If you read last week’s lesson closely, you might have tripped over one of the grammar terms. Unsure what it translates to, you might have asked yourself:

What means reciprocal?

It’s a fair question, but phrased awkwardly. We encounter this sentence structure when translating sentences word for word. Time to introduce our first auxiliary verb!

The verb do can be both a main and an auxiliary verb. As a main verb, it describes an action such as participating in sports:

I do yoga twice a week.

As an auxiliary verb, it supports the main verb when forming negations or questions:

I do not do yoga.”
Do you do yoga?

One auxiliary do per sentence is enough. Even if something is both a negative expression and a question, we only add one of them:

Do you not do yoga?

These sentences contain do twice: once as a main verb, once as an auxiliary verb. If we translated them to German word for word, we would get “Tust du Yoga machen?”, which looks awful. Why do we use phrases like this in English?

Auxiliary verbs do not translate the same way main verbs do. They are there to support the main verb, but don’t get their own spot in a translation. To know when to add a do and when to leave it out, look for patterns in existing language:

  • That works not. → That does not work.
  • Speak you English? → Do you speak English?
  • Got you my message? → Did you get my message?
  • Understand you what I mean? → Do you understand what I mean?

What is one sentence you recently heard someone say that was missing an auxiliary do? Tell me on Twitter at @domhabersack and help me grow my collection!

All lessons in this course


An actual video

Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.

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Making a photo

Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.

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What for a picture

Not every word in a sentence needs to appear in its translation. Languages don’t map to each other one-to-one.

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You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.

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Hello together

This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.

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What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.

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Becoming a car

“Bekommen” and “to become” are another pair of false friends. If you want something, make sure you’re not accidentally turning yourself into that thing.

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Less vs fewer

Is it “less mistakes” or “fewer mistakes”? They both seem to say that something is not as much as it was before, but only one is grammatically correct.

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False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.

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Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.

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When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.

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I vs me

Was an event organized by “Nina and I” or “Nina and me”? To find which one applies, take the other person out of the sentence for a second.

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Good vs well

You’re doing well, Superman is doing good. This lesson looks at the rules behind which of these two is correct in a given situation.

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Looking forward

When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.

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Gender-neutral pronouns

When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.

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We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.

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Each other

Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.

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Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.

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