Tuesday, December 6

Cebu Pacific’s Big (Grammar) Mistake

There’s a lot of bad English around us. Your city’s probably full of signs, slogans and phrases that need a bit more attention. Many of them escape your notice. But some of them are just too big to ignore, and then there are those that just make you wince.

You can see them at restaurants, construction sites, hotels and public bathrooms. They come in any medium. You can find them on T-shirts, bags, mugs and stationery. Especially Japan, China and Korea are very big on the last. They like to combine English words that sound good even though they don’t make any sense when bunched together.

The grammar level of whatever language a society’s trying to speak is one of the indicators of that society’s progress. And as an individual, you should be careful not to accept something as normal when in fact it isn’t. The more we take some mistakes for granted, the lower the quality of our language sinks.

There’s this one mistake that’s particularly hard for me to ignore.

Mainly because the company that made it is the second biggest airline in my country. It’s hard for me to understand how they could make such a mistake. I know they invested a lot of money and effort on that particular line. I imagine a bunch of people having a meeting about this one sentence that would be the crux of their whole campaign. And I guess they’re all really smart, accomplished people – probably the best in their field.

I just can’t figure where all the money went in that blatant mistake.

To cut to the chase, the grammar mistake that I’m talking about is Cebu Pacific’s current slogan “It’s Time Everybody Flies.

In fact, “It’s time” is a kind of idiomatic expression used this way:

It’s time to ü

Ex. It’s time to eat, It’s time to go to sleep, It’s time to study

As you can see, it’s a very common and useful expression. And if you wanna add a person in your sentence, you can always say:

It’s time for somebody to ü

Ex. It’s time for me to go to bed, It’s time for him to take a shower, It’s time for her to get married

All the sentences above are correct. Now, maybe it’s because of the patterns above, somebody in Cebu Pacific thought it would be right to do this:

It’s time that S + V ü

That’s in fact true. This is also possible for the expression “It’s time.” But the one thing some people didn’t know is that: If I wanna use “It’s time” like this, I have to do it this way:

It’s time that S + V (Past) ü

It’s impossible to use “It’s time” with a Present Tense:

It’s time that S + V (Present) X


That’s just the way it is. “It’s time” has a similar meaning to “It’s a bit late,” that’s why we actually use it this way:

It’s time (that) they got married/ It’s time (that) we went home/ It’s time (that) I finished eating. ü

The form of the Verb is in the Past but the meaning is Now. 

Grammar books call this the Subjunctive or Unreal Past.

So the next time you see a friend wearing the same shirt 2 days in a row, you should say:

It’s time (that) he took a shower. ü

But not:
It’s time (that) he takes a shower. X

If you want, you can also say:

It’s time for him to take a shower. ü

But this way is simply unacceptable:

It’s time he takes a shower. Xor -- It’s time everybody flies. X

You’ll probably learn it faster this way:

9:00 am  = It’s time (for him) to get up.

11:00 am = It’s time he got up.

1:00 pm = It’s about time he got up.

1:00 pm = It’s high time he got up.


9:00 am  = It’s time (for him) to get up. (not late, on time)

11:00 am = It’s time he got up. (a bit late)

1:00 pm = It’s about time he got up. (late)

1:00 pm = It’s high time he got up. (late)

What Cebu Pacific wanted to say in their slogan was that not many Filipinos travel domestically or overseas, and we should all change this lifestyle. That’s why they should’ve said:

It’s time for everyone to fly.ü

-          Or -

It’s time everyone flew. ü

Or maybe even the less preferred but more pleasant-sounding alternative:

It's time everyone (should) fly. ü

Until now I can’t imagine that their questionable slogan is everywhere on their website, billboards and ads. I hope they didn’t have this painted on the sides of their planes as well.

And I feel a bit of shame wondering how native speakers of English would feel to discover this mistake. I hope they won’t think most Filipinos make mistakes in English like this. I’d rather they judged Cebu Pacific fairly by the quality of service they provide and not by the wrong image that they unwittingly portray.  

It’s just that if you're the second flag carrier, anybody will think you sort of represent the whole country. Coz your planes will be the first and last thing a foreign visitor will notice.

Oh they could probably reason out that they exercised a bit of artistic license to make it sound better, but I doubt it.  When you come down to it, it would’ve been more practical for them to just drop the slogan and use another one.

In fact, it’s high time they got rid of that line. ;-)

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