Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)

by Liz Walter

Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Pronouns are words we use instead of nouns in order to avoid repeating the nouns. Compare the following:

Laura picked up the book. Laura gave the book to Zalie.

Laura picked up the book. She gave it to Zalie.

We use pronouns when we have already mentioned a person or thing, or when it is obvious who or what they are.

The most common pronouns are personal pronouns – pronouns that refer to people or things. The most important thing to remember about these is that (with the exception of you and it), they are different according to whether they are the subject or the object of a sentence. Continue reading “Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)”

Transitive or intransitive; Countable or uncountable – what does it all mean??

by Liz Walter

RonTech2000/iStock/Getty Images Plus
RonTech2000/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It’s all very well being told that we use many in front of countable plural nouns and much before uncountable nouns, but what happens if you don’t know what ‘countable’ and ‘uncountable’ mean? People like me, who write about language, use these terms all the time but why should we assume that our readers know them? After all, they are quite technical, and most people in the street wouldn’t know their meaning. That’s why I thought we’d take a step back this week and look at a few really basic terms that help learners understand language. Continue reading “Transitive or intransitive; Countable or uncountable – what does it all mean??”

Some or any? Little words that cause big problems

by Liz Walter

Elizabeth Livermore/Moment/Getty
Elizabeth Livermore/Moment/Getty

Some and any are extremely useful and frequent words in English, but they are also the source of many learner errors. This post looks at how to use them correctly.

The first thing to remember is that we only use some and any directly before either a plural noun or an uncountable noun:

We bought some clothes.

Do you have any milk?

Do not use some or any with a singular countable noun:

Would you like some piece of cake? Continue reading “Some or any? Little words that cause big problems”

Turning over a new leaf: idioms and phrases for the New Year

by Liz Walter

Lewis Mulatero/Moment Mobile/Getty
Lewis Mulatero/Moment Mobile/Getty

New Year is a time when we often take stock of our life (think about what is good or bad about it). We may feel that we should draw a line under the past (finish with it and forget about it) and make a fresh start. This post looks at idioms and other phrases connected with this phenomenon.

If we decide to stop doing something we consider to be bad and to start behaving in a better way, we can say that we are going to turn over a new leaf. We might decide to kick a habit such as smoking (stop doing it), have a crack at (try) a new hobby, or even leave a dead-end job (one with no chance of promotion) or finish a relationship that isn’t going anywhere. Continue reading “Turning over a new leaf: idioms and phrases for the New Year”

Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings

by Liz Walter

KidStock/Blend Images/Getty
KidStock/Blend Images/Getty

At this time of year, many people around the world gather with their families to celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and other festivals. Relatives come to stay with you, share large meals, and give presents. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But when families get together, there can be tension, too. This post looks at some common idioms and phrases that we use to describe what can happen when families have a little too much togetherness.

In our dreams, we imagine cosy family meals with the kids on their best behaviour and everyone being careful to steer clear of (avoid) those topics they know will cause Great-Uncle Henry to go off on one (UK )/go off on someone (US). We want our parties to go (UK) / go off (US) with a bang  (be very successful) so that everyone has a whale of a time (enjoys themselves very much) and Great-Uncle Henry forgets his usual complaints and turns into the life and soul of the party (becomes happy and sociable). Continue reading “Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings”

Do you like swimming?: How to form questions in English

by Liz Walter

ChiccoDodiFC/iStock/Getty Images Plus
ChiccoDodiFC/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Questions are a basic part of our conversations, but they are quite difficult in English. Many students make mistakes with them. Here are some basic rules to make your questions correct.

Let’s start with questions that have a simple answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

For all verbs except ‘to be’, we use do and the infinitive form of another verb to make present simple and past simple questions. The word order is do/does + subject + infinitive:

            Do you like cheese?

            Does Oscar have any brothers or sisters?

            Did you visit the Taj Mahal while you were in India? Continue reading “Do you like swimming?: How to form questions in English”

Modal verbs – the basics

by Liz Walter

Jasmina007/E+/Getty
Jasmina007/E+/Getty

The main modal verbs in English are: can, could, may, might, must, ought, shall, will and would.

They are used to express important ideas:

Alice might/will come later. (degrees of probability)

You should call your mother. (advice)

Often the same modal verb can be used with different functions.

You must wear a helmet. (giving instructions)

His children must be grown up now. (expressing certainty)

Can you play the piano? (asking about ability)

Can we take photos? (asking for permission) Continue reading “Modal verbs – the basics”

Primaries, caucuses and superdelegates: the language of US presidential elections

by Liz Walter

Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty

On November 8th, Americans will choose their 45th president. This post aims to explain the system – which is complex to say the least! – and in particular to explain the often baffling vocabulary connected with it.

The reason that US elections seem to go on for an incredible length of time is that they have two distinct phases: first a protracted period of selecting presidential candidates for each party and then the election itself. Continue reading “Primaries, caucuses and superdelegates: the language of US presidential elections”

Common mistakes with phrasal verbs

by Liz Walter

Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images/Getty
Dave and Les Jacobs/Blend Images/Getty

Phrasal verbs are never easy, but this post will explain some very common mistakes and show you how to avoid making them.

One thing that often causes problems is using another verb after a phrasal verb. Just as with one-word verbs, you need to know the pattern of the verb that follows. Probably the most common mistakes are with phrasal verbs that need an -ing verb after them:

I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.

I’m looking forward to see you soon. Continue reading “Common mistakes with phrasal verbs”

Shrewd or cunning, modern or newfangled? Connotation in English

by Liz Walter

RoughShod/iStock/Getty
RoughShod/iStock/Getty

It has been said that there is no such thing as a synonym in English. That’s quite an extreme view, but it’s certainly true that words that look like synonyms often have subtle differences of usage. The one I’m going to look at in this post is that of connotation, i.e. the way the words we choose can reflect our own views on the subject we are talking about.

To give a rather obvious example, most people would probably be happy to be described as slim, slender or svelte (which all describe an attractive appearance), less happy with thin or skinny (which are more neutral or could even imply unattractiveness), offended by lanky or scrawny (negative descriptions), and upset by haggard, gaunt, or emaciated (which have connotations of ill health). Continue reading “Shrewd or cunning, modern or newfangled? Connotation in English”