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The Best of the Blog

Luglio 2014
The Speak Up blog answers any questions you may have either about the English language or our articles. Write to us (preferably in English) at: http://blog.speakuponline.it. The most interesting questions will be published on this page. A word of warning, though: our blog is not a translation or homework service!

The obscure ‘would’
In the article “Freda Kelly” (Speak Up, March 2014) you wrote “During her lunch breaks she would go...” meaning “she went”. Why?

This is simply a way of expressing a habit in the past. It’s a bit like saying “She used to go.” For some unknown reason, it looks like this way of expressing the past is not taught in Italian schools. We have no idea why, seeing as it is a lot more common than the form “used to.”

Past and present
I was talking to an English person about a student being absent from school that day, and I said: “The student has been absent today”, using the present perfect, because – I thought – “today” indicates that the action still has a connection with the present. But she didn’t understand, until I said: “He was absent today” (it was afternoon). What tense do I have to use with “today,” when referring to “past” actions?

Your English friend is right: “He was absent today.” Even if the DAY itself is still in progress, the SCHOOL DAY (the period to which you refer) is now over. If, on the other hand, the school day is still in progress, then it would be better to say, “He’s absent today.” If you say, “He has been absent today,” it suggests that he has been absent some of the time, but present at other times. You can, of course, use the present perfect when talking about today, but when speaking in more generic terms, as in a question: for example, “Have you brushed your teeth today?” (but note that here we are talking about the day in general, not the school day, which is now over).
Learning English with music
Someone told me that it isn’t a very good idea to learn English by listening to music (as the quality of the language is often poor). Do you agree?  

No, we don’t! Listening to music is a great way to learn a language. It’s enjoyable and it helps you pick up some good expressions. After all, a whole generation learnt English with the Beatles!

It’s been years!
“It’s years since Naomi saw any of her cousins” or “It has been years since Naomi saw any of her cousins”? Which is correct?

The first one is acceptable, the second is slightly better. It would be even better to say “It’s been years since Naomi last saw any of her cousins.”

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