Is There a Difference Between Present Perfect Tense Usage in American English versus British English?

Good Question! Which would you say?

I’ve just missed the bus, so now I’ll be late.

or

I just missed the bus, so now I’ll be late.

The answer depends on whether you are speaking British or American English (although either is understood clearly enough by both). I speak American English, so I tend to use the simple past. I would say: I missed the bus, so now I’ll be late. American English favors using the simple past, but if a British person was saying this, more likely the present perfect would be used: I’ve missed the bus, so now I’ll be late. Who is correct?

According to grammar rules, we should use the present perfect tense to talk about an action that happened in the past and has a connection to the present time. The present perfect tense can be identified by the use of  have/has with the verb infinitive.

In British English, the present perfect tense is usually used in situations where an action has occurred in the recent past (and the time period is mentioned or understood) and that action has some effect on the present situation. I have just missed the bus (an action in the recent past has occurred), so now I’ll be late (that action has greatly affected my present situation). The focus is on the relationship of what happened and the result thereof.

In American English, it is more common to use the simple past in the same situation. Why is this? The reason centers on the focus of the sentence. In American English the focus is more on the action itself, not on the relationship between the action and the present time. I just missed the bus (an action in the recent past is important), so now I’ll be late (my current situation). Here, the focus is ever so slightly on the actual event that caused the result, rather than the relationship of why the action caused the result.

This difference is slight, but the focus, or main point, is what makes the speaker decide which tense to use in a situation like this. So might be said that the difference really lies in the thought process, not the actual grammar. The key is that British and American English speakers are using different thought patterns, although subtle. This is what makes a difference in what sounds to correct to each speaker.

One must understand that language is not just a matter of grammar rules and vocabulary lists, but a way of thinking. It is these thought patterns in conversation that we hear around us that help us to decide which grammar and vocabulary sounds best. Understanding this makes it easier to grasp a new language. Learning “what sounds right” from what we are accustomed to hearing others say helps us to make decisions of what to say and how to say it much more efficiently than recalling a long and confusing list of rules and dictionary definitions of vocabulary.

True, it could be said that Brits and Americans technically speak the same language, so therefore follow the same rules. However, ask either and they will point out many differences between British and American English. The differences in the sound of the accent, spelling, usage and other stylistic variations are actually rooted in culture. One is not better than the other, rather each has been shaped by differences in geographical distance, historical/political shifts and patterns of thinking.

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Is it “I” or “Me”?

It’s a question that troubles even native English speakers, Do I use “I” or “me” in a sentence? In my latest YouTube video I discuss just that with a simple example. Be sure to click here to check it out!

So we learned that the subject of a sentence is always “I” and the object is always “me”. This leads us to the question, how do we know when it is a subject and when it is an object? Glad you asked!

The subject is what the sentence is about. My wife goes to the store. That’s simple, it’s the pronoun, she. It starts to get trickier when we add more people to the mix. What if I go to the store with her? Then it is, My wife and I go to the store. Here I’m put with the subject, so I is part of the subject of my wife. However, if I get separated from my wife (that always happens when we go shopping– ha ha, very funny), and I goes to the end of the sentence, I becomes the object and changes to me. My wife goes to the store with me. With is added to show that she’s doing something connected to something (or someone) else, which means it is now an object. Confused? I have always warned you, English grammar rules are confusing, and this is not a really hard one!

Here’s an even simpler trick, just don’t end a sentence with me! Most of the time, subjects are at the front of the sentence and objects at the end.

Native speakers also learn the trick that if you can replace the I or me with he (a subject)  or him (an object), it’s easier to figure out because it will sound correct one way or the other. This may not work if you aren’t a native speaker, but it’s worth a try. My theory on why native speakers struggle with this concept at all, when deciding on he or him is easy, is because as children we sometimes mistakenly use me as a subject when adding it to another person. A child might say, Timmy and me are here. This comes from the developing concept that the second person usually is an object, so the object pronoun gets used mistakenly. The child is corrected and taught, It’s you and I, not you and me! This gets into our minds as the correct version. When we start making more complex sentences, it becomes a little confusing when me is actually being used correctly. While this may happen to a child learning the language progressively, it may also happen to an ESL student as they learn to speak.

By the way, don’t forget to check out my Facebook page, it’s a great way to stay connected! You can also subscribe to my YouTube videos. I’m working on developing more videos in response to student questions, so stay tuned!

Collocations and Verb Phrases

How can you understand collocations and verb phrases in English? Why do you make the bed, but do the dishes? This confuses many English language students. It is very important for learners to understand common collocations and verb phrases. Everyday English is made up of thousands of these, many of which native speakers may not even realize they are using.

For example: Why do English speakers eat fast food, but not quick food? This is common collocation in English. Fast and food are just always used together or collocate.

Are there rules to know when to use certain words together? Not really! That’s the interesting thing about English! Collocations and verb phrases can vary, as well. You may find them to be different in different areas. Think about how in the United States you grab some take out food, but in Britain, it’s take away food.

To properly understand collocations and verb phrases, a learner simply needs to learn them as a whole unit, like a vocabulary word. This can be done by memorization, but as I suggest, learning by listening and then using helps your brain get used to what “sounds right”. By exposure to the use of them in naturally occurring conversation, music, movies, T.V, and even in literature, you can learn them the way a native speaker learns even the trickiest collocations and verb phrases.

Idioms are closely related to collocations and verb phrases. Idioms differ because they are sayings, or made up of a longer phrase of words. Collocations and verb phrases, although occasionally longer, are usually just two words. The individual words may or may not contribute to the actual meaning. In general, collocations and verb phrases are easier to figure out than idioms based on their individual words.

So take a break, and watch the YouTube blog video I’ve made on this subject!

Click here!

Interjections and Bears in Yosemite National Park!

Recently, I have been on vacation to see some of the popular places in California. My wife and I went on a two week long road trip to see the Eastern Sierras, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Napa Valley and the Pacific Coast Highway. We kept a blog about our adventures at www.aaronandjocelyn.wordpress.com.

While on my trip, I decided to take the opportunity to film a blog video. I had a last minute change of topic, when we encountered a bear family on our hike. I decided that talking about the use of interjections, or exclamatory remarks, would be appropriate. My fellow hikers and I all used various interjections to express our surprise and even fear at seeing the bears. Bears can be dangerous to hikers, especially if a mother bear has cubs. Fortunately we were able to give the bears enough space, and they didn’t mind us sharing the trail with them. Check out my blog video to find out more about using interjections in everyday speech and writing.

6 Keys to Fluency: 6. Don’t Get Discouraged

This is the final post in my six-part series about achieving fluency in English.  In this video I talk about what naturally happens when you learn a language, you plateau.  This point is when the majority of language-learners give up, because they get discouraged.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Discouragement is like a poison that slowly eats away at your desire to learn.  Keep that desire strong with an incentive and look for progress you are still making, even if it is imperceptible.  (Watch the video to see these words in bold defined.)

Keep learning, and as always, thanks for watching and reading!  I’m working on an exciting new project with UDEMY.com. Details to come about my new course that helps you get beyond the basics and master the English language. Don’t forget, if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.  I love to hear from students! My students are my incentive for teaching!

6 Keys to Fluency: 4. Think in English

Constantly going back to your native language in your mind to translate can be a huge barrier to becoming fluent.  In this video blog post, I will discuss how you can learn to think in English in 4 steps.  In this way, you can better train your brain to not rely on translating words as you speak, write or listen to them.  While mental translation may be necessary when first learning a language, it becomes a distraction as you progress beyond the initial stages and can prevent you from mastering one.

6 Keys to Fluency: 3. Learn Phrases

In this video blog post, I will discuss how learning individual words instead of words in phrases makes achieving fluency more difficult.  When you come across a new word, try to learn it within a phrase.  By doing this, you are learning how to use the word and will likely remember the word better.  Learning commonly used phrases in conversation, will help you to speak more comfortably as well.

Try this:  Listen to or read a conversation about a simple subject between 2 native speakers.  How do phrases help you to better understand the words they choose to use?  By analyzing short everyday conversations like this, and then learning phrases as they are used by speakers, you can become more fluent.  Below is a sample dialogue using the word ‘fine’ and the word ‘set’:

Ricky:  Hi Mickey, how are you?

Mickey: I’m fine, how have you been?

Ricky:  I’m ok.  How are things going at work?

Mickey:  No problems, everything is fine and dandy.  How’s your wife?

Ricky:  She is off visiting her sister in New York, so I’m left home alone.

Mickey:  We should get together and grab a bite to eat.  I know a great place downtown that serves the best beer and burgers.

Ricky:  That would be great, let’s set a date.  Burgers are my favorite, and nothing goes better with a burger than a nice cold beer.

Mickey:  Let’s do it Friday after work.  I get off at 6.

Ricky:  I’ll meet you at your office  at 6:15, and then we can take the train downtown.

Mickey:  Great!  See you then!