It broke my heart: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express sadness

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by Liz Walter

‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.’ So said Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As a general rule, grief and sadness are more interesting to writers and poets than happiness, and there are many fine descriptions in literature. However, in this post, I want to focus on language that we use in everyday speech.

Firstly, it is obviously very important to use phrases that are suitable for the level of trauma involved. You might describe someone as down in the dumps or down in the mouth if, for instance, they did badly in a job interview or failed an exam. Similarly, the phrase out of sorts is used mainly for someone who is usually cheerful, but simply seems a bit glum at the moment. However, if the sadness is caused by something serious like a bereavement (= when someone dies), those phrases would sound too trivial. Continue reading “It broke my heart: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express sadness”

How to use articles: another look (2)

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by Liz Walter

Last month I looked at some of the questions raised in response to my 2015 post on articles. This post continues to answer some of these interesting points.

Continue reading “How to use articles: another look (2)”

How to use articles: another look (1)

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by Liz Walter

Back in August 2015, I wrote a post about using articles – the words a, an and the. That post has had the most hits of any published on this site, so it is obviously an area that learners of English are interested in. You can read the post here: https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2015/08/19/a-an-and-the-how-to-use-articles-in-english/.

If you are not sure about using articles, do go and read it, as it contains all the most important rules. However, looking back over it now, I’m struck by the number of interesting comments and queries, so in this post and the next one, I am going to follow up on some of these because I think (hope!) a lot of people will find the answers useful.

Continue reading “How to use articles: another look (1)”

I wish I’d studied harder: Expressing regrets and wishes

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by Liz Walter

Nobody’s life is perfect, right? We all have things we’d like to change, or things we wish hadn’t happened. This post is about the way we express those feelings, and in particular the tenses we use, as learners of English (very understandably!) often make mistakes with them.

There are two basic phrases we use to express regrets and wishes: I wish and If only … .

When you are talking about situations that exist in the present, the strange thing you need to remember is that you talk about the situation in the past simple: Continue reading “I wish I’d studied harder: Expressing regrets and wishes”

Vertebrae, bacteria and cacti: Forming plurals in English 2

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by Liz Walter

Last month I looked at the basic rules for forming plurals in English . In this post, I look at some more complex cases, where the words come from Latin and Greek.

A large proportion of English words have Latin or Greek roots. We still use the Latin plurals for many words, particularly in scientific language, although it is acceptable to use English plurals (usually with ‘s’ or ‘es’) for some of them, particularly non-technical words such as stadium or cactus. However, this depends on the English plural being simple to pronounce – the plural of crisis is always crises, probably because ‘crisises’ is so difficult to say. Continue reading “Vertebrae, bacteria and cacti: Forming plurals in English 2”

Guy Fawkes and the language of plots

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by Liz Walter

In November 1605, a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar of the House of Lords in London, along with 36 barrels of gunpowder (a powder used to cause explosions). His intention was to blow up King James I and the whole of parliament because of their hostility to Catholics.

The plan became known as the Gunpowder Plot, and it is remembered in the UK on November 5th every year with bonfires and firework displays. Originally, this festival was known as ‘Gunpowder Treason Day’ (treason means doing something to harm your country or your king or queen), but we now call it ‘Bonfire Night’, ‘Fireworks Night’ or ‘Guy Fawkes Night’. Continue reading “Guy Fawkes and the language of plots”

Feet, knives and sheep: Forming plurals in English 1

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by Liz Walter

For the majority of words in English, forming the plural is easy. All you need to do is add ‘s’. If the word ends in s, x, z, ch, or sh, you add ‘es’, otherwise it will be impossible to say. So, for example, we get tablesbirds, and teachers, or boxes, churches, and dishes.

However, as with most rules in English, there are lots of exceptions. I’ll start with some really common words that have irregular plurals. If you only have time to learn a few, learn these: Continue reading “Feet, knives and sheep: Forming plurals in English 1”

1066 and all that: How to say years

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by Liz Walter

Being able to name a year is a pretty basic English skill, but there are a few things that can make it complicated, and there are a number of differences between British and American English.

Let’s start with the (relatively) easy ones. For years like 1345, 1682 or 1961, we say the first two and the second two digits as if they were single numbers: thirteen forty-five; sixteen eighty-two; nineteen sixty-one.

If the third digit is zero, there are two possible ways of saying the year:

1407: fourteen oh seven or fourteen hundred and seven

1901: nineteen oh one or nineteen hundred and one

Continue reading “1066 and all that: How to say years”

I think you should apologise: giving advice and making suggestions

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by Liz Walter

We all have times when we want to give advice to someone or to make a suggestion about something they could do to solve a problem. However, it’s not always easy to do that without giving offence, so this post looks at a range of language you could use in this situation.

The most obvious words to use for giving advice are the modal verbs should and ought to:

You ought to eat more vegetables.

You shouldn’t be so rude to your parents. Continue reading “I think you should apologise: giving advice and making suggestions”

Rushed off my feet: words connected with hard work

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by Liz Walter

Last month I wrote about laziness and doing nothing, but this month, when most people are back at work and school begins again (in the UK at least), the topic is the opposite: hard work and being busy.

There are several colourful idioms connected with having too much work to do. If you are up to your eyes/eyeballs/neck/ears in work, there is a very large amount of it to do. We can also say that we are rushed off our feet – this phrase is usually for when the work involves standing up or moving around, for example working in a shop or café. In UK English, an informal way of saying that a job or situation (for example, running a family) is busy is to say that it’s all go. Continue reading “Rushed off my feet: words connected with hard work”