Archive for the ‘the English language’ Category

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Are you a glass-half-full person? (Everyday Idioms)

July 29, 2015

by Kate Woodford​
glass-half-full
A reader of this blog recently asked for a post on idioms that are used in everyday English. This seemed like a reasonable request. After all, if you are going to make the effort to learn a set of English idioms, you want those idioms to be useful. The question, then, was how to decide which idioms to write about. There are a great number of idioms in the English language, but some are rarely used. In the end, I decided to keep an idioms diary for a week, and make a note of any idioms that I heard people use in conversation. From this set of idioms, I chose a few that I considered to be common in contemporary, conversational English and have presented them here.

Early in the week, a radio presenter told his colleague that she was ‘opening up a can of worms’ when she said something that many people would disagree with. A can of worms (informal) is a situation or subject that causes a lot of problems or arguments when you start to deal with it or discuss it. The verb ‘open (up)’ is often used with this phrase. The same presenter later talked about occasions when he really wanted to say what he thought, but instead ‘bit his tongue’. To bite your tongue is to stop yourself from saying something that might upset someone or make them angry. Read the rest of this entry ?

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When’s dinner? (Words for different meals)

July 22, 2015

by Kate Woodford​
whensdinner
Here at ‘About Words’ we’re always happy to get ideas for posts that we could write. A reader of this blog recently asked for a post on the language of meals and we thought this an excellent idea. If you are reading this post and have an idea for a topic or area of the language that you would like us to write about, please do say.

In the order that we eat them, then, breakfast is the meal that we have in the morning as the first meal of the day, lunch is what we eat in the middle of the day and dinner is our evening meal. This sounds simple enough, though in both the US and the UK it is a little more complicated than this – and in different ways!

In the UK, the meal that is eaten in the middle of the day is sometimes called ‘dinner’ and the meal in the evening may be referred to as tea. ‘Tea’ is used especially if the meal is of a simple type, prepared for children, often eaten early in the evening: Have the children had their tea? Read the rest of this entry ?

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How to use apostrophes (’)

July 15, 2015

by Liz Walter​
apostrophes
Using apostrophes in the wrong way is one of the most common punctuation errors for native speakers of English as well as for learners.

If you remember these three simple rules, you will avoid mistakes:

1) We use apostrophes to show who something belongs to, e.g. This is Tom’s hat.

2) We also use them for contracted forms, to show that something is missing, e.g. It’s raining.

3) We do not use them for plurals!! If you are in an English-speaking country, you will see many signs in shops and cafés advertising ‘tomato’s’, ‘pizza’s’, ‘sandwich’s’, etc. This is incorrect, and you will lose marks if you do this in an English exam! Read the rest of this entry ?

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Crash! Whisper and Purr (Onomatopoeias)

July 8, 2015

by Kate Woodford​
onomatopoeia
What do the words crash, whisper and purr have in common? They’re all onomatopoeias. An onomatopoeia is a word that copies or in some way suggests the sound of the action that it refers to, whether it is ‘crash!’, (the loud noise of two things hitting each other and causing damage), ‘whisper’, (to speak very quietly, using only the breath), or ‘purr’, (to make a quiet, continuous sound, such as a happy cat does). ‘Onomatopoeia’ is also an uncountable noun, referring to the use or quality of such words. This week, we are looking at this interesting category of words in sets of different types. As ever, we are focusing on frequent words that you are likely to hear or read.

Animal noises are a fairly obvious example of onomatopoeia. In the English language, dogs bark, lions roar, wolves howl, sheep bleat and mice squeak. (These verbs are also used as nouns.) There is another, smaller set of onomatopoeic animal sound words used mainly by small children or by adults speaking to small children. This set includes moo! for cows, baa! for sheep, woof woof! for dogs and hiss! for snakes. Interestingly, many animal sounds are represented by different words in other languages, even though animals everywhere tend to make the same – or similar – sounds. Read the rest of this entry ?

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July 4th, Bastille Day, and the language of revolution.

July 1, 2015

by Liz Walter​
languageofrevolution
With the USA’s Independence Day on the 4th and France’s Bastille Day on the 14th, July certainly has a revolutionary theme, so this blog looks at words and phrases we use to talk about the dramatic and nation-changing events that these days celebrate. In particular, it focuses on one of the most important skills for advanced learners of English, which is collocation, or the way words go together.

July 4, 1776 was the day on which Americans declared independence from Great Britain. When a country becomes independent, it gains independence, and if a ruling country allows another one to become independent, it grants independence to it.

Bastille Day marks the beginning of the French Revolution. On July 14, 1789 a group of rioters attacked the Bastille fortress in order to seize weapons and explosives. We refer to this event as the Storming of the Bastille, and it is still common to talk about troops or gunmen storming a building when it is a fast, violent attack. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The cake was made by my sister: how to use the passive in English.

June 24, 2015

by Liz Walter​
passive_cake
Look at these two sentences:

My sister made the cake.

The cake was made by my sister.

Both these sentences mean the same. The first is an active sentence: it tells you what the sister did. The second is a passive sentence: it tells you what happened to the cake.

Here are some more passive sentences. Note that we use by before the person or thing that does something, and with before the thing that is used to do it:

‘Hamlet’ was written by Shakespeare.

The pieces of wood were cut by a machine.

The rope was cut with a sharp knife. Read the rest of this entry ?

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As fresh as a daisy: using similes in English.

June 17, 2015

by Liz Walter​
similes
There are two ways of forming similes. The first is with as … as:

The countryside here is as flat as a pancake.

I knew Polly was scared because she was as white as a sheet.

These similes have the structure: as + adjective + as a/an + noun.

We use them to emphasize the adjective. The examples above mean that the countryside is extremely flat, and Polly’s face was very pale.

Here are a few more very common similes:

as stubborn as a mule

as light as a feather

as different as chalk and cheese Read the rest of this entry ?

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