Questions and Answers from 5 Minute English Readers
Questions and Answers from 5 Minute English Readers
Here are some of the questions readers have been asking. Click on a question to find the answer.
- What is “Cross your heart, hope to die?”
- What is the difference between in the bank and at the bank?
- What is the difference between because and cause? When can I use them?
- I keep studying all the lessons you send me and I can’t memorize them. I don’t know what can I do.
- Why is English spelling so difficult?
- How do I use either/ or and neither/ nor?
- Could you advise me on what I can do to improve my listening comprehension?
- What do supposed to do and supposed to be mean?
- Can you let me know how and when I can use no longer and any longer?
- Could you tell me how I can improve on phrasal verbs?
- What is the meaning of You are kidding?
- What is the difference between English speaking and writing?
- What is the difference between adopt and adapt?
- I’d like to know how I can improve my vocabulary. I have many vocabulary lists, but the problem is that I don’t know how to learn them.
- What is the difference between might and may?
- When do we use to affect and when do we use to effect?
- Could you help me with a.m. and p.m.? I am always confused if lunchtime should be 12:00 a.m. or p.m.
- When can I use this morning or this weekend? Should it be in the present or past tense?
- When I want to ask somebody if she takes something like a light breakfast or juice before coming to the gym, is it right to ask “Do you have something like juice and all before exercise?”
- Can you tell me how to use let?
- What is the difference between perception and perspective?
This is a saying that children use to make a promise. The child draws an X over his heart with his finger and says “Cross my heart, hope to die.” He may also add “stick a needle in my eye.” to make the promise stronger. It means he is serious about the promise.
So, for example, two children might talk like this:
Tommy: “Do you promise you won’t tell anybody our secret?”
Billy: “I promise.”
Tommy: “Really? Are you sure?”
Billy: “Cross my heart, (makes an X over his heart with his finger) hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” (points to his eye as if he will put a needle in it if he breaks his promise)
We use them as almost the same thing. In the bank means inside the bank. At the bank, however, could be inside or outside.
It doesn’t matter so much which one we use when we are talking about a building, but it might matter when we talk about other things. If I asked you where you were, and you said I am in the lake, instead of I am at the lake. If you were in the lake, I would think you were swimming.
You are probably confused because sometimes we say ’cause as a short way to say because. But notice the small ‘ before the word. It takes the place of the letters that are missing.
I feel you should only use ’cause when you are talking or quoting how someone said something. It’s informal.
There is also a different word cause. It can be a noun or verb. It basically means one thing happens because of another thing. Smoking can cause (v) lung cancer. And Smoking can be the cause (n) of lung cancer.
Please don’t worry about memorizing the lessons I send to you. They are only meant to be an introduction if you haven’t learned them before, or a review if you have already learned them. There are wonderful classes in your community and online that can help you with your English at your own pace. Think of those classes as your meals and 5 Minute English as a snack.
Don’t worry if you have a difficult time spelling English. It also takes children whose first language is English a long time to learn spelling. There are some rules, but there is also a lot of memorizing. English is a semi-phonetic language. That means some things are spelled as they sound, and some things are not.
English is a very old language. During its long life it has borrowed many words from other languages. Of course each of the languages had different spelling rules. That is one reason spelling is not consistent. Another reason is that spelling wasn’t standardized (nobody agreed on what it should be) until about one or two hundred years ago. Everybody used different spelling for the same words. Finally someone took the most popular spellings and put them in a dictionary. Now that is how we spell them.
For both sets you are talking about two different things, like A and B, or chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream, or cats and dogs.
Either/ or is used in positive sentences when there is one answer to choose. For example- You can have either chocolate or vanilla ice cream. (I would like vanilla.) Or That is either a cat or a dog. (It’s probably a cat.)
Neither/ nor is used in negative sentences. But there is no choice to be made. For example- You can have neither chocolate nor vanilla ice cream. (Oh, why can’t I have any?) Or That is neither a cat nor a dog. (Maybe it’s a fox.)
Of course the best way to improve anything is to do it a lot. If you could talk with and listen to a native English speaker, that would best. Speaking and listening to a non-native English speaker using English can also be helpful. You also told me you listen to CNN. I think that’s good and bad. It’s great that you can understand some things, but CNN uses more sophisticated English than many other programs. I don’t want you to feel discouraged. Try something easier. Even children’s programs are useful. There are also some good tapes and CD’s available to people learning English. And yesterday I mentioned a website that has listening exercises. It is www.englishlistening.com.
Supposed to means obligation, or something you should do. So supposed to do means something you should (or have an obligation to) do, and supposed to be means something or somewhere you should be. Here are some examples. Maybe they will help.
Shanna is supposed to do her homework after school. (She should do it. It’s her obligation.)
My husband is supposed to be here right now. Where is he? (He should be here. He said he would come.)
You can also use other verbs with supposed to, like:
You are supposed to put some water in the soup.
Men are not supposed to cry.
In fact means actually. Kind of like “so you can see…” I can used it at the beginning of a sentence , like: In fact, he already knew the secret. It always has a comma after it. Sometimes it is used in the middle of a sentence after a be verb, like: He was, in fact, listening behind the door.
No longer and any longer have the same meaning. They are just used differently depending on whether the sentence is positive or negative. Remember, you can only have one negative in a sentence. So I could say “The store isn’t open any longer.” Isn’t is negative so I use any longer. I could also say “The store is no longer open.” Now the negative word is no. Also notice that the word order is different. Any longer comes after the verb. No longer comes before the verb or between an auxiliary verb and main verb. Here are some more sentences:
I can’t help you any longer.
I can no longer help you.
She doesn’t live here any longer.
She no longer lives here.
I won’t work any longer.
I will no longer work.
There is no easy answer for learning phrasal verbs. It is one thing you just have to memorize and listen for. I will try to give you lessons with phrasal verbs from time to time.
You are kidding is the same as You are joking or I can’t believe it. It shows that the speaker is surprised.
A: It’s raining. B: You’re kidding! We have a picnic today. Why does it have to rain today?
A: I got a great job today! B: You’re kidding. That’s wonderful!
English writing is generally more formal. It often uses individual words instead of contractions, like I am instead of I’m. In spoken English we often drop syllables or run words together, like gonna. We need to write the full words out as in going to.
There are 2 times that I can think of when it’s okay to write words like gonna, or whatcha doin’? That is when you are writing exactly how someone said something, like, She said, “I’m gonna go home now.” It is used to show a dialect. The other way I see people write like that is in emails and instant messaging to friends. We break a lot of writing rules because we have to write quickly and we’re are just talking to friends.
Remember though, if you are writing something for school, work, or to someone you don’t know well, use proper writing.
Adopt means to bring something new into something that is already there, or, make something your own. Countries adopt new laws and put them with their other laws. Parents can adopt a child from other parents and raise it as their own son or daughter. Nowadays I see that groups of people (like businesses) adopt a road. That group takes care of it and keeps it clean.
Adapt means to change something so it will fit in a new place. You can adapt a book and make it into a movie. You have to adapt your life when you move to another country. When my sister was young, she used to adapt a nightshirt by putting in on her head like a hat.
Everybody learns differently. Of course the best way to learn anything is to use it in regular life as much as possible. Then it becomes real for you.
But if you have a long list to memorize, it can be hard. Some people can just sit down and memorize words. I can’t do that very well. I need to have a clue or way to remember that word. I usually try to make up something funny to help my memory.
For example, the Portuguese word for toad (a kind of big frog) is sapo. There is a slang word in English, sap, that means a dumb or stupid person. I just think about a toad that is really stupid, and I remember the word sapo.
Later, after I’ve used it for a while, I forget what the clue is, but I still remember the word.
May and might have the same meaning when used as a modal (or helping verb.) Examples: She may go shopping. She might go shopping. The only difference is may is slightly more formal to some people. Many people use might more often in speaking and may more often in writing. But they can change depending on the person and their mood.
Remember, though, may is also used to asked for permission. Example: May I use the telephone? It is very rare to use might to ask for permission.
Except in a few rare cases, effect is used as a noun, and affect is used as a verb. Look at the examples:
I hope the SARS virus doesn’t affect me. (verb)
One effect of the virus can be death. (noun)
So you cannot generally say “to effect.” That would mean it was a verb. (And it’s not.)
I am always confused about that, too! So, we don’t say a.m. and p.m. for 12:00. We say 12:00 noon or 12:00 midnight (pronounced 12 noon/ 12 midnight.) Also remember, we only use the word midnight for 12:00. You cannot say 3:00 midnight. You would say 3:00* in the morning or 3:00** a.m..
(*Pronounced 3 o’clock in the morning or 3 in the morning.)
(**You can only say 3 a.m., not 3 o’clock a.m.)
It depends on when you are talking. It could be present tense or past tense. But the event must be really close to the time you are talking about.
I am going shopping this weekend.
You could probably say this on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. You are talking about the weekend that is coming. But…
I went shopping this weekend.
You would probably say on a Monday or Tuesday. You are talking about the previous weekend.
The same kind of thing could be used about this morning.
I will go to school this morning.
It is earlier in the morning before school.
I went to school this morning.
It is later in the day after school.
I think what you would like to ask is: “Would you like some juice or something before exercising?”
Another interesting thing- when we talk about eating something we usually say have breakfast, or have some juice in North America. But I believe in England they would say take breakfast or take some juice.
To let usually means to allow.
For example: I will let you use my pencil if you give it back to me.
To let could also mean to rent.
For example: I have a house to let. I need to find someone to move in.
But this is not a common word in the United States right now.
Let’s comes from let + us. It means a suggestion, or “Why don’t we…”
For example: Let’s go shopping today. What do you think?
Answer: I can see why you have a problem with these words. Many times they are used in the same way. They have almost the same meaning.
*Perception means to be aware of things through the use of your senses (seeing, hearing, etc…) A person gains understanding using his senses. Example- His perception of the party was that the people weren’t very friendly. He uses his senses to make that decision.
*Perspective means to have a view of things in relationship to other things. You have a different perspective of the size of mountains when you are looking down from an airplane. They are small when you are high up, but they are big when you are on the ground. You could also change the example above to read- His perspective of the party was that the people weren’t very friendly. It has almost the same meaning. But this time you can guess he is comparing this party to other parties. Maybe he went to other parties and the people were friendly.