Once again, my students had a writing task to do for homework. The idea was for them to practise relative clauses by describing their favourite number, photo, person, shop or object and saying why. I’m happy to report that the aim was achieved, with the whole class showing that they could create grammatically correct sentences. There was something which caught my eye, though. It has nothing to do with relative clauses but I feel it is important to share with you. Have a look at the extract below and focus on the underlined words.
Take a few more moments to think about why I marked that part.
Do you feel that it is correct? Well, grammatically it is but the meaning doesn’t reflect what my student wanted to say. Instead, she should have written: She treats everyone very well and always tries to help. Let me give you another situation.
- Johanna always arrives late for class
- Johanna is always arriving late for class
In the first example, there is the word always. Many of you might remember a grammar rule which says that the present simple, and not the present continuous, must be used with words such as always, sometimes, occasionally, seldom, never. Why? Because we are talking about facts or habits, things which stay the same over time. Therefore, when I say Johanna always arrives late for class, I am stating a fact.
In the second example, there is also the word always, this time being used with the present continuous. It is not a mistake. However, it changes the meaning in an important way. If I’m speaking to my director and say Johanna is always arriving late for class, I am again stating a fact (always) but I’m also saying that I don’t like it. I am criticizing Johanna for not being on time!
- always + present simple => FACT
- always + present continuous => FACT + CRITICISM
I think you’ll agree with me that this is a major difference in meaning, which is why I marked my student’s sentence as wrong; not for the grammar but for the meaning.
Use it or you lose it …
Send in some example sentences to show me that you’ve understood the difference. You can tell me about an annoying habit of a friend or family member, even a fact/habit about yourself which you dislike. Use the comments box below.