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Your English Questions of the Month

Average: 2.3 (9 votes)

Every month we ask our newsletter readers to send in their questions to Tim, our English teacher at EC Brighton English language school, about the English language. Here are your questions:


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November's Star Question!

Thanks to Maria Aura for this question:

In a reading I've found the sentence "the kind of things you are used to seeing in films". Why 'used to seeing' and not 'used to see'? Is it wrong writing 'used to see'?

In this particular context 'used to see' is wrong. If you are familiar with / accustomed to something, you use 'be /get used to + noun or ...ing'
Eg, "I am used to the English weather". ( be + used to = state )
It might take you a while to 'get used to driving on the left hand side of the road in England'. (get + used to = process)
In this context, after 'get' or 'be', 'used' to is rather like an adjective and the particle to is a preposition here, not part of any infinitive.
To talk about habits or other things we did in the past which we no longer do, we use 'used to' as a verb form. And the 'to' here is part of the infinitive form which follows.
Eg, "I used to walk to school."
"She used to smoke 40 a day."
All the best,

a / an

I feel very confused when using the or a/an before noun, can you make it clear to me ?
Le Pham Hoang Anh, Viet Nam.

This cannot be explained any more clearly by me than it would be by a good grammar book. The uses of articles can be very confusing indeed, and there are many different uses and exceptions; too many to deal with here.

I met / I have met

Could you tell me if there is a difference between "I have met with famous people and "I have met famous people"
Nargis Yusupova

Yes I can. Saying, 'I met with famous people' is wrong, and saying, 'I met famous people' is right. In British English, the verb meet does not take the preposition with, except in the structure 'to have a meeting with someone'.

at home

Why according to the english grammar (like Murphy) you should say: AT home?
-Where is Tom?
-At home.
But in ALL movies that I've seen actors say something like: 'I'm home'! or 'Daddy is home!'
Polushina Alexandra

When you are at or arriving home, it is common to say 'I'm home' or to say on the phone to whoever is at home 'I'm coming home'. If you are not at home and you are talking about where something/someone is, it's usual to say , 'They're at home'.


How can we distinguish between the relative pronoun 'who/m' as subject and object, please?
Saidani Ayoub

Erm, who is the subject and whom is the object-easy! Or was there a more complicated request hidden in that rather simple question?


Does the verb 'can' have infinitive?
Angela Bokor, Romania

Yes and no. The modal verbs are just themselves, though 'would' can be used as the past of 'will', 'could' of 'can' and 'should' of 'shall'. However, 'to be able to' has the same meaning as 'can' so is often referred to as its infinitive.

made it possible

Why we shall use "made it possible", not to use "made me to"
Correct statement: Dad's encouragement made it possible for me to face difficulties in life.
Error statement: Dad's encouragement made me to face difficulties in life.
Lawrence Chang, Taiwan

They are not the same! 'Make it possible for someone to do something' is a collocation; a fixed structure. The other structure you suggested is not correct at all, that's why it's not used. Simple!

'Make' can also be followed by an object and infintive without 'to'.
"He made me wait with him." "She made him rewrite his assignment."

do something / have something done

1. "They had the swamp to cut last year.": Why it is 'to cut' but not 'cut'?
2. "What this you do this morning?" "We got to the room whitewashed.": Why it is 'got to' but not 'had'?
3. "I have had my room clean today.": Why it is 'clean' but not 'cleaned'?
There sentences above aren't causative form ? What are they?

Questions 2 and 3 are wrong anyway so I'm not going to bother answering them - no one says those things! LOL, Where did you hear them?
Not too sure about the 1st question either but the meanings are as follows.
'To have something to do' . So, We had the swamp to cut last year means that last year, we had to do something, and that was to cut the swamp.
'To have something done'. So, We had the swamp cut last year means that last year someone cut the swamp for us.

reported speech

Yesterday I got a message from my student: "I will start coming to the class from Thursday"
Now I want to report this to my Center Head. How do I say?
Option 1: He says he will start coming from Thursday (since today is Wednesday and we are talking about future)
Option 2: He said he would start coming from Thursday (because it's reported speech, I should use only the past)
Ranjani Narayanan

Both are fine!

auxilary verbs

Tell me please why the auxilliary verb is not used in the example as follows - "How many people came to the party ?"
and why the auxilliary verb is used in the following example - "How many hours did it take me to get from Kiev to London ?"

If the question is about the subject of the sentence you do not use the auxiliary do, How many people came to the party? Ans: 40 people came to the party.
How many people/40 people are the subjects.
If the question is about the object, you DO use the auxiliary.
How many hours did it take...? Ans: It took 10 hours.
How many hours/10 hours are the objects.


I would like to ask you about the meaning of this sentence : "You have been shortlisted". Can you help me, please! I never heard this expression before!
Liliana Moldovan, Romania

Imagine that you and 99 other people go a job interview at a company. The company has the names of 100 people on a list. After the company interviews everyone they make a another list. This time the list is much shorter and only has the names of the people they are considering for the job. This is the 'shortlist'. 'You have been shortlisted' means that your name is on the shortlist along with a few other people. You are therefore close to being chosen.

nothing / everything

Is better to say "I know nothing" or "I don't know everything"? Why?
Petr Langer, Czech Republic

They have different meanings.
For example, "I know nothing about economics" means my knowledge of economics is 0%. We can also say "I don't know anything about economics."
"I don't know everything about economics" means that you know a lot about economics but you are not 100% on the subject.

Link: Which question is best?