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Messages - Joe Carillo

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At about this time in 2014, a Forum member called my attention to this sentence in a newspaper feature article: “I remember a memorable experience in the 1970s with my paternal grandmother, a feisty devout Buddhist living in Davao who I frequently visited.”

He then posed these two questions: “Is the use of the subjective ‘who’ in the sentence above correct or acceptable? Or should the objective ‘whom’ be used instead?”

To start with, I told the Forum member that prescriptive grammarians condemn the use of the subjective “who” in that sentence construction and would demand adamantly that it be replaced with the objective “whom.” Personally, though, I find this demand ill-advised because it makes the sentence sound too formal, too stilted, and too stuffy: “I remember a memorable experience in the 1970s with my paternal grandmother, a feisty devout Buddhist living in Davao whom I frequently visited.”

So what do we do to avoid this “who”/“whom” impasse? We can attempt a mild rewrite that uses neither “who” nor “whom” that knocks off the phrase “living in Davao” but retains the sense and tonality intended of the original:: “I remember a memorable experience in the 1970s with my paternal grandmother, a feisty devout Buddhist I frequently visited in Davao.” The aspect of the subject’s “living in Davao” is lost in that reconstruction, of course, but I think it’s a small price to pay for skirting the “who” vs. “whom” conundrum while nicely streamlining the sentence.

But then why should we go to such lengths when presented with the choice between “who” and “whom”? It’s because aside from being highly debatable, the use of either “who” or “whom” is often too problematic from both the style and language register standpoints.

The grammatically unassailable “whom,” which is the true objective-case form of “who,” just doesn’t sound right to the modern ear; in many cases, in fact, “whom” imbues an unwanted pedantic, standoffish academic tone to what should be a simple conversational statement. On the other hand, using “who” instead often gives us with the uncomfortable feeling that something’s not right with the sentence.

On the very day that I was writing my reply to the “who”/“whom” question, a Harvard Magazine mailer providentially landed on my mailbox. It had this very timely advertorial question: “Whom Will You Honor This Mother’s Day?” That interrogative construction is actually one of the few iffy “whom” usages that I can tolerate without getting overpowered by the itch to replace it with “who,” but frankly, I’d be more comfortable and at peace with that message if it had used “who” instead: “Who Will You Honor This Mother’s Day?”

Other than total reconstruction, there are actually two ways of avoiding “whom” in an icky sentences like this: “The salesman whom we hired for the new product is doing a terrific job.” One is to drop the relative pronoun altogether as in this elliptical construction: “The salesman we hired for the new product is doing a terrific job.” The other is to use the relative pronoun “that” instead: “The salesman that we hired for the new product is doing a terrific job.”

Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to use “that” in such cases. After all, early English actually used words related to “that” to mark relative clauses, and used “who” and “whom” only as question words and as indefinite pronouns in such constructions as “I wonder who were at the hunt.” Indeed, it was only because of the strong influence of Latin on written English in the 1800s that led to the “highbrow” use of “who” and “whom” as relative pronouns.

These days, however, many native English speakers are rediscovering the grammatical virtue of “that” as an all-purpose relative pronoun. I do think that even nonnative English speakers these days can follow suit with very little danger of being marked as uneducated yokels.   

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
Dealing decisively with the “who” versus “whom” conundrum

(Next: The genesis of corporatese)         December 14, 2023

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) and e-mail me at

Education and Teaching / Opinion: A Lot of Hot Air
« on: December 02, 2023, 10:57:48 AM »
A Lot of Hot Air
By Antonio Calipjo Go

The Department of Education’s pilot implementation of its “revised and recalibrated” Matatag Curriculum started last September 25 in 35 public schools from seven regions of the country. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers has appealed to the DepEd to stop implementing what in its estimation is “a premature and experimental program that would only treat the students of the arbitrarily selected public schools as nothing more than guinea pigs, as the process of revision of the former curriculum did not undergo an open, democratic, and genuine consultation with education stakeholders.”

In the National Capital Region, only five public schools in Malabon were selected. Is this not discriminatory, given that the students of these schools will have no choice but to serve as laboratory rats to test whether the new curriculum will work or not? Why were public schools in the more sophisticated cities of Manila, Makati, and Quezon not included in the pilot test? As a parent, how would you feel if it was your child who will be used in an experimental and exploratory excursion into something that has never been tried and tested?

Jocelyn Andaya, director of the Bureau of Curriculum Development, even had the temerity to boast that “The introduction of the new curriculum is a significant milestone in transforming the Philippine basic education system. We decongested and reduced the number of learning competencies from 11,738 to only 3,664, for a reduction of 70%.” This means that the Matatag Curriculum will be teaching only 30% of what students are supposed to be learning!

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the DepEd implemented the curriculum that it called “The Most Essential Learning Competencies” in response to the challenges and restrictions of conducting online classes in the public schools. The number of learning competencies in the MELC was reduced from 14,171 to 5,689.

In-person classes in public schools started in November 2022. What then is the logic behind the decision to now reduce the learning competencies from 11,738 to just 3,664? When you take away 70% of what students are supposed to take up, what is left for public school teachers to teach? What will be left for public school students to learn? Paano naging “matatag” ang isang bagay na ampaw at walang laman? Ang hungkag ay hindi matatag! (What’s empty and weak is not stable and strong!)

How can the DepEd now say that its reckless and irresponsible act of spaying, neutering, and castrating the curriculum is an onward, forward, and progressive development? The new curriculum practically ensures that more public school students need not learn as much as before or as much as they ought to in order to pass on to the next higher grade level. This will only exacerbate the dead-serious problem of mass promotion in the public schools and we will only be promoting and graduating more and more least-deserving students as the years go by, in effect producing progressively weaker and weaker breeds of Filipinos who, having been miseducated and maleducated, are therefore subnormal, substandard, and subpar.

“Intensified Values and Peace Education” is highly touted by the DepEd as being the focus of its new Matatag Curriculum and yet, pronouncements coming from Education Secretary Sara Duterte belie these otherwise noble intentions. She herself admitted that her Department, using the Php150 million confidential funds allotted to her as Education Secretary, had been monitoring its own personnel, students, teachers and educators in connection with the purported recruitment activities of the New People’s Army in public elementary and secondary schools.

She justifies her actions by saying that “Whoever opposes my confidential funds is opposed to peace. Whoever is opposed to peace is an enemy of the people.” She must be forgetting that people still remember how, when she was still the Mayor of Davao City in 2011, she punched and pummeled a court sheriff who was only implementing a court order to demolish houses in a disputed property.

During an interview with his “spiritual” adviser Apollo Quiboloy on the SMNI television network, Secretary Sara Duterte’s father, former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, threatened the life of a sitting lawmaker of Congress, ACT Teachers Representative France Castro, by saying: “The first target of Inday Sara’s intelligence fund would be you, France (Castro). I want to kill all you communists!” Last October 10, he publicly admitted that he spent his own intelligence funds to carry out extrajudicial killings in Davao City when he was still its Mayor.

You will not find a more unpeaceful, quarrelsome, hostile, and antagonistic pair of public officials like this father-and-daughter team anywhere else in the world. I shudder to think about what values Sara Duterte’s Matatag Curriculum will be promoting and propagating to educate our children! In the end, who will answer for the long-term damage and harm this hasty and haphazard policy of the DepEd will do to our children and our nation?

The DepEd should instead focus on addressing the Learning Crisis that currently grips the entire country by (1) stopping the practice of mass promotion in public schools; (2) making sure that public elementary school students are able to read and understand simple English words and sentences before they graduate in Grade 6; and (3) serving as role models to the children of this nation by living lives that show, reflect, and highlight the values of goodness, kindness, benevolence, and compassion.

This commentary was provided by Mr. Antonio Calipjo Go to the Forum, to a Philippine daily newspaper, and to several other recipients in reaction to the Department of Education’s pilot implementation starting last September 25 of its revised and recalibrated Matatag Curriculum  Mr. Go, a retired academic supervisor of the Marian School of Quezon City, is an advocate of good English usage who has been waging a crusade against badly written English-language textbooks in the Philippines for many years now. Several of his no-nonsense critiques and personal essays have appeared in the Forum over the years.


Simply click the web links to the 14 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Getting to Know English: “Is your ‘were’ in the indicative or subjunctive mood?”

2. Essay by Jose Carillo: “The language of business”


3. You Asked Me This Question: “The strange grammar of ‘need’ as modal auxiliary”

4. Badly Written, Badly Spoken: “Thrown off by the highly officious and bureaucratic ‘regards’ idioms”

5. Advice and Dissent Retrospective: “Can religion be computer-coded so it can be acceptable to all of humanity?"

6. Students’ Sounding Board: “Dropping the introductory word ‘that’ in indirect speech”

7. Education and Teaching: “Constructing a story, writing a house” by Antonio Calipjo Go, Forum Contributor

8. Notable Works by Our Very Own: “Tales of the longest-staying Malacañang resident except for one”    

9. Language Humor at its Finest: “24 boggling imponderables to think through”

10. Time Out From English Grammar: “Bill Gates funds developer of feed additive that reduces cow burps and farts”

11. Your Thoughts Exactly: “Some tangled tropes that annoy me” by Isabel Escoda, Forum Contributor

12. The Forum Lounge: Parenting Letter: “Dear Mama and Papa,” contributed by Justine A., Forum Member

13. Your Thoughts Exactly: “Friendships chiseled so deeply in our mind,” contributed by Angel Casillan, Forum Member

14. A Forum Lounge Retrospective: Video -- “The Beauty of Pollination,” contributed by Angel Casillan, Forum Member

It won’t be surprising at all if this basic grammar question still stumps not just a few English writers and speakers among us: “How do you know if a sentence that uses ‘were’ is indicative or subjunctive?” I say this because this happens to be a very-often asked reader’s question in the almost 21 years that I’ve been writing this column.

So let’s demystify this usage again by doing a quick refresher of the uses of “were,” which of course is the familiar past-tense form of the linking verb “be” in the third-person plural. In “The villagers were happy,” for example, “be” takes the form “were” because “villagers”—the subject—is in the third-person plural and the action is in the past tense. But when the subject is in the third-person singular “villager” and the action is in the present tense, “be” takes the normal form “is”: “The villager is happy.”)

Statements like “The villagers were happy” and “The villager is happy” are in the indicative mood, which in English is the mood for conveying the idea that a condition or act is an objective fact, an opinion, or the subject of a question. In such statements, the speaker is talking about real-world situations in a straightforward, truthful manner, and the linking verb “is” takes its normal inflections in all the tenses and obeys the subject-verb agreement rule.

The polar opposite of the indicative mood is the subjunctive mood, which conveys possibility, conditionality, or wishfulness rather than an objective fact or condition. The subjunctive is the mood in these sentences: “If I were the dean of that college, I would have fired that incompetent professor by now.” “They wish that their president were more circumspect in his pronouncements.”

In the first example above, note that “be” is in the plural past-tense form “were” although the subject is the singular first-person noun “I”; in the second, “be” is likewise in the plural past-tense form “were” although the subject is the singular third-person noun “president.”
This is the understandable baffling answer for why subjunctive mood sentences in English use “were.” Always keep in mind that in the subjunctive mood, regardless of the person and number of the subject, the linking verb “be” always takes the plural past-tense form “were” instead of “was” or “is.”

There are four grammatical situations that specifically need the subjunctive “were” rather than the indicative “was” or “is:”

1. When the sentence indicates a supposition or possibility. In “if”-clauses indicating a supposition or possibility, the subjunctive “were” is used regardless of whether the doer of the action is singular or plural: “If I were to accept that foreign assignment, I’d have to take my family with me.” “Many legislators would be indicted for graft if the Ombudsman were to apply the law regardless of their party affiliation.”

2. When expressing a desire or wishful attitude. In “that”-clauses that follow main clauses expressing a wish, the subjunctive “were” is used: “I wish (that) she were more amenable[/i] to a compromise.” “I wish (that) I were the class president.” The wish or desired outcome is neither a present reality nor a future certainty.

3. When describing the outcome of an unreal situation or idea that’s contrary to fact. Given a hypothetical state or outcome, the subjunctive “were” is used in expressing the condition that’s unreal or contrary-to-fact: “If its polar electromagnetic field were not there, Earth would be devastated by intense solar radiation.” Without “if,” such constructions can sometimes take an inverted syntax: “Were its polar electromagnetic field not there, Earth would be devastated by intense solar radiation.”

4. When expressing doubt about certain appearances or raising a question about an outcome. Statements that cast doubt on observed behavior or raise a question about a presumed  outcome should take the subjunctive “were” form: “Rod acted as if he were the only knowledgeable newspaperman in town.”

I trust that after reading this column, the subjunctive “were” will no longer be an exasperating grammar puzzler to any English writer or speaker among us.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
Is your “were” in the indicative or subjunctive mood?

(Next: Dealing decisively with the “who” vs. “whom” conundrum)      December 7, 2023

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter and e-mail me at

Essays by Joe Carillo / The Language of Business
« on: November 27, 2023, 08:33:16 PM »
The Language of Business
By Jose A. Carillo

As someone who worked for many years in corporate communication, I am sometimes asked what language would be best for business. Is it that bewildering language called corporatese, which uses stilted and convoluted English like “It has come to the undersigned’s attention that…” or “Yours truly respectfully requests that immediate action be taken on the aforementioned matter”? I must admit that for a while I was so beguiled by such lofty language that I started using it myself. I began to think that to be believed, to be followed, and to get results, you must not write as you would talk. You must use language several notches higher and airier than the English of ordinary mortals. Corporatese was the language of authority, of distinction. You must learn it by heart to be effective, to climb quickly up the corporate ladder.


In time, however, it dawned on me that corporatese simply could not be the language of business. How could sensible people who want results use such an obtuse, roundabout language? I also discovered that corporatese had become the norm in many companies not because it made communication more effective, but because it had been handed down by generations of executives who did not know any better. So, if not corporatese, what business language then is better? My answer now is this: it all depends on who the audience is. Our language of choice should carefully consider the odd mixture of executives, managers, staff, and workers in an organization. Each of them brings a business language of his own into the organization. The accountant will talk accountese with fellow accountants, the lawyers will talk legalese, the researchers will talk researchese, and the marketing people will talk…well, how about calling it marketingese? The corporation on a typical day is, in fact, a Babel of the argot of every profession, occupation, or trade that finds it way into its fold.

This was the situation when one time, an accountant in the corporation I worked for jokingly threatened his associates, most of them also accountants, in these exact words in Tagalog: “Huwag kayong magluluko at isang journal entry lang, yari kayong lahat.” [“Don’t fool around with me because I could do you all in with just one journal entry.”] Of course, being a non-accountant and too ashamed to ask, it took me a long time to understand that line. You have to know accounting intimately to discover how deliciously malicious that remark is; I will not even attempt to explain it here, so better ask your own friendly accountant what it means.

The point I would like to make is that in that remark, we are up against deep jargon—that short-cut language of professionals and tradesmen to the highly specialized knowledge in their heads. If he didn’t use jargon, it probably would have taken my accountant-friend ten times longer to drive home his point, and the joke would have been lost.

In any case, I actually hated jargon because it was often my job to interpret it painstakingly in writing for lay readers. But soon I learned to tolerate it, especially when I discovered that it was actually the professional’s way of being brief, concise, and to the point when talking business. Also, I saw that when used solely within a circle of peers, jargon could actually be as harmless as the coded language we sometimes cultivate with very close friends.

                                            IMAGE CREDIT: COMPANIESHOUSE.BLOG.GOV.UK

The problem with jargon arises only when professionals and managers habitually use it even when writing or talking to lay people. Then it becomes a serious communication stumbling block. You probably have heard and seen some of those jargon-struck executives guesting on TV or radio, so confident that they look and sound brilliant with their jargon, but actually befuddling us with every word they say. They are the same people who, back in their organizations, will write corporatese and highly technical memos and letters that need to be painstakingly deciphered word for word, phrase by phrase. They have become so immersed and comfortable with corporatese and jargon that they could not imagine that they have actually become dark harbingers of confusion.

These jargon-fanciers, of course, are unfortunate that they have not yet discovered one thing--that the most successful executives and managers are those who do not publicly use corporatese and who, outside their professional circles, shun jargon like the plague. These executives and managers are the better communicators because they know that the language of business should neither be stilted and obtuse nor technical, but one that, without having to be clarified, can be understood perfectly by most everyone. The language that meets all of these criteria is, of course, plain and simple English. It is the English that knows and respects its audience, no matter who they are. It is, in fact, the superior business language that we have been looking for all this time—not knowing that we already had it and had already been using it all along.


The above essay on the "The Language of Business" appears in Part III - "Usage and Style" of Jose Carillo's book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today's Global Language (Third Updated Edition, 2023; 500 pages), copyright 2008 by the ManilaTimes Publishing Corp. The book is available at National Book Store and Facebook branches in key Philippine cities. For volume orders and overseas deliveries, send e-mail inquiring about pricing and bulk discounts to Manila Times Publishing Corp. at, or call Tel. +63285245664 to 67 locals 117 and 222. 

Education and Teaching / Constructing a Story, Writing a House
« on: November 25, 2023, 12:50:41 PM »
Constructing a Story, Writing a House
By Antonio Calipjo Go, Forum Contributor

Writing a story is like building a house.

Your central idea, your theme, is the foundation upon which you build. Your sundry thoughts and notions are your nouns, pronouns and verbs, the blocks of bricks and pieces of stones that, piece by piece, give form, body, volume and structure to the content of your piece, the substance of your writing.

                                           IMAGE CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO

Your opening sentence is the door, the main entrance to your house. If what you’ve come up with is a good introductory sentence, if your porch is sunny and bright, people will be drawn to come visit, will want to take a look at what you have in store there. Your first statement should catch the attention of passersby, pique the curiosity of your readers and invite a connection with your visitors.

The component paragraphs are the rooms of your house and each should serve to create the final big picture of how your house will eventually look like and take on an identity of its own.

Everything must be in their proper place. You wouldn’t be placing your toilet or bathroom right after the entrance hall, would you? The foyer leads to the living room, then the dining area and then the kitchen. Your conjunctions are the stairs that lead ever inward and upward, the deeper you go into your narrative. The bedrooms are the inner sanctum of your house, repositories of the innermost workings of your mind, the most secret stirrings of your heart.

Your closing statement is the roof that finishes and completes the entire construction. It has to be robust and strong, able to withstand the elements while making something of a statement, so that people seeing it from afar will say: What a pretty place!

Then and only then should you embellish, after you’ve written down your most important thoughts. Then and only then may you summon your adjectives and adverbs and lay down the carpets, hang the curtains, put up the blue lights and the chandeliers, the windchimes and the mirrors.

And, if you’re still up to the job, install the garden, bring in the grass and the flowers. Send in the gargoyles, your idioms, your figures of speech.

Your house need not have seven gables. It need not be situated at some distant wuthering heights. It is what you have to say that matters, and how you express and articulate your message. Truthfulness and honesty are the foundations of a sturdy house, what makes a house a home. If you have nothing worth saying, zip it. Go build yourself a shack or a lean-to or anything the big bad wolf could easily huff and puff to smithereens in one go.

Wanting is a verb, an action word. If you have this hunger to share what you are thinking or feeling, record it before it goes away. Capture it, in permanent black and white, and freeze that memory, fossilize that dream, house that moment.

This advice was the response of Mr. Antonio Calipjo Go to a student of his who had sent him this query: “How Can I Write a Good Story?” A retired academic supervisor of the Marian School of Quezon City, Mr. Go is an advocate of good English usage who has been waging a crusade against badly written English-language textbooks in the Philippines for many years now. Several of his no-nonsense critiques and personal essays have appeared in the Forum over the years.


Simply click the web links to the 14 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Getting to Know English: “Still baffled when to use ‘can’ or ‘could’ and ‘will’ or ‘would’?”

2. Essay by Jose Carillo Retrospective: “‘My salad days,’ ‘the whole nine yards,’ and other idioms”: (Originally: “Great titles in the making”)


3. Student' Sounding Board: “‘All’ can actually mean ‘totality,’ ‘everything’ or even ‘nothing but’”

4. My Media English Watch Retrospective: “Did that newspaper columnist commit an egregious grammar error?” (2017)

5. You Asked Me This Question: “Setting the matter straight on the ‘not me’ vs. ‘not I’ usage”

6. Going Deeper Into Language Retrospective: “The need for logical thinking in our everyday life” (2017)


7. Essay by Jose Carillo: "Caution in times of reasonable doubt" (2009)   

8. Time Out From English Grammar: “Pebble in my shoe, stone in my heart” by Antonio Calipjo Go (2019)

9. Language Humor at its Finest: “25 lighthearted denunciations of the English language” (2013)

10. The Forum Lounge: “Watch Japan's all-female Band-Maid perform as one of the world's best rock bands”

11. You Asked Me This Question: “A fascinating question on the modals of conjecture”

12. A Forum Lounge Retrospective: “Things my Mother taught me” (2010)

13. You Asked Me This Question: “Absolute phrases don’t function in the same way as appositives"

14. The Forum Lounge: “Stunning and magically beautiful sights from all over the world"    

Let’s take up the many-splendored word “all” to answer a very interesting question raised about its usage way back in 2015 by a member of Jose Carillo’s English Forum.

Here’s the question of Justine Aragones: “Why is the indefinite pronoun ‘all’ treated as singular rather than plural in this popular saying: ‘The limits of our language are the limits of our mind, and all we really know is what we have words for’?”

                                          IMAGE CREDIT: LINKED-IN.COM

“Another thing: ‘Is the use of the comma after “coherent” in the sentence that follows more a matter of style than an obligatory punctuation? ‘Next make yourself thoroughly familiar with the various tools of English for putting words together into grammatically and structurally correct, coherent, and clear statements.’”

My reply to Justine’s questions:

The pronoun “all” can be singular or plural depending on context. It could mean “totality,” as in “All that I have is yours” (singular); “everybody,” as in “All are required to come tomorrow” (plural); and “everything,” as in “All is fair in love and war” (singular).

But “all” has an entirely different sense in this sentence: “The limits of our language are the limits of our mind, and all we really know is what we have words for.” It’s functioning as an adjective to mean “only” or “nothing but,” and it makes the noun phrase “all we really know” singular in sense. This is why the singular “is” is used in the clause “all we really know is what we have words for.”

Now about the use of the serial comma in your other sentence: “Next make yourself thoroughly familiar with the various tools of English for putting words together into grammatically and structurally correct, coherent, and clear statements.”

Yes, using the comma after “coherent” in that sentence is a punctuation style called the Oxford comma. For serial enumeration sentences, many publications—including The Manila Times—actually do away with that last comma between the last serial item and the one preceding it. They construct the sentence this way as a matter of style: “Next make yourself thoroughly familiar with the various tools of English for putting words together into grammatically and structurally correct, coherent and clear statements.”

As for me, though, I prefer to use the Oxford comma every time as my personal style. Here, in a nutshell, are my reasons for doing so:

The serial comma’s usefulness might not be readily appreciated when the sentence has a serial list of items consisting of only a single word or two, as in “She bought some apples, oranges and pears” and “For the role of Hamlet, the choices are Fred Santos, Tony Cruz, Jimmy Reyes and George Perez.” 

But see what happens when the enumerated items are long phrases with, say, more than four or five words: “The major businesses in the domestic pet services industry are traditional veterinary services, fancy pet grooming and makeover shops, a wide assortment of animal and bird food, freshwater and marine fish of various kinds and aquarium equipment and supplies for industrial and home use.”

Now try figuring out where each enumerative item ends and begins in the phrase “freshwater and marine fish of various kinds and aquarium equipment and supplies for industrial and home use.”

In contrast, see how clear and unequivocal the last two items in the list become when we deploy a serial comma between “various kinds” and “aquarium equipment”:

“The major businesses in the domestic pet services industry are traditional veterinary services, fancy pet grooming and makeover shops, a wide assortment of animal and bird food, freshwater and marine fish of various kinds, and aquarium equipment and supplies for industrial and home use.”

This is why I think it’s better to use a serial comma by default regardless of the length of the phrase for each item in an enumerative sequence.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at @J8Carillo.

I think it’s high time for a full review of the choice between the function words “can” and “could,” “will” and “would,” and also “shall” and “should.” From my experience as an editor, they continue to be frequent pitfalls to many English learners and even some long-time writers in English.

The most important thing to remember about these word-pairs is that they aren’t meant for conveying simple facts or absolute certainties. They are distinct grammatical forms called modal auxiliaries or modals, and they work in tandem with a given verb to convey varying shades of necessity, advice, ability, expectation, permission, possibility, or conditionality.

“Can” or “could.” These two modals convey the idea of ability, possibility, permission, or potential to perform an action or do a task—“can” is the present-tense form, and “could” the past-tense form. Use “can” to convey a current ability, as in “As a single woman I can write novels,” but use “could not” when that ability has been lost, as in “As a mom of three hyperactive toddlers I could not write novels anymore.” Use “can” to convey possibility: “The team can win if its members are more disciplined.” Use “can” to ask permission: “Can I go out with my playmates now?” And use “can” to indicate potential: “With his political acumen, he can be presidential timber.”

The modal “could” likewise conveys a deferential or polite request, offer, or suggestion: “Could you tell me how to leave the send-off party now without offending the boss?” But among social, age, or professional coequals, “can” is more suitable without raising eyebrows: “Can you tell me how to leave the send-off party now without offending the boss?”

“Will” or “would.” The usual function of “will” is to be a verbal auxiliary for expressing the simple futurity of an action, as in “Evelyn will go to Tokyo tomorrow.” As a modal, however, “will” works to convey choice, willingness, intention, consent, or habitual or customary action. Choice: “I will take the train instead of the bus.” Willingness: “I will go if you wish.” Intention: “I will prove you wrong.” Consent: “Yes, the school will admit you.” Habitual or customary action: “She will get angry over trivial things.”

In the past tense, the modal “will” inflects to “would.” To convey choice: “That year, I would fly first class rather than economy.” To convey willingness: “In my mid-twenties, I would go wherever I was assigned.” To convey habitual or customary action: “After breaking up with her fiancé, Joanna would get angry over trivial things.”

In conditional sentences, the modal “would” works to express probability or presumption of something happening in both present and past, as in “That overambitious politician (would win, would have won) hands down if not for the very serious corruption allegations against him.”

Likewise, the modal “would” conveys politeness and deference in expressing intent or desire, as in “Would you consider my daughter for that overseas job?” This differs from the rather pointed request conveyed when the modal “will” is used: “Will you consider my daughter for that overseas job?”

As quick exercise, are “will” and “would” used correctly in these two questions? “Will it rain tomorrow? If it wouldn’t, would it be a sunny day?”

Yes, both are correct. The first question uses “will” as a verbal auxiliary to express simple futurity; the second is a conditional construction where (a) the “if”-clause uses the modal “wouldn’t” to express negative possibility, and (b) where the result clause also uses the modal “would” to express expectation of a desired outcome in question form. 

“Shall” or “should.”  In American English (the English we use in the Philippines), the modals “shall” or “should” are used sparingly to state polite questions (suggestive that permission is being asked) in the first-person, as in “Should I get a taxi for you now, ma’am?” More commonly, the modal “shall” is used in formal written directives and records of corporate proceedings, as in “All workers shall be responsible for the upkeep of their respective work areas.”

This review should have given you greater confidence in using these modals. 

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
Still baffled when to use “can” or “could” and “will” or “would”?      

Next: Are you using “were” in the indicative or subjunctive mood?       November 30, 2023   

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter and e-mail me at

November 19, 2023—Now available at National Book Store and Fully Booked branches in key cities nationwide is the third updated edition of Jose Carillo’s best-selling book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn Today’s Global Language. Hailed by leading academicians, journalists, and critics upon its release in 2005 as “a charmer of a book that delights as well as instructs,” it won the National Book Award for linguistics from the Manila Critics Circle that same year.

The Manila Times Publishing Corp. accepts direct volume orders for the 500-page book for delivery to institutional and corporate buyers and interested individual distributors. Copies can also be ordered from Lazada or Shoppee for immediate delivery to individual customers in Metro Manila.

English Plain and Simple brings together Jose Carillo's first collection of grammar lessons and advice that originally appeared in his long-running Manila Times column that started coming out six days a week in 2002. Two more volumes drawing material from his Times columns followed, namely The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors (2008) and Give Your English the Winning Edge (2009).

In his foreword to English Plain and Simple, Dr. Jose Y. Dalisay, Ph.D, professor emeritus of English at the University of the Philippines and Hall of Famer of the Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature, says: “There are many guides to English that the avid student can pick up, but quite a few, I think, actually do more harm than good as ponderous rulebooks meant for rote memorization. But every now and then comes a charmer of a book that delights as well as it instructs. English Plain and Simple is one such gem, for which we have the pseudonymous Mr. Carillo to thank. Whether he was walking me through the hierarchy of adjectives or discovering Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carillo never failed to show me something new and cause me to smile in recognition of a shared experience.”

In the latest edition of English Plain and Simple, the author finally revealed his identity after over 20 years of using Jose Carillo as pen name and explains why he used it. The author is the veteran newspaper journalist and communications executive Carlos O. Llorin Jr., a former college newspaper editor-in-chief (the weekly Dawn, University of the East), marketing field researcher (Asia Research Inc.), national newspaper reporter (Philippines Herald), and ad agency public relations manager (J. Romero & Associates). He worked for San Miguel Corporation for 18 years as editorial services head, audio-visual group head, senior communications assistant, and product manager, then as corporate communications manager for rhe company's Magnolia Divison with the rank of assistant vice president.

He won nine major Philippine industry awards as editor in chief of the company’s monthly magazine Kaunlaran and fortnightly newsletter. As executive director of San Miguel’s Magnolia Youth Achievement Awards, he won a Gold Quill Award from the U.S.-based International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in 1989 and the Golden World Award from the U.K.-based International Public Relations Association (IPRA) in 1990.

Llorin took optional early retirement as assistant vice president for communications of San Miguel’s Magnolia Division in 1993, later running the English-language services company Asia Herald Inc. as general manager for five years until 2007. Currently, aside from writing his weekly column in The Manila Times, he is an independent writer and book editor as well as editing and communication consultant for corporate, institutional, and individual clients.

Describing the rationale for writing his three English-usage books, Carlos Llorin Jr. says: “As with my weekly columns in the Manila Times, they aim to help nonnative English speakers improve their written English without having to go back to the classroom and, frankly, also to make Filipinos keenly aware that if their English is bad, it’s largely due to the Philippine culture’s fervid addiction to legalese. This done, his English-usage books then gently walk the reader through the basic and practical and later the finer aspects of English grammar and semantics, revisiting all of the parts of speech and their rudiments. The emphasis is to train themselves to think, speak, and write in clear and simple English.


Simply click the web links to the 14 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Getting To Know The World’s Genocidal History: “The world in 710 words”

The world was simply too heavy, too massive, and too fast-moving for Archimedes
          to lift with a lever—and on what did he think he would be standing on?

2. Use and Misuse: "Avoid using ‘and/or’ because it's a ‘grammatical abomination’” Contributed by Gerry T. Galacio

RELATED READING: “Should academics use ‘and/or’ in their writing?" by Trinka

3. Badly Written, Badly Spoken: “The need to be grammatically correct in our English”

4. Getting To Know English Retrospective: “The perplexing workings of the double possessive”

5. Notable Works by Our Very Own: "Literature as History" by F. Sionil Jose, Philippine National Artist for Literature

6. Time Out From English Grammar: “How the human brain establishes and reinforces beliefs as truths”

7. A Forum Lounge Retrospective: “Open Dialogue: Religions and the basis for faith”    

8. Essays by Joe Carillo: “English in a used jar“

9. Language Humor At Its Finest: “News headlines that went awry”

10. Getting to Know English: “We shouldn’t mistake mass nouns for collective nouns“

11. Use and Misuse: "Fused sentences are very serious, very annoying grammar violations”

12. Advice and Dissent: "The prophet of Gaia feels the climate change issue is ‘as severe as war’”    

13. Readings in Language Retrospective: "Thinking in numbers as effective, pleasant antidote for numerophobia"

14. You Asked Me This Question Retrospective: "What's the correct usage for the verbs ‘brought’ and ‘taken’?"


Getting to Know English / The world in 710 words
« on: November 16, 2023, 12:44:32 AM »
If I were asked to describe the world today, I would say that it had hardly changed since 2,200 years ago when Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and physicist, bragged that he could move the world if only he had the lever to lift it. For all his ingenuity, I think he went way too far off in making that claim. He definitely couldn’t have done that. This is because the world is an ovaloid sphere 12,760 km in diameter rotating on its axis in 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.09 seconds and it is revolving around the sun. It has a mass in tons of about 5.98 x 10 raised to the 21st power and a volume in cubic meters of about 1.08 x 10 raised to the 21st power. That’s simply too heavy, too massive, and too fast-moving for Archimedes to lift with a lever.

The world was simply too heavy, too massive, and too fast-moving for Archimedes
to lift with a lever—and on what did he think he would be standing on?

Despite his overarching audacity, Archimedes was understandably not in a position to know during his time those attributes of the world. It was in fact only 1,750 years later that the Polish astronomer and polymath Nicolaus Copernicus, after long and sustained observation, concluded that Earth wasn’t the center of the universe but was just one of the planets orbiting the bigger—and he thought stationary—sun. But on this even Copernicus himself was only partly right. Centuries later, in the early 1600s, the Italian astronomer-mathematician Galileo Galilee demonstrated that the sun wasn’t stationary in the heavens at all. It was rotating on it own axis in a perpetually moving spiral arm of the galaxy that we now call the Milky Way.

All these are now well-established certainties about Archimedes’s world and ours. Even with this body of knowledge, however, most of humanity are still as mired as ever in superstition, in belief without proof, and in religious fundamentalism. Still, organized religion, superstition, and nationhood have been strong civilizing forces that marshaled both the motive and creative energies for such marvels as the Stonehenge in England, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the stately cathedrals in Europe, the great mosques in the Middle East and Asia, the Borobudur temples in Cambodia, and the huge statues of Buddha in Afghanistan.

Through the centuries, however, enmity and intolerance have always plagued mankind, leading to so many of the horrible depredations by either side of the major religious or geopolitical divides. Just to mention the major ones—the long series of expeditions in the Middle Ages by armed Holy  Crusaders from Europe to wage punitive wars against Islamist believers so they can wrest Jerusalem from Muslim rule back to the Christian fold, leading to casualties estimated at 2 to 6 million people just from Western Europe alone; in World Wars I and II, the long and bitterly fought conflict among the various world powers, resulting in horrendous destruction, combatant casualties estimated at 20 million, and civilian casualties at 40 million; in September 11, 2001, the suicide aerial crash-bombing by Islamist terrorists of the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001 wiped out almost 3,000 noncombatant lives; from February 24, 2022 to date, the sustained large-scale armed attacks waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine led to recorded estimates of 7,550 killed and 14,638 injured; and today, at this very moment, a bloody war is being savagely fought between Israel and  Hamas-led Palestinian militants, a war triggered by the latter’s stealthy invasion of Israel last October 7 during which an estimated 1,200 Israelites were massacred at the Gaza Strip and over 200 civilians and soldiers were taken as hostages.*

Thus, the great flowering of scientific knowledge and rational thinking that began with Archimedes and pursued with vigor by the great scientific minds of Copernicus, Galileo Galilee, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein have amounted to nothing much in fostering amity and peace among the world’s peoples. It is then not a surprise that today, on a shocking improvement on Archimedes’ claim that he could upend the world with a lever, nations of various religious, political, or ideological persuasions could claim that they could move the world simply by virtue of pure belief—no lever, no fulcrum, no hands or physical effort even—just their firm belief and their leaders’ overpowering threat of violence and annihilation against nonbelievers.
*These casualty figures have been collated from figures of the United Nations Human Rights Commission,, and other observers as published in Wikipedia.

This is a condensed and updated version of the author’s 854-word essay that appeared in this column in the June 21, 2017 issue of The Manila Times.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
The world in 710 words      

Next: Don’t let “can,” “could,” “will,” and “would” baffle you anymore        November 16, 2023   

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter and e-mail me at


Simply click the web links to the 14 featured English grammar refreshers and general interest stories this week along with selected postings published in the Forum in previous years:

1. Market Positioning: “Winning the battle for people’s minds”

2. Getting to Know English: “The little-heralded past imperfect tense in English”

3. Use and Misuse: “The problem with our English according to Jose Carillo”

4. You Asked Me This Question: “How do ‘I hope’ and ‘hopefully’ differ and is the latter acceptable usage?”

5. Essays by Jose Carillo: “My misgivings when people wish me ‘More power!’”

6. Students’ Sounding Board: “An assortment of bewildering questions about English usage”    

7. Getting To Know English: “The emphatic forms and inverted sentences”

8. Essays by Joe Carillo: “Questionable English grammar in the lyrics of a popular song”

9. Language Humor At Its Finest: “A cavalcade of palindromes”

10. Time Out From English Grammar: “Thomas Edison’s greatest idea ‘wasn’t something anybody could patent or touch’”

11. Advice and Dissent: “Minority faiths in Middle East face extinction due to religious intolerance”

12. Time Out From English Grammar: “The real wonder is that humans ever discovered science at all”


13. Education and Teaching: “The rocky road to idiomatic English”    

14. A Forum Lounge RetrospectIve: “Verbatim: What Is a photocopier?”    

Getting to Know English / Winning the battle for people’s minds
« on: November 09, 2023, 10:31:49 AM »
Why is it that some applicants with sterling credentials and impressive personality—even if they can write job application letters in good English—don’t get any calls at all for a job interview? Why is it that some politicians with impeccable character and an unblemished public-service record get bashed right and left for every conceivable shenanigan they may not even aware or heard about?

The problem in the first case might be that despite the job applicant’s positive attributes, his or her qualifications don’t meet the job requirements or even if they do, the application letter itself doesn’t communicate to the prospective employer a sense of competence and trustworthiness. And in the second case, the problem might be even more complex—the politician’s opponents might have been insidiously besmirching his or her reputation but the latter just ignored it as too inconsequential to bother refuting.

The operative word in both cases is positioning, and this—whether it works for good and bad for you—is the powerful marketing concept presented by the now-classic book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

The revolutionary idea was originally developed by Ries and Trout—both seasoned advertising agency executives—for marketing, branding, and product advertising. From the time that the book was published over 42 years ago, that idea has found wide, vigorous, and successful application in various fields: in marketing, politics, corporate communications, education, even in organized religion.

Here, in a nutshell, is how Ries and Trout formally defined positioning in their book that took the business and advertising world by storm in 1981:

“Positioning starts with a product. A piece of merchandise, a service, a company, an institution, or even a person. Perhaps yourself.
“But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect. A newer definition [for it]: ‘How you differentiate yourself in the mind of your prospect.’

“So it’s incorrect to call the concept ‘product positioning’ as if you were doing something to the product itself.

“Not that positioning doesn’t involve change. It does. But changes made in the name, the price, and the packages are really not changes in the product at all. They’re basically cosmetic changes done for the purpose of securing a worthwhile position in the prospect’s mind.”

In the battle for people’s minds, Ries and Trout argue, perception is reality. You may not be the best, but if you position yourself well and pursue that positioning well, you stand a good chance of beating the competition and winning the recognition that you desire.

Thus they strongly recommend: “The best approach to take in our overcommunicated society is the oversimplified message. In communication, as in architecture, less is more. You have to sharpen your message to cut into the mind. You have to jettison the ambiguities, simplify the message, and then simplify it some more if you want to make a long lasting impression.”

“The…paradox is that nothing is more important than communication. With communication going for you, anything is possible. Without it, nothing is possible. No matter how talented and ambitious you may be. What’s called luck is usually an outgrowth of successful communication. Saying the right things to the right person at the right time.

“Positioning is an organized system for finding windows in the mind. It is based on the concept that communication can only take place at the right time and under the right circumstances."

It therefore behooves all of us to always position ourselves purposively for whatever enterprise we find worth pursuing—and not to allow other people or just any entity to make that position for us by default. And to succeed in today’s world, it’s never too early or too late to read Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind and to start applying its prescriptions now—right now.

This is an expanded version of the author’s 390-word essay that appeared in this column in the August 8, 2009 issue of The Manila Times.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
Winning the battle for people’s minds      

Next: The world in 854 words         November 16, 2023

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter and e-mail me at

Use and Misuse / The problem with our English according to Jose Carillo
« on: November 05, 2023, 12:27:24 AM »
When Jose Carillo’s English-language services company ran a want ad for editors sometime in 2003, close to 100 applicants applied by e-mail. Practically all of them had at least an AB degree in English, mass communication, or the social sciences; three were magna cum laudes and six cum laudes; and 10 even had Master’s degrees. Disconcertingly, however, most of their job application letters were worded and constructed in unbelievably strange, convoluted, stilted English like the one that's reproduced below verbatim:

“Dear Sir/Madam:   

“Greetings in Peace!   

“Responding with utmost immediacy to your job opportunity ad published on January 6,    ____ in the __________, I wish to  inform you of my fervor interest in applying for the position of Editor. I am an AB graduate of the University of ______ with distinct recognition as a leader and achiever in the field of debating and as editor-in-chief of the student publication, journals, and other newsletters of the academe.   

[The applicant then gives a glowing three-paragraph work experience description.]

“For your evaluation, I am enclosing my résumé as an attachment as a first step in exploring the possibilities of employment in your client’s organization. I would appreciate hearing from you soon.

“Thank you for your consideration and God Bless.”

In his book English Plain and Simple whose third updated edition went off the press last September, Jose Carillo says the English of such job application letters is obviously not the English to use when you want to present yourself in the most favorable way to a prospective employer.


He says: “The truth is that many of us who write in English distrust our own ability to present ourselves in a good light. No matter how educated or experienced we are, we often instinctively assume the persona and voice of someone else when we sit down to write. We take refuge in some pseudo-legal mumbo-jumbo that we think will impress our reader or listener.

“And once we get started in this legal-sounding language, we get snared and become addicted to it. Instead of writing as we would talk, we habitually grasp at these arcane words and phrases in the mistaken belief that like some mantra, they will miraculously make things happen for us.”   

Jose Carillo likewise observes that the English of not a few Ph.Ds with a “publish or perish” mindset often verges on gibberish—long, pompous, confused, and empty—like this hardly comprehensible official report, published verbatim in a daily newspaper, by an education official writing on Philippine education indicators:   

“Teachers’ skills, training, development and welfare with __ percent of the sample attest to their importance in validating the significant effect of teachers’ welfare on the students. Skills training, welfare and development translated into further studies, seminars and benefits are the determinants of Friday sickness (in cases of teachers posted in far-flung barrios, where teachers will usually miss Friday classes, indicative of their dedication to the learning process of their ward) and the gruesome test of dedication and commitment.”   

Carillo’s book English Plain and Simple, which won the National Book Award from the Manila Critics Circle upon its publication in 2005, makes every effort to address this very serious and embarrassing communication inadequacy. It provides systematic but easy-to-follow instructions in English writing that students and teachers alike need to continually develop so they can communicate their thoughts and ideas clearly, simply, and confidently to particular audiences.
English Plain and Simple in its third updated edition is available at National Book Store and Fully Booked branches nationwide. Click this link for the list of outlets. Copies can also be ordered for direct delivery to you by Lazada and Shoppee. For volume orders of 50 copies or more, call the Manila Times Publishing Corp. at Tel. 02-8524-5664 to 67 locals 117 and 222, or 099855388871.

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