Pitfalls: “Married TO,” Not “Married WITH”

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warning symbol of exclamation point in triangle, by zeimusu at openclipart.org

She is married to him. He was the first in his family to get married to someone from another country. Two of my friends would like to be married to each other, but it’s still not legal in this state, because they are both men.
heart with scroll, saying “married TO,” based on an image by Andy at openclipart.org

In these sentences and others, referring to the state of being married, the correct phrase is “married to.” However, many English learners say “married with.” This common preposition mistake won’t confuse listeners or readers too much. After all, your meaning is still clear. However, it may make the listener or reader pause momentarily, because this phrase isn’t part of standard American English.

The reason this mistake is so common is because many other languages use a preposition meaning “with”–and really, it makes more sense! Unfortunately, preposition choice is rarely based on logic, so it’s just a rule that has to be memorized. “Engaged” works the same way when referring to “promising to marry each other in the future”: She is engaged to him, etc. The noun “marriage,” on the other hand, usually is found as “marriage to” (7 million English Google hits) but may sometimes occur as “marriage with” (less than 3 million hits).

When you are referring to the actual act of getting married, you don’t need any preposition at all: She married him on August 20, 2003. He was the first in his family to marry someone from another country. Two of my friends would like to marry each other someday.

“Dating” is similar–I have heard even advanced non-native English speakers say “she is dating with him,” but this is never correct in American English. Instead, simply say: She won’t date sexist men. They dated each other for three years before deciding to get married. Are Pat and Leslie dating? etc.

(I know these rules are confusing. Prepositions are one specific area that I think is helped by reading a lot: once you’ve seen “married to” thousands of times in your reading, you’re likely to say it correctly without having to think about it!)

Introducing Pitfalls

warning symbol of exclamation point in triangle, by zeimusu at openclipart.org

A “pitfall” is something that’s dangerous, but hidden or hard to see. The original word referred to a kind of trap made by digging a hole in the ground and lightly covering it. I’m going to use this word for a new series of posts about vocabulary and grammar that are often misused. I hope you’ll be able to avoid these pitfalls in the future.

Of course, I’ll continue the “Good Words” posts also. I hope both are useful to you! Remember, if you have questions about English words or phrases, you can leave a comment. I usually can’t reply to you directly, but I’ll consider the topic for a future post.

Read Comic Books to Improve Your Reading Skills

Comic books are good for you! Really, it’s true. Take a break, read a comic … improve your reading.

image of woman reading, by Gerald_G from openclipart.org

Stephen Krashen, a well-known education researcher, has said that comic books and other “light” reading can be an important part of learning to read at an academic level. His book The Power of Reading summarizes research showing that comic books contain a high number of of unusual and academic vocabulary words, that comic book readers tend to be better overall readers, and that, essentially, all reading is educational reading.

You can get started reading these for free. Daily Bits has posted links and short descriptions for 17 free online English-language graphic novels (comic books). These graphic novels are aimed at a variety of audiences. Some of them, such as Fables, NYC2123, Crossing Midnight, Deadman, Y: The Last Man, The Sandman, DMZ and Fell, are aimed at readers who are 18 years old or older (however, Salamander Dream is for all ages).

Wowio’s Comic Books and Graphic Novels section has quite a few legal, free comic books and graphic novels. You’ll have to register to use Wowio, and they require you to prove your identity using a photo ID, credit card, or “non-anonymous” e-mail address (such as a school e-mail address). I haven’t used this site, so I hope that if you try it, you’ll let me know what you think.

If you are interested in reading more graphic novels and you live in the US or Canada, go to your local library. In the last few years, libraries have been increasing the number of comic books, graphic novels, and manga on the shelves. Most libraries have people on the staff who love to read that kind of thing. They’ll be able to give you recommendations.

You can also check out the Comics in English section of the Readable Blog Bookstore (those, of course, aren’t free). If you have any English-language comic books or graphic novels that you would like to recommend to other English learners, please leave me a comment.

Take a Peek at the San Francisco Bay Area…Present Tense

Do you remember the present tense? (she walks, I read, he tells me, they buy some coffee, etc.) It’s probably one of the first things you learned in English. One place where you will often find the simple present tense is in captions–the explanatory writing that goes with a photo in a newspaper, magazine, etc.

image of newspaper from artvex.com

In journalistic style, the captions are usually written in present and present continuous/progressive tense, as though the event is happening as you look at the picture. Of course, the actions have already occurred, so past tense may seem more logical. However, you can think of the photo’s events as “frozen in time.” If you study academic writing in English, you learn to do the same thing when referring to other writings (Dr. Krashen writes that reading and listening are important, etc.).

Through the Lens is a feature of the San Francisco Chronicle‘s website. Every week, images from around the Bay Area are posted, with captions. The captions show a mix of tenses depending on the situation. For example, in this week’s Through the Lens, we have these captions posted:

If you’re interested in the San Francisco area, you can bookmark Through the Lens and get a regular look at life here.

Do You Have an Accent?

That’s the question asked by Professor Joseph L. Mbele, who is from Tanzania but teaches English at St. Olaf College in Minnesota (USA).

The answer is yes. Everyone has an accent. I have an accent when I speak Chinese or Japanese, but I also have an accent when I speak English. The way you speak even your native language is determined by your family, where you grow up, your education, etc. I speak American English, of course, but my speaking is affected by my Californian parents, my Midwestern relatives, being raised in the South, and so forth.

Professor Mbele also asks this:

Why should someone with a proper Nigerian or Ugandan accent be pressured to speak like an American? Why should someone with a proper Jamaican or British accent be pressured to speak like an American? In Africa, no one asks foreigners to speak English like Africans: the British speak with their own accent; so do the Indians, the Australians and others.

You can read “Do You Have an Accent?” at The African News Journal. I highly recommend reading it yourself.

Anyway, happy New Year!