A bit long in the tooth: words and phrases for talking about old age

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by Liz Walter

The Bible says that most of us will live for ‘three score years and ten’ – in other words, 70 years. Nowadays however, most people consider 70 the beginning of old age. This is probably why although the word sexagenarian (person from 60-69) exists, we rarely use it – being in your sixties is nothing remarkable. However, the slightly formal terms septuagenarian (70-79), octogenarian (80-89), nonagenarian (90-99) and centenarian (100 or over) are used both as adjectives and nouns: The dinner party included several octogenarian men.  She was a nonagenarian when she found fame.

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I love coffee/Would you like a coffee? Words that can be countable and uncountable

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by Liz Walter

In my last post I talked about why it is important to know whether words in English are countable or uncountable. However, I didn’t mention the fact that many words can be both countable and uncountable. This post discusses some of the reasons for this.

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Countable or uncountable, and why it matters

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by Liz Walter

Many dictionaries for learners of English (including the one on this site) show whether nouns are ‘countable’ or ‘uncountable’, often using the abbreviations C and U. Countable nouns are things that you can count – one dog, two dogs, twenty dogs, etc. Uncountable nouns are things that you cannot count – water, sadness, plastic, etc.

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Having the time of your life: phrases with time

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by Liz Walter

In my last post, I mentioned that the word ‘time’ is the most common noun in English. This is partly because there are so many phrases which contain the word. This post looks at some common and useful examples.

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What time is it?: How to say the time

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by Liz Walter

Talking about time is a very basic skill, but one that can often cause problems, especially if your main language thinks about time in a different way.

Firstly, if you want to know the time, what question do you need to ask? Well, if you are sure that the person you are asking knows the answer, you can simply say: What time is it? or What’s the time? (this is less common in US English). However, if you are not sure if they know, for example if you want to ask a stranger on a train or in the street, you can say: Excuse me, do you have the time, please? or (in UK English) Have you got the time, please?

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On cloud nine: Idioms and phrasal verbs to express happiness

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by Liz Walter

My last post was all about sadness, so it is good to turn to a more cheerful subject: happiness.

Let’s start with the phrase I’ve used in the title: on cloud nine. Nobody really knows the origins of this phrase – one theory is that it refers to the cumulonimbus cloud that was number nine in the ‘International Cloud Atlas’ and rises higher than all other clouds, while another relates to one of the stages of enlightenment in Buddhist thought. Still, it’s enough to know that if you are on cloud nine, you are extremely happy. In fact, you are in seventh heaven (from the belief in some religions that there are seven levels of heaven, the seventh being the highest).

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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.

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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.

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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”