Jose Carillo's Forum


We’ll be glad to help clarify matters about English usage for you

This Students’ Sounding Board is a section created especially for college and high school students. On request, it will provide informal advice and entertain discussions on specific questions, concerns, doubts, and problems about English grammar and usage as taught or taken up in class. If a particular rule or aspect of English confuses you or remains fuzzy to you, the Students’ Sounding Board can help clarify it. Please keep in mind, though, that this section isn’t meant to be an editing facility, research resource, or clearing house for student essays, class reports, term papers, or dissertations. Submissions shouldn’t be longer than 100-150 words.

To post a question in the Students’ Sounding Board, the student must be a registered member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum. To register, simply click this link to the Forum’s registration page; membership is absolutely free. All you need to provide is your user name along with a password; you can choose to remain incognito and your e-mail address won’t be indicated in your postings.

Go to the Students’ Sounding Board now!

Modality an entirely different attribute from conditionality

Question from justine aragones, Forum member (May 15, 2014):

Could the grammar of doubt and uncertainty explain the sentences that begin in “Had” as in “Had it not been...”  and why the  sentence below  started with “Had” and not with the conditional word “If”:

“Had Jon joined in an hour after Jess started working, the job would have been finished in 7 hours.”

My reply to justine aragones:

When we talk about the grammar of doubt and uncertainty, we are talking about the use of the so-called modals, or the auxiliary verbs that indicate conjecture, supposition, or belief rather than established facts or absolute certainty. These auxiliary verbs are, of course, “can,” “could,” “must,” “might,” “may,” “should,” “shall,” “ought to,” “will,” and “would.” When we say “Gina might dance,” for instance, we are conveying the idea that Gina knows how to dance but we are not sure that she will do so under the circumstance that we have in mind. However, we see no need to state a condition for what she might decide to do.

On the other hand, when we talk about the grammar of conditionality, we are talking about how to convey the idea that a particular action can take place only if a certain condition or set of conditions is fulfilled. For instance, when we say “If Gina likes the music, she would likely dance,” we are indicating that it’s likely for Gina to dance if the music suits her fancy. There’s a condition for what she would likely do, unlike in the case of the modal sentence “Gina might dance,” which is simply a supposition or belief.

Based on this distinction between modal statements and conditional statements, we definitely can conclude that modality isn’t the same as conditionality. They are different modes of expression altogether. It would therefore be a stretch if not altogether ill-advised to attempt to make the grammar of modals explain why the conditional sentence below starts with “had” and not with “if” as expected of a conditional sentence: 

Had Jon joined in an hour after Jess started working, the job would have been finished in 7 hours.”

The sentence above that you presented is actually just an alternative construction—a more elegant one, I must say—of the so-called third conditional or no possibility sentence, which denotes a past condition that didn’t happen, thus making it impossible for a wished-for result to have happened. This type of sentence has the following structure: the “if” clause states the impossible past condition using the past perfect tense “had + past participle of the verb,” is followed by a comma, then is followed by the impossible past result in the form “would have + past participle of the verb.” 

Thus, the more common construction of the sentence that you presented is as follows:

If Jon had joined in an hour after Jess started working, the job would have been finished in 7 hours.”*

Note that in third-conditional constructions where “had” introduces the condition, the conditional clause drops the “if” altogether. But whether the condition is introduced by “if” or “had” in a third-conditional sentence, the sense remains the same. In both constructions of the sentence that you presented, in particular, the speaker is talking of an impossible outcome because Jon didn’t join in an hour after Jess started working and the job wasn’t finished in 7 hours.

Such use of “had” instead of “if” for the conditional clause is also an option for the so-called second conditional or unreal possibility sentence, which denotes a possible but very unlikely result that the stated future condition will be fulfilled; in short, the stated outcome is an unreal possibility. This type of conditional has the following sentence structure: the “if” clause states the future condition in the simple past tense, is followed by a comma, then followed by the future result clause in the form “would + base form of the verb,” as in this example: 

If I finished my medical studies, I would be a surgeon now.” 

That second conditional sentence will mean exactly the same—and sound more elegant at that—if we use “had” instead of “if” to introduce the condition:

Had I finished my medical studies, I would be a surgeon now.”

Modals are not meant for absolute certainties
“Should,” “would,” and the other modals
Do better than a calculated guess in handling conditional sentences
*Take note that in the result clause “the job would have been finished in 7 hours,” the verb is in the passive voice, so it's in the form “would have + been + past participle of the verb” instead of the active-voice form “would have + past participle of the verb.” 

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

How to identify and correct a comma splice in a test sentence

Question posted in my Personal Message box by pipes, Forum member (May 22, 2014):

Good morning, Mr. Carillo.

I just want to ask you with regard to the sentence below:

“The United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products, most of them are consumed there and in Canada.” 

Among the underlined words, which one is grammatically incorrect? I am extremely sure that the first two underlined words are correct. 

I hope you could help me out on this one.


My reply to pipes:

You are absolutely right that the first two underlined words in this test sentence that you presented are grammatically correct:

“The United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products, most of them are consumed there and in Canada.”

Based on the way the remaining test words have been underlined though, it’s not really possible to categorically say which of them is incorrect. But if the third underlining for the pronoun “them” is extended to include the verb “are”—which I think should really be the case in that test construction—then that sentence becomes a valid test instrument in this revised form: 

“The United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products, most of them are consumed there and in Canada.”

In the revised test sentence above, the underlined words “them are” are grammatically incorrect. The presence of the linking verb “are” after the pronoun “them” makes that test sentence a comma splice. Recall that a comma splice is a faulty sentence construction where the comma proves inadequate for punctuating the main clause and its modifying clause, resulting in defective syntax and a sentence that reads badly.

To avoid the comma splice in that sentence construction, one simple fix is to drop the linking verb “are” from the modifying phrase. The correct construction will then read as follows:

“The United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products, most of them consumed there and in Canada.”

Another way to neatly do away with the comma splice in that sentence in question is to replace the comma with a semicolon, as follows:

“The United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products; most of them are consumed there and in Canada.”

In this reconstruction, the semicolon correctly punctuates two coordinate clauses, namely “the United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products” and “most of them are consumed there and in Canada.” Note that the second coordinate clause in that sentence retains the linking verb “are,” making that clause co-equal and parallel with the first coordinate clause.

Still another neat way to avoid the comma splice in that sentence in question is to reword the modifying clause by making it an adverbial clause modifier, as follows:

“The United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products, mostly consumed there and in Canada.”

This construction is, of course, simply a streamlined, more concise form of the following sentence that uses a nonrestrictive modifying clause introduced by the relative pronoun “which”:

“The United States is the largest producer of blueberries and blueberry products, which are mostly consumed there and in Canada.”

I trust that you’ll find this grammar analysis of that test sentence helpful.

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Interpreting a tough quotation from Ludwig Wittgenstein

Question from justine aragones, Forum member (May 20, 2014):

What are the important things that we can learn from the thoughts of Ludwig Wiitgenstein about language, its limitation and use?

May you also please explain the following quotations from him:

“Everyday Language is a part of human organism and is no less complicated than it. It is not humanly possible to gather immediately from it what the logic of the language. Language disguises thought.”

“At some point, one has to pass from explanation to mere description.”

“If the good or bad exercise of the will does alter the world, it can only alter the limits of the world not the facts—not what can be expressed by expressed by means of language. In short, the effect must be that it becomes altogether different world. It must, so to speak, wax and wane as a whole.The world of the happy man is different from that of unhappy man.”

“What we cannot speak about must pass over in silence.”

The above quotations  seem to be presented elegantly but difficult to understand, so I hope you explain them to us.

My reply to justine aragones:

Yes, you’ve presented a particularly difficult passage from Ludwig Wittgenstein. I myself am at a loss as to what he meant to say, and after making several unsuccessful attempts to interpret the passage, I must admit that I’m not inclined to hazard a guess. Perhaps a more astute member of the Forum—one who is more familiar with Wittgenstein's thinking—would be in a better position to make an interpretation.

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Iffy usage: On your birthday, are you “celebrant” or “celebrator”?

Question by jhinx22, Forum member (April 28, 2014):

Is it correct to say “celebrator” when referring to someone who celebrates his birthday?

My reply to jhinx22:

Sometime in 2010, during a birthday party that I attended, someone who had called the party host a “celebrant” was excoriated by a grammar purist for his word choice and was pointedly told that he should have used “celebrator” instead. I think the essay that I wrote about the often-asked question on the “celebrant vs. celebrator” usage will give you a clear idea of what I think about it. That essay, “Settling the often-derided usage of ‘celebrant’ once and for all,” was first posted in the Forum in December 2010.

Here’s that essay again as my answer to your question:

No need to hold “celebrant” in a straightjacket

The Philippines being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, there’s a tendency for the supposedly English-savvy among us to scoff at people who describe as a “celebrant” someone celebrating a birthday or some other auspicious occasion. “Oh, no, that isn’t right!” they would often cut off and gleefully heckle the speaker. “The right word is ‘celebrator’; ‘celebrant’ means a priest officiating the Holy Mass!”

But are people who use the word “celebrant” in that context really wrong? Do they really deserve all that heckling?

Although I don’t usually join the wicked ribbing that often follows, I myself used to think that people who call birthday celebrators “birthday celebrants” are—if not actually unsavvy in their English—at least ill-advised in doing so. Indeed, my Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary defines “celebrant” as “one who celebrates; specifically the priest officiating the Eucharist.” Likewise, the Collins English Dictionary-Complete and Unabridged defines “celebrant” as “a person participating in a religious ceremony” and, in Christianity’s ecclesiastical terms, as “an officiating priest, esp at the Eucharist.”

On the authority of these two dictionaries, I had never really bothered to check the validity of the conventional wisdom that anybody who’s not a priest or cleric should never be called a “celebrant” but only a “celebrator.” “Celebrator,” of course, is used by practically everybody to refer to someone observing or taking part in a notable occasion with festivities.

Recently, though, after witnessing yet another savage if good-natured ribbing of someone who used “celebrant” to refer to the birthday party host, I decided that perhaps the issue was serious enough to look deeper into. I therefore resolved to check the usage with at least two other lexicographic authorities, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (AHD).

The OED gives two definitions of “celebrant,” first as “a person who performs a rite, especially a priest at the Eucharist,” and, second, citing North American usage, as “a person who celebrates something.” For its part, the AHD primarily defines “celebrant” in essentially the same vein as the first OED definition, as (a) “A person who participates in a religious ceremony or rite”; (b) “A person who officiates at a religious or civil ceremony or rite, especially a wedding”; and (c) “In some Christian churches, the cleric officiating at the celebration of the Eucharist.” Like the OED, the AHD also makes a second definition of “celebrant” as “A participant in a celebration.”

Then the AHD goes one step further and makes the following usage note for “celebrant”: “Although ‘celebrant’ is most often used to describe an official participant in a religious ceremony or rite, a majority of the (AHD) Usage Panel accepted the use of ‘celebrant’ to mean ‘a participant in a celebration’ in an earlier survey. Still, while ‘New Year’s Eve celebrants’ may be an acceptable usage, ‘celebrator’ is an uncontroversial alternative in this more general sense.”

This being the case, I think people who use “celebrants” to refer to people celebrating birthdays and other special occasions aren’t really wrong, and they certainly don’t deserve to be cut down and needled when using that word. And there’s no need for anyone to get upset either when called a “celebrant”—whether as principal or guest—during such occasions. I dare say that “celebrant” is as good a word as “celebrator” in such contexts, and except perhaps in the company of hidebound Christian fanatics, we need not hold the word “celebrant” in a straitjacket to describe only the Christian clergy doing their rituals.

In short, we can freely use “celebrators” to describe people celebrating or attending a birthday party or any other happy occasion, and I think the English-savvy among us need to get used to the idea that the usage of “celebrants” is actually par for the course and doesn’t deserve all that bashing as if it were bad English.  (July 3, 2010)
From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, July 3, 2010 © 2007 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

What does “mutually exclusive” mean

Question by justine aragones, Forum member (April 9, 2014):

What does the term "mutually exclusive things" mean?

My reply to justine aragones:

The term “mutually exclusive” means that the things referred to are related in such a way that each of them excludes or precludes the other, or that those things are incompatible with one another. For instance, when two travel routes are mutually exclusive, it means that a traveler taking one of the routes will not pass or traverse any point of the other route—in other words, there will be no places where the two routes will meet or intersect. Here’s an example, “The London-New York shipping route and the Tokyo-Los Angeles shipping route are mutually exclusive; the first traverses the Atlantic Ocean and the other, the Pacific Ocean.”

Another sense of “mutually exclusive” is that two or more things, conditions, or situations cannot be true at the same time or cannot exist together. In the real world, however, it’s extremely rare for things to be truly mutually exclusive in this particular sense, so the term is actually much more often used in the negative, as in “The profit motive and corporate social responsibility are not mutually exclusive; an enlightened company can pursue both to prosper and gain the abiding support of the communities where it operates.”

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Why is Steven Pinker popular in language and psychology?

Question by justine aragones, Forum member (March 28, 2014):

What do you think are the reasons why Prof. Steven Pinker is popular in the fields of language and psychology? Has he contributed some breakthrough in the study of language?

My reply to justine aragones:

I think Steven Pinker is immensely popular in the fields of language and psychology primarily because he has the talent to come up with bold and provocative ideas in those disciplines, coupled with the ability to explain those ideas not just in abstruse academic and scientific jargon but in highly accessible layman’s English as well. He is also an immensely prolific writer who, before age 60 (he hits 60 on September 18, 2014), has already chalked up a total of six general-audience books that have become bestsellers: The Language Instinct (1994), How the Mind Works (1997), Words and Rules (2000), The Blank Slate (2002), The Stuff of Thought (2007), and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011). This is on top of several academic books and scores of articles and essays on his wide-ranging thoughts and research as a linguist and psychologist.

Steven PinkerThe Language Instinct

What may be considered as a breakthrough that Pinker has contributed to linguistics is his general theory of language acquisition that he applied to how children learn verbs. His theory, which built on the groundbreaking linguistic ideas of noted American linguist Noam Chomsky, postulated that certain simple language errors committed by young children capture the essence of language itself. Pinker observes that when a three-year-old says “I eated the ice cream” or “We holded the kittens,” he or she follows a grammar rule correctly but makes a mistake only because adult speakers happen to suspend the rule for those verbs in English. This, Pinker theorizes, points to the presence of innate cognitive machinery—a “language instinct”—that enables a young child to construct novel linguistic forms by following rules.

I would think though that this language-instinct theory is but a small fraction of Pinker’s many contributions to the science of linguistics and psychology. For a better and deeper appreciation of the body of his works and the dizzying range of his fields of interest, I suggest you read Oliver Burkeman’s interview story of him in, “Steven Pinker: ‘We don’t throw virgins into volcanoes any more’.” That quote alone from Pinker should give you an idea of how provocative and controversial he could be in espousing his pet theories—a factor that’s obviously another major engine that drives his immense popularity.

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Legalese causes sudden language disconnect in job application

Question by justine aragones, Forum member (February 20, 2014):

I do not know if this is the right forum to ask this question but I hope you will share your insight for this one: Is it necessary to put the declaration below at the tail end of a resume?

“I hereby certify that the above information is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”

My reply to justine aragones:

The language of that statement smacks of legalese, and no level-minded job-seeker really would speak or write that way, but it serves the purpose of making the job application a sworn statement. That, of course, warms the cockles of legal-minded recruiters and personnel officers, who need some form of assurance that the applicant at least isn’t making blatant lies in his or her curriculum vitae.


Lest it be misconstrued that I’m being facetious, I’d like to add a postscript as to how that statement, shorn of legalese, might sound like an authentic educated job-seeker speaking in plain and simple English: “I affirm that this résumé is true and correct.”

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Precisely what grammar aspect governs subject-verb agreement?

Question by justine aragones, Forum member (February 4, 2014):

May I know the rule in subject-verb agreement that governs in the question “Are you a member of Church of Christ, who (is, are) a student of Bulacan State University?”

My reply to justine aragones:

To be able to answer your question, let me first refine the grammar and syntax of that sentence you presented.  It should be reworded as follows to be analyzed properly: “Are you the member of the Church of Christ who (is, are) a student of Bulacan State University?”

With the question reworded that way, it will achieve subject-verb agreement by using the singular “is” instead of “are”: “Are you the member of the Church of Christ who is a student of Bulacan State University?” 

That sentence has for its subject complement the entire noun phrase “the member of the Church of Christ who is a student of Bulacan State University.” In English grammar, a noun phrase is categorized as a nominal group, which by definition consists of a head noun and all the other words that modify or characterize that noun. The words that precede the head noun are called its premodifiers, and the items that come after it are its qualifiers. In the noun phrase “the member of the Church of Christ who is a student of Bulacan State University,” the head noun is logically the word “member,” the word “the” that precedes it is its premodifier, and the words “of the Church of Christ who is a student of Bulacan State University” that come after it are its qualifiers.

Grammatically, it is the head noun that determines whether the noun phrase is singular or plural. Indeed, in a noun phrase, the form of the operative verb is always determined by the number of the head noun—the verb takes the singular form when the head noun is singular and takes the plural when the head noun is plural. Any other noun or pronoun found in the premodifier or in the qualifier of the head noun doesn’t determine or affect its being singular or plural. 

In the noun phrase “the member of the Church of Christ who is a student of Bulacan State University,” the head noun “member” is singular, so it requires the singular form “is” of the verb “be” rather than its plural form “are.” (The pronoun “you,” which requires the plural form “are” of the verb, shouldn’t be mistaken for the head noun here because it isn’t really part of that noun phrase.) This, in sum, is why the singular “is” is the correct form of the operative verb in the question “Are you a member of Church of Christ who is a student of Bulacan State University?”

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Is the use of the expression “huge amount of work” correct?

Question by justine aragones, Forum member (January 14, 2014):

Is the phrase “a huge amount of work” grammatically correct?

My reply to justine aragones:

Yes, “a huge amount of work” is grammatically correct and perfectly acceptable phraseology. As a general measure of quantity, “amount” is practically synonymous with “volume” for indicating the total of a thing or things in number, size, value, or extent. Indeed, the sense of “a huge amount of work” is in general almost indistinguishable from that of “a huge volume of work”

However, when it comes to describing specific kinds of work, there’s a difference in nuance between “amount” and “volume.” In particular, lots of work of an abstract nature such as reading, thinking, or surveillance is more precisely described as “a large amount of work,” while lots of measurable physical work like loading a pile of boulders into a truck is more precisely described as “a large volume of work.” Some dissonance might be perceived if lots of abstract work is described as “a large volume of work” instead, but no such dissonance will be perceived if lots of physical work is described as “a large amount of work” instead. The differences will be largely subjective, with different writers or speakers gravitating to either “amount” or “volume” as a matter of temperament or personal style. Either way, it will be needless or foolhardy to fault them for their choice of usage.

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Should we call the song band “Carpenters” or “The Carpenters”?

Question by justine aragones, Forum member (January 20, 2014):

I love the songs of Karen and Richard Carpenters but I am so finicky when it comes to the band’s name. What do you think is the right way to call them: “Carpenters” or “The Carpenters”? Now I just follow the “Carpenters,” which is the name they signed under A&M records in 1969.

My reply to justine aragones:

Calling them “The Carpenters”—with the capitalized definite article “The”—is the appropriate and grammatically correct way, in much the same way that place name “The Netherlands” formally requires the capitalized “The.” The presumption in the use of such capitalized appellations as “The Carpenters” is that the performers for which the name stands have the same family names (or, if they have different surnames, belong to the same family), and have decided to use the appellation as a brand or trademark. In the case of such place names as “The Netherlands,” the use of the capitalized definite article “The” and the proper name in plural is meant to indicate a collection of islands, mountains, or other geographic features. The capitalization of the “The” is a just matter of choice and style, though; in the case of “the Philippines,” for instance, the official style doesn’t require capitalizing the “the.”

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

Retrospective: Did Rizal ever speak and write in English?

On the occasion of Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s 151st birth anniversary last June 19, 2013, the Forum decided to repost this very interesting discussion on whether the Philippine national hero ever spoke or wrote in the English language.


Forum members with more insights about this aspect of Rizal’s life are invited to share them  and continue this discussion.

Question by paul_nato, Forum member (January 28, 2010):

I don’t know if this is the right place to ask this question, but…

I know our national hero Jose Rizal wrote and spoke many different languages, such as Spanish, German, and French, but I was wondering if he also spoke and wrote in English.

I don’t remember reading or hearing anything about it in class. Admittedly, I might have been absent, or I was asleep when it was discussed.

My reply to paul_nato (January 29, 2010):

You’ve come to the right place, paul_nato! The Students’ Sounding Board is the place to discuss anything about English that baffles you—and that includes not just English grammar and usage but also vignettes in the history of the English language, its literature, and its acquisition and use by nonnative English speakers.

Now to your question on whether Jose Rizal also spoke and wrote in English…

Most of his writings were in Spanish, of course, and several others were in Tagalog. He used Spanish to write his landmark novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, the poem A La Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth) that he wrote when he was 18 and the poem Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) that he wrote on the eve of his execution, and many of his essays and articles for periodicals. And he used Tagalog to write the poem Sa Aking Mga Kababata” (To My Fellow Youth) when he was only eight years old, some essays, and many of his letters to family members, friends, and associates in the Philippines. I think we can confidently say that Rizal was not only very fluent but very prolific as well in both Spanish and Tagalog.

As to English, I’m not aware of any major work that Rizal originally wrote in English. My understanding, though, is that he spoke a smattering of English and French, particularly during his studies in Spain and his sojourns in various places in Europe. I came across a passing mention in an account of his life--probably apocryphal--that Rizal had told some foreign acquaintances in Europe that he had begun to study English seriously. According to the account, he wanted to polish his English at the time because “he was seriously trying to win the love of an Englishwoman.” This was most likely during his stay in London from 1888-1889.

Although I gather that he didn’t write professionally in English, I came across convincing evidence that he was adequately proficient in using it at least for personal correspondence with friends who were conversant in English. Below is a portion of a facsimile of a letter he wrote in beautiful longhand in three languages—German, English, and French—to express his condolences to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, a German teacher and secondary school principal, on the death of Ferdinand's father. The letter was written on July 31, 1894 in Dapitan, where Rizal was then on exile for alleged subversive activities against the Spanish government.

In the letter, Rizal first writes in German to express his condolences, then shifts to English at some point:

Here’s a transcription of the English portion of that letter:

“You would certainly oblige me, my dear, if you send me a copy of that interesting account of the Chinese about my country. Do you remember that Mr. Hirsch’s translation?

“My grammar about the Tagal is long ago finished. I intend to publish it as soon as I shall be set at liberty. It will bring to light so many things that I believe nobody thought of. I make references to bisaya, Malay, and Madecassis* according to Dr. Brandstetter.** Greet him, if you ever write to him

“My life now is quiet, peaceful, retired and without glory, but I think it is useful too. I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English! Mathematics and Geometry, moreover I teach them how to behave like men. I taught the men here how to get a better way of earning their living and they think that I am right. We have begun and the success crowned our trials.

“This Gewaltthat*** exerted upon me gave me a new language, the bisaya; taught me how to steer a vessel and to manage a canoe; made me better acquainted with my country and presented me with some thousands of dollars! God can send you your fortune amidst the persecutions of your fiends! How do you find my English!”
[From here he begins to write in French]

Based solely on this letter to his friend Blumentritt, my opinion is that Rizal was quite proficient in English, comfortable using some of its idioms, and competent in constructing even oblique expressions in English. He was evidently still self-conscious with his English; we can see this in his use of the exclamation mark after the word “English” when he told his friend that he was teaching the language, and when, apropos about nothing, he abruptly writes “How do you find my English?” He also committed a spelling error in one instance (“fiend” for “friend”).

As to his English grammar, here’s how I would have advised Rizal had he consulted me about the English of his draft letter:

1.   “Do you remember that Mr. Hirsch’s translation?” This is an awkward use of the adjective “that” for emphasis. Better: “Do you remember that translation of Mr. Hirsch?” Alternatively: “Do you remember the translation of that Mr. Hirsch?”
2.   “My grammar about the Tagal is long ago finished.” The use of the present tense “is” in this sentence is in error. Corrected: “My grammar about the Tagal was long ago finished.”  Much better in the active voice: “I long ago finished my grammar about the Tagal.”
3.   “I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English! Mathematics and Geometry, moreover I teach them how to behave like men.” Rizal doesn’t seem to know how to deal with the conjunctive adverb, particularly “morever.” Structurally, “moreover” needs a semicolon before it and a comma after it. That sentence as corrected: “I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English, Mathematics and Geometry; moreover, I teach them how to behave like men.” (Stylistically, so that the flow of the exposition won’t be disrupted, it would be much better to set off the exclamation mark after “English” with parenthesis: “English (!)”.
4.   “We have begun and the success crowned our trials.” This sentence suffers from the rather awkward phrasing of “the success crowned our trials.” It will read much better if the definite article “the” is dropped and the present perfect is sustained for the second clause: “We have begun and success has crowned our trials.”
5.   “This Gewaltthat exerted upon me gave me a new language…” Here, Rizal’s use of the word “exerted” wasn’t very well-chosen; “imposed” would have been more appropriate semantically: “This Gewaltthat imposed upon me gave me a new language…” 

Overall, though, Rizal was definitely above-average in his written English. His facility with written English could put many of us to shame considering that he was essentially self-taught in English while we are formally taught English grammar and usage from grade school onwards.

*According to some historians, Rizal probably meant the Malagasy language here.
** Dr. Renward Brandstetter (1860-1942) was a Swiss linguist who studied the insular Malayo-Polynesian languages
***Gewaltthat – German for “act of violence, atrocity”; an oblique reference to Rizal’s exile in Dapitan by the Spanish authorities.

Primary source: Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal: Philippine Patriot by Austin Craig 

A La Juventud Filipina (To My Fellow Youth)
Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell)
Sa Aking Mga Kababata (To My Fellow Youth)

COUNTERVIEW. Dr. Jose Rizal didn’t write the poem “Sa Aking Mga Kababata,” Forum member justine aragones wrote in the Forum’s Lounge section last June 20, 2013. Read justine aragones's posting now!

Join and continue the discussions!

Click to post a comment or view the comments to this posting

View the complete list of postings in this section

Copyright © 2010 by Aperture Web Development. All rights reserved.

Page best viewed with:

Mozilla FirefoxGoogle Chrome

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional

Page last modified: 25 May, 2014, 4:30 a.m.