Commenting on developments in the English language
Author: Liz Walter
Liz Walter is a freelance lexicographer and writer, living in Cambridge, UK. She worked for many years on Cambridge University Press's range of ELT dictionaries and now works with Kate Woodford on dictionaries and other books about the English language. Her other interests include politics, growing vegetables and family holidays in her camper van.
We use phrasal verbs a lot, and it’s worth learning as many as you can. In this post, I will look at phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs connected with arguing – there is a surprisingly large number of them! It is often important to know what preposition to use after a phrasal verb, so pay particular attention to the prepositions highlighted in the example sentences.
Pronunciation is one of the hardest things to master in English. Today I’m going to look at the letter ‘o’ and concentrate on some common pronunciation errors.
Most students have no problem with the short vowel sound /ɒ/ found in British English in words such as hot, boss and across. (Americans pronounce this as a longer sound /ɑː/.) Students also generally understand how adding an ‘e’ to the end of a word leads to a longer sound /əʊ/ (UK) /oʊ/ (US), for instance hop/hope, not/note.
Last month I wrote about ways of talking about people or animals that are young. This post looks at a related set: words for things that are new or modern.
Firstly, if we want to emphasize that something is very new, we say it is brand new: She bought herself a brand new sports car. This phrase means that something has just been made, but the thing itself does not necessarily have to be modern.
Over the last couple of months I’ve written about words and phrases for being old or old-fashioned, so now it’s time to look at the opposite. I’ll start with expressions connected with being young.
We often describe very young children as small or little: There were lots of little children at the show. A small child sat alone in the corner. However, to talk about someone’s younger brother or sister, you always need to use little, not ‘small’: That’s Brad’s little sister.
Last month I wrote about how to form comparatives and superlatives. However, there are many occasions when we don’t simply want to say that one person or thing has more or less of a particular quality than another: we want to say how much more or less they have. That is when we need to modify our comparisons.
The most common way to talk about big differences is by using the word much: My pizza’s much bigger than yours. This book is much more interesting. We use far or a lot in the same way: My new computer is far smaller than my old one. It’s a lot less expensive to travel by bus.Very much or a good deal are slightly more formal: He seems very much happier now. Her new job is a good deal more demanding.
We often need to compare one person or thing with another, and in this post I am going to look at how we do this. This is a fairly basic topic, but one where I find that intermediate students still often make mistakes.
We make comparatives by adding -er to the end of an adjective or by putting more in front of the adjective: Your hair is longer than mine. It is more stylish.
We make superlatives by adding -est to the end of an adjective and the in front of it or by putting the most in front of the adjective: Everest is the highest mountain in the world. It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
My last post looked at words and phrases for describing people or things that are old. Today I am looking at a closely-related idea – that of being old-fashioned.
The word old-fashioned itself is used to refer to objects or people who look as if they come from the past, though are not necessarily old in reality: Those old-fashioned glasses are popular again now. It can also refer to ideas and attitudes: They have old-fashioned ideas about the role of women. Interestingly, ‘old-fashioned’ can also be used in a positive way: We had a good, old-fashioned roast dinner.
The words retro, vintage and antique are also positive. They are used to describe objects or styles that are old or look old in a way that we find attractive: He collects antique furniture. She has a retro hair style.
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.
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.