have looked at present and future tenses, spelling and pronunciation, and how to wish in English.
I now want to present a mixed selection of difficulties that do not fall under any specific area of grammar but can be called examples of usage.
Definition of usage
@Usage is about individual words and phrases. There are no generic rules or logical explanations for the way they behave. It's just how we happen to say things.~ For the learner who is looking for patterns in language, this can be frustrating because usage has to be learned case by case.
Usage difficulty: often
A first example will help to make the usage problem clear. The word often does not seem to be too difficult. The student quickly learns its meaning and that it usually occupies second position in the sentence. For example: I often play tennis on Sundays or My mother often phoned me when I was living in London.
But if he tries to follow the pattern and says My mother often phoned me yesterday, he is unfortunately using the word incorrectly. Often can refer to events that are repeated over a longer stretch of time, but not to those events that happen in a shorter time period. It has to be something like My mother phoned me many times yesterday.
Similarly, it is incorrect usage to say My car often broke down on the way home if you are referring to one journey. It has to be My car kept breaking down. Or My car broke down several times. It is acceptable, however, if you are referring to all the journeys you made home over a longer period of time: My car often broke down on the way home until I finally took it to the garage.
There is no particular reason why often should behave in this way - it is just so.
Usage difficulty: for long
Now consider the phrases for long and for a long time. These might seem to be synonyms, but in fact they have quite different usages and meanings. You can say I waited for a long time but I waited for long is not possible.
Conversely, you can say I didn't wait for long but I didn't wait for a long time does not mean the same and is in fact an unlikely expression. Its use is just possible in the following situation: For a long time I didn't wait for the postman to come, but after my grandmother became sick I started to wait anxiously for him every day.
Usage difficulty: verb constructions
Now let's look at various verb constructions. The words suggest and advise have very similar meanings but their usage is different. We can say both I advise you to go and I advise that you go, but only I suggest that you go is correct. I suggest you to go is not possible. Conversely, I want you to go is right but I want that you go is not.
There's a similar problem with the synonyms like and enjoy. We can say both I like playing tennis and I like to play tennis. But I enjoy playing tennis is correct, whereas I enjoy to play tennis is not.
And consider the antonyms stop and start. She started eating is the opposite of She stopped eating. But She started to eat is not the opposite of She stopped to eat.
1. Can you explain the difference in meaning of the following two sentences?
- He didn't eat for long.
- He didn't eat for a long time.
She didn't eat for long means that she ate for a few minutes and then stopped whereas She didn't eat for a long time means she did not eat, possibly because of illness, for a long period of time and then she started eating again.
2. Which constructions using "go" are correct with the verbs allow, defy, command, insist and hope? For example, are both I insist you to go and I insist that you go correct, only one of them or neither of them?
- I allow you to go I allow that you go
- I defy you to go I defy that you go
- I command you to go I command that you go
- I insist you to go I insist that you go
- I hope you to go I hope that you go
3. What does She stopped to eat mean?
She stopped to eat does not mean the same as She stopped eating. It means she stopped whatever she was doing and started to eat. For example, she had been walking in the mountains for several hours. Then she stopped walking in order to eat.
4. Which one of the following expressions is incorrect usage?
- I don't think she will come
- I don't believe she will come
- I don't suppose she will come
- I don't hope she will come
- I don't imagine she will come
I don't hope she will come is incorrect usage. It has to be: I hope she doesn't come.
5. Look at the following sets of sentences. Which, if any, of the sentences in each set is incorrect usage?
The following sentences are not usual English formulations:
- I was written a letter by my grandmother.
- It cost a lot of dollars.
- It's raining. I know it!
- Bye. I'll see you a few days later.
Paper is made of wood
A reader of this page objected to my designation of this sentence as incorrect, so I set out for him
my reasoning: A statue made of wood is carved out of a piece of wood, not made by processing wood and
then forming it. Paper, on the other hand,
made from processed wood.
Hence it may be slightly better to say Paper is made out of wood. But the difference is very subtle and probably ignored by most people. I think the reader was right in his objection. .
- Do you want coffee cups or tea ones?
- We must have a meal together once.
- That book is a little interesting.
- (Is that the new teacher?) I believe. I believe it.
- Thank you a lot.
Here you can read more about usage, including a detailed explanation of the term itself. The page also contains references and links to other usage resources.