Archive for the ‘the English language’ Category


Oh wow! (Responding in conversation.)

February 11, 2015

by Kate Woodford​​​​
When you are chatting in English, do you always know how to respond? Do you sometimes wish you knew a few more words and phrases to show that you are interested in what the other person is saying? Read on!

To let the speaker know that you have understood them, you can just say Ah. People often say right or okay after this. The phrase I see is also used here:

A: The date is wrong on the letter.

B: Ah, right, I see.

A: So we have to be here by eight o’clock, not nine o’clock.

B: Ah, okay, fine. Read the rest of this entry ?


Take it away! (Phrasal verbs that use ‘take’)

February 4, 2015

by Kate Woodford​​​​
Continuing with our occasional series on the subject of phrasal verbs, we look this week at ones formed with the verb ‘take’.

Phrasal verbs are extremely common in English. That is why teachers are so keen to teach them even to beginners. One of the first phrasal verbs that students of English learn is take off, meaning ‘to remove something, often a piece of clothing’:

I was hot so I took my jacket off.

Students also learn early on the aeroplane sense of the same phrasal verb, meaning ‘to begin to fly’:

Twenty minutes later, the plane took off.

Note that this sense is intransitive, meaning that it has no object. Read the rest of this entry ?


Think long and hard; the language of decisions

January 28, 2015

by Liz Walter​
One of the best ways (perhaps the best way) to improve your English is to learn how words go together in phrases, idioms, or other patterns such as verb/noun or adjective/noun pairs (often called ‘collocations’).

This blog looks at some useful phrases and collocations connected with the subject of decisions, something we often discuss.

Firstly, make is the verb most often used with decision, but we often say that we reach or come to a decision too, especially when we need to put a lot of thought into it (= think about it carefully).

If we have a difficult/tough decision to make, we will want to take time to consider the pros and cons/advantages and disadvantages of the possible choices (= the good and bad things about them). We will weigh them up (= decide which are most important) carefully. When there is more than one thing we could do in a situation, we have to consider our options. Read the rest of this entry ?


A certain je ne sais quoi: French words and phrases used in English

January 21, 2015

by Liz Walter​
It is an odd irony that the more sophisticated your use of English is, the more likely you are to use French words and phrases. Or, to be more accurate, ones you know to be French – words such as ballet, au pair, abattoir, fiancé, café, and restaurant are so entrenched in English that we don’t really think of them as French at all (even the ones with accents).

French is the first foreign language that most British children learn in school, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that we pepper our own language with it, particularly in some contexts. For example, we often use French words to describe personality, with adjectives such as gauche, blasé, soigné or laissez-faire and nouns such as panache, élan, savoir-faire, sangfroid and joie de vivre. Similarly, we could describe someone as an enfant terrible, a femme fatale, a bon vivant, an ingénue or an éminence grise. Read the rest of this entry ?


Something to look forward to: three-word phrasal verbs

January 14, 2015

by Liz Walter​
Most phrasal verbs are formed with a verb and a single particle, but a few have two particles. This blog looks at some of the most common ones.

You probably already know the one in the title: look forward to. One important thing to remember is that if you use another verb after it, it must be in the –ing form:

I’m really looking forward to seeing you. (= I’m pleased and excited because I am going to see you)

Here are some more common three-word phrasal verbs which are well worth learning: Read the rest of this entry ?


All you need is willpower: the language of New Year’s resolutions

January 7, 2015

by Liz Walter​
Many of us see the new year as an opportunity to make a fresh start, to give up a bad habit or to take up a good one. Common resolutions (= promises to ourselves) include giving up smoking, doing more exercise, losing weight, or spending more time with our families.

Particularly after Christmas, when many of us have overindulged (= eaten and drunk too much), the idea of a detox (a strict diet designed to get rid of harmful substances from the body) can be quite attractive. However, those with less self-restraint (= ability to control ourselves) don’t need to feel guilty because evidence increasingly shows that such diets have no scientific basis, so all that self-denial (= not allowing yourself to have what you want) is actually a waste of effort.

Many resolutions are worth making, but what is the best way to stick to (= keep doing) them? The main thing is to set realistic goals (= decide on things you can really achieve). You might never run a marathon, but you could probably manage a brisk walk around the park most days. You may not be able to give up sugar completely, but perhaps you could cut down on (= have less of) fizzy drinks. Read the rest of this entry ?


Party Talk (The language of party chat)

December 23, 2014

by Kate Woodford​​​​
With the party season in full swing (= at its busiest now), we consider the language of socializing (= enjoying yourself with other people). We’re looking especially at words and phrases which are used to describe the different ways that people behave at a party and the sort of conversations that party guests may have.

Some people are very sociable (= liking meeting people). For them, a party is an opportunity to meet and chat to many people. They may choose to mingle, moving around the room and talking to a lot of guests: I guess I’d better go and mingle with my guests.

Other guests may be meeting for the first time. They may just exchange pleasantries, meaning that they say things to each other which are polite and pleasant but not especially interesting or important: Sarah introduced us at her party and we exchanged pleasantries. Another way of saying this is to make small talk: He doesn’t especially enjoy making small talk with people he doesn’t know. The informal noun chit-chat is also used to refer to conversation about matters that are not important: I don’t even remember what we spoke about – I think it was just the usual party chit-chat. Read the rest of this entry ?


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