It was agony: talking about pain

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by Liz Walter

When we experience pain, it can be important to be able to describe it accurately. The most common way of talking about pain is with the verb hurt. We can say that part of our body hurts, or start a sentence with ‘It hurts …’  to explain when it is painful to do something:

My knee hurts.

It hurts to bend my knee / It hurts when I bend my knee. Continue reading “It was agony: talking about pain”

It’s all in the mind: phrases with ‘mind’

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by Liz Walter

Since our mind is the part of us that enables us to think and feel emotions, I suppose it’s not surprising that there are lots of phrases that include it. In this post I am going to talk about some of the most common and useful phrases.

When you decide something, you make up your mind or make your mind up:

It’s time to make your mind up. Are you coming with us or not? Continue reading “It’s all in the mind: phrases with ‘mind’”

Hurling insults and hazarding a guess: ways to talk about communication

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by Liz Walter

Last month I wrote about the importance of collocations (word partners) for making your English fluent and natural. In this post I am going to concentrate on collocations connected with a very basic topic – communicating.

A major reason to learn good collocations is to avoid using common words too much. So while it’s fine to say that someone ‘starts’ or ‘has’ a conversation, it would be much more impressive to use the collocations strike up a conversation or hold a conversation:

She struck up a conversation with one of the other passengers.

I know enough French to be able to hold a conversation. Continue reading “Hurling insults and hazarding a guess: ways to talk about communication”

Going from bad to worse: talking about things getting worse

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by Liz Walter

Last month I wrote about words and phrases for talking about improvement. This post covers the opposite: talking about things getting worse. Get worse is the most common way of expressing this idea:

The weather seems to be getting worse.

Continue reading “Going from bad to worse: talking about things getting worse”

Turning the corner by leaps and bounds: talking about improvement

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by Liz Walter

Today’s post is about words and phrases that express the idea of things improving or being improved. The most common way to talk about improvement is to say that something gets better or that we make something better:

The weather was terrible earlier, but it’s getting better now.

We are always looking for ways to make our products better. Continue reading “Turning the corner by leaps and bounds: talking about improvement”

Heavy traffic and prompting speculation: the importance of collocation

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by Liz Walter

For students who want to make their English as natural as possible, concentrating on collocation – the way words go together – is probably the most important thing they can do. Studies of non-native English speakers show they use simple words such as ‘bad’, ‘start’ or ‘make’ more often than first-language English speakers do. This isn’t surprising – it’s natural to learn the simplest, most common words of a language first. But one of the best ways to take your English to a more advanced level is to learn new words together with their ‘word partners’ – the words that often go with them.

Often, these collocations aren’t easy to predict. For example, you might not be able to guess that we say heavy traffic to describe a lot of traffic. Similarly, a heavy smoker is someone who smokes a lot – not a smoker who needs to lose weight! These are examples of adjective + noun collocations. A few other examples are glaring errors (very bad and obvious errors), juicy gossip (very interesting gossip), rolling hills (hills with gentle curves) and wild accusations (extreme accusations that are not based on facts).

There are other common collocation types, such as verb + noun collocations. Many of you will already know that people commit crimes instead of ‘do’ crimes or ‘make’ crimes. Sometimes verb + noun collocations use more advanced English, and so it is much more impressive to use a great collocation. For example, something might ‘cause speculation’ or ‘be a challenge’, but your English will sound much more impressive if you can say that something prompts speculation or poses a challenge.

Look out for adverb + adjective collocations too. There are several combinations used for emphasis, such as bitterly disappointed or blindingly obvious. Sometimes these collocations add emphasis by highlighting the meaning of the adjective, as in freely available (easy to get), and sometimes they limit the meaning of the adjective, as in vaguely aware (aware but not clearly).

Try to get into the habit of thinking about collocation whenever you learn a new word. For instance, if you learn a noun, ask yourself, ‘What verb do I need to use this noun?’ or ‘Which adjectives typically describe this noun?’ A good learner’s dictionaries, such as the one on this site, will give a lot of help with collocation. When you look up a word, look at the example sentences. Any parts in bold type are typical collocations, and therefore worth learning. I intend to write more about collocation over the next few weeks – do let me know if there are any particular areas you would like me to cover.

It’s just so difficult! How to use the word ‘just’

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by Liz Walter

Just is a really annoying word for learners of English! It’s very common and we use it in lots of different situations, often with quite different meanings. In this post, I will try to explain some of the most common ways in which we use it – not only on its own, but as a part of some common phrases.

We often use just to talk about when something happens. It can mean ‘a very short time ago’ or ‘very recently’:

I’ve just spoken to Tom. (UK)/I just spoke to Tom. (US)

They had just arrived in London. Continue reading “It’s just so difficult! How to use the word ‘just’”

It slipped my mind: words and phrases connected with forgetting

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by Liz Walter

Back in 2015, my colleague Kate Woodford wrote a post about words connected with remembering. Today’s post looks at the opposite: words and phrases for forgetting.

It is surprising that for such an important concept, there aren’t really any direct, one-word synonyms for the verb ‘forget’. A slightly formal way to talk about forgetting is to say that you have no memory/recollection of something:

We lived in Russia when I was a baby, but I have no memory of that time. Continue reading “It slipped my mind: words and phrases connected with forgetting”

On the edge of my seat: talking about excitement

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by Liz Walter

Today, I’m going to write about words and phrases for describing excitement. I’ll start with a very basic point that often causes trouble for learners of English: the difference between exciting and excited. Remember to use -ing adjectives for the things that cause a feeling, and -ed adjectives for the person experiencing the feeling:

Our trip to see the whales was really exciting.

Everyone was excited about seeing the whales. Continue reading “On the edge of my seat: talking about excitement”

Library or bookshop? Fabric or factory? Avoiding common false friends

by Liz Walter


Sometimes words look the same or similar in two different languages but have different meanings. We call these words ‘false friends’ because they seem as though they will be ‘friendly’ and easy to learn, but they trick us into making mistakes. In this post, I will discuss a few false friends with English: I have tried to pick ones that are problematic for speakers of several other languages. Continue reading “Library or bookshop? Fabric or factory? Avoiding common false friends”