Did you have a nice weekend? (Chatting about the weekend)

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by Kate Woodford

Readers of this blog often ask us for conversational English. They want to learn phrases for chatting informally with friends and colleagues. To help with this, some of our blog posts focus on the sort of conversations that we all have during the course of a day or a week. In this post, we’re looking at what you can say on a Monday when someone asks ‘How was your weekend?’ Continue reading “Did you have a nice weekend? (Chatting about the weekend)”

A grain of rice and a clove of garlic: making uncountable nouns countable (1)

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by Liz Walter

You probably already know that you can use many uncountable nouns in a countable way with words such as piece or bit:

I ate a small piece of cheese.

Why don’t you add a bit of cream?

However, we can also use more interesting and specific words. Today’s post will look at how we do this with food and my next post will look at other topics such as weather and emotions.

We often use the names of containers when we talk about amounts of food. These might be items of crockery or cutlery, for example bowl, plate, cup, glass, tablespoon or teaspoon, or items of packaging such as packet, bottle, can, carton, tub or tube:

I ordered a bowl of soup.

Add a teaspoon of salt.

She ate a whole tub of ice cream.

It is also common to use words that indicate the shape of an amount of food, for instance slice, sliver, hunk, chunk, lump or slab:

The soup contained large chunks of beef.

I used a whole slab of chocolate in the dessert.

The words portion or serving indicates an amount sufficient for one person. We use mouthful for any food or drink. We also use sip, slurp, gulp and swig for amounts of liquid we swallow at one time:

There are four portions of stew in the pan.

The recipe makes four to six servings.

He ate a few mouthfuls of rice.

I only had a sip of tea.

With foods that consist of many very small parts, such as rice, sugar or salt we often use grain, while for liquids, we often use drop. Other words are more closely linked to specific liquids, for instance a dash (UK)/splash (US) of milk or a glug of oil:

Use a fork to separate the grains of rice.

I like a dash (UK)/splash (US) of milk in my tea.

Other words that are usually used with specific foods are a pinch of salt and a knob of butter:

Add a pinch of salt to the boiling water.

He fried the fish in a knob of butter.

Several words that make uncountable foods countable relate to the action you use with them. For example, we can talk about a squeeze of lemon juice, a grind of pepper, a sprinkling/dusting of icing sugar (UK)/confectioner’s sugar (US), cocoa powder, etc. and a drizzle of olive oil, honey, etc.

Give the risotto a few good grinds of pepper.

Serve the figs with a drizzle of honey.

Finally, there is a group of nouns that describe single parts of a type of food. For instance we talk about cloves of garlic, sweetcorn (UK)/corn (US) kernels, orange/grapefruit segments and coffee beans:

Chop two cloves of garlic.

The sweetcorn (UK)/corn (US) kernels add a lovely texture to the salad.

Food is such an enormous topic, there are probably many more ways of talking about amounts of it, but I hope this post has covered the main ones and helped to explain the idea of how we can use uncountable nouns in a countable way.

Blood is thicker than water. (Idioms with ‘water’, Part 2)

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by Kate Woodford

This is the second of two posts on idioms that contain the word ‘water’. On this blog, we always try to provide you with commonly used, contemporary idioms and this post is no exception!

If you say you will do something come hell or high water, you mean you are very determined to do it, whatever difficulties you may face: I’m going to be at that ceremony next year, come hell or high water! Continue reading “Blood is thicker than water. (Idioms with ‘water’, Part 2)”

Rome wasn’t built in a day: Phrases with place names

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by Liz Walter

At the end of last year, I wrote a post about phrases containing people’s names, which generated quite a lot of interest. I hope you will also enjoy this post about phrases based on place names.

Continue reading “Rome wasn’t built in a day: Phrases with place names”

‘Like a duck to water’ (Idioms with ‘water’, Part 1)

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by Kate Woodford

It’s surprising how many commonly used idioms contain the word ‘water’. There are so many, in fact, that this post will consist of two parts, (1 and 2). As ever, we will look at the most frequent and useful ones.

Continue reading “‘Like a duck to water’ (Idioms with ‘water’, Part 1)”

Bubbles and a breakthrough: the language of COVID (update)

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by Kate Woodford

In February of 2020, my colleague Liz Walter wrote a post on the language of COVID-19: Quarantine, carriers and face masks: the language of the coronavirus. Today, I’m looking at some of the many COVID-related words and phrases that we are using almost a year later.

Continue reading “Bubbles and a breakthrough: the language of COVID (update)”

I’ve brought you a little something: The language of gifts


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by Liz Walter

Many of us will have given and received gifts over the holiday period. This post looks at some of the language around this custom.

Continue reading “I’ve brought you a little something: The language of gifts”

You’re in good hands (Idioms with ‘hand’, Part 2)

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by Kate Woodford

Last month we looked at a selection of idioms containing the word ‘hand’, concentrating on idioms connected with power. This post will cover ‘hand’ idioms with a range of meanings, focusing, as always, on the most frequent and useful.

Continue reading “You’re in good hands (Idioms with ‘hand’, Part 2)”

It’s as good as new: Phrases with ‘new’

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by Liz Walter

As we head into a new year (which I’m sure everyone hopes will be better than the old one!), I thought it would be nice to look at some useful phrases containing the word ‘new’.

Continue reading “It’s as good as new: Phrases with ‘new’”

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.

Continue reading “Pompous and patronizing (Describing character, part 5)”