Friday, June 24, 2016

Go, Play, or Do: Verbs for Hobbies, Sports, and Activities in the English Language

In English, there are three verbs that we love to use when we talk about our hobbies. These verbs are to go, to play, and to do. How we use these verbs is very simple, and today we're going to tell you what you need to know in order to use them correctly.


The verb "go" is arguably the simplest of our three verbs to use. If you have an activity that ends in -ing, you should use go. For example, fishing, swimming, hiking.

Don't forget to conjugate go when you use it. For example:

On Saturdays, I go fishing.
Yesterday, I went swimming.
Have you ever gone hiking?

However, as always in English, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Boxing (as a combat sport), takes the verb do, which we'll see soon.


Most competitive team sports, especially those with a goal, net, basket, or a system for scoring points, use the verb to play. This also includes games and video games.

Here are a few examples: football, basketball, hockey, video games.

Let's look at some examples:

John likes to play football.
We played video games all weekend.
Do you play hockey?

You can "do" this crossword but you can't "play" it.

We use the verb to do with activities like martial arts, combat sports, exercises, and puzzles. Examples include karate, push-ups, crosswords.

Here you can see the verb to do being used:

She's done karate since she was 6.
Did you do last week's crossword?
I did a lot of push-ups yesterday.

And that's it! That's how we use some of the English language's most important verbs when we talk about hobbies, sports, and activities.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Panama

Our last several country profiles have looked at countries on the eastern side of the Atlantic, including Mauritania, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Oman, so today we'll be switching things up by focusing on the languages of Panama, which is located on the other side of the ocean.

The Official Language

It should come as no surprise that the sole official language of Panama is Spanish. This Romance language, which is spoken throughout the vast majority of the Americas, is the native language of nearly 3 million Panamanians. In addition, over 500,000 more Panamanians use it as a second language, as it is the country's most important language in terms of government, business and education.

Other Languages

While Spanish certainly dominates Panama's linguistic landscape, the country is actually home to a number of other languages. Panama's most spoken indigenous language is Ngäbere, also known as Guaymí, which is a member of the Chibchan language family. There are nearly 170,000 native speakers of Ngäbere in Panama, as well as a few thousand in neighboring Costa Rica.

Panama City, the capital of Panama.
Although it's not technically a language, Panamanian Creole English is also spoken by a significant number of Panamanians. This dialect of Jamaican Creole English, which contains elements from English, Spanish, and Ngäbere, is spoken by nearly 270,000 people in Panama.

Other indigenous languages include Kuna, Buglere, Emberá, and Woun Meu. Kuna and Buglere are both Chibchan languages like Ngäbere. There are over 57,000 native speakers of Kuna in Panama, primarily residing on the San Blas Islands, as well as in the cities of Panama City and Colón. Buglere, a language of the Ngäbe indigenous group, is spoken by about 18,000 Panamanians.

Emberá, on the other hand, is a dialect continuum within the small family of Chocoan languages. Its various dialects are spoken by over 20,000 people in southeastern Panama, as well as many more in northwestern Colombia. Another Chocoan language spoken in both Panama and Colombia is Woun Meu, also known as Wounaan, which is spoken by nearly 7,000 people.

There are still several other languages left to mention. One of the more surprising entries on the list is Hakka Chinese, a major group of varieties of Chinese spoken all over the world. There are over 6,000 native speakers of Hakka Chinese in Panama. The country is also home to over 3,000 native speakers of Teribe, a Chibchan language spoken in northwestern Panama.

Finally, there are two languages with an unknown number of speakers in Panama. First, there's Epena, a Chocoan language with a few thousand speakers in Colombia and Ecuador. Panama is also home to an unknown number of speakers of Yiddish, a Germanic language.

Monday, June 20, 2016

She Said, He Said: Reported Speech in the English Language

In the English language, when you want to tell someone something that you've heard, especially a quotation, you might need to use reported speech. It's used when someone tells you something, and then you need to tell a third person what the other person said earlier.

This is fairly simple in English, as long as you know your tenses. For example, if John says "I like pizza" to me, I say "John told me (that) he liked pizza". When I tell another person about my conversation with John, I change the tense.

In the example, John used the present simple tense. Let's look at that first.

Present Simple - Past Simple

If somebody says something in the present simple, I report it in the past simple. John says "I like pizza". Therefore, John said (that) he liked pizza. The pronoun has to be changed because I am talking about John, so the I has to change to he in reported speech.

Present Continuous - Past Continuous

If somebody says something using the present continuous tense, you can report it in the past continuous.

For example:

John: "I am eating a pizza"

John said (that) he was eating a pizza"

Will/Won't - Would/Wouldn't

When somebody uses the modal will/won't, you should report it using would/wouldn't.

For example:

John: "I will eat a pizza."

John said (that) he would eat a pizza.

Can/Can't - Could/Couldn't

When John uses can/can't, I report his speech using could/couldn't.

For example:

John: "I can order pizza."

John said (that) he could order pizza.

These aren't all the tenses we use in English, but they are some of the most common ones. We hope this has been helpful!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Political Linguistics: Should "Bigly" Be Used More?

As we've mentioned before, it's nearly impossible to escape the non-stop coverage of the upcoming U.S. presidential election, especially when you live in the United States like I do. While it can get incredibly annoying (and depressing), there's always the occasional news story related to language that piques my interest.

Back in November, we looked at Donald Trump's use of the word "loser", and pondered whether such insults were appropriate for a presidential candidate. This week, however, he has taken the internet by storm by repeatedly using a new word he seemingly created just for his campaign: "bigly".

While he has been mocked in just about every publication for the slip, it turns out that he technically didn't invent the word, since it's an archaic term.

Generally when we invent words, it's to fill a lexical gap, since we don't already have a word to describe whatever it is that the word describes. In the case of "bigly", there are a number of synonyms that can be used instead, since the "-ly" suffix in English can be added to many English adjectives to turn them into adverbs. Examples include tremendously, greatly, enormously, hugely, and exceptionally.

So, should "bigly" now be adopted into mainstream usage since a prominent businessman and presidential hopeful dominating news coverage around the world has started saying it? Given a large number of better alternatives, I'd say no.

However, if you disagree, and feel like "bigly" deserves to generally accepted as an English word instead of being used mockingly by the news media, let us know why in the comments below!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Mauritania

Last week we looked at the linguistic diversity of Moldova, and the week before our focus was on Bosnia and Herzegovina. This week, we'll be moving from Europe to Africa, with a look at the languages of Mauritania.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Mauritania is Modern Standard Arabic, the standard literary form of Arabic used all over the world. In terms of spoken language, most Mauritanians use Hassaniyya Arabic, a variety that is also used in Algeria, Morocco, Mali, and other areas of northwestern Africa. However, Mauritania has more native speakers of Hassaniyya Arabic than any other country, with over 3 million Mauritanians using the language.

While it doesn't have official status, French is also an extremely important language in Mauritania. Since the country was under French colonial rule until 1960, the French language gained importance in society. It is still widely used throughout the country, with about 5,000 native speakers and around 700,000 non-native speakers, plus many more Mauritanians who have some understanding of the language.

The Richat Structure, a fascinating geological feature in the
Sahara desert in Mauritania that can be viewed from space.
Recognized National Languages

Mauritania's constitution also recognizes four national languages: Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke, and Wolof. The three final languages all belong to the Niger-Congo language family. Pulaar is the most used of the three, with over 230,000 native speakers. It is followed by Soninke, which is the native language of about 180,000 Mauritanians. Last but not least, there's Wolof, which is used by approximately 15,000 Mauritanians.

Other Languages

Finally, there's Zenaga, a Berber language used in both Mauritania and neighboring Senegal. While it was once one of the most important languages in the country, it has slowly been replaced by Hassaniyya Arabic. Today, there are only thought to be around 200 remaining native speakers.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Euro 2016 and the Embarrassing Etymology of "Hooligan"

One of my favourite things in life is football, and a large portion of my time revolves around the sport. Obviously, language is also one of my favourite things. I am fond of the way language evolves and adapts, and how people and languages interact, which can result in languages borrowing words from one another.

We've done plenty of posts in the past looking at loanwords making their way into the English vernacular, but today I'd like to look at one word that has made its way into a number of other languages thanks to the deplorable behaviour of football fans. I'm of course referring to the word "hooligan".

The term is currently used in English to refer to someone who commits violent acts such as vandalism and assault, particularly as part of a group of sports fans and, above all (at least in the UK), football fans.

There are several competing ideas as to the etymology of this word. One idea is that it was the name of a fictional family in a song in the late 19th century. The name caught on, and just as the surname "Einstein" has become synonymous with intelligence, "Hooligan" became synonymous with causing trouble.

There is also the idea that it came from a gang in London known as the Hooligans (also O'Hooligans), who committed a murder in 1894. When the story was published in a newspaper, it became the first written record of the word, which later appeared in stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells.

Though from a later date, there is also the idea that an Irish bouncer and thief by the name of Patrick Hoolihan or Hooligan may have led to the term's popularity.

Whatever the origins of the word, it has since become synonymous with sports. The wave of hooliganism that spread throughout England in the 1970s and 1980s popularised the term in other languages as well, especially following the Heysel Stadium Disaster where 39 people were killed. Following the tragedy, English clubs were banned (originally indefinitely) from European competitions.

I've seen the term as a loanword in various other languages around Europe. Over the weekend, the covers of a number of French newspapers were using the term to describe the deplorable behaviour of some of the English fans in Marseille for Euro 2016 this week.

While I don't like hearing the word used in a foreign language, especially in reference to English fans, it saddens me to think that the shocking actions of certain people, who have more interest in fighting than football, are perpetuating the use of the word across Europe.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Get It Right: Weather And Whether

It has been nearly a year since we've added to our "Get It Right" series in which we correct common spelling and grammar mistakes, so today we're going to dedicate a post to one of the worst spelling mistakes in English: confusing the words "weather" and "whether".

This one should be easy since "weather" is used so much more frequently, and yet we often see people mixing up these two words. So without further ado, here are the key differences between the two words.


Weather is the state of the atmosphere, or the word for the conditions you find when you go outside. Since it's such an important part of human life that can greatly affect our activities, it's often one of the first words that is taught to language learners. In most circumstances we use it as a noun, as in "the weather is sunny today".


Whether, on the other hand, is a conjunction. It is used to express doubt or a choice between options. For example, you could say "I can't decide whether to eat ice cream or cookies for dessert".

Seems easy enough, right? The only situation in which we can really understand people mixing the two up is when using them in the same sentence, since that could be a bit confusing. That said, these explanations should hopefully help you keep them straight, even when you're writing "I'll be going to the barbecue whether the weather is sunny or rainy"!

Is there an English spelling or grammar mistake we haven't covered before that simply drives you crazy? Let us know in the comments and we might cover it in a future post!