June 13, 2012 | Review Period

Grammar in Cleveland!

I teach my favorite subject in Ohio.

As I have mentioned, I teach grammar, business writing, and e-mail etiquette for corporate clients through Syntaxis, the company I have with my husband. My very favorite of all is the grammar.

I am pretty sure I could teach grammar exclusively, all day long, all week long. So I was delighted this week to be traveling to Cleveland to teach a one-day grammar seminar for a group of employees at a financial firm.

My Hotel: Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade

My Hotel: Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade

Getting on airplanes to teach grammar is even more awesome in a way than teaching grammar locally in New York, because while traveling I can study foreign-language grammar the whole way there and the whole way back. There are no other meaningful distractions, and I always get a huge amount done.

I tried an experiment to get to the airport, namely, taking the M60 bus to LaGuardia. I always take a cab, but I can’t study in a cab. I can, however, study in a bus without getting sick. So I thought, why not?

I studied Spanish grammar en route, which seemed like a good choice, since I could hear Spanish being spoken on the bus.

“Fan” in Spanish is fanático. I find that telling about what it means to be a fan. I love sports, but I don’t really understand the fanaticism they inspire.

Oh, wait. I suppose I am a fanatic myself, of another type. People in glass houses…

I was surprised to see the following: “¿Continuarías viendo esta película?” The English translation was, “Would you continue watching this movie?”

I would have translated watching as mirando. I thought there was a firm distinction between mirar (to watch) and ver (to see). I guess not. 

My brain is full of partial truths.

I like seeing the names of verb tenses in other languages. Past perfect (“I had walked,” “she had studied,” etc.) is called pretérito pluscuamperfecto in Spanish.

Seeing “fire hydrant” in Spanish (el hidrante) made me realize that “hydrant” is related etymologically to “hydrate.” I don’t think I ever noticed that before. But maybe I did. How would I remember?

Here’s a cute one: “UFO” in Spanish is ONVI. I went to Google Translate to see the source of the acronym in Spanish and typed in “unidentified flying object.” It gave me objeto volador no identificado, which technically would be OVNI—but maybe they reorder for aesthetic reasons?

When a word has a gender in another language, I kind of feel as though they should make up their minds which it is. In Italian I have come across tavolo and tavola for table. In my Spanish grammar I have been offered both bombillo and bombilla for “light bulb.” Sometimes a gender switch like this depends on things such as what country you are in, or subtle physical differences that are not obvious from a simple translation. 

Oh, yeah, here’s an explanation of tavolo versus tavola. I remember this one now. 

I am perplexed by some of the word order in this Complete Spanish Grammar book by Gilda Nissenberg. Can you really say, “A estas horas mañana ya ellos habrán salido del país”? (Meaning, “At this time tomorrow they will have left the country.”

It would never have occurred to me to put the ya before ellos. Can I also put it after ellos? That’s where I want to put it with all my non-native-Spanish-speaking heart.

Here’s another word-order example, from the same book. “¿Por qué ella se habrá cubierto la cara con tanto maquillaje?” I was surprised by the placement of the ella. Where else can it go, Spanish speakers? From what I’ve read, it cannot go after habrá, which is probably where I would put it these (confused) days, but can it go after cubierto? I use minimal pronouns in Spanish, and I have forgotten what locations are allowed in certain constructions.

By the way, my bus-to-airport studying idea turned out to be a lousy idea. A little too much urban chaos and grumpiness and craziness, plus I didn’t think about the fact that the bus would probably be crowded. Etiquette and common decency require you to give up your seat for elderly people, and I can’t study while standing on a moving bus.

Cleveland was great. Unfortunately, my flight back to New York was horribly delayed. For hours I had to hang out in the airport, which had few food options and mostly deadly ones.

Sunset from the Cleveland Airport (I Should Have Been in the Air By Now)

Sunset from the Cleveland Airport (I Should Have Been in the Air By Now)

Waiting at the Airport: I'm Glad No One Tried to Use 'We' Instead of 'Us' in this Ad

Waiting at the Airport: I’m Glad No One Tried to Use ‘We’ Instead of ‘Us’ in this Ad

And my flight was very bumpy. In the grammar book I was working in, I wrote in the margin as the airplane neared New York City, “I am hungry, planesick, taught grammar all day. But still going…nothing in my life has ever drawn me this much.”

Comments (2)

Jared Romey • Posted on Tue, July 31, 2012 - 10:53 am EST


Fun post!  I could just see your mind moving around working through these topics.  I often find myself doing the same thing.

I have a few comments about the Spanish examples:

-I would say you’re right on about the viendo/mirando observation, but as I read the sample sentence with viendo, it sounds natural to me, so I think you hit upon an example of when the language in practice doesn’t always follow the written rule (perhaps its something that changes from one country to the next).
-I always new fire hydrant as grifo, I’ve never heard hidrante in fact, until today
-the Spanish abbreviation for UFO should be OVNI, just as in the word order
-another word for light bulb is ampolleta.  I’ve also heard bombilla, but never bombillo

Finally, just to throw another confusing Spanish word out there, I’ll translate TRASH CAN.  It could be papelera, tacho, basurero, cesto or zafacon.



Tim • Posted on Wed, August 01, 2012 - 12:45 am EST


The trash can example is a good indicator of why there is so much variety. In English, there are trash can, garbage can, wastebasket, rubbish bin, dustbin, circular file, and so on. I’ve even seen litter box, but I can’t remember where. The differences come from what country or era you are speaking in, what kind of garbage you are throwing away, or what the receptacle looks like. A lot to keep in mind.


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