Monday, December 29, 2008

"Later" and "recently" are used in past tense

> What will I be a decade later?

Normally, "later" is used in a past tense sentence. Here you can say "in a decade", "in ten years", "ten years down the road", or "ten years from now on".

Similarly, "recently" is only used in past tense (see "最近" is not always "recently"). In the future tense, you can say "in the near future" or "before long".

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Off-topic: Year end charity - Half the Sky

Over the past few years I've been searching for the perfect charity. Except for the times when there're natural disasters in China, I regularly donate to American Red Cross. But a message passing among Chinese immigrants a few months ago alerted me to the Red Cross executive director's half a million dollar pay (search on, which appalls me. So my search continues.

In the last year or two, I came to know an organization named Half the Sky ( The more I watched it, the more I like it. The executive, apparently an American, spends her time and energy focusing on one thing, helping Chinese orphans in mainland China. They take abandoned kids, strive to provide a loving care environment and turn them into happy, confident and productive members of the society. For young kids, every effort is made to find them a permenant loving home. For older kids, Half the Sky provides them education opportunities, so they can become self-supported adults. Compared to monthly $35 per African child a Houston church sponsors, Half the Sky with its efficiency needs $25 for a Chinese orphan. We have choosy friends that donate to them and we become their donors as well.

I don't work for Half the Sky and the organizers don't know me. But I'd like to promote awareness of this California-registered charity. I regularly receive their newsletters, which are always centered around the kids. Their work during the Sichuan earthquake deeply touched me. The latest news from them asks for donation, as usual, but unlike in other years, they're experiencing particular difficulty due to slowdown of the US and global economy, and many people's unemployment. I encourage those that still have a job and can lend a helping hand to the Chinese orphans to consider supporting Half the Sky, even just for this Christmas.

P.S. I don't know if anybody ever wrote this, but I want to tell you that charity donation of complete willingness, I do mean absolute willingness free of any pressure, is benefitial to our health. The feeling of being content when you do that is pure and religious. You do a good deed, and you're rewarded accordingly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

No concatenation of sentences with comma

> 1. There are 50 stars on America's national flag, each ______ a state.
> A. standing for
> B stands for
> C represented
> D to represent
> In my opinion the answer of the question should be B

A is correct. Too many people (especially Chinese learning English) write two sentences separated by a comma. In English grammar, that's incorrect. If needed, the comma can be changed to semicolon so the second sentence further explains the first one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


> 由于现在一些“适合中国人的英英词典”面世,
> 我本人也使用了多年,觉得是比英汉词典查
> 得更多单词,但是在记忆词汇的释义时不知
> 道该记 中文释义还是英文释义?如果记英文
> 释义,觉得效率似乎不高,如果记中文释义

Question: When you as a Chinese student learn a new English word, should you memorize its English or Chinese definition? The English definition suffers from low efficiency and the Chinese definition obstructs thinking in English.

Answer: How about memorizing its English synonym? Let's say the word is "cranky". You remember its meaning as "unhappy". Since "unhappy" is a very easy word, using that for its meaning won't be harder than using the Chinese translation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Off-topic: Barack Obama is not an ordinary black man

While economy is definitely the top issue, Asian Americans have one other item in the top priority list, i.e., personal safety, or crime rate. On average, one Asian immigrant gets killed per year in homocide in the greater Houston area, mostly by a black man, occasionally by a Hispanic. (The number may be higher because I only care about high profile cases and mostly only cases involving Chinese immigrants.) And there's frequent robbery, once per week maybe. This is one of the reasons Asians hesitate about Obama.

Let me use the term "black" here instead of "African Americans" but I have no intention to be politically incorrect. The reason for this choice of word is that American black people have very different traits compared to the African Americans proper, those that grew up in Africa and immigrated to the US, or to a less extent those whose parents, but not grandparents which is too far away, grew up in Africa. I want to bring to my Asian friends' attention that Obama is nearly a true African American. I won't say much here about the difference but I think you can guess what it is.

As I alluded to in my earlier off-topic posting, assuming no ill intention, an intelligent man does good deed, and tremendously good deed if given high power, just as a dumb man does dumb things, and tremendously stupid things if given high power. Although McCain could bring some prosperity, or rather less economic disaster, to Houston, than Obama, the wide area properity or less economic damage would be better achieved by a man with more brain cells. Lastly, an America with weaker emphasis on war mongering will win more friends in the world, and if done right, less hatred from Americans' enemy and terrorists. (I bet most people don't know the three reasons Bin Laden quoted why he hated the US. It's in a long PBS article in late 2001.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Omission of "to" after "is"

> All you can do is remove yourself from her mailing list
> remove 这事做什么词性 充当什么成分

You can omit "to" only if it follows "all [or what] ... to do", e.g.,

All you can do is wait.
All there is to do is wait.
What needs to be done is ask for more money.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I used Longman a long time ago. The example sentences are the best among all dictionaries I've used. Longman also has a rule that the examples only use words from a 2000-word vocabulary. (There're exceptions and the exception words are clearly marked.) Back in the days without the Internet, example sentences in dictionaries are crucial to English study. Now you can find them with a Google search. But still sentences in dictionaries are guaranteed to be correct in grammar and spelling. I highly recommend it to the people studying English as a foreign language.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Off-topic: More freedom after Olympics and used to be blocked in mainland China, until some time before the Beijing Olympics. I was not sure whether the blockage would be lifted after the Games. Now it's mid-October, two months after the Games. The two web sites seem to be still open in China. And it's said foreign journalists in China get extended freedom about street interviews. Regardless other problems, I'm glad to see the positive effect of the Olympic Games on China's progress.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Singular or plural: "bird's nest" and "apple tree"

> 为啥鸟巢用 bird's nest 而苹果树没有's呢?
> 还有为啥是bird's nest 而不是birds' nest呢??
> 为啥是apple tree 而不是apples tree呢?

I'm not sure why we don't say birds' (or birds's) nest, even though the nest we're referring to should be for more than one "bird". Just remember it for now.

"Apples tree" is wrong. You always use singular noun as an adjective, like "car mechanic", "computer network" (even though the network connects to many computers).

> 我知道100-meter race这种表达是对的
> 但是有没有 100 meters race这种表达的?!
> 或者是应该100 meters' race?

100-meter race or 100 meters race. Either one is OK. I'm not sure if I've seen 100 meters' race (with an apostrophe). Also see message 8 by yuzhoucn at

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to read keyboard symbols

~tilde (sounds like til-da); be prepared to explain to non-technical people saying "you know, the wave-shaped thingy"
!exclamation; commonly read as bang in computer shell programming as in #!/bin/sh
#pound; but commonly read as shee in computer shell programming as in #!/bin/sh, not sure why
^caret; not many people know this word so be prepared to say "no, not carrot; it's the character above 6, an arrow pointing up"
*star; some read asterisk
(opening parenthesis (some may shorten it saying paren)
)closing parenthesis
_underscore; once I heard people say underbar
-minus, hyphen; as symbol before arguments in commands, some people including me read dash, easier to say one syllable
`backtick or backquote
{opening brace
}closing brace
[opening bracket
]closing bracket
|pipe or vertical bar
\backslash; be prepared to explain to some non-technical people
"double quote
'single quote
<less than; some may read left angle bracket
>greater than
.dot; period if in English text
?question mark
/slash or forward slash; some non-technical people may be confused about / and \
(), [] and {} may also be called brackets in general. In that case, they specifically call [] square brackets and {} curly brackets. I never like this. Open and closing may also be called left and right.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Difference in pronunciation between "fond" and "found"

It's better to listen to a good speaker. I think most Chinese have problems with "ou" in "found" or "ow" in "town". If you slowly pronounce "found" as f-a-u-n-d, it will be good. Instead, many Chinese pronounce "found" and "fond" as (I think) f-a-n-g-d. "Fond" is really f-o-n-d, where "n" is not "ng", and "o" is that in "dog".

"up to now" and "up till now"

> up till now一般是和现在完成时搭配的,表示个时间一直持续到现在。
> Until now, doctors have/had been able to do very little to treat
> this disease.

Generally, "up to now" is different from "up till [or until] now". When you have the word "till" or "until" in a negative sentence, it implies that something did not happen before that point in time BUT IT DID HAPPEN AT THAT TIME! The above sentence you gave means that the doctors now ARE ABLE TO do something significant to treat this disease. "up to now" may or may not have that implication or side effect. It's much less used. In fact, I always say "until [till] now" to HAVE that side effect and "so far" to AVOID that. and claim that "up to now" can only be used in negative sentences (see e.g. That may be just grammarians' summary. You can see people's usage by searching on Google for this phrase (wrap the three words in double quotes), and ignore the cases where the phrase "be up to" is meant.

The implied state of change by "until" or "till" in English probably does not exist in other languages, such as Chinese, and possibly French, Spanish, or German (e.g. "Les restructurations ne se traduisent pas jusqu'ici dans les inscriptions à Pôle emploi", literally meaning "So far the restructuring does not result in enrollment at the employment center", and Google translator uses the phrase "so far" for "jusqu'ic").

Monday, August 18, 2008

Translation of "班长"

[quote]原帖由 lavender0914 于 2008-8-19 09:22 发表
I hope our monitor is all right now. 我希望班长已经一切正常。[/quote]

I vaguely remember the translation of "班长" to "monitor" in some Chinese-English dictionary. That's misleading, to put it nicely. I know exactly what a 班长 is. In case anybody had a chance to watch the American TV series produced by PBS (Public Broadcast Station) a few days ago, the interview with a Chinese 班长 student used the term "class president". I think that's a fair translation, although it can only be understood by American audience based on the context, because there's no such role among the students in the US.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Off-topic: Post a message and sign with real name

>> ...
>> Yong Huang

> 楼上每次发帖子都要署名累不累?

It's actually a well established etiquette on the Internet, or Netiquette as some call it. Chinese forums are different for some reason, probably because most members are younger. But if you post questions to a forum non-Chinese participate in, lack of a name at the end is not polite. See
---begin quote---
By the way, please note that many people on this list usually do not respond
to questions posted by anonymous parties. Myself included. In the future,
if you want help, please have the good manners to identify yourself. At
least be good enough to provide a name more meaningful than "anysql".
---end quote---

(The user anysql is my Chinese friend doing Oracle DBA work in Shanghai. He's a good guy by the way.)

Some people use forum signature to automatically sign at the end to save typing. You can do so too.

"Comp time"

----- BEGIN QUOTE -----
If you need to work six hours on a Saturday to deploy a software update to avoid downtime during business hours, you get, There’s no comp time for that since you’re on salary.That’s why we pay you the big bucks!”

请问这就话里的There’s no comp time for that since you’re on salary.是什么意思? 我感觉像是不给加班费的意思,请高人指点
----- END QUOTE -----

In the US, "comp time" means compensation time, not overtime pay or 加班费. Instead, the company allows you to take some time off to compensate for your extra working hours.

与老外交流最不该说的八句话 (Taboos when talking to non-Chinese)

----- BEGIN QUOTE -----
一戒:不问年龄。西方人的年龄是保密的。特别是24岁以后绝不会谈论自己的年龄。   二戒:不问财物。一个人的收入和随身所戴的财物都与个人的能力、地位、脸面等有 关。   三戒:不问婚姻。这属于个人隐私。让一位老大不小的外宾交待自己尚未婚配并不是件愉快的事情。   四戒:不问住址。西方人认为给人留下住址,就得请对方到家作客。西方人是不喜欢 随便请人到家里作客的。   五戒:不问经历。这是对方的“老底”,也是商业秘密,西方人是不会轻易让人摸 到自己的底牌的。外宾认为这是不友好的盘问,是干涉别人的私生活。   六戒:不问信仰。政治见解和宗教信仰都是非常严肃的。   七戒:不问行踪。   八戒:不问吃饭
----- END QUOTE -----

Westerners are not all equal. Europeans are more private. Americans are more open, especially southerners. The first two rules are correct regardless, even for young generation Chinese nowadays. But the third is not quite right. It's OK to ask "You have kids?" Not quite the same as "Are you married?" but close, although Americans may be single Moms or Dads at a higher probability than Chinese. Asking "Are you married?" sounds strange. You can ask "You have family?" That's acceptable. The fourth is very wrong. It's perfectly OK to ask "Where do you live?" or if you know he stays in a hotel, "Where do you stay?" The fifth is wrong too. You can ask "Where were you before you joined [your company name]?" or "What were you doing before you ...?" Just don't keep asking too much unless he's interviewing for a job. The rest of the rules are probably OK. Again, my observation is from an American's perspective. Europeans could be different.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Skill to explain things in different ways

> 如果已经学会界定,但理解还有偏差,那就要训练How
> to explain things in different ways(用不同的方式解释同
> 一事物)。一种表达式对方不懂,美国人会寻找另一种表
> 达式最终让对方明白。

That's an excellent point. A few years ago, I read on a Chinese forum where somebody said all he needed to be good at English was vocabulary, meaning once he knows a lot of words, his English will be super. I said that's far from true. Suppose a person knows only 1000 words (which may be true to some undereducated people). And suppose he doesn't know the word "engine". He may say "My car broke. It's the thing that drives the wheels through some belts. I forget what it's called." Then you know it's the word "engine". Well, this may be a bad example because most undereducated people probably know even more about cars than some educated ones. But the idea is that a guy with limited vocabulary can communicate well as long as he can "explain things in different ways". And that's the skill many Chinese that are studying English do not have.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Challenging English paragraph


I am suffering my first, sever attack of nostalgia, or tesknota - a word that adds to nostalgia the tonalities of sadness and longing. It is a feeling whose shades and degrees I'm destined to know intimately, but at this hovering moment, it comes upon me like a visitation from a whole new geography of emotions, an annunciation of how an absence can hurt.
这里的shades and degrees什么意思??谢谢!

那么这道题,高手们看看应该选什 么,及为什么。 谢谢各位了
By describing her feelings as having "shades and degrees", the author suggests that
(a) she is allowing herself to gieve only a little at a time
(b) she is numb to the pain of her grief
(c) she is overwhelmed by her emotions
(d) her sadness is greatest at night
(e) her emotional state is multifaceted


It took me a couple of readings to realize why answer E is correct. First, the author is clear in saying she's very nostalgic, thinking of her home or past time very much ("severe attack of nostalgia"; note the spelling of the word "severe"). So answers A and B can't be right. Then you read the words "sadness and longing" as tonalities; think of hue to color, or MSG to Chinese food, if you wish. She's describing these tonalities or related feelings aside from the main feeling, nostagia, as "shades and degrees" of the main feeling. Isn't it clear that it's a multifaceted feeling?

Friday, August 1, 2008

"Romantic" vs "浪漫"

More than once I heard that some Chinese students coming to the US said the word "romantic" and caused confusion to Americans. For instance, when he (she) found a beautiful view and uttered "How romantic!", an American would ask, "Why? There's no boy or girl falling in love in this scene." It seems that in America, the word "romantic" strictly means "displaying or expressing love or strong affection". Last night I was watching Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" on TV. When the Dashwood family moved to the seaside cottage, the lady praised the view with the word "romantic". So the British, at least back then, did not have the restriction on this word. In fact, lists 8 meanings, and about half of them are not related to love. If it was restricted, the word "romanticism" in arts would be hard to understand.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Translation: 加油

> 有些糊涂,书上说是come on
> 现实中有的人说是 go go go
> 还有人说是 hop on
> 韩国人经常使用 fighting

> 那么,老外到底怎么说加油的呢?
> (上次举办拔河比赛的时候,我们公司的外籍员工都叫一个单词pull~pull~

"Pull" is obviously a proper word in cheering for the tug-of-war game. But in general, "go" is the word. It's commonly followed by the player or players on your own side, like "Go China", "Go Accounting" (suppose you're in the Accounting department of the company).

"Come on" is OK too. But you don't shout it many times in a row as you shout "go". I don't know "hop on" or "fighting" in this context.

Translation: college recruiting


"We have sophisticated instrumentation, and bright and spacious study environment, where teachers and students find comfort in academic study and where you fulfill your potential. Disciplines and the philosophy of theory combined with practice in study will lay a solid foundation for your future development."

Not every word is properly translated, though.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"must have to"

>>> "must have to" 常常被说英语国家的人在使用,在
>>> 网上你可以找到很多的带有must have to的句子
Can you give some examples?
> :

> He must have to have about half a dozen though, mustn't he?
> So you must have to get one from somewhere then?
> A place of that size must contain thousands; and must have to feed thousands.
> He was so dark that he must have to shave two or three times a day, ...
> Presumably they must have to pay for all the preparation leading up to an operation of this sort, ...

Thank you. That byu corpus site is interesting. I did a little more search on Google. There *are* some people out there that say "must have to", I guess to emphasize the point, as if either "must" or "have to" alone is not strong enough. Next time I talk to my coworker or neighbor, let me say that and see how he (she) responds!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"smile" vs "laugh"

> 每次想起这件事情的时候,总觉得很好笑
> It makes me smile every time it comes into my mind.

"Smile" should be changed to "laugh". These two words have different meanings; not just one means a little facial expression and the other means loud laugh with mouth wide open. You can say

"Every time I think of this, I want to laugh."
"Evert time I look back, it makes me laugh."

Friday, July 4, 2008

"agree more", but no "believe more"

> These scientists could not believe the two Curies more.

It's easy to cause confusion. In English, we often say "I can't agree more", meaning "I wholeheartedly agree with you". But "I can't believe them more"? Mmmh, I think this author intends to say "absolutely believe them". But in real life, who would say that weird sentence? If you read it too fast, you would even think it was "... any more", which is the opposite.

It appears that, not all verbs can be used in the structure "somebody can't [verb] more..." to mean "[s]he very much [verb]'s...".

"scheduled for", not "scheduled at"

Many Chinese say "The meeting is scheduled at 8am July 8.", probably because that's a direct translation from Chinese. But "at" is incorrect unless the schedule was made at 8 o'clock; it should be "for" instead. If you do need an explanation, it's because "at" refers to the time this scheduling action is done, not the time the event being scheduled will happen. So it's reasonable to make this sentence: "After long discussion, at 11pm Sunday night, they scheduled the meeting for 9am Monday." But it may cause some confusion or at least a few seconds' pause if it reads like "After long discussion, they scheduled the meeting at 11pm Sunday night for 9am Monday", although I think it's understandable.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pronunciation: 学习英音还是美音好?

> 现在美音很流行,我学美音很吃力,听也听不清楚,英音感觉和上海话
> 像多了,也清楚,可是现在都是学美音的,就怕学了英音还受美音影响,
> 成了mixture。

If you expect to talk to Americans more, practice American pronunciation. If you talk to the British people, practice British. If you don't know, then it doesn't matter. A mixture of pronunciation is perfectly acceptable, as long as you pronounce words clearly. People living in the New England area of the US have a mixed pronunciation. Nobody laughs at them.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chinglish: "遇到问题" and "meet a problem"

Some Chinese students translate "遇到问题" to "meet a problem". This is not correct. The correct way to say it is "I have a problem", "I had a problem", "this problem happened to me before". Say whatever but avoid "meet", because that's a word for people, as in "I met him on the street". If you have to have an exact match for "遇到", say "encounter", as in "the operations team encountered a serious problem at the time the system went live". But it's too formal for normal use.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"in [with] regard to" ,"regarding","concerning", "about"

> Can i use them as a sentences like the followings?
> 1) I have set bunch of ideas as regard the problem.
> 2) With regard to the problem,i have set bunch of ideas.
> 3) I have set bunch of ideas with regard to the problem .
> 4) In respect to the problem, i have set bunch of ideas.
> Are those sentences correct?

There's no difference between these words or phrase ("in regard to" ,"regarding","concerning", "about", and "with regard to"). But it sounds weird when you mix formal words ("with [or in] regard to") with informal words such as "bunch of". And obviously whoever uses formal words should never write "i" when he means "I". Many Chinese and Indians have this horrible yet easily correctable mistake in not using capital letters when they should.

I don't think you can say "bunch of" not following "a"; "a bunch of" is correct but "bunch of" is probably not. "As regards" is heard. I'm not sure if anybody says "as regard".

No "to" between two verbs

> "Let’s help push the cart across the bridge"
> 能解释下 "Help" and "push" 为什么能并列吗?

Most verbs need "to" to be inserted in front of the verb following it, e.g., "He told me to do it". There're a couple of verbs that don't need the "to", e.g., "He let me do it". And there's one verb that can, but doesn't have to, be followed by "to", and that verb is "help", e.g., "We can help you to finish the job", "We can help you finish the job". In fact, Americans often omit the "to" and I think more and more British do that too now.

In very informal English, people omit "to" after "go", e.g., "Let's go eat", or omit "and", e.g., "Go ahead do it".

Don't omit that "that"

> He tried to isolate the germ he thought was causing the disease.
> 我认为 i thought 是插入语,插入语在句中不做任何成分,所以这句话在
> was前是不是缺了一个that 呢?

I agree. The word "that" should not be omitted.

Also see this:

"There're too many people make such mistakes."

Indeed many Chinese say that because it's a direct translation from Chinese. The word "that" (or "who") after "people" should not be omitted. Or just say "Too many people make such mistakes."

You deserve it!

> 日常的会话中也常常用到一句“You deserve it!”,这句话是说这是“你应得的”,就是“活该、
> 自作自受”的意思。比如有人老爱脚踏两条船,结果到头来同时被两个女人给甩了,这种人
> 你就可以对他说 You deserve it.

Most of the time I hear people say "You deserve it!" in a positive way, although the negative usage is also heard:

"You're all hardworking people. At the time our company is coming to the end of an unprecedented profitable year, you all will receive an unprecedented bonus, because you all deserve it!"