2020 will be remembered for many things, one of which will be that it was ‘The year we all stayed at home’.
In this blog post we will explore the theme of house and home, different expressions of home, and you will find help to use these correctly in your speech and writing.
On 23 January this year the world watched as the Chinese government put the city of Wuhan into a strict lockdown and ordered all residents to stay at home. Since then the invisible Coronavirus has been rampaging across the globe, defying borders to bring fear, death and daily living restrictions that we could not have imagined when we celebrated the dawn of a new decade, just a few months ago.
In the UK right now we are all being told to STAY AT HOME to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and to reduce pressure on the health and emergency services. In New Dehli this week the government ordered India’s 1.3 billion people to stay home; last week the Governor of California commanded his 40 million residents to stay at home; and in Germany, South Africa, Morocco, Hungary, Italy, France, Spain and many other countries it is the same story. We are all now AT HOME, 24/7.
‘Home’ is a word in the English language which is distinct and different from the word ‘house’. In many languages there is no special word for home, so for English language learners this can be a problem area in which direct translation doesn’t usually help. With my students in class I draw a row of houses on the whiteboard and put a heart over the door of number 21. I tell them, “There are many houses on my street, but only one of them is home, my home”.
Home is where I live and where I have an emotional and physical connection with the things and people there. A house is a building which people can live in, but home is the place where I belong, where I take my shoes off and put on my pyjamas. Where I relax, where I am known and loved.
I cannot, and should not, write about home without considering the 70.8 million people who are currently displaced worldwide. (Displaced means that they are refugees or seeking asylum in another country – they have left everything that was normal, familiar and homely, and currently have no place to call home). Closer to home, too many people sleep on the streets of our cities – they are homeless. They also have nowhere to call home, nowhere to unpack their bags, make a meal of their choice and sleep in a bed. A hostel or a refugee camp is a temporary house and a refuge from the cold, but it is not home.
These days we are all working from home, schooling from home, exercising at home, and spending all of every day at home. For some of us this is bringing the unexpected pleasure of more time with our families, the joy of meals returning to the kitchen table, after-dinner games and movie nights, projects completed and a generally slower pace of life. For some of us the pressure of being confined in a small space 24/7 is unbearable; tension and arguments are common, loss of income is real, the pressures of distance learning/working are overwhelming and the fear of sickness is constant. For those who live alone, these are quiet, lonely months. Home is not always ‘Home Sweet Home’.
In the English language a home doesn’t have to be a house.
Home can be a boat or a tent, a one room apartment or a six bedroom villa. A bird has a nest for a home, a bee has a hive, a rabbit has a burrow, and a snail takes his home with him wherever he goes. Home can also be the word for the place we come from, our home country. After a trip abroad, for holiday or for work, I look forward to going home – to my house, but also to my country and my people. Where is home for you?
We can also feel ‘at home’ somewhere.
This happens in a place which is not our home but which feels in some way like it. I lived in Morocco for a number of years, a country and culture very different to my native England, but after a while I felt ‘at home’ there. This means that I understood much of the language, customs and habits of people, I was able to function well in my life and work, it was the place where I lived, worked and took my holidays. I had a physical home there with my family and possessions, but we went ‘home’ to the UK from time to time. Home can be complicated!
When students come to Loxdale for our Summer Intensive English Courses and General English Courses they usually stay with a ‘host family’. Our host families are specially chosen and regularly monitored because we want all our students to feel ‘at home’ with us; to feel safe, well fed, cared for and included in family life. When our students go back to their hosts after a fun but tiring day of lessons and activities they are able to relax and sleep – they go home, even though they are thousands of miles away from their home and family in Spain/Japan/Chile/Italy/Bulgaria/Saudi Arabia.
Now, let’s get down to business.
The word ‘home’ can be a noun (a location) or an adverb of place (a direction) and where it is in the sentence tells us how to use it.
“I am coming home in 5 minutes, wait for me!”
“I am home now if you want to phone.”“I want to go home soon because I am tired.”
2. When ‘home’ is a noun and therefore is telling you the location of the action, we need to use a preposition ‘at’ or ‘from’.
“My journey from home to school is just 10 minutes by bus.”
“I will be at home all morning if you want to drop off the parcel.”
“At home I can relax and be myself.”
3. You will notice that in English we don’t usually use a determiner or an article with the word ‘home’, unless we are talking about homes in general, or institutions. In these cases ‘home’ is a countable noun and different from other uses of the word.
“They are building 25 homes for local families on the site of the old factory.”
“We are going to a Care Home to sing to the residents on Thursday.”
“He left the Children’s Home when he was 18 years old and moved into his own flat.”
4. We also don’t usually use possessives such as my, her, his, our, or your, unless we want to emphasise whose home it is, and when we do this we usually swop to using the word ‘house’.
“The party is at our house tonight. Come over at 9.”
“I will meet you outside your house and we can walk into town together.”
“Her house is bigger than my house, but we have a puppy and that makes everything ok.”
Finally, let’s look together at some common mistakes my students make, and maybe you make them too. I have also put down the correct way to say it, to help you learn and grow in your use of English.
Incorrect: “I’m going to home after class.”
Correct: “I’m going home after class.”
Incorrect: “In my country we drive on the left/go to bed late/respect our old people.”
Correct: “At home we drive on the left/go to bed late/respect our old people.”
Incorrect: “When I go back to my country I will graduate from University.”
Correct: “When I go back home I will graduate from University.
Incorrect: “I will eat my dinner in home.”
Correct: “I will eat my dinner at home.”
Incorrect: “My host mum works in home.”
Correct: “My host mum works at home.”
Correct: “My host mum works from home.”
I hope that has helped you to better understand how we use these words, and when these strange times are over we look forward to welcoming you into our house and home over here in Brighton, UK.
Meanwhile, stay home and stay safe.