What did the Romans do for us? Well, apart from straight roads and central heating, they also left us the legacy of Latin.
Latin is an ancient language that risks dying out for good but you would be surprised at how often Latin words appear in everyday English usage. You have probably heard many phrases and perhaps wondered what some of them mean. Well, check out this list for the most common Latin phrases used in the English language.
Ad hoc - For this purpose, improvised, made up in an instant
She had to do the filing, photocopying and printing as well as lots of other ad hoc tasks.
Ad infinitum - Without a limit, endlessly
He talked ad infinitum about his holiday in Scotland.
Agenda - Things to be done
Right, let's look at the meeting's agenda.
Alias - Otherwise
John Brown's alias was John Smith.
Alibi - elsewhere
Her alibi was that on Saturday night she was at a friend's party.
Alter ego - Other, an alternative self
It was almost as if he had an alter ego when he played guitar.
Bona fide - Genuine, sincere
He said he was a bona fide plastic surgeon.
Carpe Diem - Seize the day
Their school motto was Carpe Diem.
Circa (c.) - About
He said it was circa fifty miles to London.
Ego - Consciousness of one's own identity
He has such a huge ego!
Et cetera (etc.) - And the rest
He likes chocolate - milk, dark, white, truffles, nougat, fondants, et cetera.
In flagrante delicto - In the act of committing some sort of offence
He was caught in flagrante delicto with the manager's wife.
In vitro - In a test tube (literally means "in glass")
They conceived their baby through in vitro fertilization.
Per annum - Per year
She gets paid only $20,000 per annum.
Persona non grata - A non-acceptable person
After his antics at the party, he really is persona non grata.
Pro bono - Without charge, for the public good
The plastic surgeon said he would do pro bono work for the charity.
Rigor mortis - The rigidity of death
The corpse was now in the state of rigor mortis.
Terra firma - Solid ground
After the boat trip she was glad to be on terra firm again.
Status quo - The current state of affairs
He was keen to keep the status quo at work.
Vice versa - The order being reversed
Cats hate dogs and vice versa.
So, as you can see, there are many Latin words still in use today when we write and speak English, showing that it has certainly greatly influenced the English language. Perhaps you might like to add a few Latin phrases here and there to your writing to help keep this fascinating language alive.
Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. There are various ways they can be used depending on whether the pronoun is the subject or object or is reflexive. For example:
Subject pronouns are: I, you, he, she, it, we, they.
Object pronouns are: me, you, him, her, it, us, them.
Reflexive pronouns: myself, yourself, himself, herself, itself, ourselves, yourselves, themselves.
Now we have split the pronouns into groups, we can look at the rules of use.
When you use a subject pronoun (which is also known as nominative case), it can be the subject of a sentence, for example, “I am a student”, “Jane and he are colleagues” but when the pronoun is used after the verb “to be”, the pronoun renames the subject. The “to be” verbs are as follows: is, are, was, were, will be, may be, may have been. Here is an example of a pronoun used after a “to be” verb:
“It is I who wrote the letter.” Here, “I” comes after the “to be” verb “is” and the subject is renamed “it”. So, the subject pronoun needs to be used instead of the object pronoun.
We use an object pronoun (also known as objective case) when the pronoun is the direct object (not the subject), the indirect object or the object of the preposition. Here are some examples:
“John met her at the library.” Here, “her” is the direct object.
“Sue will give him his book back.” In this example, “him” is an indirect object because you can, in your mind, put the word “to” in front of “him” (Sue will give to him). In this case, “book” is the direct object. Let’s look at other examples:
“Between you and me, this book is terrible.” In this case, “you” and “me” are the objects of a preposition (between).
Lastly, we'll turn to reflexive pronouns. For example, you can write “She did it herself” but you would never write or say “Give the book back to John or myself”. In this last sentence, “myself” does not refer back to another pronoun or noun – the correct pronoun is “me” (an object pronoun).
As you can see, there are lots of different ways to use pronouns and it is important to use them correctly when speaking or writing.
Firstly, what is a gerund? Well, a gerund is what is known as a verbal noun and it is formed using the suffix “ing” in verbs. It is also used in the continuous form of a verb tense (“walking, talking, reading” as opposed to the infinitive form “to walk, to talk, to read”). The gerund can also be used as a noun. Let’s see some examples using “walking”:
I am walking (verb – continuous form)
I like walking (noun)
Walking is the best exercise! (noun)
The last example shows how the gerund becomes the subject of the sentence. Like other nouns, gerunds can also act as direct or indirect objects of the preposition (prepositions are, for example, for, to, in, on, etc.):
I like walking (direct object).
I will give her sponsor money for walking up the steep hill (object of the preposition “for”).
It will greatly help your writing if you can recognize gerunds because if a noun or pronoun (my, her, his, its, and so on) is followed by a gerund, you need to use the possessive form of that noun or pronoun. Here are some examples:
My walking ahead annoyed him (this is correct).
Me walking ahead annoyed him (this is incorrect).
Their talking is really bothering me (this is correct).
Them talking is really bothering me (this is incorrect).
Let’s look at some other correct examples:
Jim’s swimming is fast and powerful.
Jane’s skating is so exciting to watch.
The boy’s running won him first prize in the race.
When dealing with gerunds, you need to ensure that you use the similar grammar form when you present several ideas in one sentence. For instance:
“Running, jumping and skipping are all great fun.”
In this sentence, they are all gerunds and therefore fit together properly. But what if you had a sentence like:
“Reading, writing and knowing arithmetic are essential skills for everyone”?
Well, if all the words were treated as verbs, the sentence would be fine. However, it is commonly known that the words “reading”, “writing” and “arithmetic” are all nouns and therefore it is better to write:
“Reading, writing and arithmetic are essential skills for everyone”.
You need to also be aware that the gerund form is used in present or future progressive verb forms – I am walking, I will be walking, and so on. The progressive form is sometimes also called the continuous form.
It is important to be aware that the gerund takes on several forms, but once you are familiar with the different contexts, you will see that learning gerunds is not so difficult after all.
Ellipsis marks are simply three dots that are used to show the deliberate omission of a word, sentence, line, paragraph or phrase from a quoted passage.
There are several ways to use ellipses. Using three dots is the easiest and the most suitable for general writing and scholarly work. Sometimes, three or four dots are used in legal writing, which is not covered here in this article.
In order to create an ellipsis mark in Mac, you need to hold down the Option key and type in a semi-colon. If you use a PC and Microsoft Word, simply type a full stop (period) three types – the spacing will be set automatically. You can also press Ctrl-Alt and the full stop once as well as hold down the Alt key and type 0133 on the numeric keyboard on Windows.
You use an ellipsis mark regardless of whether the omitted text occurs in the middle of a sentence or in between sentences:
“The rules state, “Every staff member must be fully trained in Health and Safety…” (The original sentence: “Every staff member must be fully trained in Health and Safety on an annual basis.”)
When you use three dots, you can leave out punctuation like commas etc. that appeared in the original text. Let’s see an example:
The original text: “Every staff member must be aware of the regulations, Health and Safety requirements and First Aid points to ensure sufficient well-being in the workplace.” When rewritten using ellipsis marks it would read:
“Every staff member must be aware of the regulations…to ensure sufficient well-being in the workplace.”
When you use three dots, you do not need to use ellipsis marks at the end of a quoted piece of text even if words are missing, as in the example above.
Also, if your quoted text starts with the middle of a sentence, you do not need to use ellipses at the front:
“The staff manual said, ‘be aware of the regulations… ensure sufficient well-being in the workplace.’”
Lastly, you can use ellipses to indicate where sentences are meant to trail off:
“I am not sure what I think…”
As you can see, using ellipsis marks is not so difficult once you know the rules. This type of punctuation is very useful for academic work when large pieces of text might need to be quoted, but it is also something that is used in everyday writing as well.
When it comes to capitalizing job titles, there are several rules and also The Rule. The other rules have been formed from a precedent, whereas The Rule is based on people’s egos. To differentiate between the rules and “ego rule”, let’s first look at the rules based on the former.
These rules state that you must capitalize job titles that precede the name of the person the job relates to when used as part of the name:
“The journalist asked Chairperson Smith for her opinion on the latest profit figures.”
“President Le Grande stated that the unemployment figures were lower than expected.”
You must also capitalize job titles when they immediately follow the name of the person the job relates to when the word “the” does not precede the job title:
“Mrs Smith, Chairperson, will attend the meeting on 27 July at 09.00.”
“Bill Jones, Editor for The Messenger newspaper, oversaw the article.”
“Ms Brown, Office Manager, will take minutes during the meeting.”
When the word “the” appears before the job title, you do not need to capitalize:
“Mrs Smith, the chairperson, will begin the meeting at 09.00 sharp.”
“Ms Brown, the office manager, will order the new stationery supplies.”
“Bill Jones was the editor of The Messenger for twenty years.”
However, when you write signatures in business letters and other correspondence, you must always capitalize job titles:
“Mrs Jane Smith, Chairperson, ABS Ltd.”
“Mr Bill Jones, Editor, The Messenger.”
“Mr Green, Department Manager, Human Resources.”
Job titles are never capitalized when used in a descriptive manner:
“Mrs Smith, who will chair the meeting, wants all participants to arrive on time.”
“Mr Green, who manages the Human Resources Department, is on leave this week.”
Now, let us turn our attention to The Rule – the rule that concerns ego.
This rule can, in certain circumstances, override the above rules. In working life, you may come across several colleagues, such as a manager, who want their job titles to be capitalized at all times. It is generally the case that more senior members of staff want the ego-boost of having their job titles capitalized everywhere.
So, as you can see, the rules mentioned above are sometimes broken in order to satisfy the wishes of higher-ranking staff members. In other situations, bear in the mind the standard rules, and use them accordingly.
1. Read a book with lots of dialogue.
Reading a book with lots of direct dialogue in it has quite a few advantages. Less text on the page due to dialogue (lots of speech marks etc) can make it easier to read and easier to write translations as there are simply fewer words. Dialogue is also a lot easier to understand than blocks of descriptive text and is much more like the language you will want to learn in order to be able to speak everyday English.
2. Read English language comics.
Comics can be quite easy to understand and are usually full of idiomatic language that is used everyday. There can, however, be problems with understanding slang and certain jokes and/or dialogue that are written in the way people speak rather than with normal spellings. So, choose your comic with care. And let the pictures guide you too.
3. Read English language entertainment guides.
Most big cities around the world have an English language magazine and/ or online guide to films, plays, art and museum exhibitions that are taking place in the city that week. Reading this in English is not only a good way to practice your reading skills, but it can also guide you to places where native English speakers might visit and where you might hear some English spoken there.
4. Read English language magazines.
Choose a periodical but buy one copy in your native language and the other in English, so you can compare when you need to. Obviously, choose a subject matter you’re interested in so you enjoy reading.
5. Take a one-week intensive course.
Intensive courses are great because they force you to speak, write, read and listen to English pretty much non-stop for many hours each day. It really improves your ability in a relatively short space of time.
6. Supplement your group class with a one-to-one class.
Group learning is valuable, but if you complement it with a one to one teacher, it’s even better. It is more expensive, but you can use the time with your teacher to focus on your weak points, such as pronunciation or grammar issues.
7. Get friends together to chat in English.
You could set up an informal meeting in a café for you and your friends to spend one hour a week chatting in English. Take along comics, entertainment guides etc. and perhaps arrange to visit one of the events you read about.
8. Ask for English classes in your workplace
This is especially useful if you use English in your job. Your company would certainly benefit in having staff that is more fluent in English as it is still the language of international business.
9. Listen to the radio while doing other things
You don’t need to listen carefully to the radio and understand everything. It is still useful to have the radio playing in the background. You’ll pick up more than you realise, such as the natural rhythm of speech.
10. Write lists in English
This could be lists for work tasks or your shopping list or a packing list for a holiday. Say out loud the words as you write them.
This article is another guest post I wrote for top career mentor, Bud Bilanich, who very kindly invited me to contribute a series of articles to his blog.
Plain English has never been more important – as I explain in the post, plus I give you vital tips on how to use plain English in your business communications.
You can read my whole article on Bud's blog here. Enjoy!
1. Start your own English language blog.
Even for those of you who don't have to write in English, writing can be an excellent way of properly learning the vocabulary and grammar you need to describe your life, hobbies and interests. If you don't know what to write about, keep a journal and write in it every day. You could focus on your experience of learning English or British culture for example. You could translate articles from your home country into English.
2. Keep a news diary.
If writing about your own life isn't your cup of tea, then keep a news diary instead. You can pick certain news stories you read and hear about for your topics. It will also prompt you to read other news websites, which is a great way to build up your vocabulary.
3. Sign up for a regular English language Ezine.
Some English language-learning websites offer a weekly or even daily short English lesson that is sent to your email account. These exercises need only take a few minutes to do, but they add up over the course of a month. Be aware that the quality of many language websites varies significantly and these exercises should never replace more in-depth learning.
4. Listen to English language radio.
There are lots of radio stations you can listen to for free online, such as the BBC Word Service. Pick stations that don't play too much music - your objective is to listen to speech. It's a better exercise than listening to English music. That being said…
5. Listen to English music.
Listening to music while doing something else can help you get used to the natural rhythm and tone of English speech. It's also good practice to really listen to the lyrics and hear what is being sung.
6. Read the lyrics to a song.
Even native English speakers can't always clearly hear the lyrics in English songs. That's why reading the lyrics, either online or in the CD booklet, is helpful. Listen and read at the same time because this is a great way to understand how sounds change in quick, natural, informal speech.
7. Sing along to English songs.
You can put all that listening to music and reading lyrics into practice and sing along. It's a great way to practice your pronunciation. If you're brave enough, perhaps try karaoke!
8. Watch English language films and TV shows.
This is a good way to sharpen your listening skills. You could also set up subtitles for your native language on the programs or DVDs.
9. Search in English.
If you switch your search engines to the English language version, it's a great way to practice your reading skills. And it will give you a wider choice of English language sites to visit.
10. Read a book you've already read or seen the film of in your native language.
It can be hard to maintain motivation when reading an English-language book when you don't know the plot or characters very well. A good way around this problem is to pick a book you have already read or seen the film of in your own language. So, even though you might not understand everything you read, you still know the plot well. You can also check out plot summaries online for added help.
This article is another guest post I wrote for top career mentor, Bud Bilanich, who's asked me to write several articles on professional writing for his blog.
The 10 essential tips listed in my article apply to all kinds of writing, not just business communications – you can use them to structure your academic writing also.
You can read the whole article on Bud's blog here. Enjoy!
The Key Blog
Hello and welcome to The Key Blog! This is where you'll find information and tips on writing, proofreading, and the English language in general. Feel free to use the articles in your own e-zines, blogs or websites etc., as long as you include the resource box. Thank you!