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August 15, 2002 - Lida Baker: Exceptional Verbs - 2002-08-14

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": August 15, 2002
Rebroadcast on VOA News Now: August 18, 2002

AA: I'm Avi Arditti, Rosanne Skirble is away. With me this week on Wordmaster is our English teacher friend Lida Baker in Los Angeles, to talk about a few verbs that can cause trouble for even the best-trained non-native speakers.

BAKER: "I got the idea for this segment because for the past six weeks I've been working with a group of brand-new English teachers from Hong Kong. Their English is superb, but I noticed here and there that there were still little errors that persisted, and one of those errors was with the word 'let.' One of the students got up to do a presentation and she made a sentence something like, 'and at this point I would let the students to talk among themselves.' To my native ear, of course, that 'to' shouldn't be there.

"And, you know, there's a very logical explanation for why a student would make a mistake like this. Let's take a sentence like 'letting the students to sit down' and think about what it really means. Well, it means that the teacher allowed -- or will allow -- the students to sit down. With a verb like 'allow,' it's necessary for us to include the preposition 'to,' but with 'let' it isn't."

AA: "So it would be like, 'Allow me to introduce myself. Let me sit down.'"

BAKER: "Exactly. Or 'let me introduce myself.' So what students do is they generalize from one form to another and therefore make the mistake. There's a few other verbs that act like 'let.' Think of this sentence: 'My mother made me clean my room.' It wouldn't be correct to say 'my mother made me to clean my room.' But it's perfectly correct to say 'my mother forced me to clean my room,' right?"

AA: "Right, exactly."

BAKER: "So with the verb 'make,' it isn't correct to use the preposition 'to.' Another example is a structure like this: 'I had the waiter bring me some water.' We use this structure -- I-had-someone-do-something-for-me -- in the sense of somebody that we hire in some cases to do a service for us. So 'I had the plumber fix the leak in my sink' or 'I had the dry cleaner remove the stain from my silk suit.'

"I think the best way to approach this from the learner's point of view is to think of verbs like 'let' and 'make' and 'have' as exceptions, because the normal pattern would be to include the preposition 'to.' So once the student is aware of the fact that these verbs don't act like others, then the student can start kind of paying attention and looking for them when they listen to the news, when they listen to the radio, when they watch television.

"Another really good way to learn these verbs is to look for them in song lyrics. Think of all the songs that have 'let' in them: 'Let Me Go,' 'You Made Me Love You.'" (laughter)

MUSIC: "You Made Me Love You"/Judy Garland

BAKER: "So I would tell my students to go to the Internet, because on the Internet you can find song lyrics, there are thousands of song lyrics on the Internet, and look for your favorite songs and read the lyrics. You're going to find lots of examples of sentences with 'let' and 'make' and 'have.' And if you start humming those songs in your head, it's really going to help the student to remember how to use these verbs correctly. Can you think of any others?"

AA: "Uh ... "

BAKER: "'You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,' 'You Make Me Want to Sing,' 'You Make Me Want to Shout.'" (laughter)

MUSIC: "You Make Me Want to Shout"/Otis Day & the Knights

AA: Lida Baker teaches in the American Language Center, part of the University of California at Los Angeles Extension program. She also writes textbooks for English learners, available through the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.

And while Lida cannot answer questions personally, send them to us at VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA. Our e-mail address is, and our Web site is

I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Shout"