Monthly Archives: November 2009

Where's the salt?

I sometimes hear members of my family say this at dinner:

  • “The food is very saltish.”

I used to think that “saltish” sounds weird, but after learning (and teaching) English, I discovered that both could be used, but in different contexts.

  • salty (adj.) = containing salt, or tastes of salt
  • saltish (adj.) = somewhat salty

Let’s compare these two sentences:

  1. Sea water is salty. = it contains salt; it tastes of salt
  2. The fish that you cooked was saltish. = quite salty

So, use “salty” when you want to tell people that the food or beverage you taste contains salt. On the other hand, use “saltish” if the food you taste contains more salt than necessary.

Take note that some dictionaries do not recognise the word “saltish” (e.g.: Cambridge Online Dictionaries).


"send" vs. "fetch"

I was waiting for the elevator this morning when I heard a conversation between these two students:

Sareen: Hi, morning. You drove here today?
Chong: No, my mother fetched me here.

At a glance, nothing appears to be incorrect. However, the word “fetch” is not suitable; it means “pick up” from a place.

fetch (v.): go somewhere, and bring that person back

Therefore, Chong should have said: No, my mother sent me here.

As an analogy, when you throw a stick and you want your canine to go pick it up and bring it back to you, what do you say? “Fetch!” 🙂 You could also use “take” instead of “send“, and “pick up” instead of “fetch“.


  1. I’m waiting for my parents to fetch me. = pick you up from somewhere
  2. Could you please send me to school? = take you from one place to your destination – school)
  3. I’ll get a taxi to take (not fetch) me to your house.
  4. Could you take (not fetch) me to the nearest hospital, please?
  5. I’m late. I’ve to pick my son up (fetch) from school.
  6. Dad’s picking mom up (fetching); she’s already waiting at the station.

"because" vs. "although"

These two words are often use; therefore, we take them for granted. Since they’re common and easy to use, it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Wrong! It is easy words like these that give us headaches, and cost students precious marks in their essays.

  • because: used for giving reasons
  • although: used for expressions that are different from what is expected, or opposite


  1. They are so excited (why?) because they are going bowling tonight.
  2. Because they are going bowling tonight, they are so excited.
  3. He is smiling although he is sad.
  4. Although Yasmin is sad, she is smiling (an opposite reaction – if she is sad, she should be crying, not smiling.)

Things to remember:

  • Never begin a sentence with “because” unless it’s used as an adverb clause as in Sentence #2. Similarly, do not begin a sentence with “although” unless it’s an adverb clause as in Sentence #4.
  • Although” and “but” can never appear in the same sentence. The reason is, both words are used for expressing opposite or unexpected results.

An adverb clause is a group of words that answers the questions where, when and why.

That means, the following sentences are wrong:

  1. Because you are late. (X)
  2. Although many people have died of passive smoking. (X)
  3. Although the H1N1 virus is deadly, but we are still not bothered about it. (X)
  • Sentence #1 is wrong because it’s not a complete sentence. A complete sentence must begin with a subject and followed by a verb.
  • Sentence #2 is wrong for the same reason.
  • Sentence #3 is wrong because “although” and “but” are mutual enemies. They cannot exist in the same sentence. Use only one of them.

Monies anyone?

Those of you who have paid attention in grammar class know that “money” is an uncountable noun. It cannot be pluralised. However, in some instances, you might have come across the word “monies“. How is that possible?

Well, “monies” is not the plural for “money“, though related to it.

money (n.) = the coins and notes that we use for buying things, or a sum that we receive for our goods and services

monies (n.) = the amounts of money received from various sources to help an organisation finance a project


  1. A million dollars is not a lot of money nowadays.
  2. The monies received (from various establishments) will be channelled to different departments fairly.

Take note that “monies” is generally used in business and finance. Here are some other nouns that share similar anomalies.

  • water – waters
  • food – foods
  • work – works

"Amount of" or "number of"

Both phrases are used in describing the quantity of something.

Let’s get straight to the point. Use “amount of” followed by an uncountable noun, and “number of” with a countable noun.


(a) amount of

  • money
  • water
  • time
  • interest
  • information
  1. We have to acknowledge that the amount of false information on the Internet has caused lots of problems.
  2. The amount of time spent on playing should be spent on studying instead.

(b) number of

  • people
  • times
  • words
  • issues
  • episodes
  1. I’ve asked a number of people about it, but no one seems to know what had occurred.
  2. They’ve been to Malaysia a number of times, so they’re familiar with some places on interest.

When you use “number of“, the nouns are always in the plural form.

If I Were You…

“If I were you, I would [start exercising].”

How often have you heard someone say that statement?  Our teachers have taught us that singular subjects are followed by singular verbs. Check out my post on Subject-verb Agreement.

Back to the above statement. Why do we use the verb “were” instead of “was“? The answer is, it has something to do with “mood” of the verbs used. There are three types of mood:

  • indicative: “You have to come.”
  • imperative: “Come here!”
  • subjunctive: “If I were taller, I would be able to reach it.”

(a) Present subjunctive

In the present subjunctive, use “were” for people.


  • If I were rich, I would be a philanthropist.

→ I am not rich (this is a factual statement).

(b) Past subjunctive

In the past subjunctive mood, use “had” in all cases.


  • If the police had arrived sooner, the robber wouldn’t have escaped.

→ The police arrived late (this is a factual statement).

Remember this:
Subjunctive mood is the use of “mood” verbs to express conditions, hypotheses, and wishes.

Mass Nouns

Learners of grammar know that nouns are words that name people, objects and abstract ideas. For instance, words like house, John, insect, happiness etc. are all nouns. Click here for more details on nouns.

Some nouns can be quantified, or counted. These are called countable nouns (e.g.: house – houses; child – children; book – books); others cannot be counted. These are mass nouns or uncountable nouns.

Here are some mass nouns:


  • news
  • information
  • furniture
  • stationery
  • equipment
  • baggage
  • jewellery
  • hardware
  • machinery
  • scenery

Mass nouns cannot be pluralised as they are considered as ONE unit.  That means, you cannot add an “-s” or “-ies” at the end of the word. So, it is incorrect to say these:

  1. I need informations about that case immediately. (X)
  2. My parents are going to IKEA to look at a few furnitures. (X)
  3. We took pictures of beautiful sceneries when we were in Paris. (X)
  4. I’m going to the bookstore to get my stationeries. (X)
  5. A few jewelleries were stolen from the goldsmith last night. (X)

Mass nouns should be preceded by “some” or “the” only, and always use singular verbs.

  1. I need some information about that case immediately. (√)
  2. My parents are going to IKEA to look at some furniture. (√)
  3. We took pictures of beautiful scenery when we were in Paris. (√)
  4. I’m going to the bookstore to get my stationery. (√)
  5. The jewellery was (not “were”) stolen from the goldsmith last night. (√)

Transition Signals in Use

In today’s post, I shall demonstrate how transition signals are used.

(a) to add information:

  • in addition, furthermore, moreover, besides, in fact


  1. Tommy was promoted, finally. In addition, he also received a cash reward of $500 as an incentive.
  2. You cannot go out today. Besides, it’s probably going to rain cats and dogs later.

(b) to contrast information:

  • on the other hand, in contrast, nevertheless, on the contrary, despite, however


  1. John’s a stingy person. On the other hand his brother is a philanthropist.
  2. I’ve read “Harry Potter” before. Nevertheless I still find watching the movie as exciting as reading it.
  3. Despite being a disabled, Steven Hawking became one of the most brilliant and highly-respected scientists ever.

(c) to compare information:

  • similarly, likewise, in the same way


  1. When you’re at the theatre, you have to be silent. Similarly you do the same in the cinema.
  2. There has been keen interest in recent natural calamities. Likewise, interest in books on prophecy has increased.

(d) to order information by time:

  • after that, before that, then, at first, firstly, secondly, next, lastly, eventually, finally


  1. At first, he said that he couldn’t recall what happened. Then he told the police that he was clobbered on the head by a man with a scar on his face.
  2. Suhaimi made many attempts to call the hospital. Finally he managed to get through the emergency unit.

(e) to show cause or effect:

  • as a result, consequently, therefore, thus, hence


  1. The employee worked extremely hard. As a result, he became so ill that he couldn’t work anymore.
  2. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, hence his alter-ego is called Spiderman.

(f) to show concession:

  • of course, naturally


  1. You are not allowed to copy. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t move from your seat.
  2. When they’re alone, they miss home a lot. Naturally, they want to live with their parents.

(g) to conclude:

  • in conclusion, to summarise
  1. In conclusion, smoking causes not only health but financial problems, too.
  2. To summarise, students prefer studying locally as they’re able to be closer to home, spend less and help boost the economy.

(h) to exemplify information:

  • for example, for instance


  1. There are a few important rules to follow when you visit Malaysia. For example, offering bribes is a crime and smuggling drugs could put you behind bars.
  2. Nobody likes you because of your attitude. For instance, you don’t care, you’re lazy and you’re selfish.

Here’s what you would get if you use transition signals too liberally:

We were unable to watch a movie today. It was too crowded. In addition, the tickets have all been sold out. Besides, I don’t think it was a good movie. In addition, my friend has already bought the CD. Therefore, we could watch at home. Then, my friend and I went shopping instead. Then, we stopped by the handphone shop to get a top-up card. After that, we ate some snacks at Burger King. However, the burgers were too small. For instance, we could finish our burgers in just one bite. Of course, we were hungry, but we were also on a strict diet. In conclusion, we didn’t enjoy our day.

Can you count how many are there? 😀  – so remember, do not OVERUSE transition signals or your paragraph would appear to be strange.

Transition Signals

Transition signals are not related to physics or astronomy. These are words that are used when we want to connect one sentence with another to show a continuity of ideas, and to show a smooth flow (transition) from one sentence and paragraph to the next. Transition signals have the following functions:

(a) to add information:

  • in addition, furthermore, moreover, besides, in fact

(b) to contrast information:

  • on the other hand, in contrast, nevertheless, on the contrary, despite, however

(c) to compare information:

  • similarly, likewise, in the same way

(d) to order information by time:

  • after that, before that, then, at first, firstly, secondly, next, lastly, eventually, finally

(e) to show cause or effect:

  • as a result, consequently, therefore, thus, hence

(f) to show concession:

  • of course, naturally

(g) to conclude:

  • in conclusion, to summarise

(h) to exemplify information:

  • for example, for instance

It is important to note that you should never overuse transition signals just because you have learnt it, or you believe that it makes your paragraph more interesting. Use transition signals sparingly and naturally. I shall provide some examples on the usage in the next post.

The Longest Word

What’s the longest English word ever? As far as I know, medical and technical terms are indeed very long. Look at this word:

  • otorhinolaryngologist

This is a 21-letter medical term – a medical profession commonly known as ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. Let’s break it down into more digestible parts. I’m not sure what “oto” means, but “rhino” is related to the nose (like rhinoplasty, a nose job) and “larynx” is the tissue in your throat that gives you your voice. Thus, join them together, and you’ll get otorhinolaryngologist. I seriously don’t know why it’s not called “audiarhinolaryngologist“.

As you can see, it’s not really the longest word. It’s considered the longest just because it’s a combination of various other words to coin a new word.  For the record, the longest word that you could find in a dictionary is:

  • Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis (45 letters)

This word, coined around 1935, is found in the Oxford English Dictionary (don’t know which version), and that word means. “a  lung disease caused by the inhalation of volcanic ash, causing inflammation in the lungs.” If you know of any other very long words that exist in a dictionary, do share with us in this blog.

Oh, another thing. The longest unofficial word consists of an unbelievable 189,819 letters – a chemical name to describe the largest protein. It’s not even possible to pronounce! Here’s just part of it as I don’t have the complete word:


Gee, come to think of it, these can not even be English words!  😛