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)”

Phrasal verbs with more than one meaning

by Liz Walter

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Phrasal verbs are often difficult to learn because they tend to be formed from fairly common verbs and particles. To make matters worse, many of them have more than one meaning, and some have many, many meanings – pick up has 24 senses in the Cambridge Phrasal Verbs Dictionary!

Look at these sentences with go out, for example:

Did you go out last night? (leave your home for a social activity)

The fire’s gone out. (stopped burning)

The tide will go out at around 6 today. (go away from the shore) Continue reading “Phrasal verbs with more than one meaning”

I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty)

by Kate Woodford

Diane Caudill/EyeEm/Getty
Diane Caudill/EyeEm/Getty

From time to time, we all do things that upset other people and we regret it. In other words, we all suffer from guilt.

Guilt is, of course, a bad feeling and one of the ways that we try to get it out of our system (= get rid of it) is to tell others about what we have done and how bad we feel. This week we’re looking at the words and phrases that we use to talk about feeling guilty.

One of the most common ways to describe feeling guilty is the simple phrase to feel bad:

I felt bad because I knew I’d let them down.

Knowing how much I hurt her makes me feel really bad. Continue reading “I feel so bad! (The language of feeling guilty)”

Sorry to butt in! (Phrasal verbs that describe ways of speaking)

by Kate Woodford

Jenni Holma/Moment/Getty
Jenni Holma/Moment/Getty

This week we’re looking at the many phrasal verbs in English that refer to ways of speaking and the sort of things that people do in conversation.

The adverb ‘on’ has a sense which is ‘continuing or not stopping’. Accordingly, there are a few informal phrasal verbs containing ‘on’ that are used for speaking a lot and not stopping. For example, if someone goes on, they annoy you by talking about one subject for too long:

I know she did well in her exams – I just wish she’d stop going on about it!

He went on and on about his new job.  Continue reading “Sorry to butt in! (Phrasal verbs that describe ways of speaking)”

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)”