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It's the day before my father leaves London. The sun has been faithful all day and we are sitting outside at my new hardwood garden table. An English grammar teacher before he retired, he analysed the structure of sentences and spotted grammatical errors easily. Here is a translation of our afternoon discussion in the sun.



Bon Journal

Grammar lessons in the sun

The "in", "on", and "at" for time and space

Use "in" if it refers to a large domain or a period of time: in China, in Victorian times.

"In the night" means through or throughout the night. But "on that night" refers to that particular night, not any other night. "In those nights" refers to a longer period of time, over several nights. "At night" refers to the latter part of the day rather than in the daytime. It does not include dawn. So "in" is used for longer periods, next is "on", and finally use "at" for a smaller point in time. These can also be applied to day, morning, afternoon, etc. The same logic can be applied to space (location).

Never use "in the island" only "in the islands". Use "in" before a place name (capitalised) or before "the" plus a plural location. For example, use "in Okinawa" if Okinawa is treated as a place rather than as an island. Use "on Okinawa" in the context of an island. "When we lived on Okinawa, we would go snorkelling." But Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu Islands, so we'd say "in the Ryukyu Islands" but never "in the Ryukyu" or "in Ryukyu".

Use "at" if it's a point in time or a point in space - i.e. a specific location rather than the entire area. For example, a company sets up branches at city A, city B, etc.

Something that always confuses me is the article "the" because it doesn't exist in Chinese. So when do you use "the" ?

You should always use "the" before sun, moon, earth, and any other singular heavenly body. "The" should always precede names of ships. But it is not necessary to precede plural forms of heavenly bodies or ships with "the."

"The" is also used with a modifier - or rather, any noun that has modifiers must be preceded by "the." For example, "the table which you bought" or "the table you gave me". Modifiers like "which", "that", "whom", "who", "where" can all be omitted if used as objects. "The table that you gave me" is really saying - you gave me the table, so the word "that" can be dropped - thus "the table you gave me".

There are five types of nouns.

common noun: this is the most common, can be counted.
proper noun: names of places, people, etc.
material noun: coal, oxygen, oil, soap - anything you can't count
abstract noun: such as etiquette, paradigm, happiness, redness
collective noun: army, family, group, people (as a race)

17 August 2001

August is a month of birthdays.
Jackie, the mother-to-be
Nicola, the concert pianist
Hari, the lecturer
Justin, the marketing guru
Patty Brightwell would have been 37 years old today.