Sometimes it’ s hard to know when to use the word “play”. Why is it okay to use it for some sports like soccer, baseball and badminton but not allowed for other sports like skiing, swimming and boxing?
We have to think three categories: games, sports and exercise. Chess is a game; there are rules, teams, points and a clear winner and loser. “We play games.” “I play chess”, “I play video games”, “I play hide and go seek.”
Now, some sports are also games: Soccer, baseball, badminton (even 1 person teams are ok), etc. They have teams, rules and points. So you ‘play’ them. The exception is combat sports like boxing, Taekwondo or MMA. They have teams, rules, points and clear victors – but fighting is too violent to be called a game.
Then there are sports which aren’t games. Skiing is a sport, there are (usually) no teams or points and the rules for victory are usually very clear and simple (such as who goes fastest). These are usually verbs on their own: “I ski”, “I swim”, “I run”.
Many sports are also exercise (good for your body) but a lot of exercise isn’t a sport. Yoga is exercise, you can’t “win” you are just doing the activity to help your body. You ‘do’ these things: “I do yoga”, “I do weightlifting”, “I do Pilates”.
Knowing when to add stress in a sentence can be a little difficult, and some words can change their sound if they are unstressed. In English we stress the content words in a sentence, the ones that convey meaning to the listener. Generally this means that nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and negation words are all stressed in a sentence. Smaller words that carry no content, like prepositions and articles, are usually unstressed. Not only are unstressed words generally said quieter, but their vowel sounds are replaced with a schwa. “I am going to the store to buy some coffee” would be strange to hear, as if every single word in the sentence is very important for the listener. “I’m going to the store to buy some coffee” is more natural.
to (tu) becomes to (tə), the (ði) becomes the (ðə), some (sʌm) becomes some (səm)
All of the vowels have been replaced with the schwa (ə), the sound that the human moth makes when the throat, lips and tongue are relaxed and you just let a sound come out. (ə)
The bad news is that this means that half the words in a sentence you hear can become unintelligible, said quietly and with altered pronunciation. The good news is that you can ignore them and still understand the sentence. “I’m going to the store to buy some coffee” “I’m going store buy coffee” tells you everything you need to know.
Of course you can choose to add stress to non-content words if they are important. For example instead of saying this is “the end” I could say this is “the end” emphasizing the finality.
The three prepositions “in, on and at” can be a little difficult to know when to use. We often use them with places and times.
For places, it’s easy to talk about something being “in a box”, “on a table” or someone working “at a desk”. But when talking about other places it can be tougher.
Remember that “In” is used for three dimensional places, things that have walls or borders.
For example: “She is in the house”, “He was born in China”, “I’m staying in New York”. New York has borders, even if you can’t see them. If it has walls, or a man-made border use “in”.
“On” is used for big things, where you are not surrounded by walls or man-made borders. Surfaces you can stand “on top of”, like streets, mountains, islands. We also use it for boats, since you can stand on top of the deck of a boat. Later on when other big vehicles like trains and planes were made we started using it for that too. “I get on a train”“I am on a plane” but “I’m in the car”.
“At” is tougher. We usually use it for where actions take place: “I’ll meet you at the park”, “He studied at Harvard”. You can also use it for abstract places “She isn’t at home”, but you can also drop it there: “She isn’t home”.
So what about things like: “I work in a hospital” and “I work at a hospital”. Both of those sentences are correct. The first one uses “in” and makes me think about a three dimensional building. The second one uses “at” and makes me think about the action of working.
After learning all the pronunciation rules of English, like getting your tongue between your teeth for a ‘th’ sound and getting your tongue far back in your mouth for a strong ‘r’ then there is still a roadblock in speaking English naturally and that is stress.
I’m not talking about the stress you feel when speaking English (although that’s an issue too) I’m talking about the way that native speakers add stress to certain words in sentences. The three ways of adding stress are with volume, duration or pause.
Volume: “I love you”
Duration: “I love you”
Pause: “I love you”
In all of these sentences ‘love’ was made more important by adding stress to it. English speakers usually use volume when adding stress, so don’t worry too much about the other two.
Stress can really change the meaning of a sentence. “I love you” = I am the one that loves you, not others. “I love you” = I love you, not hate you or other emotions “I love you” = You are the one that I love, not others.
Since English doesn’t mark the parts of speech (like subject, verb and object) with particles like some Asian languages the stress becomes useful sometimes for figuring out meaning. This is also the reason that English native speakers sound a little funny when speaking languages like Korean or Japanese since they usually add stress into languages that don’t need it.
Two words that I hear many English learners make mistakes with, even very advanced learners, are ‘until’ and ‘by’ when talking about deadlines. “Please give me your homework until tomorrow” is a variation on the common mistake I hear.
“Please give me your homework by tomorrow” is correct. “Please work on your homework until tomorrow” is also fine.
So what’s the difference?
“By” is used for actions that must happen once before the deadline.
“Do your homework by tomorrow, renew your driver’s license by Wednesday, pay your rent by the end of the month”.
These actions need to be completed once.
“Until” is used for actions that continue for a period of time.
“I have to work until 9pm tonight, I will keep practicing until I succeed, I didn’t eat until 4pm today”.
These are all actions that continued until the deadline then stopped. “I worked on my homework until 11:59pm, luckily I finished it by the deadline at midnight.” is an example of how one action continues (working) but one action happens just once (finishing).