Let’s talk about the weather (and grammar)

It’s May 23, and we’ve been dealing with freezing rain, temperatures in the mid 40s, and nary a bit of sun… or when there is sun, you’d better snap a quick photo of it, since it’ll disappear fast.  It feels somewhat like a land of perpetual November, the Doldrums of the Phantom’s Tollbooth or the legendary Winter presaged by Winterfell.  Thinking back to the Snowpocalypse of March, I almost feel like we had things easy.  Never in my life have I experienced such wet, gray, and bone-chilling cold in late May!

The city is surprisingly still humming along nicely, as people dodge rain showers like they would bullets in a war zone.  The people I see coming into the center to work on English are mostly frazzled, or cold, as it’s certainly the end (or beginning) of exam season, depending on what type of program you are following.  In many ways, the bad weather is good news for the company.  More people are staying in the center listening to English dialogues rather than risk an accident driving home in the pouring rain.  Brian isn’t in the kitchen, he’s standing outside the center munching on his sandwich during lunch break, and he would be foolish not to bring his umbrella.

On a somewhat more random note, I’ve been discovering a lot of peculiarities about the English language – the more subtle differences between British and American English than just the accent and the vocabulary (we all discover what the boot, the lorry, the jumper, the car park, and the loo are after chatting a bit).  Here are a few examples:

 As past participles of get, the words ‘got’ and ‘gotten’ both date back to Middle English. In North American English, got and gotten are not identical in use. Gotten usually implies the process of obtaining something ( he has gotten two tickets for the show), while got implies the state of possession or ownership ( he hasn’t got any money).

There’s also the present subjunctive, which apparently the British no longer use but Americans (who have studied grammar in school) still do:

The main use of the English present subjunctive, called the mandative or jussive subjunctive,[1] occurs in that clauses (declarative content clauses; the word that can sometimes be omitted) expressing a circumstance which is desired, demanded, recommended, necessary, or similar. Such a clause may be dependent on verbs like insistsuggestdemand,prefer,[2] adjectives like necessarydesirable,[3] or nouns like recommendationnecessity;[4] it may be part of the expression in order that… (or some formal uses of so that…); it may also stand independently as the subject of a clause or as a predicative expression.

The form is called the present subjunctive because it resembles the present indicative in form, not because it need refer to the present time. In fact this form can equally well be used in sentences referring to past, future or hypothetical time (the time frame is normally expressed in the verb of the main clause).


  • I insist (that) he leave now.
  • We asked that it be done yesterday.
  • It might be desirable that you not publish the story.
  • I support the recommendation that they not be punished.
  • I braked in order that the car stay on the road.
  • That he appear in court is a necessary condition for his being granted bail.

Note that after some words both indicative and subjunctive are possible, with difference in meaning:

  • I insist that he is here (indicative, a forceful assertion of the fact that he is here)
  • I insist that he be here (subjunctive, a demand that the condition of his being here be fulfilled)

Notice that the subjunctive is not generally used after verbs such as hope and expect, or after verbs that use a different syntax, such as want (it is not usual to say *I want that he wash up; the typical syntax is I want him to wash up).

Another use of the present subjunctive is in clauses with the conjunction lest, which generally express a potential adverse event:

  • I am running faster lest she catch me (i.e. “in order that she not catch me”)
  • I was worried lest she catch me (i.e. “that she might catch me”)

And let’s not even go into the [correct] use of the past subjunctive… If I were you, I would avoid that tricky bit of grammar.

We can also blame the French for a lot of our pronunciation differences:

For many loanwords from French where AmE has final-syllable stress, BrE stresses an earlier syllable. Such words include:

  • BrE first-syllable stress: adultA2,B2balletA2batonberetbidetblasébrevetA2brochureB2buffetcaféA2canardB2chagrinchaletA2chauffeurA2,B2chiffonclichéB2coupé,croissantdebrisB2debutdécordetailA2détenteB2flambéfrappégarageB2gateaugourmetA2lamémontageA2parquetpastelpastillepâtéprécissachetsalon,soupçonvaccinematinéenégligéenonchalantnondescript; also some French names, including BernardB2CalaisDegasDijonDumasFrancoiseManetA2Maurice,MonetA2PaulineRenaultRenéB2RenoirRimbaudDelacroixB2.
  • BrE second-syllable stress: attachéconsommédécolletédéclasséDe BeauvoirDebussydémodédenouementdistinguéDubonnetescargotexposéfiancé(e)A2retroussé

A few French words have other stress differences:

  • AmE first-syllable, BrE last-syllable: addressA2 (postal), moustacheA2cigaretteA2limousineB2magazineB2,
  • AmE first-syllable, BrE second-syllable: liaisonA2macraméRenaissance (AmE also final-syllable stress)
  • AmE second-syllable, BrE last-syllable: New OrleansA2

My British and Irish co-workers run into this syllable difference when discussing certain key words, such as mobile (which Americans don’t really even use, preferring by far “cell phone”).

Words ending in unstressed -ile derived from Latin adjectives ending -ilis are mostly pronounced with a full vowel (/aɪl/) in BrE but a reduced vowel /ɪl/ or syllabic /l/ in AmE (e.g. fertile rhymes with fur tile in BrE but with furtle in AmE). This difference applies:

  • generally to agiledocilefacilefertilefissilefragilefutileinfertilemissilenubileoctilepuerilerutileservilestabilesteriletactiletensilevirilevolatile;
  • usually to ductilehostile(im)mobile (adjective), projectiletextileutileversatile;
  • not usually to deciledomicileinfantilejuvenilelabilemercantilepensilereptilesenile;
  • not to crocodileexilegentilepercentilereconcile; nor to compounds of monosyllables (e.g. turnstile from stile).

Related endings -ility-ilize-iliary are pronounced the same in AmE as BrE. The name Savile is pronounced with (/ɪl/) in both BrE and AmE. Mobile (sculpture), camomile and febrile are sometimes pronounced with /il/ in AmE and /aɪl/ in BrE. Imbecile has /aɪl/ or /iːl/ in BrE and often /ɪl/ in AmE.

If you asked me, the weather is getting pretty weird (how’s that for a second conditional with an elliptical structure!)

Categories: Daily Life, Seasons | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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