It’s been a while… (Starting a conversation with an old friend)

by Kate Woodford

Maskot/Getty
Maskot/Getty

People often ask us for conversational English on this blog. They want to learn the sort of phrases that they can use to chat informally with friends. Of course, we can chat about so many different subjects, it’s hard to know which particular areas of the language to look at. However, one thing that we all need from time to time is the language for starting a conversation with a friend that we haven’t seen for a while. Continue reading “It’s been a while… (Starting a conversation with an old friend)”

I’m very close to my sister: words and phrases for talking about your family

by Liz Walter

Hero Images/Getty

There is a saying that blood is thicker than water, which means that the bond we have with family members is stronger than with anyone else. Whether you agree with that or not, chatting about our families is something that most of us do quite often, so it isn’t surprising that words for family members and words to describe their personalities are often among the first things we learn in a new language.  In this post, I aim to build on that by presenting some less obvious words and phrases for talking about families.

We use the phrase immediate family to describe the closest members of our family – usually our parents, children, wife or husband. In some cases, especially if we live with them, it may include our siblings (brothers and sisters). Our extended family is all the people we are related to, for instance cousins, aunts, uncles and their wives, husbands, children, etc. We can also say whether we are related to a person by marriage or by blood (we sometimes use the phrase a blood relative/relation). Continue reading “I’m very close to my sister: words and phrases for talking about your family”

Just a drop, please: talking about quantities and numbers (2)

by Liz Walter

teacupIn my last post, I looked at some common ways of talking about large numbers and amounts. In this one, I cover the opposite: small numbers and amounts.

We use a few before countable nouns and a little (which sounds slightly formal to British English speakers) before uncountable nouns:

We played a few games of tennis.

He earned a little money by painting.

We often use a few and a little before more:

We need a little more time.

There is an important difference between few or little and a few or a little:

Few people have heard of him.

There has been little improvement. Continue reading “Just a drop, please: talking about quantities and numbers (2)”

‘You could always email him’ – how to make suggestions sound nicer.

by Kate Woodford

politeThese two speakers are giving the same piece of advice to a friend. Compare the words that they use to make the suggestion:

Speaker A: You should go to a different hairdresser.

Speaker B: Have you thought of going to a different hairdresser?

How does speaker A sound to you? Direct? Bossy? Perhaps a little rude? How about speaker B? Polite? Kind? Careful not to upset someone? If you want to sound more like speaker B when giving advice to your friends, read this post. It will tell you simple ways to make your suggestions sound ‘softer’ and more polite.

The first thing to say is that suggestions that start with ‘you should…’ sound very definite. Of course, there will be times when you need to give people very definite advice, but for situations in which you want to suggest something in a gentler, less forceful way, it is best to avoid this phrase. There are a number of ways of making your suggestion sound less certain (and therefore more polite). For example, try making a suggestion by using one of the following question phrases: Continue reading “‘You could always email him’ – how to make suggestions sound nicer.”

A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)

by Liz Walter

lotsWe often need to talk about amounts and numbers of things, but it is easy to make mistakes with some of the words we need to use. This post will give some useful ways of talking about large amounts or numbers of things and explain how to avoid some common errors.

The first words many students learn for large amounts are much and many. Much is used with uncountable/mass nouns and many with countable nouns:

We don’t have much water.

How many cups are there?

You can read more about countable and uncountable nouns here.

Continue reading “A whole bunch of stuff: talking about quantities and numbers (1)”

By the way, did you want tickets for the match on Saturday? Conversational expressions

by Kate Woodford

conversationLearners of English often want to know expressions which they can use to manage their conversations – words and phrases that, for example, connect ideas or introduce new ideas. Some of these expressions do not appear in dictionaries so we thought it might be helpful to take a look at this area here.

A conversation between two or more people usually focuses for a certain amount of time on one topic so when a speaker wants to start a new topic, they often use a phrase to introduce it. By the way is probably the most common way of doing this:

Continue reading “By the way, did you want tickets for the match on Saturday? Conversational expressions”

Chest pains and palpitations: talking about illness (2)

by Liz Walter
doctor_patient2My previous post (My leg hurts: Talking about illness (1)) presented some general vocabulary to use at the doctor’s. This one looks at some more specific areas of illness and explains some useful words and phrases that you may need to use or understand on a visit to the doctor’s.

Continue reading “Chest pains and palpitations: talking about illness (2)”

My leg hurts: Talking about illness (1)

by Liz Walter
myleghurts
If you are ill, it is important to be able to describe what is wrong with you. This two-part post looks at some vocabulary to use at the doctor’s. This first one offers some basic, general words for describing medical problems.

Firstly, a note about a UK/US difference: the word ill is used more frequently in British English, while sick is more common in US English. If a British person says they were sick, they usually mean that they vomited.

Symptoms are the things that show you have an illness. For example, common symptoms of a cold include sneezing, coughing, a sore throat, a runny nose or a stuffed-up nose / blocked nose (UK). Continue reading “My leg hurts: Talking about illness (1)”

Does that sound like a plan? (Making plans)

by Kate Woodford
making_plans
This week we’re looking at the sort of things we say to our friends when we are planning to do something together – the words and phrases that we naturally use when we are looking at our calendars and fixing a time and a place to do something.

You will probably start by trying to find a time when you and a friend are both free. You might say ‘Are you free next Thursday?’ or ‘Is next Thursday any good for you?’. You can ask the same question with the slightly more informal phrases, ‘Does next Thursday work for you?’ or ‘How are you fixed for next Thursday?’

If you can’t meet your friend on that day because you have already arranged to do something, you might say (UK) ‘I have something on that evening.’ or (US) ‘I have something going on.’ Or you may simply say, ‘I’m afraid I’m busy that evening.’ If you want to suggest a different time when you are free, you can say ‘I could do Friday evening. Is that any good?’ If your friend can’t do a particular date, you might say, ‘How about Sunday? Does that work better?’ Continue reading “Does that sound like a plan? (Making plans)”