Making an effort and telling a joke: avoiding common errors with collocations

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by Liz Walter

Collocation, or the way we put words together, is a very important part of English. In this post, I am going to look at some of the most common mistakes learners make with verb + noun collocations. If you make these errors, people will still understand you, but your English will not sound natural and you will lose marks in exams. Continue reading “Making an effort and telling a joke: avoiding common errors with collocations”

Countable or uncountable, and why it matters

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by Liz Walter

Many dictionaries for learners of English (including the one on this site) show whether nouns are ‘countable’ or ‘uncountable’, often using the abbreviations C and U. Countable nouns are things that you can count – one dog, two dogs, twenty dogs, etc. Uncountable nouns are things that you cannot count – water, sadness, plastic, etc.

Continue reading “Countable or uncountable, and why it matters”

What time is it?: How to say the time

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by Liz Walter

Talking about time is a very basic skill, but one that can often cause problems, especially if your main language thinks about time in a different way.

Firstly, if you want to know the time, what question do you need to ask? Well, if you are sure that the person you are asking knows the answer, you can simply say: What time is it? or What’s the time? (this is less common in US English). However, if you are not sure if they know, for example if you want to ask a stranger on a train or in the street, you can say: Excuse me, do you have the time, please? or (in UK English) Have you got the time, please?

Continue reading “What time is it?: How to say the time”

How to use articles: another look (2)

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by Liz Walter

Last month I looked at some of the questions raised in response to my 2015 post on articles. This post continues to answer some of these interesting points.

Continue reading “How to use articles: another look (2)”

How to use articles: another look (1)

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by Liz Walter

Back in August 2015, I wrote a post about using articles – the words a, an and the. That post has had the most hits of any published on this site, so it is obviously an area that learners of English are interested in. You can read the post here: https://dictionaryblog.cambridge.org/2015/08/19/a-an-and-the-how-to-use-articles-in-english/.

If you are not sure about using articles, do go and read it, as it contains all the most important rules. However, looking back over it now, I’m struck by the number of interesting comments and queries, so in this post and the next one, I am going to follow up on some of these because I think (hope!) a lot of people will find the answers useful.

Continue reading “How to use articles: another look (1)”

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.”

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”

Avoiding common errors with the word enough.

by Liz Walter

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

Enough is a very common word, but it is easy to make mistakes with it. You need to be careful about its position in a sentence, and the prepositions or verb patterns that come after it.

I’ll start with the position of enough in the sentence.

When we use it with a noun, it goes before the noun:

We have enough time to complete the work.

Do we have enough pens for everyone?

We have time enough to complete the work.

When we use enough with an adjective or an adverb, it goes after the adjective or adverb:

Is this coat big enough for Tom?

Can you get there quickly enough?

Is this coat enough big for Tom? Continue reading “Avoiding common errors with the word enough.”

There, their and they’re – which one should you use?

by Liz Walter

thereIf you are a learner of English and you are confused about the words there, their and they’re, let me reassure you: many, many people with English as their first language share your problem! You only have to take a look at the ‘comments’ sections on the website of, for example, a popular newspaper, to see plentiful examples of errors with these words. This post is a brief guide to using them correctly. Continue reading “There, their and they’re – which one should you use?”

Agree with and wait for: common mistakes with verbs and their prepositions

by Liz Walter

waitSeveral readers have asked for more help with prepositions, so this post concentrates on prepositions you need to use with verbs. These often cause problems for learners, particularly because verbs with similar meanings may use different prepositions or may not need prepositions at all. For instance, we arrive at or in a place, get to a place, but simply reach a place – no wonder people get confused! (see In London but at the station: prepositions for talking about travel for a fuller discussion of prepositions connected with travel.)

Continue reading “Agree with and wait for: common mistakes with verbs and their prepositions”