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. She tweets at @LizJWalter
July 30th is the United Nations’ International Day of Friendship, so this post is all about words and phrases for talking about friends and friendship.
A friend can be anyone you like and spend time with, so we use adjectives to say how much we like or love someone. A good friend or a close friend is someone you spend a lot of time with and care very much about, and your best friend is the person you love most of all:
When we experience pain, it can be important to be able to describe it accurately. The most common way of talking about pain is with the verb hurt. We can say that part of our body hurts, or start a sentence with ‘It hurts …’ to explain when it is painful to do something:
Since our mind is the part of us that enables us to think and feel emotions, I suppose it’s not surprising that there are lots of phrases that include it. In this post I am going to talk about some of the most common and useful phrases.
Last month I wrote about the importance of collocations (word partners) for making your English fluent and natural. In this post I am going to concentrate on collocations connected with a very basic topic – communicating.
A major reason to learn good collocations is to avoid using common words too much. So while it’s fine to say that someone ‘starts’ or ‘has’ a conversation, it would be much more impressive to use the collocations strike up a conversation or hold a conversation:
She struck up a conversation with one of the other passengers.
Today’s post is about words and phrases that express the idea of things improving or being improved. The most common way to talk about improvement is to say that something gets better or that we make something better:
The weather was terrible earlier, but it’s getting better now.
For students who want to make their English as natural as possible, concentrating on collocation – the way words go together – is probably the most important thing they can do. Studies of non-native English speakers show they use simple words such as ‘bad’, ‘start’ or ‘make’ more often than first-language English speakers do. This isn’t surprising – it’s natural to learn the simplest, most common words of a language first. But one of the best ways to take your English to a more advanced level is to learn new words together with their ‘word partners’ – the words that often go with them.
Often, these collocations aren’t easy to predict. For example, you might not be able to guess that we say heavytraffic to describe a lot of traffic. Similarly, a heavysmoker is someone who smokes a lot – not a smoker who needs to lose weight! These are examples of adjective + noun collocations. A few other examples are glaringerrors (very bad and obvious errors), juicygossip (very interesting gossip), rolling hills (hills with gentle curves) and wild accusations (extreme accusations that are not based on facts).
There are other common collocation types, such as verb + noun collocations. Many of you will already know that people commit crimes instead of ‘do’ crimes or ‘make’ crimes. Sometimes verb + noun collocations use more advanced English, and so it is much more impressive to use a great collocation. For example, something might ‘cause speculation’ or ‘be a challenge’, but your English will sound much more impressive if you can say that something promptsspeculation or poses a challenge.
Look out for adverb + adjective collocations too. There are several combinations used for emphasis, such as bitterlydisappointed or blindinglyobvious. Sometimes these collocations add emphasis by highlighting the meaning of the adjective, as in freely available (easy to get), and sometimes they limit the meaning of the adjective, as in vaguely aware (aware but not clearly).
Try to get into the habit of thinking about collocation whenever you learn a new word. For instance, if you learn a noun, ask yourself, ‘What verb do I need to use this noun?’ or ‘Which adjectives typically describe this noun?’ A good learner’s dictionaries, such as the one on this site, will give a lot of help with collocation. When you look up a word, look at the example sentences. Any parts in bold type are typical collocations, and therefore worth learning. I intend to write more about collocation over the next few weeks – do let me know if there are any particular areas you would like me to cover.
Just is a really annoying word for learners of English! It’s very common and we use it in lots of different situations, often with quite different meanings. In this post, I will try to explain some of the most common ways in which we use it – not only on its own, but as a part of some common phrases.
We often use just to talk about when something happens. It can mean ‘a very short time ago’ or ‘very recently’:
I’ve just spoken to Tom. (UK)/I just spoke to Tom. (US)