Can you do a handstand? Talking about ability

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by Liz Walter

We often need to talk about things we can do and ask other people questions about their own abilities. This post looks in some detail at the common modal verb can and also suggests some other ways to express the same idea.

We use can extremely often to make statements and questions. Remember that can is always followed by an infinitive verb without to.

Laura can play the piano.

Laura can to play the piano.

Can you see the stage from here?

Can you seeing the stage from here? Continue reading “Can you do a handstand? Talking about ability”

I was completely baffled. (Words meaning ‘confused’)

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by Kate Woodford

From time to time, we all find ourselves unable to understand things, whether it’s instructions for a piece of equipment that confuse us, an event or situation that we can’t explain or just a comment by a friend. Life is sometimes just confusing! This is reflected in the number of near-synonyms and phrases that describe being confused and things that confuse us. This week we thought we would take a look at them. Continue reading “I was completely baffled. (Words meaning ‘confused’)”

Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, grammar schools or renationalized railways? The UK general election.

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by Liz Walter

UK citizens are going to the polls on June 8th to choose their next government. Again.

Yes, we had a general election in 2015, and yes, in theory, we have a five-year fixed-term parliament, so really we should have waited until 2020. However, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, decided that it would be a good idea to call a snap election (one decided suddenly). Since this is a language blog, I won’t speculate on her reasons, but instead concentrate on the language being used in the campaign. Continue reading “Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, grammar schools or renationalized railways? The UK general election.”

Can I give you a hand? (Words and phrases for helping others)

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by Kate Woodford

Most of us enjoy helping other people. We like to feel useful and we feel like better people when we do things for others.  The act of helping also brings us together, often creating a sense of community. This week, then, we look at the words and phrases that we use to refer to actions that we do to help others.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the noun hand, meaning ‘help’ is used in a number of common conversational phrases. It is often – although not always – used for physical rather than mental tasks. Could you give/lend me a hand with this table, please? / Ethan might need a hand with the clearing up.
Continue reading “Can I give you a hand? (Words and phrases for helping others)”

He doesn’t pull any punches. (The language of telling the truth)

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by Kate Woodford

Most of us have mixed feelings about honesty. On the one hand, we think it a very good thing. We raise our children to be honest and we look for honesty in our adult relationships. However, most of us also recognise that in some situations, honesty is not so desirable and, in fact, can sometimes cause great offence. It is for this reason that words and phrases for speaking the truth can often be used in different ways. The same word or phrase can sometimes be neutral (=not negative and not positive), sometimes disapproving and at other times, even admiring. Continue reading “He doesn’t pull any punches. (The language of telling the truth)”

Sweltering, torrential and gusty: interesting words for talking about weather.

by Liz Walter

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Most students learn words for weather quite early in their studies. It’s easy to stick with well-known phrases such as sunny day or heavy rain, but there is a lot of more interesting vocabulary associated with the weather, as you would expect for one of the world’s favourite topics of conversation! In this post, I offer some suggestions for expanding your range of weather vocabulary.

Let’s start with temperature. Very hot weather can be described as scorching, sweltering or boiling. If it is the kind of heat that makes you feel as if you can’t breathe, it is stifling or oppressive. At the other end of the scale, we can describe very cold weather as freezing, bitter or even bone-chilling if we find it unpleasant. Wintry weather is also cold, but this is not necessarily a negative description – it can be used for a pleasant snowy or icy day. In between these two extremes, mild is a positive adjective for weather that is not particularly hot but not too cold either. Continue reading “Sweltering, torrential and gusty: interesting words for talking about weather.”

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.”

Phrasal verbs for reading

by Kate Woodford

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Sometimes we read to find out information and at other times, we read simply for pleasure. We may read the whole of a text or only parts of it. To describe the different ways in which we read, we often use phrasal verbs. This week, then, we take a look at those ‘reading’ phrasal verbs, focusing on the slight differences in meaning between them.

Starting with phrases for reading only parts of a book or magazine, etc., there are a number of phrasal verbs with the particle ‘through’ that describe the action of quickly turning several pages of a book or magazine, looking briefly at the text or pictures:

I was flicking through a glossy magazine.

I flipped through their catalogue while I was waiting. Continue reading “Phrasal verbs for reading”

April fool – the language of jokes and tricks

by Liz Walter

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April 1st is known in many Western countries as ‘April Fool’s Day’. The idea is to trick other people, to try to make them believe things that are not true. If you succeed, you shout ‘April fool!’ at the person you have tricked. In honour of April Fool’s Day, this post will look at some words and phrases connected with this custom.

One important thing is to remember that we play tricks on someone (we don’t ‘make’ or ‘do’ them). The tricks are often practical jokes (using actions instead of words), and they are almost always harmless – they are intended to be fun. Other words for this kind of trick are prank or hoax, although the word ‘hoax’ can also be used for more serious, unpleasant tricks in the same way as the words fraud or deceit. Continue reading “April fool – the language of jokes and tricks”

What a nightmare! (Words for difficult situations)

by Kate Woodford

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Whether we like it or not, we all have to deal with things that annoy us or cause difficulties and stress. Sadly, it is part of life. This post won’t stop you from having to deal with these things, but it will at least give you a range of words and phrases for talking about them in English!

Let’s start with some single words that refer to different types of problem. A predicament is a bad situation that is difficult to get out of: She’s trying to find a way out of her financial predicament.

A dilemma is a situation in which you have to make a difficult choice between two different things: Now he has been offered the other job, which puts him in a bit of a dilemma. Continue reading “What a nightmare! (Words for difficult situations)”