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)”

Lectures, lessons and seminars: words and phrases for talking about studying (2).

by Liz Walter​
I passed my exams
As promised last time, this post continues the theme of study, and once again there are many differences between British and American English.

In the UK, the school year is divided into three periods, called terms. In the US, the school year can be divided into two periods, called semesters, or three periods, called trimesters. Many US universities have summer periods, so their year is divided into quarters. Students have a timetable (UK)/schedule (US) to tell them the times of their classes. To talk about what is taught in a particular subject area, we use the words syllabus or curriculum.

The person in charge of a school is called the headteacher in UK English and the principal in US English. Continue reading “Lectures, lessons and seminars: words and phrases for talking about studying (2).”

I passed my exams!: words and phrases for talking about studying (1).

by Liz Walter​
Almost everyone needs to talk about education now and then, so this blog post looks at some useful words and phrases connected with studying. It describes the most typical systems in the UK and the US, and explains some important differences between UK and US vocabulary.

The very youngest schoolchildren have a reception year in the UK and a kindergarten year in the US. After that, Brits talk about year 1, year 2, etc., while US children are in first grade, second grade, etc. The word grade is also used in US English to talk about scores in exams or written work. British English uses mark: He always gets good grades/marks.

In general, the UK has primary schools for ages 5-11 and secondary schools for ages 11-16, followed by sixth form colleges for ages 16-18. In the US, elementary schools teach grades 1-5 or 1-6, middle schools grades 6-8 or junior high schools grades 7-8, and high schools grades 9-12. Continue reading “I passed my exams!: words and phrases for talking about studying (1).”

Queen Elizabeth ll – Britain’s longest-reigning monarch

by Kate Woodford​

At around 5:30 p.m. this afternoon (September 9th, 2015), Queen Elizabeth II will become Britain’s longest-serving British monarch. She will break the record established by her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, (b.1819 – d. 1901), having so far reigned for an impressive 63 years and seven months. To mark the occasion, we are posting a short piece on the subject, including dictionary-linked words and phrases that we hope you will find interesting.

Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in the February of 1952, aged just 25, on the death of her father, King George VI. Her coronation at Westminster Abbey took place a year later, in June 1953, to allow an appropriate period of mourning for the King. It was the first coronation to be shown on television and was broadcast at the Queen’s insistence. It is often observed that in the years since the Queen’s coronation, the world has changed massively. Queen Elizabeth, with her husband at her side (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), has remained the one constant. (Interestingly, Prince Philip is himself the longest-serving consort of a British monarch). Just today, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Queen had been a “rock of stability” in an era when so much had changed, and that her reign had been the “golden thread running through three post-war generations“. Continue reading “Queen Elizabeth ll – Britain’s longest-reigning monarch”

Does that sound like a plan? (Making plans)

by Kate Woodford
This week we’re looking at the sort of things we say to our friends when we are planning to do something together – the words and phrases that we naturally use when we are looking at our calendars and fixing a time and a place to do something.

You will probably start by trying to find a time when you and a friend are both free. You might say ‘Are you free next Thursday?’ or ‘Is next Thursday any good for you?’. You can ask the same question with the slightly more informal phrases, ‘Does next Thursday work for you?’ or ‘How are you fixed for next Thursday?’

If you can’t meet your friend on that day because you have already arranged to do something, you might say (UK) ‘I have something on that evening.’ or (US) ‘I have something going on.’ Or you may simply say, ‘I’m afraid I’m busy that evening.’ If you want to suggest a different time when you are free, you can say ‘I could do Friday evening. Is that any good?’ If your friend can’t do a particular date, you might say, ‘How about Sunday? Does that work better?’ Continue reading “Does that sound like a plan? (Making plans)”

When’s dinner? (Words for different meals)

by Kate Woodford​
Here at ‘About Words’ we’re always happy to get ideas for posts that we could write. A reader of this blog recently asked for a post on the language of meals and we thought this an excellent idea. If you are reading this post and have an idea for a topic or area of the language that you would like us to write about, please do say.

In the order that we eat them, then, breakfast is the meal that we have in the morning as the first meal of the day, lunch is what we eat in the middle of the day and dinner is our evening meal. This sounds simple enough, though in both the US and the UK it is a little more complicated than this – and in different ways!

In the UK, the meal that is eaten in the middle of the day is sometimes called ‘dinner’ and the meal in the evening may be referred to as tea. ‘Tea’ is used especially if the meal is of a simple type, prepared for children, often eaten early in the evening: Have the children had their tea? Continue reading “When’s dinner? (Words for different meals)”

Crash! Whisper and Purr (Onomatopoeias)

by Kate Woodford​
What do the words crash, whisper and purr have in common? They’re all onomatopoeias. An onomatopoeia is a word that copies or in some way suggests the sound of the action that it refers to, whether it is ‘crash!’, (the loud noise of two things hitting each other and causing damage), ‘whisper’, (to speak very quietly, using only the breath), or ‘purr’, (to make a quiet, continuous sound, such as a happy cat does). ‘Onomatopoeia’ is also an uncountable noun, referring to the use or quality of such words. This week, we are looking at this interesting category of words in sets of different types. As ever, we are focusing on frequent words that you are likely to hear or read.

Animal noises are a fairly obvious example of onomatopoeia. In the English language, dogs bark, lions roar, wolves howl, sheep bleat and mice squeak. (These verbs are also used as nouns.) There is another, smaller set of onomatopoeic animal sound words used mainly by small children or by adults speaking to small children. This set includes moo! for cows, baa! for sheep, woof woof! for dogs and hiss! for snakes. Interestingly, many animal sounds are represented by different words in other languages, even though animals everywhere tend to make the same – or similar – sounds. Continue reading “Crash! Whisper and Purr (Onomatopoeias)”

July 4th, Bastille Day, and the language of revolution.

by Liz Walter​
With the USA’s Independence Day on the 4th and France’s Bastille Day on the 14th, July certainly has a revolutionary theme, so this blog looks at words and phrases we use to talk about the dramatic and nation-changing events that these days celebrate. In particular, it focuses on one of the most important skills for advanced learners of English, which is collocation, or the way words go together.

July 4, 1776 was the day on which Americans declared independence from Great Britain. When a country becomes independent, it gains independence, and if a ruling country allows another one to become independent, it grants independence to it.

Bastille Day marks the beginning of the French Revolution. On July 14, 1789 a group of rioters attacked the Bastille fortress in order to seize weapons and explosives. We refer to this event as the Storming of the Bastille, and it is still common to talk about troops or gunmen storming a building when it is a fast, violent attack. Continue reading “July 4th, Bastille Day, and the language of revolution.”

As fresh as a daisy: using similes in English.

by Liz Walter​
There are two ways of forming similes. The first is with as … as:

The countryside here is as flat as a pancake.

I knew Polly was scared because she was as white as a sheet.

These similes have the structure: as + adjective + as a/an + noun.

We use them to emphasize the adjective. The examples above mean that the countryside is extremely flat, and Polly’s face was very pale.

Here are a few more very common similes:

as stubborn as a mule

as light as a feather

as different as chalk and cheese Continue reading “As fresh as a daisy: using similes in English.”

May I sit here? Asking for and giving permission.

by Liz Walter​
We often find ourselves in situations where we need to ask for permission or to reply to people who ask us for permission. Here are some words and phrases to help you do this in a natural way.

The simplest way to ask for permission is with the modal verb can:

Can I sit here?

Can we come in, please?

In a more formal situation, where you want to be very polite, you can use may:

May I borrow your pen?

May we look at the documents?

If you are asking about something that might have an effect on the person you are asking, you could say ‘Do you mind if …?’:

Do you mind if I open the window? Continue reading “May I sit here? Asking for and giving permission.”