Turtles Beat Rabbits

Turtles Beat Rabbits

turtles beat rabbits

A friend explains why turtles beat rabbits when they race against each other. The Grammar focus is on Conditionals.

Caitlin: “They say turtles are faster than rabbits.”
Hanna: “Why, because they just move forward and never stop, but the rabbit screws around?”
Caitlin: “Something like that. Maybe the point is, don’t lose sight of your goal.”
Hanna: “My goal is to make Jeremy love me.”
Caitlin: “You can’t make someone love you. Bad goal.”
Hanna: “I can try. I am super-nice to him.”
Caitlin: “Either he sees how great you are, or he doesn’t.”
Hanna: “Never mind that. What is your goal?”
Caitlin: “I want to get a Master’s degree in English.”
Hanna: “That takes years.”
Caitlin: “I think everything difficult in life takes years.”


Move forward means to advance in position or progress. See online Idioms Dictionary.
Screw around means to engage in frivolous time-wasting or aimless recreation. See online Idioms Dictionary.
Lose sight of means to have one’s vision fade because of distance, obstruction, or difficulties. See online Idioms Dictionary.
Takes, as used in this dialogue, means requires or demands. See online Idioms Dictionary.

Suggested Topic for Comments: Comparatives

“Turtles are faster than rabbits.” The comparative for the adjective “fast” is formed by adding -er to the adjective. This is regular: fast, faster, fastest.


New Idioms are “Dash off” and “The hard way.” The Grammar focus is on Conditionals.

Momma: “What are you reading?”
Child: “It’s a book about turtles.”
Momma: “Turtles are fantastic.”
Child: “I know, look at these pictures!”
Momma: “Did you know they are faster than rabbits?”
Child: “No way. Their legs are too short.”
Momma: “I’m serious. In a race, turtles usually win.”
Child: “That’s impossible.”
Momma: “There is more to speed than long legs.”
Child: “Like what?”
Momma: “Like character and determination.”
Child: “What does that mean?”
Momma: “Rabbits are not that serious. They are easily distracted.”
Child: “So what? They can dash off to win anytime.”
Momma: “Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Mad as a March hare’?”
Child: “No, what is that?”
Momma: “A hare is a rabbit. Sometimes they go crazy. Their brains are flighty and foolish. There’s even a word, ‘harebrained,’ which means foolish. While the turtle goes slowly but surely to the finish line, the rabbit plays with other rabbits and does not pay attention.”
Child: “And then they lose?”
Momma: “That’s exactly right. If you want to win, you can’t mess around.
Child: “You’re so wise, Momma.”
Momma: “I learned everything the hard way. The rabbit is giddy and scatterbrained, but the turtle is serious and unflappable. I used to be a rabbit. Then I became a turtle.”


No way means under no circumstances, not at all. See online Idioms Dictionary.
So what? means Who cares? What does it matter? See online Idioms Dictionary.
Dash off means to quickly and suddenly go somewhere. See online Idioms Dictionary.
Mad as a March hare means crazy or deranged. See online Idioms Dictionary.
Slowly but surely means at a slow or incremental pace but making steady, dependable progress. See online Idioms Dictionary.
Pay attention means to be attentive to, become aware of, or be responsive. See online Idioms Dictionary.
Mess around means to waste time, to play with something with no good purpose. See online Idioms Dictionary.
The hard way means through personal experience that is difficult, painful, or unpleasant. See online Idioms Dictionary.

Suggested Topic for Comments: Conditionals

Momma’s statement “If you want to win, you can’t mess around” looks like a standard Type 1 or Future Conditional on the surface. These usually begin with the “If clause” (subordinate clause) in the present tense, and conclude with the main clause in the future, usually a statement, for example:

If you like this barber, we will go to him for haircuts.

The contrast is with Present Conditional, “If you liked this barber, we would go to him for haircuts,” and Past Conditional, “If you had liked this barber, we would have gone to him for haircuts.”

The main clause in each of these is a statement, but what is often not mentioned in the discussion of Conditional sentences is that the main clause can also take the form of a question or an imperative. That is what we have in the dialogue. If we consider “don’t” the rough equivalent of “you can’t,” the sentence could have been written “If you want to win, don’t mess around.” The main clause in the form of a question might be: “If you want to win, do you have time to mess around?”

There are numerous constructions that express conditions and outcomes, especially with imperatives, but they don’t look exactly like the formulaic setups usually presented to ESL students. English language learners should be aware of these. Two examples:

Throw something else at the wall, and I’ll get very angry.
(standard Conditional structure: “If you throw something else at the wall, I’ll get very angry.”)

Finish your homework, or you will fail the test.
(standard Conditional structure: “If you don’t finish your homework, you will fail the test.”

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