Pompous and patronizing (Describing character, part 5)

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by Kate Woodford

Today, in the last of the ‘Describing character’ posts, we’re looking at words for a variety of negative characteristics, from the tendency to criticize others, the belief that you are better than everyone else.

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You could hear a pin drop: more interesting ways of saying ‘quiet’

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by Liz Walter

Quiet is a word that English students learn early in their studies. Today we are going to look at some more specific and subtle ways of talking about quietness and silence.

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Extrovert or introvert? (Describing character, part 4)

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by Kate Woodford

Today’s post is the latest in a thread dedicated to describing people’s personalities. We’ve previously looked at adjectives and phrases for people who are relaxed and happy (Part 3), kind and mean (Part 2), and hard-working and lazy (Part 1). Today we focus on words and phrases meaning ‘sociable’ and ‘shy’.

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Laid-back and sunny (Describing character, part 3)

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by Kate Woodford

Today’s post is the latest in a thread devoted to describing people’s characters. In the previous two posts, we looked at ways of talking about people who are hard-working, ambitious, and lazy, among other traits. As usual, we start on a positive note, looking at words and phrases that describe people who are relaxed.

Continue reading “Laid-back and sunny (Describing character, part 3)”

Kind-hearted or ruthless? (Describing character, Part 2)

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by Kate Woodford

With this post, we continue the ‘describing people’ thread, looking at adjectives that we use to describe people’s characters. Today, we focus on a set of near-synonyms for the adjective ‘kind’.

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A frog in my throat: talking about voices

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by Liz Walter

The way someone speaks is very important, and often gives an indication of their character. It is therefore not surprising that we have a lot of words to describe the tone and timbre of voices. Continue reading “A frog in my throat: talking about voices”

Learning Synonyms

by Kate Woodford

Many of our About Words blog posts aim to provide our readers with a range of interesting words and phrases for saying the same or a similar thing.  We’re talking, of course, about synonyms – or near-synonyms. This week, we’re still focusing on this approach to vocabulary expansion but we’re looking at the way that Cambridge Dictionary +Plus can help with the process. Continue reading “Learning Synonyms”

Comical and hysterical (Words that mean funny)

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by Kate Woodford

‘A day without laughter is a day wasted,’ said Charlie Chaplin, the comic actor and filmmaker. Whether or not you agree with him, you’ll almost certainly want to describe, in English, things that are funny. In this week’s post, we’ll provide you with a range of words to help you do just that. Continue reading “Comical and hysterical (Words that mean funny)”

Shrewd or cunning, modern or newfangled? Connotation in English

by Liz Walter


It has been said that there is no such thing as a synonym in English. That’s quite an extreme view, but it’s certainly true that words that look like synonyms often have subtle differences of usage. The one I’m going to look at in this post is that of connotation, i.e. the way the words we choose can reflect our own views on the subject we are talking about.

To give a rather obvious example, most people would probably be happy to be described as slim, slender or svelte (which all describe an attractive appearance), less happy with thin or skinny (which are more neutral or could even imply unattractiveness), offended by lanky or scrawny (negative descriptions), and upset by haggard, gaunt, or emaciated (which have connotations of ill health). Continue reading “Shrewd or cunning, modern or newfangled? Connotation in English”

Scared, frightened, afraid and terrified: talking about fear

by Liz Walter

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Robert Daly/OJO Images/Getty

The other day I was teaching a lesson on things that make us afraid. We started by looking at the common ‘synonyms’ afraid, scared and frightened. One of the things I frequently do with my students is ask them for other words in the same word family because this is a skill they are likely to need in English exams. Continue reading “Scared, frightened, afraid and terrified: talking about fear”