Time to put your feet up: words connected with doing nothing

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by Liz Walter

It’s August, and for many people that means holiday time (vacation time if you’re a US English speaker), so in this post I thought I’d make some suggestions for words and phrases connected with being lazy and not doing much.

There are several words for lazy people. They are all negative, but some are more disapproving than others. Describing someone as a layabout indicates strong disapproval, while lazybones could be used almost affectionately. Slacker could be used seriously or semi-humorously, as could the informal couch potato. Work-shy is a very disapproving word, often used for unemployed people suspected of not wanting to get a job. Continue reading “Time to put your feet up: words connected with doing nothing”

I’ll believe it when I see it: talking about certainty, probability and possibility

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by Liz Walter

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that ‘nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. We all know how annoying it can be when someone seems to be completely sure about all their opinions, so it is important to be able to express certainty only where it is justified, and other degrees of probability or possibility where they are appropriate.

The most common way to do this is to use modal verbs. Compare the following sentences: Continue reading “I’ll believe it when I see it: talking about certainty, probability and possibility”

When no one was looking, she opened the door: Using narrative tenses

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by Liz Walter

Everyone tells stories. We do it every day, even if it’s just telling our family that we met an old friend in the supermarket. English exams often ask students to write anecdotes or descriptions of past events. An important part of telling a story is using the right tenses because they show the reader or listener how the events in your story fit together. There are four main tenses that are often used for stories – in English language teaching, they are often known as the narrative tenses, because they are used to narrate (=tell) a story. Continue reading “When no one was looking, she opened the door: Using narrative tenses”

I was so sorry to hear your news: Expressing sympathy

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by Liz Walter

It can often be difficult to know what to say to someone we know who has experienced loss, illness or another painful event, and even harder if we have to do it in another language. Today’s post looks at phrases we use to express sympathy in a sincere and empathetic way.

Choosing appropriate words will of course depend on how well we know the person concerned, and also the type of event and how upset we think that person is likely to be. Continue reading “I was so sorry to hear your news: Expressing sympathy”

Can you do a handstand? Talking about ability

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by Liz Walter

We often need to talk about things we can do and ask other people questions about their own abilities. This post looks in some detail at the common modal verb can and also suggests some other ways to express the same idea.

We use can extremely often to make statements and questions. Remember that can is always followed by an infinitive verb without to.

Laura can play the piano.

Laura can to play the piano.

Can you see the stage from here?

Can you seeing the stage from here? Continue reading “Can you do a handstand? Talking about ability”

Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, grammar schools or renationalized railways? The UK general election.

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by Liz Walter

UK citizens are going to the polls on June 8th to choose their next government. Again.

Yes, we had a general election in 2015, and yes, in theory, we have a five-year fixed-term parliament, so really we should have waited until 2020. However, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, decided that it would be a good idea to call a snap election (one decided suddenly). Since this is a language blog, I won’t speculate on her reasons, but instead concentrate on the language being used in the campaign. Continue reading “Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, grammar schools or renationalized railways? The UK general election.”

We agree but she agrees: the importance of subject-verb agreement

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by Liz Walter

One of the most common errors students make is to miss the ‘s’ from verbs after he, she or it:

Maria likes pizza.

Maria like pizza.

Of course, people will still understand you if you make this mistake, but you would lose marks for it in an English exam.

This sort of error is called an agreement error. Every normal sentence has a subject (in this case Maria) and a verb (like). The form of the verb depends on who or what the subject is. First, you need to think about whether the subject is singular or plural: Continue reading “We agree but she agrees: the importance of subject-verb agreement”

Sweltering, torrential and gusty: interesting words for talking about weather.

by Liz Walter

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Most students learn words for weather quite early in their studies. It’s easy to stick with well-known phrases such as sunny day or heavy rain, but there is a lot of more interesting vocabulary associated with the weather, as you would expect for one of the world’s favourite topics of conversation! In this post, I offer some suggestions for expanding your range of weather vocabulary.

Let’s start with temperature. Very hot weather can be described as scorching, sweltering or boiling. If it is the kind of heat that makes you feel as if you can’t breathe, it is stifling or oppressive. At the other end of the scale, we can describe very cold weather as freezing, bitter or even bone-chilling if we find it unpleasant. Wintry weather is also cold, but this is not necessarily a negative description – it can be used for a pleasant snowy or icy day. In between these two extremes, mild is a positive adjective for weather that is not particularly hot but not too cold either. Continue reading “Sweltering, torrential and gusty: interesting words for talking about weather.”

Accept or except? Affect or effect? Spelling words that sound similar.

by Liz Walter

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A reader of one of my recent posts asked for an explanation of the difference between aught and ought. Aught is a very old-fashioned word, found mainly in old literature or poetry. Strangely, it can mean ‘anything’ or ‘nothing’, depending on the context. Ought is both a less common spelling of aught and (much more importantly) a very common modal verb, used in sentences such as: You ought to take more exercise.

In reality, most people go through their whole lives without ever using the word aught, so they are not likely to confuse the two. However, the question made me think about more common words that my students (and also many mother-tongue speakers) often muddle up. Continue reading “Accept or except? Affect or effect? Spelling words that sound similar.”

April fool – the language of jokes and tricks

by Liz Walter

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April 1st is known in many Western countries as ‘April Fool’s Day’. The idea is to trick other people, to try to make them believe things that are not true. If you succeed, you shout ‘April fool!’ at the person you have tricked. In honour of April Fool’s Day, this post will look at some words and phrases connected with this custom.

One important thing is to remember that we play tricks on someone (we don’t ‘make’ or ‘do’ them). The tricks are often practical jokes (using actions instead of words), and they are almost always harmless – they are intended to be fun. Other words for this kind of trick are prank or hoax, although the word ‘hoax’ can also be used for more serious, unpleasant tricks in the same way as the words fraud or deceit. Continue reading “April fool – the language of jokes and tricks”