I’ll believe it when I see it: talking about certainty, probability and possibility

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by Liz Walter

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that ‘nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. We all know how annoying it can be when someone seems to be completely sure about all their opinions, so it is important to be able to express certainty only where it is justified, and other degrees of probability or possibility where they are appropriate.

The most common way to do this is to use modal verbs. Compare the following sentences: Continue reading “I’ll believe it when I see it: talking about certainty, probability and possibility”

Let’s bake a cake. (Cooking words)

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by Kate Woodford

One thing we haven’t dealt with yet on this blog is cooking vocabulary. We’re now making up for it with two posts devoted to common words used for preparing food. If you’re a keen cook, read on!

Let’s start with some basic cooking verbs relating to the inside of the oven. When we cook bread and cakes in an oven, we say we bake them: freshly baked bread / I’m going to bake a cake. However, for cooking meat and vegetables inside an oven, we use the verb roast: I’m roasting a chicken. / roasted vegetables. (We also use the verb ‘roast’ for cooking food, especially meat, over a fire.) Continue reading “Let’s bake a cake. (Cooking words)”

Simple and Straightforward (Words meaning ‘clear’)

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by Kate Woodford

Recently, we published a post on words for things that confuse us. This week we’re considering the opposite and looking instead at words and phrases that we use to describe things that are easy to understand.

Let’s start with the very common adjective clear. Something that is clear is easy to understand, often because it has been explained well: clear instructions / directions. If we want to emphasize that something is extremely clear, we might describe it as crystal clear: My instructions were crystal clear. We also use ‘clear’ to say that we understand something: Are you clear about what you’re supposed to be doing? Continue reading “Simple and Straightforward (Words meaning ‘clear’)”

I was so sorry to hear your news: Expressing sympathy

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by Liz Walter

It can often be difficult to know what to say to someone we know who has experienced loss, illness or another painful event, and even harder if we have to do it in another language. Today’s post looks at phrases we use to express sympathy in a sincere and empathetic way.

Choosing appropriate words will of course depend on how well we know the person concerned, and also the type of event and how upset we think that person is likely to be. Continue reading “I was so sorry to hear your news: Expressing sympathy”

Salt and pepper/Rain or shine

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by Kate Woodford

This week, as you’ll probably have guessed from the title, we’re looking at pairs of words that are used together in a fixed order, separated either by ‘and’ or ‘or’. Some of these word pairs are simply two things that we use or experience together, such as ‘knife and fork’ and ‘thunder and lightning’. Others are more idiomatic, their meanings not always obvious, for example bits and pieces (=small things or tasks of different types) and short and sweet (=surprisingly quick). The English language is full of these short phrases and this post aims to give you a useful selection of them. As ever, we focus only on items in current use. Continue reading “Salt and pepper/Rain or shine”

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)”