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Newsletter About the English Language
Issue No. 5 - Aug. 30, 2006
ASK KATHY!

This week's question comes from Yuko.

I got an invitation to a party and at the bottom it said "R.S.V.P. by August 26". I guessed that I had to respond by that date, but what does R.S.V.P. mean exactly?

Answer: Good question. R.S.V.P. is an abbreviation for the French expression "respondez s'il vous plait", which means "please reply". Why do we use the French expression? Simply because the French have long been famous for style and good manners. R.S.V.P. is used at the end of invitations, sometimes there will also be a date included, as in "R.S.V.P. by September 12, 2006." In more formal invitations the R.S.V.P. request may be on a piece of paper separate from the invitation. According to etiquette, if you get a hand-written invitation, you should send a hand-written response, but these days people often include a response card on which the guest writes his or her name and the number of guests that will attend.

Have a question for Kathy? Click here to e-mail your question to Kathy!

CULTURE NOTES

While we're on the subject, let me answer some questions that my students have asked me in the past about weddings and invitations.

Q1: How can you tell if the wedding or party will be formal or casual?

A: In the U.S., weddings used to be very formal occasions, but these days there are many different styles of weddings. The invitation indicates the formality of the event. That means that if you get a formal invitation printed on heavyweight ivory, cream, or white paper, written in classic lettering and written in formal English, then you know the event will be formal and you will want to dress appropriately. If you get a more colorful or handmade card written in a more casual style, you know that the event will be on the casual side. If you were invited by phone, e-mail or in person, it's a very casual event.

Q2: How much is it to attend a wedding in the U.S.?

A: In the U.S., weddings are free for guests. The wedding ceremony is usually held in a church and there is no charge to the guests. The reception (the party after the ceremony) is held at a restaurant or banquet hall. Again, the guests don't usually pay for dinner or drinks. However, if the invitation says "cash bar", that means that guests must pay for alcoholic drinks when they order at the bar, but this is rare at weddings.

Q3: Who pays for everything?

A: Traditionally the bride's parents would host their daughter's wedding. However these days, the costs are often split between the two families. Also, more and more couples are paying for their own weddings because today's couples are often older and have more money than the very young bride and groom of the past. The wedding invitations will usually show who the host is, but sometimes couples choose to use the traditional style of invitation, which includes their parents' names, even though they are paying for their own wedding.

Q4: How much should I give as a wedding gift?

A: There is no set amount. Some people give gifts, such as fine china or small appliances or even gardening tools. Others prefer to give cash or a gift certificate, which is placed in a wedding card. The amount you spend on the gift depends on how much you can afford to give and how close you are to the couple. My friends said a gift is usually between $65 and $150 per person. By the way, these days the gift is usually sent before the wedding so that the couple doesn't have to worry about gifts being lost or stolen at the reception.

Q5: How should I reply to an invitation?

A: If you get a formal invitation with an R.S.V.P. card, just fill out the card and mail it back. The R.S.V.P. card will come with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. If you get a formal invitation without an R.S.V.P. card, you should send a formal, handwritten reply.

Let me finish by giving you some examples.

The invitation below is a bit formal and the R.S.V.P. request is on a separate piece of paper. You can see the parents' names. Probably both families helped pay for the wedding.

Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Daniels
and
Mr. and Mrs. Mark White
invite you to share in the joy of the marriage uniting their children
Kimberly Daniels
and
Thomas White
on Saturday, the eight of July
two thousand and seven
at five o'clock in
the evening
St. Mary's Church
123 Main Street
Willow, Ohio

Reception following ceremony
Washington Hall
987 Maple Street


The favour of a reply

is requested by

June 20, 2005.


In the following hand-written example, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are accepting the invitation:

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Taylor

accept with pleasure

the kind invitation of

Mr. and Mrs. Daniels

and

Mr. and Mrs. White

for

Saturday, the eighth of July

at five o'clock in the evening

In the next formal example, Mr. and Mrs. Tayor are declining the invitation:

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Taylor

regret that they are unable to accept

the very kind invitation of

Mr. and Mrs. Daniels

and

Mr. and Mrs. White

for

Saturday, the eighth of July

at five o'clock in the evening


CULTURE NOTES-- 3 POINTS

Now let's take a closer look at a few points from this month's CULTURE NOTES. First, let's look at the first question.

Q1: How can you tell if the wedding or party will be formal or casual?

POINT 1: In this case, "tell" doesn't mean "communicate". It means "know" or "distinguish the difference". We use these patterns: "tell + N", "tell the difference between A and B", "tell (that) SV", "tell what SV", "tell where SV", "tell how SV", "tell if SV", etc. Let me give you some examples:

ex: You can tell the age of a tree by cutting it and counting the rings.
ex: When he first came to Japan he couldn't tell the difference between hiragana and katakana.
ex: I can tell (that) he's nervous by the way he's shaking his leg.
ex: Scientists can't tell when an earthquake is going to hit.
ex: This is delicious! I'd love to try to make this at home, but I can't tell what spices they've used.
ex: When the kitten was only 2 weeks old, I couldn't tell if it was a boy or a girl.

Next let's look at the answer to question 4. There are two useful points.

A: There is no set amount. Some people give gifts, such as fine china or small appliances or even gardening tools. Others prefer to give cash or a gift certificate, which is placed in a wedding card. The amount you spend on the gift depends on how much you can afford to give and how close you are to the couple. My friends said a gift is usually between $65 and $150 per person. By the way, these days the gift is usually sent before the wedding so that the couple doesn't have to worry about gifts being lost or stolen at the reception.


POINT 2: "Depend on" is used to mean "determined by" in this case. We use these patterns: "depend on + N", "depend on what + SV", "depend on where + SV", "depend on whether +SV", etc. Here are some examples.

ex:
A: Are you going to the beach tomorrow?
B: It depends on the weather. If it rains, we're going to go see a movie.
ex: We can make this ring in platinum, gold and silver. The price of the ring depends on which type of metal you choose.
ex:
A: Dad, can I borrow your car?
B: That depends on where you're going.
A: I need to go to the library to work on my history report.
B: In that case, sure. Be back by dinner time.
ex:
A: Are you going to the party at Ken's house this Firday?
B: It depends on whether I have to work or not.
A: I hope you have the night off. I don't want to go alone.

POINT 3: "Afford" is usually used to mean "have enough money (for/to do)". It is almost always used with "can". The patterns are "afford + noun" or "afford to do". Here are some examples.

ex: I can't afford a new car right now. Maybe next year I can buy one.
[It means: I don't have enough money for a new car.]
ex: He only has $5. The movie costs $3 and popcorn costs $3. He can afford to go see the movie but he can't afford to buy any popcorn.
[It means: He has enough money to go see the movie but he doesn't have enough money to buy any popcorn.]

But "afford" can be used to mean "enough / extra / margin " (in Japanese, the word is yoyuu) when we're talking about things other than money. The best way to explain is to give you some examples.

ex: He got bad grades on the last three tests. He can't afford to get a bad grade this time.
[It means: He will fail the class if he gets a bad score because he doesn't have enough good scores to allow him to pass if he gets a bad score on this test.]
ex: He was late every day last week. He can't afford to be late again.
[It means: He will be fired if he's late because he doesn't have enough good will with the boss.]
ex: A surgeon can't afford to make any mistakes during an operation.
[It means: If a surgeon makes a mistake, the patient will die. There is no room for error.]

CULTURE NOTES -- AUDIO

In this week's audio feature I'll be reading the questions and answers from this week's CULTURE NOTES.

Click the PLAY arrow to listen as you read question 1.


Q1: How can you tell if the wedding or party will be formal or casual?

A: In the U.S., weddings used to be very formal occasions, but these days there are many different styles of weddings. The invitation indicates the formality of the event. That means that if you get a formal invitation printed on heavyweight ivory, cream, or white paper, written in classic lettering and written in formal English, then you know the event will be formal and you will want to dress appropriately. If you get a more colorful or handmade card written in a more casual style, you know that the event will be on the casual side. If you were invited by phone, e-mail or in person, it's a very casual event.
Click the PLAY arrow to listen as you read question 2.


Q2: How much is it to attend a wedding in the U.S.?

A: In the U.S., weddings are free for guests. The wedding ceremony is usually held in a church and there is no charge to the guests. The reception (the party after the ceremony) is held at a restaurant or banquet hall. Again, the guests don't usually pay for dinner or drinks. However, if the invitation says "cash bar", that means that guests must pay for alcoholic drinks when they order at the bar, but this is rare at weddings.

Click the PLAY arrow to listen as you read question 3.


Q3: Who pays for everything?

A: Traditionally the bride's parents would host their daughter's wedding. However these days, the costs are often split between the two families. Also, more and more couples are paying for their own weddings because today's couples are often older and have more money than the very young bride and groom of the past. The wedding invitations will usually show who the host is, but sometimes couples choose to use the traditional style of invitation, which includes their parents' names, even though they are paying for their own wedding.

Click the PLAY arrow to listen as you read question 4.


Q4: How much should I give as a wedding gift?

A: There is no set amount. Some people give gifts, such as fine china or small appliances or even gardening tools. Others prefer to give cash or a gift certificate, which is placed in a wedding card. The amount you spend on the gift depends on how much you can afford to give and how close you are to the couple. My friends said a gift is usually between $65 and $150 per person. By the way, these days the gift is usually sent before the wedding so that the couple doesn't have to worry about gifts being lost or stolen at the reception.

Click the PLAY arrow to listen as you read question 5.


Q5: How should I reply to an invitation?

A: If you get a formal invitation with an R.S.V.P. card, just fill out the card and mail it back. The R.S.V.P. card will come with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. If you get a formal invitation without an R.S.V.P. card, you should send a formal, handwritten reply.

Go back and listen again and again until you feel confident!



That's all for this week! Read on if you missed last week's ETP! WEEKLY



ASK KATHY!

This week's question comes from Erika.

My question may be silly, but I am never sure if I should say "reservation" or "appointment". Can you explain it easily?

Answer: Thanks, Erika. It's not a silly question at all. In fact, many students ask me this. T he difference between "reservation" and "appointment" can be confusing because both words can be translated as "yoyaku" in Japanese. Here's a simple way to remember the difference:

"Reservation" is used when we want to hold something so that we can use it at a later time, like a table or a room.

Here are some examples:

ex: I called the hotel to make a reservation.
ex: Hi, I have a reservation for four. The name is Smith. (at a restaurant)
ex: If we all want to sit together, we'd better make our reservations early.

"Appointment" is used when we want to hold a block of time so that we can meet with someone or do business with someone, like a doctor or a hairdresser.

Here are some examples:

ex: I can't go out after work. I have a hair appointment.
ex: Could you make an appointment with the dentist for me?
ex: Mr. Jones doesn't meet with anyone without an appointment.

Do you want to try a few? Put "(a) reservation" or "(an) appointment" in the blanks.

1.
A: Hotel Belle Grande. How may I help you?
B: I'd like to make (_________________).
2.
A: Hi. I'd like to make (_________________).
B: OK. Who is your usual hair dresser?
3.
A: Where's Tim?
B: He left. He said he had a doctor's (_________________) at 3:00.
4.
A: What's my schedule for this afternoon, Sally?
B: You have (_________________) with a client at 1:00 and then at 3:00 you have a meeting with the staff.
A: Thanks. Oh, could you call the Best Bar and Grill and make (_________________) for my wife and me? Make it for 7:00.

How did you do? Check your answers:

1-a reservation 2-an appointment 3-appointment 4-an appointment / a reservation

I hope that clears things up for you!

Have a question for Kathy? Click here to e-mail your question to Kathy!

STUDY TIP

This week's STUDY TIP has to do with spelling. English spelling seems to have no rules sometimes. For example, in English we write "he buys", but we also write "he cries". And we write "two toys", but we write "blue skies". You have probably wondered why some words that end in "y" add "s" while other words drop the "y" and add "ies" to the word. Don't worry, I can help you figure it out.

Look at this list of words that end in "y" and I think you'll see the pattern.

add "s" drop the "y" and add "ies"
toy --> toys sky --> skies
boy --> boys supply --> supplies
key --> keys try --> tries
monkey --> monkeys fly --> flies
buy --> buys study --> studies
enjoy --> enjoys reply --> replies
pay --> pays cry --> cries

Did you figure it out?


In the left column, all of the words end in a vowel + "y" .
In the right column, all of the words end in a consonant + "y"
[Note1: vowel=boin, a/e/i/o/u Note 2: consonant=shiin, all letters but a/e/i/o/u]

So the rule is:

Add "s" to words ending in "ay", "ey", "oy" or "uy".
To all other words, drop the "y" and add "ies".


That's this month's STUDY TIP! I hope it helps!

WORD ORIGINS

Once in a while I get curious about the origin of a particular word. Recently a student asked me about the word "scuba". I happened to know that it is an acronym, which is a word that is formed from the first initials of other words. "SCUBA" stands for "Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus" [Apparatus=equipment, device, gadget]. I looked it up in the dictionary and found that it is a relatively new word. It was first used in 1952.

That got me interested in the etymology [etymology=word origin] of other words. I looked up some other popular sports on www.etymology.com and this is what I found:

The word
"snorkel" comes from the German word "Schnorchel" which was slang for "nose". It was first used to describe the air shaft (long pipe used to get fresh air) of a submarine. It got it's current meaning "curved tube used by swimmers to breathe under water" in 1953.

The word "ski" comes from the Old Norse (the old language of Norway) word "skith" which meant "stick of wood". It has been used since at least 1855.

The origin of the word "surf" is a little unclear. The theory that sounds most believable to me is that it comes from the Old English word "sough" (pronounced like "suff") which meant "a rushing sound" like the sound of water rushing in the sea or trees blowing in the wind. It has been used to mean "ride the crest of a wave" since 1917.

That's all for this month's WORD ORIGINS. If you ever wonder about the origin of a word, try looking it up in your dictionary or on www.etymology.com.

PRONUNCIATION

This week's audio feature is PRONUNCIATION. A lot of students have trouble hearing the difference between certain numbers, like 13 and 30.

Click the PLAY arrow to listen to the first audio recording below. Listen again and again until you can hear the difference.

[Hint: 30 sounds like "thir-D", 40 sounds like "four-D" in American English.]



12/20 13/30 14/40 15/50
16/60 17/70 18/80 19/90


Now read the sentences below and, hen you are ready, click the PLAY arrow below to listen to this week's main audio recording. Write down the numbers you hear.



1. Mary bought (_______) notebooks for her students.
2. It cost (_______) dollars and (_______) cents.
3. (_______) kids were invited to his birthday party.
4. John was depressed because he was about to turn (_______).
5. There are (_______) people in the room.
6. A: How old is he? B: He's (_______)
7. The next train comes in (_______) minutes.
8. I got up at (_______) this morning.
9. I've told him (_______) times to clean his room, but he hasn't yet!
10. He started college when he was (_______)

Now listen again and check what you wrote.



1. Mary bought (twelve) notebooks for her students.
2. It cost (thirty) dollars and (nineteen) cents.
3. (Twenty) kids were invited to his birthday party.
4. John was depressed because he was about to turn (forty).
5. There are (eighty) people in the room.
6. A: How old is he? B: He's (thirteen).
7. The next train comes in (fifteen) minutes.
8. I got up at (6:50) this morning.
9. I've told him (sixteen) times to clean his room, but he hasn't yet!
10. He started college when he was (sixty).

That's all for this month's PRONUNCIATION. Be sure to listen carefully when you hear numbers!