“Can you eat spicy food?”

One of the most perplexing questions I get asked by Koreans is “Can you eat spicy food?” This seems like a strange question.

miguel-andrade-1136772-unsplash

The main problem is the “Can you…” part. This makes it a question of ability, not preference. “Can you fly?”, “Can you speak Chinese?”, “Can you come to my party tomorrow?”. Asking someone “Can you eat spicy food?” is like asking them “Are you able to eat spicy food?”, “Is it possible for you to eat spicy food?” This almost sounds like a challenge, as if you are questioning their abilities.

I have heard many, many foreigners complain about getting this question.
“Can you eat spicy food?” (sounds like a challenge)
“Of course I can!”
It’s much, much better to ask “Do you like spicy food?” Then the question isn’t about ability, it’s about preference. Even someone who hates spicy food can eat it.

charles-deluvio-575401-unsplash
Personally I like spicy food. Most Korean food isn’t spicy to me, but some tastes pretty hot.

Abstract Places

 

 

“I’m going to Jamaica”

“I’m going home”
These two sentences are very different. In the first one Jamaica is a real specific place, an actual location and it is a noun. So we use the preposition “to”.
In the second sentence ‘home’ is not a real specific place (my home and your home are different places), it’s a more abstract idea. It operates as an adverb of place. We don’t need to use “to” because it’s an adverb that really means “in the direction of home”.
When the place you are talking about is not a single, real, specific place then we don’t use “to”.


pablo-merchan-montes-772136-unsplash

“I’m going home” (abstract place, different for everyone)

luke-stackpoole-561551-unsplash
“I’m going to my house.” (real place)


lindsay-henwood-47743-unsplash

“I’m going upstairs” (the direction of up)
“I’m going to the second floor” (a real place in this building)


ian-608006-unsplash

“I’m going abroad.” (any country other than this one)
“I’m going to Spain.” (a real place)


adam-gong-788068-unsplash

“Come here.” (my “here” and your “here” are different. It’s not a real place)
“Come to this spot” (a very specific location).


Learning how to think of places as nouns or adverbs is tough, so just try your best.

Abstract nouns


It can be very hard to understand which nouns are abstract and which are concrete.


samuel-zeller-15935-unsplash
Concrete nouns are easy. Just like the concrete we use to make buildings and roads we think of them as solid and strong.

Concrete nouns are things you can:

see (a sunset) ,

nathan-dumlao-451093-unsplash

 

hear (a song),

bruce-mars-558710-unsplash

 

touch (an icicle),

yannic-kress-612158-unsplash

 

smell (a fart)

niko-lienata-1100332-unsplash

or taste (honey).

danika-perkinson-1055412-unsplash


Abstract nouns are things you can’t see, hear, touch, smell or taste.

They are ideas or concepts (time, money, freedom),

kaleidico-754613-unsplash

actions (running, drinking, falling)

blake-cheek-736297-unsplash

and feelings (hatred, love, confusion).

s-a-r-a-h-s-h-a-r-p-973504-unsplash
Abstract nouns are uncountable.

jack-harner-764414-unsplash
Money is a concept. Dollars, Won and Yen are concrete things that represent money to people.

“I have money.”

“I have 10 dollars


jon-tyson-771694-unsplash

Time is an idea. Hours, days and years are measurable, real nouns that represent time to people.
“Do you have time this weekend?”

“Do you have a couple of free hours this weekend?”


Some words can be both abstract and concrete, but the meanings change.

ryan-franco-263029-unsplash
“I love you.” love is a concept or feeling.
“I left my love overseas” here ‘love’ refers to an actual person = the person that I love.

“I don’t have time.” time is a concept
“That happened two times.” here ‘times’ is a completely different word, = the number of occurrences.


hayeon-yun-694065-unsplash
“I hate winter.” all winters, the concept of winter.
“I went to Europe two summers ago” we are counting a year’s summer as a period of time, not as an abstract concept.
I don’t expect you to master abstract nouns with a short audio clip. I just want you to try to start noticing them more. Mastery (an abstract quality) will come later.

Home and House

 

The difference between “Home” and “House” is subtle, but they are very different. A ‘home’ is where a person or family lives.

A house is just a building.
If a family lives in a house then that house is their home. If they live in an apartment then that apartment is their home. If a place is your permanent residence then it is your home. A home is an abstract place, it is different to everyone. A student may live in the dormitory at university, but probably wouldn’t consider that a home. If someone lives alone in a small apartment they may consider that their home, or they may still consider their childhood home as their real home.
“I’m going home” and “I’m going to my house” can have the same meaning. If you live in a house.
“I’m going home” and “I’m going to my apartment” can have the same meaning, if you live in an apartment.
“I’m going to my friend’s house” is a common expression.
“I’m going to my friend’s home” sounds just a little strange. It’s his home, not yours.
Home country, homestay, homeowner, home schooled… ‘home’ can also be an adjective. It’s the place where you live, the place you belong, the space that belongs to you. ‘House’ is just a building.

We even have the expression “Make a house a home” referring to doing things like decorating, having kids, getting pets… anything to make the building feel like a home to you.

Preposotions

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.

Until & By

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).