Grammar Guru: You’ll want to turn left at the light

You’ll want to… The pragmatics of this phrase is interesting:

  • Driver: How do I get to the lake?
  • Pedestrian: You’ll want to turn left at the light up there and then just go straight til you hit Shore Drive.

Why do we consider it acceptable and polite to predict what the person we are talking to will want to do? It would be quite bizarre to tell someone in German, “Sie werden da vorne links abbiegen wollen.” How presumptuous! So what makes telling them what they’ll want more polite than a direct imperative in English? Andreas Grundtvig recently explained to me that this is an example of implicature, that is a phrase that implies something rather than expressing it outright. Here the speaker implies a command rather than actually uttering it. Implicature is the broad term for such implied meanings. The use of this particular form – you will – used to imply a command is also found in conversations on the phone or at the front desk:

  • Amanda: I’d like to speak to someone about using room 1123 for an event.
  • Bertha: Oh, then you’ll want to speak to Marcy. Let me see if she’s in.

Unfortunately, using the will future like this doesn’t always signify an unspoken but implied command. Consider this foodie story, for example, where the writer simply predicts that once you read about these dishes, you will want to devour them on the spot:

So you need to keep your senses open to determine whether the phrase you have just heard or read is meant literally, or is a case of implicature.

Anyone looking at the will future as a form will be struck by how versatile it is in English. It’s worth exploring much more. For example, we use it all the time, especially in spoken English, to describe our habits, and what is typical:

  • When I go to the gym, I’ll generally take a bottle of water with me.
  • On Saturdays, we’ll sometimes go out for breakfast

None of those phrases are about the future at all. If anything, they reflect the past, because normalcy is based on habits developed over the years. I used the will-future above, in my intro: “Anyone … will be struck…” to express that same normalcy; yet in your case, being alerted to the form and its various meanings, the reference will naturally imply future acts of noticing.

Teaching the present perfect

A longstanding client of mine recently wanted to pick up lessons again with the aim of refreshing his grammar skills, to increase his confidence in using the language which he is already quite proficient in and uses on a daily basis. While I generally am more of a business and communication skills trainer, teaching the mechanics of the language is clearly also a part of the job. So yesterday we decided to look at the present perfect.

Oh, grammar. I’d only just had a chance to review the rules of thumb at Dominic Braham and Anthony Gaughan’s Grammar Workshop for ELTABB on Saturday.

  • Recent past – breaking news and updates
    eg Have you heard the latest?
  • General experience – doesn’t say when
    eg Blue is the Warmest Colour has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. (It won on Sunday.)
  • Unfinished past – the nth time so far, how long or often up to now
    eg It marks the first time that a movie based on a comic book has won the award.
    eg The film has received largely glowing reviews from critics.

On Saturday, Dominic had us think about different approaches to teaching this tricky subject, e.g.

  • keywords
  • concepts
  • standard chunks for typical situations

With advanced learners, I generally prefer to develop concepts based on their experience. That worked best for us yesterday, too, as we contrasted the twin concepts:

  • Review – the game is over (past)
  • Potential – the game is still on (present perfect)

We started with a conceptual grammar drill I learned from Theresa Gorman (thank you!) to clarify the concept of potential contained in one use of the present perfect:

Imagine two people, Bärbel and Justin.

  • Bärbel’s trip to Paris: 22-26 May 2013. Is it over or ongoing? ->over
  • Justin’s trip to Paris: 26 May-3 June 2013. Is it over or ongoing? ->on

Who still has the potential to do something in Paris? Who has come home, and can now look back? Get on the phone to Bärbel and Justin and ask them about their stay in Paris. Include questions starting with “What, where, how many, how long…?”

  • Hi Bärbel! It’s great to hear from you!
 So, how was your trip to Paris? Did you see the Eiffel Tower? Did you…?
  • Hi Justin! How are things?
 How has the trip been so far? Have you seen the Eiffel Tower? Have you…?

This way in clicked. Later I did give him some more examples, but noticed that keywords or set phrases or correct chunks tended to confuse him, whereas the contrastive grammar approach was clear and held his attention.

So we went on to work on twin contrastive settings for him to create phrases for:

Task 1/ Potential: Prepare questions for an asset manager about a property he or she is assessing, to make sure the correct steps will be taken:

  • Have you looked at the level of rents in that area?
  • Have you applied method X to see what the ROI would be? etc.

Task 2/ Review: You and the asset manager are looking back over the year 2012. What steps did you take with the various properties?

  • Did you look at the level of rents in that area?
  • Did you apply method X to see what the ROI would be? etc.


Here is a list of German-English translations showing the main contrastive grammar issues

Present perfect simple for facts, referring to when they came into being (German: Present or “Perfekt” or past)

  • I’ve lived in Germany all my life. (=Ich lebe seit meiner Geburt in Deutschland. Ich habe schon immer in D gelebt.)
    (This is not true, by the way. I’ve actually been here since the 1980s.)
  • I’ve liked football since I was a kid. (= Ich mag Fußball seit meiner Kindheit.)
  • I’ve always liked football. (= Ich habe schon immer Fußball gemocht. Ich mochte schon immer Fußball.)
  • I have been here in Berlin for 2.5 years. (= Ich bin schon seit 2,5 Jahren hier.)
  • I’ve been here since September 2011. (= seit)

Present perfect continuous for ongoing actions referring to when they started. (German: present)

  • I’ve been working on my presentation since yesterday, and I’m almost finished. (= Ich arbeite seit gestern an meiner Präsentation)

Simple past for actions that are over/ facts that are time-boxed, mentioning when they took place/ were true. (German: usually “Perfekt”, past more frequent in literary register)

  • Bärbel went to Paris last week. (= Bärbel ist letzte Woche nach P. gefahren.)
  • I was born in 1961. (= Ich bin 1961 geboren. Lit: Ich wurde 1961 geboren.)
  • After my A-levels, I did an apprenticeship. (= Ich habe nach dem Abi eine Lehre gemacht.)
    (Again, not true. I wish I had!)
  • She completed her course of studies in spring. (= Sie hat im Frühjahr ihr Studium abgeschlossen.)
  • I talked to Julian 10 minutes ago. (= Ich habe vor 10 Minuten mit Julian gesprochen)
  • Bill was an impressive guy. (= Bill war ein beeindruckender Mensch. Bill ist ein beeindruckender Mensch gewesen.)

Grammar Guru: for or since?

I’ve known Theo _______ 5 years.  Is it for or since? Easy:


  • I’ve known him for a long time, it seems.
  • I’ve known him since he showed me his collection of old records and we discovered that we share a hobby.
  • Incorrect: I know him for a long time -> I’ve known him for a long time.

Compare my chart for “until/ by”. I developed these charts a few years ago and get a lot of mileage out of them.

Grammar Guru: until or by?

You’re going camping and want to borrow a friend’s tent over the weekend. So you say: “Could I have it ______ Friday afternoon? We’re leaving on Friday after work.”

Until or by?


  • Until means from now until then.
  • By, used for deadlines, means not later than then.
  • By… at the latest!
  • Imagine: If you said “until Friday”, your friend might say “Sure, until Friday is fine. But I need it on Saturday, so can you come round on Saturday morning to drop it off?”
  • Here’s an exercise on using “until” and “by”, with a pdf.

Grammar Guru: I asked her how much…

“How much do I need to pay?”

I asked her how much…

This is reported speech and a quoted, or indirect, question. Two rules apply:

  1. Make the verb match the tense of the reporting verb, “asked” (change it into the past tense)
  2. Use sentence order, not question order in the quoted question part.

There is one correct answer. However, you may find the others used, too, and by people who speak perfect English. Why?

First of all, we sometimes quote direct questions and it’s not always easy to hear the quotation marks! Just think of this line from Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”: “She said why don’t we both just sleep on it tonight.”

And secondly, we adapt the tense in the reported speech to our frame of reference, which can be wider than just the situation at the time of speaking.


  • I asked her what she was talking about. (The frame of reference is the situation at the time.)
  • I asked her when she was/ is planning to move. (The frame of reference is is wider than just the situation at the time.)

Grammar Guru: Needs to be done, or needs being done?

You can say “This laptop needs repairs” and, very elegant: “This laptop needs repairing.

But which of these two is correct:

  • “This laptop needs to be repaired.”
  • “This laptop needs being repaired.”

Yes, unfortunately I’ve worked my poor laptop so hard that it’s got several hardware problems now. One key sometimes doesn’t work (the 9), and the right loudspeaker sometimes goes silent on me. That must have to do with the many lunches I have had too close to the keyboard — and my somewhat percussive style of typing. You see, I was a real idiot when I was a teen and refused to learn to type with ten fingers, saying I didn’t want to be stuck in an office job. — So what do I do for a living today? Creative typing! And loud! And bouncy!

Another problem: The DVD-ROM drive doesn’t read discs ever since I dropped my laptop case one black day. I’ve got about 1/2 of my music collection imported onto this baby (and backed up) and have switched to iTunes for new stuff, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to play a DVD, you know?

OK, dear Apple Store, I’m afraid I’m going to have to bite the bullet and ask for an estimate. Is having repairs done going to be cheaper than a new laptop? Fingers crossed!

Guess what, Mr. Desktop, I’m coming back to you for a week. But don’t get your hopes up, baby, this is strictly temporary.

But first, I’m off to give a seminar for a few days. So, just in case, here’s your answer.