Archive for the ‘the English language’ Category


You must read this! (‘Have to’ or ‘must’?)

September 3, 2014

by Kate Woodford
In these blogs we make a point of looking at areas that often cause difficulties for learners of English. This week we are considering how we talk about obligation – the fact that we must do something, either because of a rule or some other need. We will start with the differences between ‘have to/need to’ and ‘must’, and when we use one and not the other.

Have to/Need to

The first thing to say is that if we want to talk about something that it is necessary to do, ‘have to’ and ‘need to’, (followed by the infinitive of the main verb), generally sound correct and natural:

You have to/need to be there for eight o’clock.

I have to/need to get some money out.

You have to/need to get a form from the office. Read the rest of this entry ?


Victory! (Winning words)

August 27, 2014

by Kate Woodford
With the 2014 Commonwealth Games recently taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, our thoughts have turned to sporting success and we’re looking at the idioms and collocations (=word combinations) that are used to describe victory.

When a person or team succeeds in winning a game or competition, they may be said to gain a victory over their opponent(s): The Welsh side gained a victory over their rivals. Another way of saying this is that the game ends in triumph for one side: The game ended in triumph for Argentina. If they win with ease, they are sometimes said to cruise to victory: Juventus were never really in trouble as they cruised to victory over their Spanish rivals. An individual or side that cruises to victory may also be said to run rings around their opponents or (informal) wipe the floor with them: United rang rings around/wiped the floor with City. A victory in which the winning person or team is very much better than their opponent may be called a convincing win/victory or a comfortable win/victory: United began their tour with a convincing victory over LA Galaxy./Murray warmed up for Wimbledon with a comfortable victory over his opponent. Read the rest of this entry ?


Mad as a box of frogs? Phrases that suddenly become popular.

August 20, 2014

by Liz Walter
In 2009, the UK was shocked, angered and entertained in almost equal measure when revelations about the expense claims of our MPs appeared in the media. Amidst the accusations of greed, a few examples became iconic, such as the MP who claimed for cleaning the moat around his home or the one who bought a floating duck house for £1,645 and expected the taxpayer to foot the bill.

Of course, this behaviour increased the perception that our MPs are out of touch with the realities of ordinary life, and it seemed for a while as though nobody could speak about the affair without uttering the phraseThey just don’t get it.’ That phrase, more than any other, seemed to sum up the feelings of the nation and was repeated to the point of tedium.

A phrase that is currently enjoying popularity is miss the memo. Someone who is surprised not to know about something may say ‘Oh, did I miss the memo?’ or ‘I seem to have missed the memo’. Read the rest of this entry ?


Reported speech – how to say what someone told you

August 13, 2014

by Liz Walter
We often need to tell people what someone else has said to us:

He said he wanted to come with us.

She told me she hadn’t seen the document.

This is what the textbooks call ‘reported speech‘, because you are reporting what has been said to you.

To use reported speech correctly, you have to be careful about what tense you use. The basic rule is that you look at the tense the speaker used, then you go back one tense to report it.

So, for instance, if someone says something in the present tense, you report it in the past tense: Read the rest of this entry ?


A vibrant shade of green – the language of colour

August 6, 2014

by Kate Woodford
Of course, we have a great number of words for different colours, but in addition, we have a range of words for describing the quality of particular colours – how light or dark they are, for example, and whether they are bright or not.

Let’s start with words that approximately mean pale, (= light and not bright): She was wearing a pale blue sweater. Pastel means pale, but also emphasizes that a colour is soft and gentle: The house was decorated in pastel shades. (Notice that word shade, by the way. We often use ‘shade’ when describing the exact degree or type of a colour: a darker/brighter/lighter shade of blue). Read the rest of this entry ?


It’s not bad. (Emphasizing with negatives in English)

July 30, 2014

by Kate Woodford
A figure of speech that we often use in English is the understatement. An understatement is a statement that describes something as less important, serious, bad, etc. than it really is. There are two main uses for understatements. The first is to be polite:

The colour looks great on you but I think the jacket’s perhaps a bit tight?

(The speaker here does not want to tell their friend that they are too fat for the suit so ‘softens’ the adjective ‘tight’ with the phrase ‘a bit’.)

The other main use of the understatement is actually to emphasize a point, often in a way that is humorous. Read the rest of this entry ?


New words connected with families and relationships

July 23, 2014

by Liz Walter
Changes in social attitudes, new laws on same-sex relationships, and advances in medical procedures connected with conception and surrogacy have all led to new family structures and relationships, and this blog looks at some terms that have come into the language in order to describe them.

The jigsaw family, for instance, is becoming ever more common. Also known as the blended family, it consists of a couple and their children, living with children from their previous relationships.

The rainbow family, with members of different races, is most famously exemplified by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who currently have 6 children, three of whom are adopted (from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam). Children with parents from different racial and cultural backgrounds are now increasingly described as dual-heritage, a term which has a more positive spin than the still more common ‘mixed-race‘.
Read the rest of this entry ?


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