Shopping for the festive season

by Liz Walter​
shopping festive
With Christmas fast approaching, many of us will be busy buying presents, whether we are Christians or not, so in this blog I’m going to look at some vocabulary connected with gift shopping.

If you are a well-organized person, you will probably want to get ahead by starting your shopping early. That way, it is easier to find bargains, for example by having the time to compare prices or by looking out for special offers. Some people even use the January sales to stock up on items for the following year.

Others prefer to leave everything to the last minute. They may end up paying exorbitant prices because lack of time means lack of choice, and they risk discovering that the items they wanted to buy are out of stock. They will probably also need to find stores that offer a gift-wrapping service, since they are unlikely to have the time to buy wrapping paper and wrap the presents themselves. Continue reading “Shopping for the festive season”

Money for Old Rope! (Money idioms)

by Kate Woodford​
Continuing our occasional series on idioms that relate to the world of business, we look this week at phrases that express something about money.

There are a number of phrases relating to making money (and not all are admiring). A cash cow is a product or an area of a business that a company can rely on because it always makes money. The money made is often used to support other business activities: The credit card had become the bank’s cash cow. A person or company’s main way of earning money may be described as their bread and butter: They provide legal advice for companies – that’s their bread and butter. In UK English, a way of earning money that is very easy, needing little effort, may be referred to as money for old rope or money for jamA lot of people assume that buying and selling property is money for old rope. Similarly, on hearing about an easy job that earns a lot of money for someone else, someone might say humorously, Nice work if you can get it! Eighty pounds an hour for rubbing someone’s shoulders? Nice work if you can get it! Continue reading “Money for Old Rope! (Money idioms)”

I appreciate that this is hard for you. (Other ways of saying ‘understand’)

by Kate Woodford​
Following on from last week’s post on near-synonyms, we’re looking this week at various ways of saying that we understand things. Starting with a very common near-synonym, the verb ‘realize’ is often used for talking about the state of understanding and knowing things: I realize this is difficult for you. It is also used to say that we start to understand something: As she was speaking I suddenly realized that we’d met before. The verb ‘grasp’ also means ‘understand’ but is used to mean ‘to succeed in understanding something’ and is often used to talk about understanding difficult things: It was quite a high-level talk but I think I managed to grasp the main points./She couldn’t seem to grasp the concept. (The noun ‘grasp’ is also used: His grasp of grammar is very impressive for a seven-year-old.)

A phrase which is used for succeeding in understanding is ‘get the gist’. If you get the gist of something spoken or written, you manage to understand the main points though you may not understand or remember the precise details: I think I got the gist of what he was saying. Another such phrase is make sense of. If you make sense of something complicated or unclear, you manage to understand it: I’ve read the paragraph three times now and I still can’t make sense of it! Appreciate’ is used in a similar way. If you appreciate something serious about a situation, you understand it or you understand the reasons for it: I appreciate that this is a very difficult decision for you to make.

As we mentioned in a previous post (There is no such thing as a true synonym in English), ‘comprehend’ is a formal near-synonym for ‘understand’. We comprehend serious, difficult things, usually situations rather than subjects: They evidently failed to comprehend the seriousness of the threat.

An informal word for ‘understand’ that is very commonly used in conversation is ‘get’. It is often used in the phrase ‘get it’: Everyone’s going crazy for him. I don’t get it – what do they see in him? Note that we often say that we ‘get a joke’ when we understand what is funny about a joke. We use this sense of ‘get’ in other phrases too. For example, you might say ‘I get the message’ to someone who is asking you to do something but is saying it in an indirect way, usually because they don’t want to offend you: Oh, I get the message – you want to go without me, right? Similarly, you might say ‘I get the picture’ to a person who is describing a bad situation in a slightly indirect way to let them know that you understand what they are saying: ‘He’s not the most organised person and he can be a bit forgetful.’ ‘I get the picture. I’ve worked with people like that.’

Sometimes it takes a while to understand something. In British English, the phrase ‘the penny drops’ is used to say that you or someone else finally understand what is being said or what is happening: Then I saw them together at Sophie’s party and the penny dropped. I had no idea that they were a couple!

There is no such thing as a true synonym in English. Discuss!

by Kate Woodford​
In the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary the word ‘synonym’ is defined as ‘a word or phrase that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word or phrase in the same language’. As you might expect, definitions for this word are broadly similar in other dictionaries and yet the italicized phrase ‘or nearly the same’ is often absent. This seems to me an omission. Many words in English have the same basic or overall meaning and yet are significantly different for one or more reasons. Let’s look at the word ‘comprehend’ for example. Essentially, it means ‘to understand something’. And yet we don’t usually say that we comprehend an area of mathematics. We are more likely to say something like this

No one in the government seems to comprehend the scale of the problem. Continue reading “There is no such thing as a true synonym in English. Discuss!”

How to talk about talking (2)

by Liz Walter​
talk about talking
In my last post I explained how to use the verbs say and tell. This post looks at some other common verbs connected with talking and explains how to use them correctly.

Speak and talk have similar meanings. In general, speak is slightly more formal than talk. Remember to use the preposition to before the person. With can also be used, but is more common in US English:

He didn’t speak/talk to me at all.

The teacher spoke/talked with the girl’s parents.

We usually use the preposition about before the thing that is being discussed:

He talked about the weather.

She never speaks about her work. Continue reading “How to talk about talking (2)”

Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)

by Liz Walter​
say and tell
Most of us spend a lot of time talking – in fact a recent study showed that the average Brit spends 6 months of their life talking about weather alone! It’s no wonder therefore that we often need to describe that activity.

Unfortunately, simple verbs such as speak, say, talk and tell cause a lot of problems for learners of English. This post looks at two of the most common ‘talking’ verbs – say and tell –  and gives advice on how to use them correctly.

We often use say to report what someone else has said, using a that-clause. You can usually leave out ‘that’:

She said (that) she was thirsty.

He says (that) he’s a friend of yours. Continue reading “Say and tell: How to talk about talking (1)”

Women and biscuits: common pronunciation errors in English

by Liz Walter​
There’s no getting away from the fact that pronunciation in English is difficult. Unlike many other languages, the relationship between the letters in a word and its sound is often weak, to say the least.

For this reason, there are pronunciation problems with extremely common words which I notice over and over again in my classes, so this blog post will explain how to avoid some of the them.

I want to start with one really general issue: the –ed ending on past tenses. This causes a lot of problems for learners but there is in fact a simple rule: it is only pronounced as ‘id’ when the verb ends with a ‘d’ or ‘t’ sound, e.g. folded, painted.

For all other verbs, -ed is pronounced as ‘d’.  After some consonants, it will come out sounding more like ‘t’, but you don’t need to worry about that because it will happen naturally. Continue reading “Women and biscuits: common pronunciation errors in English”

I’ve known Sara for years (Talking about friends)

by Kate Woodford​
Our friends are important to us so we tend to talk about them. And what sort of things do we say? We might talk about how strong a friendship is. If we say that we are close to someone, we mean that we know and like them a lot: I’ve known Sara for years – we’re very close. / She’s very close to her brother. You might instead describe someone as a good friend (of yours): Paolo’s a good friend of mine. You could also use the phrasal verb get on (UK) / get along (US), meaning ‘to like someone and have a good relationship with them’: I like James – we’ve always got on / gotten along.

Sometimes we talk about how a friendship started. You may say that you met a friend through another person: I met Alice through a work friend of mine called Lucy. (The friend who introduced you – a friend of two people – is known as a mutual friend). Perhaps you were at a party and you started talking with someone although you didn’t know them. For this, you could say you struck up (= started) a conversation: We were both waiting to get a drink and struck up a conversation. If you liked the person immediately, you could use the informal phrase hit it off: Jamie introduced us at a party and we hit it off immediately. Of course, as we spend more time with a person, we gradually learn more about them. To describe this process, you may say that you get to know someone: He seemed so nice. I thought I’d like to get to know him. / We worked together on a six-month project so I got to know her quite well. If you have known someone for a long time, you might use the phrase to go back a long way: Claire and I met at college twenty years ago so we go back a long way. Continue reading “I’ve known Sara for years (Talking about friends)”

Specially or Especially – is there a difference?

by Liz Walter​
Specially or Especially

A reader recently asked me to explain the difference between ‘specially’ and ‘especially’.

In order to find the answer, I looked at the Cambridge International Corpus, which is a collection of almost two billion words of English from many different sources. Cambridge University Press’s authors and editors use the corpus to find evidence about the use of English.

The first thing I discovered was that ‘especially’ is much more common than ‘specially’. In fact, ‘especially’ occurs 149.2 times for every million words of text, as opposed to 8.1 times for ‘specially’. Continue reading “Specially or Especially – is there a difference?”

Take the rough with the smooth (Idioms to describe dealing with problems)

by Kate Woodford​
Readers of this blog will know that from time to time, we focus on frequent idioms. This week, we’re looking at idioms that we use to describe the way we deal with – or fail to deal with – problems and difficult situations.

Starting with the positive, if you are in a difficult situation and you take it (all) in your stride (UK)/take it in stride (US), the situation does not upset or worry you: Sarah often has problems with staff but she takes it all in her stride. Someone who weathers the storm or rides the storm is not harmed during a difficult period. You might say this of a person whose reputation is not damaged despite difficulties: For a while, the scandal threatened to destroy the president, but somehow he weathered the storm. Meanwhile, to get/come to grips with a difficult situation or task means to succeed in starting to deal with it: This is a problem that the government really needs to get to grips with. Continue reading “Take the rough with the smooth (Idioms to describe dealing with problems)”