Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)

by Liz Walter

Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Pronouns are words we use instead of nouns in order to avoid repeating the nouns. Compare the following:

Laura picked up the book. Laura gave the book to Zalie.

Laura picked up the book. She gave it to Zalie.

We use pronouns when we have already mentioned a person or thing, or when it is obvious who or what they are.

The most common pronouns are personal pronouns – pronouns that refer to people or things. The most important thing to remember about these is that (with the exception of you and it), they are different according to whether they are the subject or the object of a sentence. Continue reading “Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)”

Cambridge Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016

Veronaa/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Veronaa/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It’s that time again, when publishers reveal the word or words that they believe encapsulate the year. As many readers will know from previous years, we like to base our word on what our millions of users worldwide have been looking up over the course of the year. And what a year it’s been: in June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, causing great uncertainty in the UK and across Europe (even now, the only certainty we have is that Brexit means Brexit); then, in November, after a vicious and divisive campaign, the people of the United States elected businessman Donald Trump as President ahead of politician Hillary Clinton, in one of the most extraordinary political stories of modern times. Add to this the ongoing backdrop of a bloody civil war in Syria, several terrorist attacks around the world and numerous celebrity deaths, and there can be no denying that it has been an eventful and worrying year.

As ever, global events are reflected in the words you look up on our site. So what single word has had the biggest increase in searches over the whole year? Ladies and gentlemen, the Cambridge Dictionary Word of the Year for 2016 is . . . paranoid.

Why paranoid? Searches have risen hugely this year, over four times more than in 2015. We cannot, of course, know exactly why users are searching for a particular word, but it suggests perhaps a feeling that the institutions that have kept us safe can no longer be trusted, that the world feels more uncertain than it did a year ago. When we look at other words that have shown similar increases, we can build a fuller picture: anxiety, chaos; a feeling that societies are breaking down; increases in prejudice, bigotry and bullying; and people feeling nostalgic for what are perceived as simpler times.

But perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom: another word that has seen a big increase in searches is adorable – maybe our users are comforting themselves with videos of cute animals, and trying to think happier thoughts?

The US election in 24 hours of words

Catherine Lane/iStock/Getty
Catherine Lane/iStock/Getty

November 8, 2016, marked the end of one of the most eventful presidential election campaigns in United States history. People across the globe watched closely as American voters turned out to cast their votes for their next president – including the millions of people who use the Cambridge Dictionary to help them understand the language used in the English-speaking media.

The Cambridge Dictionary staff tracked the words that were looked up most frequently in the 24 hours from when the polls opened the morning of November 8 until the morning of November 9. All of the words in this blog post that are linked to definitions in the dictionary were looked up with unusual frequency. The full list is at the end of this post. Continue reading “The US election in 24 hours of words”

What’s in a name?

by Colin McIntosh

Tim Macpherson/Cultura/Getty
Tim Macpherson/Cultura/Getty

When we give names to new inventions, discoveries, places, and a host of other things, inspiration often comes from the names of the people who came up with the inventions, made the discoveries, and so on. In other cases the name can be a tribute to the person in question, even though that person had no hand in the thing’s creation.

The words for these things are called eponyms and many of them have been added to the Cambridge Dictionary. Continue reading “What’s in a name?”

The new digital face of dictionaries

ELT_34045_CDO_scd_07_16-ImgPost-3_1200x800You might have noticed that the Cambridge Dictionaries Online website is looking a bit different this morning as we have rolled out the new design to all devices.

What’s different?

Pretty much everything has changed, if you consider the visual impact of the site and its ease of use.  We have renamed Cambridge Dictionaries Online to simply Cambridge Dictionary, and its new strapline “Make your words meaningful” is an open invitation to explore the richness of the site’s resources: from definitions and grammar to synonyms and real-life examples. We have also given the site a brand new visual identity including the logo with Cambridge University shield, which now position the site in a direct relationship with the Cambridge English family of products. Continue reading “The new digital face of dictionaries”

Listen up, you guys!

by Colin McIntosh

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

Many of the world’s languages have more than one word for “you”. English is unusual in having just one. In other languages there is often a distinction made between singular and plural – i.e., when speaking to one person or to more than one person. For instance, in Mandarin Chinese   is singular and nǐmen is plural. Another common distinction is between informal and formal pronouns (as in  and usted in Spanish).

The distinction between singular and plural has been lost in English. Thou took the role of singular until it fell out of use by the 17th century in most places, and you came to perform both functions. But 21st-century speakers often seem to feel that something is missing in the language, and several substitutes for a plural pronoun have crept into modern English – and now into the Cambridge dictionary. Continue reading “Listen up, you guys!”

Watching the detectorists

by Colin McIntosh

Credit: Getty
Credit: Getty

You could be forgiven for thinking that old-fashioned hobbies that don’t involve computers have fallen out of favour. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the internet has made it easier for people with specialist hobbies from different corners of the world to come together to support one another in their enthusiasms. This has generated a crop of new words, some of which are now making their first appearance in the Cambridge dictionary.

One new general word that has recently arrived in Britain from the US is hobbyist. This fills a gap in providing a neutral word for an enthusiast of a particular hobby; some of the words used in the past have been less than flattering. Anorak, for example, is used to refer to a boring person who is too interested in the details of a hobby and finds it difficult to socialize with other people. Anorak is used in British English; its origin lies in the typical clothing worn by an outdoor British hobbyist: practical, warm, and able to protect you from the British rain. American equivalents of anorak include nerd and geek, which also had similar unflattering connotations – until it became cool to be considered a geek. Continue reading “Watching the detectorists”

How do you spell a sneeze?

by Colin McIntosh

sneezeNot everything we say forms part of the regular English repertoire of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on. Some can barely even be described as words, since they don’t follow the typical rules of English spelling. What do you say when you want to announce your presence discreetly to someone who hasn’t noticed you come in? In English you would make a kind of throat-clearing noise. Or when you want to express disapproval of something so bad that it doesn’t deserve a comment? You can pull down your tongue quickly from behind your teeth, causing air to be sucked into your mouth and making a kind of high, sucking, clicking noise. These sounds belong to what linguists call paralanguage: not the regular system of words with their semantic meanings, but a system of noises (and also movements and facial expressions) that communicate meaning in a different way.

These non-word noises were never normally written down, mainly because it was difficult to work out how to spell them. How would you spell the throat-clearing noise? Ways have been found of writing them down, though. And some of them are new arrivals in the Cambridge Dictionary. Continue reading “How do you spell a sneeze?”

Just who is driving this thing?

by Colin McIntosh

car_faceDo you remember Herbie the Love Bug? Herbie was a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle car in a string of Walt Disney movies. In typical Disney anthropomorphic style, Herbie goes his own way, falls in love, cries, plays jokes, and generally has a mind of his own.

While the new driverless cars, like those being trialled by Google at the moment, will probably never cry, they will take you places without you having to lift a finger. As with all new technologies, they bring a set of new words and meanings along with them, some of them new to the Cambridge Dictionary. Continue reading “Just who is driving this thing?”

To be honest with you: conversational expressions for giving opinions

by Kate Woodford​

honestTo be honest with you, I’ve never really liked him.

Learners of English often ask us how they can make their English sound more natural and conversational. We at Cambridge Dictionaries Online try to help out by looking at the sorts of words and phrases that native English speakers naturally use when speaking. This week we’re looking at expressions that we often use when giving opinions, especially negative opinions that other people might not like.

Let’s start with two very common ones. The phrase to be honest (with you) and if I’m honest with you are used a lot in speech, coming at the start or end of a sentence in which someone says something negative. (If the opinion expressed is very negative, the speaker might say ‘brutally honest’) To be honest, I’ve never really liked him./To be brutally honest, I don’t think she’s right for the job. A phrase used in a similar way is To tell (you) the truth…: To tell the truth, I didn’t even want to go to the party. These phrases all suggest that you are saying what you really think, even if it is bad. Continue reading “To be honest with you: conversational expressions for giving opinions”