Monthly Archives: September 2009

"Who", "Whom" or "Whose"

These three words are also called relative pronouns as they are able to take the place of a pronoun. Relative pronouns have caused lots of confusion among students. When do you use “who“, “whom” and “whose“? See the following examples:

  1. The boy who lives next door has a big mole on his face.
  2. The boy whom we just met has a big mole on his face.
  3. The boy whose father is a politician has a big mole on his face.

The underlined words describe which boy the speaker is talking about. Therefore, they are adjective clauses. Furthermore, all three sentences could be separated in order to explain the difference. Let’s use the same three sentences:

4. The boy has a big mole on his face. He lives next door.
5. The boy has a big mole on his face. We just met him.
6. The boy has a big mole on his face. His father is a politician.

Sentence #1 means exactly the same as Sentence #4,
Sentence #2 means exactly the same as Sentence #5, and
Sentence #3 means exactly the same as sentence #6

In Sentence #4, the pronoun “he” is the Subject of the sentence: “He lives next door.” Therefore, you have to use “who“.
In Sentence #5, the pronoun “him“, is the Object of the sentence: “We just met him.” Therefore, use “whom“.
In Sentence #6, the pronoun “his” shows possession. Therefore use “whose“.

Take Note:
Subject pronouns = he, she, it, I, you, we, they
Object pronouns = him, her, it, me, you, us, them
Possessive (adjective) = his, her, its, my, your, our, their

Elaboration (sentence pattern rule):

He lives next door. – “he” is the Subject of the sentence, so use “who
(S)   (V)

We just met him. – “him”  is the Object of the sentence, so use “whom
(S)           (V)  (O)

Remember this:
When you join sentences together using adjective clauses, you cannot simply join them with “who“, “whom” or “whose” immediately after your main sentences, so it is wrong to say:

  • The boy has a big mole on his face who lives next door. (X)
  • The boy has a big mole on his face whom we just met him. (X)
  • The boy has a big mole on his face whose his father is a politician. (X)

Now try this. Join these sentences correctly with “who“, “whom” or “whose. I’ve underlined the subjects, objects and possessives to help you:

  1. The doctor is a well-qualified medical practitioner. He is wearing a thick pair of glasses.
  2. This dog comes from the dog pound. Its owner was a criminal.
  3. The old lady comes from a wealthy family. She owns two shophouses in the city.
  4. The girls have identical characters. Their parents are farmers.
  5. The three children were my neighbour’s children. The firemen rescued them.
  6. That elderly man is a college professor. I talked to him earlier.

"Wake up" or "Get up"

Often, we use the phrase “wake up” when we actually mean “get up“, and vice versa. Both are not interchangeable. It is incorrect to say: “I got up at 7:00 a.m. today” when you had actually just opened your eyes at that time! Both sentences below are correct but mean differently:

  1. Peter woke up in the middle of the night.
  2. Peter got up in the middle of the night.

Wake up” means opening your eyes after sleeping.

Get up” means repositioning your body from a lying down position to stand on the ground.

Sentence #1 actually makes more sense because Peter has to wake up first before getting up.


  1. When you fall, you have to get up and continue running.
  2. I’m too lazy to get up; they weather’s so cool and I could continue sleeping.
  3. They didn’t sleep well because their newborn baby woke up often at night.
  4. Wake up!! It’s already 9:00 a.m., and you’re late for work.

Some people use the phrase “get out”. Avoid using this phrase. “Get out” generally means leave (somewhere), escape or withdraw.

The Special Word

The word “special” is really unique. It could come in various forms, and are used differently to mean different things. What’s the difference between the two sentences below?

  1. I’ve made this greeting card specially for you.
  2. I love your greeting cards, especially this one.

specially vs. especially

  • specially (adv.) means “very” and “for one purpose
  • especially (adv.)  means “particularly” or “mainly


  1. I specially like your ponytail.
  2. I made this craft specially for you.
  3. I rains heavily, especially in October.
  4. John plays lots of computer games, especially adventure games.

specialization vs.  speciality (US: specialty)

  • specialization (n.) means “knowing a lot about something
  • speciality (n.) means “distinct”, “novelty


  1. Teaching how to use multimedia in the learning process is his specialization.
  2. Cardiology is not his specialization; he specializes in oncology.
  3. The local speciality is mat-weaving.
  4. The menu says that today’s speciality is pumpkin soup.

Especially especially

This morning, as I was tuned in to the local radio station, there was a talk show. The topic was about men’s expectations towards women.  I was at the traffic lights when I heard the following statement:

  • I like all kinds of people especially men.

At a glance, the statement appears to be correct. Look closer, and you’ll ask yourself, besides men and women, what other kinds of people are there?  Perhaps the caller was referring to people with different characteristics like kindness, gentleness, honesty, courage etc. Whatever it is, the word “especially” was wrongly used in that statement.

Perhaps the caller was trying to say one of the following:

  • I like everyone.
  • I like loving, gentle and courageous men.
  • I like men who have a good social status.

I’m not exactly sure, but what do you think the caller meant?

If you’d like to learn more about “especially” and its related cousins, click here.

"Push off" to go?

I quite often hear people say “push off” to mean “go / leave“. See this example:

  • We’re going to push off at 2pm tomorrow.

I’ve checked the Cambridge Dictionary (UK) and (US), and discovered that “push off” means “depart”  or “leave in the U.S. dictionary, while the U.K. dictionary doesn’t include this meaning. See how we mix English varieties when we speak and write? The gap between UK English and US English is getting narrower. One fine day, there won’t be a gap anymore, and we would use both varieties interchangeably without having the need to distinguish which is UK English and which is US English.

The "only" problem

The word “only” is an adverb which we often use to denote “limited” or “not more”. The word has other meanings as well but let’s focus on its most common usage.

Observe these examples. Do these sentences have the same meaning?

  1. Only I eat durians.
  2. I eat only durians.
  3. I eat durians only.
  4. I only eat durians.

Indeed. the word “only” is most commonly used but it is also the most incorrectly used in a sentence. Its position in a sentence determines the meaning of the sentence. Let me explain each of the four sentences.

Sentence #1: Only I eat durians

  • It means no one else eats durians except me.

Sentence #2 and #3: I eat only durians / I eat durians only

  • It means the durian is my favourite fruit. I don’t eat other fruit at all.

Sentence #4: I only eat durians

  • It shows you eat the fruit but you don’t take it if it’s in liquid form.

Now, you try and see what the following sentences mean. Which do you think is more romantic? 😛

  1. Only I love you.
  2. I only love you.
  3. I love you only.

Tell a Story

Listen to this story carefully and then answer the questions that follow. If you need the answers, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail 🙂

Here are the questions:

  1. Compare the first young man with the second one in terms of their attitudes towards the old man.
  2. How did the man’s mother react when she saw him on television?
  3. In your opinion, why did the TV station record the incident?
  4. Why did the young man hesitate to answer the telephone when it rang?

What do these phrases mean?

  1. in the gutter (1:22)
  2. sympathetic gaze (1:39)
  3. some loose change (1:45)

"Lend" or "Borrow"

It is common for certain non-native speakers of English to use the word “lend” and “borrow” interchangeably. Though the meaning is the same, their usage in a sentence is actually different.

Lend” is used with the preposition “to

Borrow” is used with the preposition “from


  1. I’m lending this book to you for a week. (√)
  2. I borrowed some money from my father. (√)
  3. Please lend (to) me a few dollars. (√)
  4. You may borrow a few dollars from me. (√)
  5. Please borrow me a few dollars. (X)

In Sentence #3, the preposition “to” is omitted when there is a pronoun immediately after the word “lend“.

Sentence #5 is commonly uttered by some students, but is wrong because it doesn’t make sense. Firstly, the preposition “from”  is missing. Secondly, you cannot borrow a human. You can only borrow something from someone.

Here’s a simple formula to help you remember the difference:

  • lend = giving out , lend TO
  • borrow = taking in , borrow FROM

Spelling Challenge

The Malaysian education curriculum has changed over the years. When I was a kid, I remember having weekly spelling tests. For each mistake made, we had to correct it five times. This was always followed by Dictation, where we had to listen, and as we did that, we had to rewrite a paragraph that we had read as per our teacher’s instructions. These skills disappeared a while as teachers were overwhelmed with more duties, and as new education ministers took over.

The good old days of giving spelling  tests were rejuvenated when our local newspaper, The New Straits Times, mooted the idea of having a spelling challenge called “Spell It Right” (SIR) in 2008. Here’s an excerpt from a video taken during one of the competitions. The footage is rather shaky:

As I watched this clip, I wondered if verbally spelling a word out would enrich a person’s vocabulary and make them better English users.  Could the SIR motivate students to be good learners of English and correctly use the words that they’ve spelt? Do they know how the word “privilege” is used without being told? How effective is SIR in assessing students’ level of language proficiency, or is the SIR just “having fun with language” to fulfill the national agenda without any follow up to gauge its effectiveness in language learning?  I honestly don’t know.

Now, let’s look at how others run their spelling challenges which are also held annually. I shall not over-compare the SIR with the Spelling Bee as the competitors in the clips are all native speakers, but look at how the competitions are conducted, and how interactive and entertaining the events are. Enjoy both video clips.

What’s your comment on this issue? 🙂