Category Archives: Grammar

So big!

Say it isn’t So!


Say it isn't so, Wilbur comic strip This expression means, “tell me it is NOT true!” or “I hope that is not so.”

The female comic book character here must be thinking, “Say it isn’t so!,” when she learns that she has been leaning up against wet paint.

In this title, “Say it isn’t So,” so means “thus,” or “this way.”

Let’s look at a more common use of so, and the purpose of today’s blog:  the use of so as an intensive.  When paired with an adjective so magnifies, increases, or intensifies the sense of what it is describing (much like the word such). However….

There is SO much confusion between such and so…

1. Such

Let’s take a look at how to use such.

If you are describing a person, place, or thing, you will use such.  Use such with nouns and noun phrases.

For example:

Malta is not such a big country.  I don’t think that is such a good idea. That was such a great dinner.

Look at those sentences again. Notice that such is followed by “a”  in those examples. Of course if the noun doesn’t take an article then such is used without it (see A, An, or The?…THAT is the question! for article use and non-use). For example: They have such great service at that hotel.

   Tip:  don’t use such with kind.

This site explains that such is an intensifier, but “kind” cannot be intensified so it doesn’t work * *.  In other words, the phrase “such kind” is NOT grammatically correct. It isn’t kind (to your teacher) to use such with kind!

To say “this type” simply use such in front of the noun.  Yenta the matchmaker from my favorite musical Fiddler on the Roof, uses such in this manner:

“From such children come other children.”

Additionally, when such is substituted for this or these, “such” carries an enhanced negative meaning.  So, “this type of clothing”  is neutral, but “such type of clothing” makes it sound disdainful. If I really disliked a certain fashion, I might say, “I would NEVER wear such type of clothing.”

Okay. That seems simple enough: we use such with nouns as an intensive, or 2. to mean this type (like Yenta).

2. So

So, let’s look at the use of so using similar sentences to the ones we just used:

Malta is not so big. I don’t think that idea is so good. That dinner was sooooo delicious!

So is used to describe adjectives.  Think of so like an adjective booster.*

Young children in the US also learn that the answer to, “How big are you?”  Is “SO BIG” accompanied by a gesture of stretching their arms as far apart as possible!

So big!
Q:  How big are you?   Child:   So big!

In the comic strip above, the young man seems like such a nice man. Although the woman asks him if he has come to alibi (which means give an excuse for why he wasn’t where he was supposed to be.  I imagine he must have stood her up* recently).  He doesn’t seem so nice in the last picture however, where he sneers that the bench was just painted.  I think she was angry in the first frame*, but she must be sooooo angry in the last panel.*


So-and-so is a term for an unnamed person.  It can be used 1. to protect someone’s identity, 2. if you have forgotten their name or  it doesn’t matter who they are,  and 3. when what you are saying could apply to anyone. For example: 1. So-and-so made a complaint ., 2. We were talking to so-and-so when the dog got loose. , 3. Art buyers can identify the work of so-and-so through a variety of tells*, including: the colors used, the angle of the brush strokes, and the composition of his/her subject matter.


Much like so-and-so, such-and-such is a term for things, non-specified activity, or stuff. Here is an example of how to use it in a sentence, “If so-and-so were born in such-and-such year, you can calculate his/her age by subtracting their birth year from this year.”  Here is one more, “At camp we spent the day doing such-and-such, but at night we all sang songs and told stories around a campfire.”

My Take On It

There is a suggested lack of a person’s or thing’s importance in the terms “so-and-so” and “such-and-such.” It is as if it is too much trouble to remember or say their name.

There is a story in the Bible of Jesus talking to a crowd of people.  He tells them,

Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” 

(Matthew 10:30, and Luke 12:7).  Can you imagine caring for someone so carefully that you would always know the exact number of hairs on their head?! Well, Jesus said that God loves us that much! He would never call us “So-and-so” in fact you have probably heard the most famous verse in Bible (John 3:16)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

What an incredible way to think about such and so!  God loved us SO much that He gave up His one and only son for our sake.  That is SUCH an amazing thought.

~ Michele

The Challenge of Using “Challenging”

Photographing a newborn can be a challenge (for the photographer AND the baby)
Challenge is a misused and misunderstood English word.

It is not uncommon for me to hear a student say enthusiastically,

“We must challenge!”

Huh?*  I think the intention of this rally cry* is, “We must fight!,” or “We must overcome!”

The problem with my students’ cheer is that the verb challenge requires an object, it’s a transitive verb.  We can challenge authority, old ideas, our imagination, and even ourselves and each other!  Things are challenged. We cannot simply “challenge.”

Let’s compare challenge as a noun and as a verb.

Challenge as a noun

There are several ways challenge can be used as a noun.

As in the caption beneath the picture above, when something is described as being a challenge, it means it will require a lot of effort and/or skill.  Obstacles can also be called challenges.

Examples: ♦ The TOEFL* test is a challenge (especially if you don’t prepare beforehand)., ♦ A traveler’s first challenge is to find safe and affordable transportation from the airport to the hotel.

When someone is described as being or presenting a challenge, it means that person is difficult to get along with, or manage.

Example: ♦ “Our new employee is going to be a challenge.”

A challenge can also be a  rally cry.

Challenge Sept. 12, 1962
President John F. Kennedy’s Challenge

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy encouraged Americans to land a man on the moon and bring him safely back. Inspiring a common goal is often called giving a challenge. (Click here for more about John F. Kennedy’s Challenge to the Nation).

The adjectives: Challenging, and Challenged

We often use the word challenging  instead of  the phrase being a challenge.  For example, the sentence, “The TOEFL test is challenging,” means the same as, “The TOEFL test is a challenge.” Likewise, instead of, “Our new employee is going to be a challenge.” I could say, “Our new staff member is going to be challenging.”  

Note: We can’t always make this substitution. In the sentence, “A traveler’s first challenge is to find safe and affordable transportation from the airport to the hotel,”  we can’t use challenging since we are focusing on a specific challenge.

Test yourself!  Look at the caption under the picture of the crying baby again.  Can you rewrite it using challenging instead of a challenge?  (The answer is in the My Take On It  section at the bottom of this post).

Additionally, challenged can be used to indicate a disability or something that is lacking. For example: Visually challenged means a visual impairment. Please note, when talking about people with disabilities it is rude to describe a person by their disability. I will be writing about how to talk about disabilities, as part of my “Tough Topics” series soon. In the meantime please check out the state of Washington’s, Guide to Disability Etiquette and Using Respectful Language in the Workplace.

Challenge as a verb

Using challenge as a noun or adjective is fairly simple.  The real challenge (meaning difficulty) is using challenge as a verb.

Think about John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation again.  A person who is giving a challenge is “challenging others to do something.” It means to encourage others to take action. We can also challenge systems and organizations.  One of my students said,

“I’d like to challenge the current system to become unprejudiced towards Japanese women.”

Her sentence uses challenge correctly. She is saying she wants to push the system to change.

Another student asked if he could challenge his appointment at the consulate.* Answer: No. He was trying to express that he wanted to try to meet with a consular officer earlier than his appointed time.  He could have said, “It might be challenging/a challenge to be seen early at the consulate, but I’m going to try.”

A third student said she would like to challenge business in the US.  Again, no. This idea doesn’t make sense in English.  She was trying to say that she wanted to accept the challenge of doing business in the US.

Not all nouns can be paired with the word challenge.  Let’s look at several examples and definitions of challenge as a verb from Webster’s online Learner’s Dictionary:

challenge 1

challenge verb definition 2

There are three primary uses of challenge as a verb:  1. to question the authority or validity of a person or thing (definitions one and two), 2. to confront someone, or dare someone to compete (definitions two, four, and five), and 3. To challenge someone’s imagination, or be challenged by something or someone is to be pushed, i.e.,  to be encouraged to accomplish something which is difficult (definition three).

Before using challenge as a verb... Click To Tweet, Do you want to express the idea of questioning someone/something, confrontation, or being pushed by someone/something?  And, do you have a subject which is challenging or being challenged by an object?

Things which can be challenged:
Grandkids challenging
My grandkids challenging my patience

Use #1: truth, decisions, statements, rules, reports, results, research, outdated ideas or methods

Use #2: authority, decisions, assumptions

Use #3: minds, imagination, ability, things requiring any skill (athletic, intellectual, dexterity. language, concentration/focus, any skill)

Use #4: “challenge (someone) to a___”: fight, or competition (anything where someone has to prove themselves)

Use #5: people we suspect of not being authorized (intruders, uninvited guests, those who appear too young to purchase or consume alcohol or tobacco, etc).

My Take On It  Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG

Quiz: How can you replace the noun “a challenge” with the adjective “challenging” in the caption above? Answer: Photographing a newborn can be challenging. (If you used another variation of “photographing” such as “taking pictures,” or “snapping photos,” your answer is also correct).

Famous quotes about Challenges:

Accept the challenges, so you may feel the exhilaration of victory.
George S. Patton

Dreams can often become challenging, but challenges are what we live for.
Travis White

I wanted to be scared again… I wanted to feel unsure again. That’s the only way I learn, the only way I feel challenged.
Connie Chung

It’s always the challenge of the future, this feeling of excitement, that drives me.
Yoshihisa Tabuchi

To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist.
Gail Sheehy

Famous Challenges (calls to action):

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Harry S. Truman

Life is a song – sing it. Life is a game – play it. Life is a challenge – meet it. Life is a dream – realize it. Life is a sacrifice – offer it. Life is love – enjoy it.     Sai Baba

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.  2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

 Blessings,    Michele  


Rest Assured, Reassure

Rest Assured I’ll Reassure You

Assured versus Reassured

I have a student who used the word “assure” instead of “reassure.” These words are similar enough that they are sometimes used as synonyms (often incorrectly).

The student was answering the question, “Why do people feel threatened by those who are different?” She said that people like to assure themselves that they are okay.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, one of the definitions of assure is, “to give confidence to.” Giving ourselves confidence makes sense.  So, the student’s answer,

People like to assure themselves that they are okay Click To Tweet

makes sense in other contexts. But, the strongest sense of the word assure is to guarantee or promise.

Reassure is closer to the student’s intended meaning. According to Webster’s again, reassure means “to make someone feel less afraid, upset, or doubtful.”  Indeed, “reassurance” means to remove doubt or fear, or provide comfort, or encouragement.  So, reassure should have been used as the answer to my question. People don’t feel threatened by others to assure, meaning “to guarantee” anything.  But we DO want to reassure ourselves that we are okay when we encounter people who are very different.  (See the “My Take On It” section for more about this)

Rest Assured I’ll Reassure You

Look at the clever title above.  The expression “rest assured” means that you can relax because I am promising you something.  In other words:

Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered.*

Reassurance, Assure Reassure
Helpful support = Reassurance

The last part of my title is a twist on the expression, “Let me assure you.”  We use this expression to guarantee that something is true or will happen. It is similar to saying “trust me.”  However,  I changed the expression from assure you to reassure you.  This changed the meaning from trust me to a promise that I will give you peace, or reassurance.  I believe in my ability to explain the use and differences of  the word assured versus reassured.

 My Take On It

Just for fun, I found some Bible verses which contain the word assure, or reassure, or variations of these words.  I did this is because another name for The Holy Spirit*  is the  Comforter (Note: Muhammad claimed to be the comforter. So, this is an area of disagreement between Christians and Muslims.)  The word reassure means to comfort, or give encouragement to so I immediately thought about the Great Comforter (this link will take you to several versions of John 14:26 with different names for the Holy Spirit including, the Advocate, the Helper, the Counselor, and the Comforter).

Holman Christian Standard Bible
“I assure you: Anyone who believes has eternal life. John 6:47

 GOD’S WORD® Translation
When the officer had assured him that Jesus was dead, Pilate let Joseph have the corpse. Mark 15:45

New International Version
I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. Ephesians 6:22

also, Common English Bible (CEB) I’ve sent him for this reason—so that you will know about us. He can reassure you.  Ephesians 6:22

GOD’S WORD® Translation
Ruth replied, “Sir, may your kindness to me continue. You have comforted me and reassured me, and I’m not even one of your own servants.” Ruth 2:13

New Living Translation
but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. Luke 2:10

International Standard Version
Now faith is the assurance that what we hope for will come about and the certainty that what we cannot see exists. Hebrews 11:1

 To recap* assured versus reassured : Assurance =  a guarantee, a promise; Reassurance = comfort, the removal of doubt or fear
One Last Thought about Differences

I mentioned earlier that  we want to reassure ourselves that we are okay when we encounter people who are very different.  Personally, I am not completely sure why people are threatened by other’s differences.  It is something that makes our relationships interesting and exciting.  Additionally, If we believe Genesis 1:27 which says,

GOD’S WORD® Translation
So God created humans in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female.

Then understanding each other’s differences gives us a more complete picture of God!  Let’s look at life as a journey that we are all travelling together.  We are all looking to complete the journey successfully. That means learning our purpose and fulfilling it.  I think successful journeys require an encounter with God.  He created us for a relationship with Himself and anything short of that is unsatisfying.  But we all have different starting points on this journey, and different understandings, and different vantage points.  It’s okay!  God loves us and wants a relationship with us.  He will draw those He loves (everybody) to Himself.  And those of us that know Him and love Him get to be a part of His efforts to make Himself known.  If that ‘s not exciting, I don’t know what is!

Blessings, Michele
Take Lunch, Sack Lunch Photo

Take Your Lunch and Eat it too!

In many languages the word take can be used like the word intake (as in eating or drinking). Frequently English language learners use the word take to mean eat or drink. In English, we only take our medicine! (not our food or beverages)

The sentence, “I took lunch at  that restaurant,” is confusing because “take lunch” generally means to “take your lunch with you” (sometimes called a “sack lunch”).  Use the verbs have, eat, and drink to describe consuming food or beverages.

We should say, “I had lunch at that restaurant,” or “I ate lunch there.”  Easy peasy*, right?!

And since we are discussing meals, we might as well* talk about dinner.  One of my students was surprised to learn that the word for the evening meal is supper, not dinner.  Dinner means the “big meal” of the day.  Typically most people eat their big meal in the evening (at suppertime). So, dinner has become synonymous with the evening meal. But holiday dinners, especially Thanksgiving and Easter dinners, are often eaten in the middle of the day.

Many of you recognized the play on words in the title of this post, Take Your Lunch and Eat it Too! Click To Tweet

There is a famous expression, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!” meaning once you have eaten your cake, you no longer have any left.  But since we use the verb “have” to mean eat or drink, this expression can be little confusing.  Just for fun, here are several of my grandchildren on their first birthday demonstrating that indeed you CAN have your cake and eat it too!


Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
     My Take On It

So, whether you’re eating your lunch, or having dessert, take some time now to let me know if you have any English questions or suggestions for future articles. Be sure to check out the Notions page and subscribe to my blog.  You might as well!* ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°) wink!, Michele

Talking Naturally about Nature

Many English language learners use the word nature unnaturally. In English we don’t say, “I like to see nature”, or “visit nature.”

We experience nature.  We can see things in nature  or see the natural beauty of a place. And we can visit natural areas, but we can’t see  or visit “nature” itself/herself.  Nature is thought of like a force or a spirit and is often personified (i.e., given human qualities). In fact, Webster’s online dictionary gives the following example for the word personify:

The ancient Greeks personified the forces of nature as gods and goddesses.

Look at these famous quotes about nature (photographs by Michele W Snider):

shareasimage (1)shareasimage (2)shareasimage (6)

“Look deep into someone’s eyes”, is a familiar expression. Einstein calls us to look into  nature  itself/herself. (Personification)

Humans have the ability to touch. So, Shakespeare also personifies nature in the statement above.

Leibovitz (above left) refers to nature as it. Nature is talked about as a living thing. Nature, she says, has power and is elusive (hard to pin down) and transformative.

Radhanath Swami (left)  describes Mother Nature.  Giving nature a name, “Mother Nature,” is the ultimate in personification. Notice how he speaks of nature as a woman.  This is a natural way to speak about nature.  As you can see nature is spoken of as an “it”, a “her” or a force.  We can’t see nature, but we can see the work of nature.  We can’t visit her, but we can visit natural areas (see more vocabulary below). Additionally we can say we enjoy being in nature and surrounding ourselves with nature.

Nature can be a creative or a destructive force. We can feel her,  and we can listen to her. We can be in nature and we can be with nature. So, embrace Nature and speak of her respectfully!embrace Nature and speak of her respectfully! Click To Tweet

Let’s look at synonyms and additional vocabulary that will help us talk about nature, wildlife, and natural environments naturally!

 Words to describe natural areas

Nouns: ♣ Outdoors  ♣ The Great Outdoors  ♣ The Wild ♣ The Wilderness ♣ The Bush (Australian) ♣ Nature Reserves  also called Preserves (areas kept in their natural state) ♣ Creation ♣ Mother Nature ♣ Mother Earth ♣ The Environment ♣ Flora and Fauna (“plants and animals”) ♣ Wildlife (animals) ♣ The Natural World

Adjectives: ♣ Unspoiled   ♣ Natural   ♣ Scenic   ♣ Wilderness/Wild  ♣ Undeveloped  ♣  Virgin ♣ Untamed  ♣ Unsettled  ♣ Uncultivated ♣ Uninhabited  These adjectives are used in front of words describing spaces, such as: places, areas, country, territory, and land. For example: unspoiled country, scenic areas, or uncultivated land (you get the idea!).

For more nature words, here is the most comprehensive nature vocabulary list that I have ever seen!

Additionally, here are a few more great quotes about nature (with more of my photographs).

shareasimage (7)  shareasimage (9)shareasimage (8)

 Additional Uses of Nature

The other use of nature refers to one’s essence, in other words the things that are typically true of that person or thing.  Look at these examples of human nature:

 The word pitch above means high point.

The words naturally and natural are used with both meanings of the word nature discussed above.

Things that are grown naturally, are grown in nature without human intervention. We also describe naturally grown produce as natural produce. Here we are using the words naturally, and natural as they relate to the first meaning of the word nature: the natural world. 

The words naturally and natural are also used when talking about things that stem from* one’s personality or natural abilities. When something comes easy* we think of it as natural.  We can say, for example, “He swings the bat so naturally.  He’s a natural born ball player.”  This is also the sense intended in the reply, “Naturally!”  For example:

Annie: “Will you be able to watch the kids for me tonight?”

Betty: “Naturally!” (In other words, it is no effort at all).

Here are a few questions to practice talking about nature naturally.  Try one! (I’ll give feedback on all answers left in the comment box below):

  • Describe something using the words nature, naturally, and/or natural.
  • What comes to mind when you hear the words, “scenic view”?
  • Describe “Mother Nature.” What is she like? What are her motives?
  • Consider the following Bible verse ( from Job 12:7-12), What do you think it means?
7“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
8or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.
9Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
10In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
Michele MVE 02 Icon 80 Percent JPEG Thank you! Michele