He’s digging his heels in: words and phrases to describe stubborn behaviour

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by Liz Walter

We all know how frustrating it is when someone completely refuses to do something we want them to do or to accept an opinion we are sure is correct. It turns out that English is surprisingly rich in words and phrases to describe this sort of person or behaviour! Continue reading “He’s digging his heels in: words and phrases to describe stubborn behaviour”

Out of your depth: idioms that describe difficult situations

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by Liz Walter

Back in 2017, my colleague Kate Woodford wrote a post about words for difficult situations (https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2017/03/22/what-a-nightmare-words-for-difficult-situations/) This post builds on that by offering a selection of idioms that enable us to describe problematic times in a more colourful way. Continue reading “Out of your depth: idioms that describe difficult situations”

At sixes and sevens: phrases with numbers

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by Liz Walter

My last two posts have covered phrases containing the numbers one and two. Today I am going to look at phrases with some higher numbers. There are a lot of them, so I am just picking out some that I think will be generally useful, but as always, please feel free to suggest others in the comments. Continue reading “At sixes and sevens: phrases with numbers”

There’s no two ways about it: phrases with the number two.

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by Liz Walter

In my last post, I wrote about phrases containing the number one. Today I’m going to look at some common phrases with the number two. Continue reading “There’s no two ways about it: phrases with the number two.”

Stay one step ahead with phrases containing the number one!

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by Liz Walter

It is quite astonishing how many English phrases contain numbers, so this is the first in a mini-series looking at some of the most useful of them. Today, I’m starting – very logically! – with the number one. Continue reading “Stay one step ahead with phrases containing the number one!”

A new coat of paint: the language of decorating

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by Liz Walter

In my last post, I looked at general language for home improvements. This post will focus on one specific area: decorating. As you will see, there are lots of nice collocations associated with this topic. Continue reading “A new coat of paint: the language of decorating”

Home improvements: the language of making and repairing things in your home

by Liz Walter

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Apparently, a lot of people who are either in lockdown or working from home because of the pandemic are using their extra time to do jobs in the home, so this post offers some words and phrases to talk about these tasks.

Continue reading “Home improvements: the language of making and repairing things in your home”

I feel like my life’s on hold: Language for describing uncertain times.

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by Liz Walter

With many people around the world in some form of lockdown and almost everyone affected by the pandemic in some way, I thought it might be useful to offer some language suitable for talking about living in a climate of uncertainty (a general situation of not knowing what is going to happen). Continue reading “I feel like my life’s on hold: Language for describing uncertain times.”

An article of clothing and a ray of sunshine: making uncountable nouns countable (2)

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by Liz Walter

My last post introduced the topic of adding words to uncountable nouns so that they can be used in a countable way. In that post, I concentrated on food words. Today, we will look at some other topics. Continue reading “An article of clothing and a ray of sunshine: making uncountable nouns countable (2)”

A grain of rice and a clove of garlic: making uncountable nouns countable (1)

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by Liz Walter

You probably already know that you can use many uncountable nouns in a countable way with words such as piece or bit:

I ate a small piece of cheese.

Why don’t you add a bit of cream?

However, we can also use more interesting and specific words. Today’s post will look at how we do this with food and my next post will look at other topics such as weather and emotions.

We often use the names of containers when we talk about amounts of food. These might be items of crockery or cutlery, for example bowl, plate, cup, glass, tablespoon or teaspoon, or items of packaging such as packet, bottle, can, carton, tub or tube:

I ordered a bowl of soup.

Add a teaspoon of salt.

She ate a whole tub of ice cream.

It is also common to use words that indicate the shape of an amount of food, for instance slice, sliver, hunk, chunk, lump or slab:

The soup contained large chunks of beef.

I used a whole slab of chocolate in the dessert.

The words portion or serving indicates an amount sufficient for one person. We use mouthful for any food or drink. We also use sip, slurp, gulp and swig for amounts of liquid we swallow at one time:

There are four portions of stew in the pan.

The recipe makes four to six servings.

He ate a few mouthfuls of rice.

I only had a sip of tea.

With foods that consist of many very small parts, such as rice, sugar or salt we often use grain, while for liquids, we often use drop. Other words are more closely linked to specific liquids, for instance a dash (UK)/splash (US) of milk or a glug of oil:

Use a fork to separate the grains of rice.

I like a dash (UK)/splash (US) of milk in my tea.

Other words that are usually used with specific foods are a pinch of salt and a knob of butter:

Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water.

He fried the fish in a knob of butter.

Several words that make uncountable foods countable relate to the action you use with them. For example, we can talk about a squeeze of lemon juice, a grind of pepper, a sprinkling/dusting of icing sugar (UK)/confectioner’s sugar (US), cocoa powder, etc. and a drizzle of olive oil, honey, etc.

Give the risotto a few good grinds of pepper.

Serve the figs with a drizzle of honey.

Finally, there is a group of nouns that describe single parts of a type of food. For instance we talk about cloves of garlic, sweetcorn (UK)/corn (US) kernels, orange/grapefruit segments and coffee beans:

Chop two cloves of garlic.

The sweetcorn (UK)/corn (US) kernels add a lovely texture to the salad.

Food is such an enormous topic, there are probably many more ways of talking about amounts of it, but I hope this post has covered the main ones and helped to explain the idea of how we can use uncountable nouns in a countable way.