Archive for the ‘the English language’ Category


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 ?


Choose a better verb!

July 16, 2014

by Liz Walter
It’s easy to use very basic verbs such as get, start, have or make, but a great way of improving your English is to learn more interesting verbs that go with particular nouns. For example, while it’s fine to say get attention or do research, your English will sound much better if you can say attract attention or carry out research.

Sometimes it’s worth learning the verb and noun combination as a phrase because it is so common that it would sound strange to use a different verb. For instance, we commit a crime (never ‘do’), tell lies or jokes (never ‘say’), and pluck up courage (not ‘get’). And while it’s possible to ‘give’ attention, details or compliments, it’s much more common and natural to pay attention, go into details and pay someone a compliment. Read the rest of this entry ?


Boffins and love-rats: the language of tabloids

July 9, 2014

by Kate Woodford
Miracle tot cheats death as 12ft wall collapses

If you read this headline in a British tabloid newspaper, would you have any idea what it meant? If you are British and have grown up with tabloid newspapers, you will, of course, immediately understand that somewhere in Britain, a young child (a ‘tot’) recently managed not to die (‘cheated death’) when a high wall fell on or near them. You would understand from the phrase ‘miracle tot’ that the small child was extremely lucky indeed.

If, however, you are a learner of English, you might struggle to understand headlines such as these, as the words and expressions that are used in them are rarely heard or seen in normal English. With this in mind, we thought we would take a look at some of those ‘tabloid English’ words and phrases and see how they are used. Read the rest of this entry ?


What will you be doing this time next week? – the future in English part 2

July 2, 2014

by Kate Woodford
Last week we looked at the most basic tenses and structures that are used for talking about the future. This week, we’re considering some more future tenses and structures and thinking about exactly how they are used.

Let’s start with the present simple. Like the present continuous, this tense can be used for talking about future events that are planned, or ‘in the diary’:

We leave for France next Tuesday.

Term starts next week.

Her plane gets in at three in the morning.

Notice that two of the above examples relate to events that are not only planned, but planned by someone else, as part of an official diary or timetable. This is a typical use of the present simple for future events.

We should mention another important use of the present tense for relating the future, and one that students sometimes get wrong. A present tense – often the present simple – is used for talking about future events in phrases that contain words relating to time, such as when, after and until. Read the rest of this entry ?


What are you doing tonight? – the future in English

June 25, 2014

by Kate Woodford

The future in English is complicated. The problem is that there are so many different ways of talking about it, and the differences between those various ways are sometimes quite slight. This week and next, we’re looking at the range of tenses and structures that we use to talk about the period of time that is to come.

We’ll start with a really useful tense – the present continuous (be + v-ing), (Notice, by the way, that we’re not starting with ‘will’ – more of that later…):

We are having dinner with friends tonight.

I’m seeing the dentist tomorrow.

What are you doing this weekend?

I’m starting my course next month.

We use this tense for talking about the planned future – things that we have already arranged to do. We use it both in statements and questions, and we use it a lot. It may be useful to think of the present continuous as the ‘diary’ tense – the tense that you use to talk about meetings, appointments, etc.  that need arranging – the sort of future events that you might write in your diary. Read the rest of this entry ?


The language of mobile phones

June 18, 2014

by Liz Walter
mobile_phone1According to a United Nations report, more people now have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. Phones are an important tool for most of us, but the kind of everyday vocabulary we use to talk about them is rarely learned in an English class. So here are some of the most important words you need.

When you buy your phone (called a mobile phone in British English and a cell phone in American English), you will need to decide whether you want a contract that will give you a certain number of texts, calls, etc. per month, or whether you prefer a pay-as-you-go arrangement (where you pay for services as you use them). A contract often lets you upgrade your phone for a better one after a period of time.

Most people prefer to have a smartphone which gives you internet access (allows you to go on the internet). Nowadays, we use our phones as cameras, diaries, alarm clocks, satnavs, and many other things, and you can download apps for almost anything, from improving your English to (apparently) finding ghosts! Read the rest of this entry ?


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