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Adjectives and adverbs

Confusing words & expressions


Adjectives and adverbs
'actually', 'in fact' and 'well'

Yukki from Japan writes:

Could you please tell me the difference between actually, in fact and well? I think
all of them can be used to correct the previous utterance. Is there any difference
between them?

They are all very similar, but there are also slight differences in use.

actually / in fact

Both actually and in fact can be used to modify or contradict a previous statement:

I hear that you're a doctor. ~ Well, actually, I'm a dentist.


Well, it may sound very straightforward to you, but in fact it's all very complicated.
Would you agree with me that teachers should refrain from socialising with their
students? ~ Well, actually I think it's a good idea for them to socialise - up to a
certain point!

Actually and in fact can also be used to introduce more detailed information or to
make things clearer or more precise:

I'm going to take on a bit more responsibility now that Kevin's left ~ John, that's
wonderful news. ~ Yes, well, actually / in fact I've been promoted to senior sales
manager.

I got so bored listening to what he was saying that I actually fell asleep / in fact I
fell asleep half way through his presentation.

Note that we can also use in actual fact or as a matter of fact to clarify matters or
to introduce new information:

I got so bored with what he was saying that in actual fact / as a matter of fact I
dozed off before he'd finished speaking.

Actually is sometimes used to introduce unwelcome news:

Richard wants to invite us to spend the weekend at his cottage in the Lake District.
Isn't that exciting? ~ Well, actually, I've already said we can't go.

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Note that when actually is placed at the end of the clause, it confirms news that
others do not expect:

I don't suppose you've posted my letters, have you? ~ I have, actually.


Did you enjoy that modern opera at Covent Garden? ~ I did, actually. Very much.

well

Well is more widely used as a discourse marker than in fact or actually. As we can
see from the examples above and below it is very widely used to indicate that we are
about to say something. It is sometimes used to give the speaker more time to
think:

So how much do you want for your 1999 Renault? ~ Well, I was thinking of £2,500.
So how do you propose to furnish the house? ~ Well, I thought we might invest in
some second-hand furniture.

Well is also used to introduce a statement which indicates that expectations have
not been fulfilled:

You know I said I thought I might go skiing with Jamie this year? Well, I'm not
going to now.
How was the tennis lesson? ~ Well, in actual fact, we forgot to go.

Well can also be used to soften corrections or criticism:

You live in South Kensington, don't you? Well, Pimlico, actually.


You do like my yellow dress, don't you? ~ Well, yes, it's quite nice. But I think the
blue one would have suited you more.
Why didn't you give Bob a lift back home? ~ Well, how was I supposed to know he
was at the match?
I couldn't find my way to the music centre. ~ Well, why didn't you ask me?

Well can also serve to introduce important information:

You know I've been seeing a lot of Eddie lately? ~ Hmm. ~ Well, we're going to get
engaged.

Oh well!

If you say oh well, you are saying that you accept the situation as it is, even though
you are not very happy about it:

I'm afraid you'll have to pull out of the trip to Greece. ~ Oh well, it doesn't matter.

I'm afraid I forget to save that document and now I've lost it. ~ Oh well, it can't be
helped. I'll just have to re-type it.

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Adjective order
I tried to answer latest Quiznet programme on your site of adjective order. I found it
a bit tricky and difficult, so could you please give me any help of this matter. And
Belen says: May I ask which the correct order in adjectives is?

Hi Pasan and hello Belen!

When we use two or more adjectives together to describe a noun, the order we put
them in is quite important. For example, we don't usually say an old Indian beautiful
carpet. It sounds much better say a beautiful old Indian carpet.

As a general rule, adjectives are usually placed in this order:

opinion > size > quality > age > shape > colour > participle forms > origin >
material type > purpose

The phrase a beautiful old Indian carpet follows these guidelines:

1 4 8
quality age origin noun
a beautiful old Indian carpet

You don't have to include an example of every type of adjective, but the ones you do
use should follow the order. So if you wanted to add red and green to the phrase a
beautiful old Indian carpet, you would put it between old and Indian like this:

1 4 6 8
opinion age colour origin noun
a beautiful old red and green Indian carpet

It sometimes helps to remember the order of adjective if you consider that


adjectives whose meaning is closely, or permanently, connected to the noun are
placed nearer to it in the sentence. So in this phrase: a large comfortable wooden
chair – wooden has a very close connection with chair .

2 3 10
material
size quality noun
type
a large comfortable wooden chair

Here are some more examples:

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quality participle noun
a new improved recipe
1 3 10
opinion quality type noun
an old-fashioned romantic candle-lit dinner for two

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Sometimes we can use but between adjectives, especially if their meanings seem
contradictory.

2 3
size quality noun
a small but tasty meal

If we use 2 adjectives that are similar in meaning, we usually put the shorter one
first: a soft, comfortable cushion.

I hope that's answered your interesting English questions, Pasan and Belen!

Catherine

Adverbials

A group a Spanish learners of English have written with the following question:

Hello! We are Spanish students and we want to find out all we can about adverbials
in English with explanations and examples.

An adverbial is an adverb, adverbial phrase or adverbial clause which gives us


additional information about e.g. the time, place, or manner of the action which is
described in the rest of the sentence:

• We have been living here in this house for over twenty years.

• We were sleeping peacefully in our beds when the earthquake struck.

From these examples, you can see that the most common position for adverbials is
at the end of the sentence Place adverbials (here in this house) come before time
adverbials (for over twenty years). Manner adverbials (peacefully) come before
place adverbials (in our beds).

They do not always follow this pattern. This applies particularly to adverbial clauses.
In the above example we could begin with the adverbial clause, if it was important to
highlight it at this stage in the discourse:

• When the earthquake struck, we were sleeping peacefully in our beds.

Thus, adverbials answer questions such as:

Where? When? How? Why?


How often? How long? How much?

Where did you arrange to meet him? ~


I arranged to meet him outside the bank.

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Why did you arrange to meet him there?
So that he could give me the money.

How long did you wait for him?


I waited for half an hour but he didn't arrive.

When did you first meet him?


We first met when he became the manager of the bank.

How often have you been seeing him since then?


Once a week, usually. More frequently, if his wife was away.

Note from the above examples that adverbs of frequency are often placed in mid-
position in the sentence, as well as at end-position. Placing them before the
subject is sometimes also possible:

• I sometimes call on my younger sister when I'm in London


• I never see my older sister, but occasionally I call my younger sister.
• Yes I see her from time to time. We get together once in a blue moon.

adverbial clauses

A wide variety of different conjunctions are used to initiate adverbial clauses which
function as the adverbial part of a main clause. Some of the most common are listed
below:

time: when, after, before, as soon as


reason: because, since, as
purpose: so that, in order to
contrast: although, whereas
comparison: as if, as though
condition: if, provided (that), so long as, in case

• We served drinks as soon as our friends arrived.


After we had eaten, we played cards.

• We moved to Cornwall because we wanted to live in the countryside. As


the winters in the north east can be quite harsh, we decided to move to
the south west.

• I finished work early in order to catch the 4.30 train.


I left work early so that I could catch the 4.30 train.

• When I arrived home I went to see Joan although it was very late.
Whereas in the 70s and 80s most men worked until they were 60 or
65, nowadays most retire when they are in their fifties.

• He shook my hand warmly as if / as though he had known me for years.

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• You can borrow my car on Saturday, provided / so long as you return it
by seven o' clock in the evening.
Take a packed lunch with you, in case you get hungry.

adverbs of manner

Note that not all adverbs of manner which answer the question How…? end in -ly.
Most of them do, like this:

• How did they sleep? ~ They slept peacefully

• How well does she dance ~ She dances sublimely

But common exceptions include:

hard fast straight late

• He worked hard in order to pass the exam

• He was driving straight at me and I ran very fast to get out of his way.

• There was a power failure earlier today and the trains are all running late
now.

Note also that adjectives that end in -ly, e.g. lively, lovely silly, friendly, cannot
form the adverb by adding another -ly as this would be impossible to pronounce.
Instead some other way must be found:

• He behaved in such a silly way I was ashamed of him


Surprisingly, they were dancing in a very lively manner at the over 60s
disco.

adjectives: appropriate/suitable and adequate/sufficient/enough

Rosana Mendes Campos from Brazil writes:

In Portuguese, we have one word, appropriado, which is used to talk about


manners and something that is fitted to a purpose. We use
this word when we refer to social rules and behaviour and when we talk about what
one should, for example, wear under this or when we talk about weather conditions.
I understand that in English you have three different words with different usages,
namely appropriate, suitable and adequate. Could you please explain and
illustrate the differences in use of these three words in English?

appropriate ~ suitable

Appropriate and suitable are both qualitative adjectives - i.e. they describe the
quality of something - and are very similar in meaning and usage. As you suggest,
they carry the meaning of 'fitted, suited to a purpose.' They are both placed as
modifiers before nouns and they are both used as complements after the verb be,
although appropriate is perhaps more commonly used in this way, especially with

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the pronoun it. They are both used with the preposition for and are often used with
negative prefixes. The adjectival form suitable (for) sometimes crops us in the verb
format suited (to). Study the following examples:

• It is inappropriate to make jokes at funerals.


• It was inappropriate for her to joke with the Queen in such a light-hearted
manner.
• The clothes she was wearing were quite unsuitable/inappropriate for the
cold weather.
• Does this dress suit me? ~ Oh yes, it does. And it's very
suitable/appropriate for formal occasions.
• It is a very violent film and is considered unsuitable/inappropriate for
children to watch.
• I'm glad you praised him for that. It was an appropriate thing to do.
• He is just not suited to/suitable for this type of work.
• Such small flats are not really suitable for couples with young children. It is
unsuitable/inappropriate accommodation.

adequate ~ sufficient ~ enough

Adequate, sufficient and enough are slightly different in meaning. If something is


adequate, there is enough of it, but only just enough. If there is sufficient
quantity of something, this suggests that there is as much of it as you need. Usage
of these adjectives often denotes quantity rather than quality, whereas appropriate
and suitable suggest a qualitative response to something. Study the following
examples:

• The pay was adequate, but it certainly wasn't generous. The rate of pay -
£5.50 an hour - was barely adequate to raise a family on.
• His answer to the question was adequate but it wasn't developed
sufficiently to gain high marks.
• The Prime Minister gave an inadequate reply to the journalist's question.
• The action taken to combat the spread of malaria was quite inadequate.
• There were not enough seats for all the guests. The supply of seats was quite
inadequate.
• There was easily enough food for every one. There was a sufficient amount
of food.
• There was insufficient evidence to convict him of house-breaking.

Approximately / Roughly / About / Nearly

Dear Sirs,

Could you please explain the difference in usage of approximately, roughly, about,
nearly?

Many thanks in advance.- Samad

Hi Samad. I wonder why you asked this question – are you by any chance writing a
report?! All of the words you list above are adverbs which describe a quantity or
variation in quantity. Well, these words are known as degree adverbs and one of the

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differences between the words you mention is their degree of formality, which would
affect the times you use them.

Approximately, about, nearly and roughly are most usually used to modify
measurements or quantities. And I’m going to start with the adverb which is more
formal in tone, which is approximately. Just listen to these examples:

Approximately half of the residents in the survey stated that they agreed with the
government’s plan to reduce traffic in the city centre.

Police say that the main suspect charged in the case escaped from custody
approximately twelve days ago.

I think Samad, you’ll realise that these examples could be part of an academic paper
or an official report. It’s not impossible to use approximately in speech, but you’d be
far more likely to use roughly, nearly or about in everyday situations and the rest of
my explanation will look at the use of these three adverbs.

Jane told me that she spends nearly one-third of her salary on rent.

I guess there’ll be roughly thirty people going to the party tonight.

Because the traffic was bad, it took about four hours to get to my aunt’s house.

By about five o’clock, the library was deserted.

It’s possible to interchange roughly and about in each of these four sentences with
the same meaning. About can be confusing for learners when they first see it as a
degree adverb, because they’re familiar with its use in prepositional phrases, such as

Books and newspapers were spread about all over the room.

Nearly is slightly different to roughly and about, because nearly means ‘almost’, or
‘not quite’. So, if Jane spends nearly one-third of her salary on rent, it means that
she spends just under one-third. If we said roughly or about, her rent could be
slightly more or slightly less than one-third. If it takes me nearly ten minutes to walk
to the station, it means it takes me not quite ten minutes. All of these adverbs could
be used in writing too, but if you’re writing a report it’d be usual to enter the actual
figures or percentages in brackets, so:

Roughly half (53%) of the children in the study could not identify the US on a map of
the world.

In conversation, we often use about when talking about time:

Shall we meet at about seven o’clock?

He says he’ll be here in about five minutes.

And interestingly, we often talk about distances in terms of time:

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I live about half an hour out of town.

It’s about three hours on the train to London.

Well, Samad, thank you for your question, I think that’s about all I have to say about
these adverbs!

'As well as' and 'in addition to'

Van Anh from Vietnam asks:

My question is: what is followed by as well as? For example, can we say I can swim
as well as cook well?

I think it all depends on whether it is used as part of an adverbial phrase when


making comparisons, in which case the infinitive or simple form of the verb is the
norm, or whether it is used as a conjunction introducing clauses of comparison and
similar in meaning to in addition to, in which case the '-ing' pattern is required. Let
us compare the two usages:

as + adj + as + clause/phrase

as + adv + as + clause/phrase

For example:

• 'I saw as many as three thousand people at the concert.'


• 'He was badly injured, but I did as much as I could to make him
comfortable.'
• 'I waited for as long as I dared, but when it got dark, I went home.'
• 'Please come as quickly as you can. My father is very ill.'
• 'The Irish played as well as the Scots but didn't convert as many attempts
on goal.'
• 'Richardson was as good an actor as Gieldgud (was).'

Note that if an adjective is placed between as and the noun,


a / an must be placed after the adjective.

What is interesting in your example, Van Anh, is that if you say: 'I can swim as well
as cook well', you are stating that these are two things that you can do, whereas if
you say: 'I can swim as well as I can cook', you are stating that you can do both
these things to an equal degree of proficiency.

When we use as well as - similar in meaning and usage to in addition to - as a


subordinating conjunction, the '-ing' form in the verb which follows is required:

• 'As well as playing tennis with Steve three times during the week, I (also)
play badminton with my wife at the weekend.'

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• 'In addition to working on his Ph.D. dissertation, he (also) translates articles
for The Weekly Review.'

Note here that the adverb as well is similar in meaning to as well as and is often
used as an alternative to too. Note that both as well and too must be used at the
end of the sentence:

• 'We enjoyed a rare night out last night. We ate at Luigi's, and went to the
cinema as well.' ( = As well as eating out, we (also) went to the cinema.)
• 'We eat well here in Sardinia. The wine is excellent too.'
• 'My wife is a chemist and both her parents were chemists as well.'

Note the special use of as long as which is similar in meaning and use to provided
that. Both are more emphatic forms of if and are used to introduce conditions:

• 'As long as you promise to help me, I don't mind cooking for twelve people
on Easter Sunday.'
• 'I'll join you on this skiing holiday, provided I can have my own room at the
hotel.'

'beside' / 'besides' and 'toward' / 'towards'

Sanjay Khumar Bhola from India asks:

I often confuse the difference between beside and besides. Please clear up my
confusion.

It is quite important not to confuse them, for they are different in meaning and
usage.

beside

Beside is a preposition, similar in meaning to 'next to', 'at the side of' or 'by':

• 'Where is the apple orchard?' 'It’s right beside the main road. You can’t miss
it!'
• 'We were lying beside the pool when the phone rang. It was his boss wanting
to know why he wasn’t at work.'

It is often used with verbs such as 'standing', 'sitting', 'lying'. It is also used in the
expression beside the point when referring to something that is not relevant to the
subject under discussion:

• 'Modern art isn’t really art at all!' 'That’s beside the point when so many
young people respond to it with such interest. They regard it as art.'

besides

Besides is a preposition, meaning 'in addition to', 'as well as' or 'apart from':

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• 'What exam subjects are you taking besides English and maths?'
• 'Were there any boys at the party besides Matt and Dillon?'

It can also introduce a participial phrase:

• 'Besides bruising his face, he cut his lip and bloodied his nose.'

Besides also functions as an adverb, meaning 'as well', 'furthermore' or 'anyway'. It


is often used to introduce an afterthought. Consider these examples:

• 'It’s too late to start a round of golf now. We shall never finish before dark.
Besides, it’s starting to rain.'
• 'He doesn’t have very much money and he doesn’t have very many
prospects. Besides, he’s far too young to think of getting married.'

toward - towards

What about towards and toward? One of my own students was worried that there
might be similar pitfalls in store for her when using these prepositions. Well, I can
re-assure all of you that these prepositions can be used quite interchangeably and
that there is no difference in meaning. The only slight difference in usage is that
toward is perhaps more characteristic of American English and towards more usual
in British English. Toward or towards means 'in the direction of':

• 'Can you see that light over there?' 'I think it’s coming towards us.'
• 'There are always more mosquitoes in the air toward evening. Have you
noticed?'

Busy 'with' or 'about'

Pierre from Malaysia writes:

'What are you busy with?' or 'What are you busy about?' Which sentence is correct?
I have not heard 'What are you busy about?' before and find it unnatural.

'What are you busy with?' as in 'What are you busy with this morning?' is fine as a
question, but I don't think you would repeat busy with in your reply. Instead, if you
were a university lecturer, you might say: 'Oh, I've got so much to do. I've got
essays to mark and reports to write and then I've got to go to the Dean's reception
before lunch!'

You often use busy directly with the present participle, as in: 'I was busy ironing
when Jeremy arrived.' No preposition is then required.

Adverb/adjective collocations: utterly excited?

Why can't you say utterly excited? Thank you.


utter - utterly

Utterly doesn't go with excited because if you are excited about something that is
normally a positive emotion and both utter and utterly (meaning

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complete/completely) have negative meanings and are used only in negative
contexts:

To say that we'll be landing on Jupiter in 2010 is utter nonsense.

If you think that, then you are a complete and utter fool.

To spend all day window-shopping, especially at Christmas, is an utter waste of time.

They had no means of support and were utterly dependent on their parents.

To suggest that there should be a total ban on smoking is utterly ridiculous.

complete - completely

Complete and completely are much more neutral and can be used in positive,
neutral and negative contexts:

Jon has sent me ten red roses and that has come as a complete surprise.

I'm a pessimist and she's an optimist so she's the complete opposite of me.

He has lied to me so there is a complete breakdown of trust between us.

The PM's treatment for an irregular heartbeat has been completely successful.

When I go on holiday next year, I'm looking for something completely different.

Dozens of homes have been completely destroyed in the floods.

However, despite the flexibility of this adjective/adverb, we cannot say completely


excited. One of the hallmarks of a proficient language learner is knowing which
adverbs collocate with which adjectives. So, which adverbs go best with excited?

terrible - terribly One of the most common adverbs used with excited is terribly.
Note that the adjective terrible (meaning horrible, dreadful, awful) can only be
used in negative contexts but the adverb terribly can describe extreme behaviour
in both negative and positive contexts.:

What's wrong? You look terrible. ~ I'm in terrible pain.

His sudden death came as a terrible shock to the entire family.

Prison life is terrible and I have the most terrible nightmares every night.

The children were terribly upset when their pet dalmation puppy died.

Children in Britain get terribly excited on Christmas morning when they come down
to open their presents.

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awful - awfully

Note that awful and awfully follow a similar pattern. As an adjective, awful is used
only in negative contexts, but as an adverb awfully has both negative and positive
meanings:

It's an awful shame that she's unable to come back home for the holidays.

She was late and I was worried that something awful had happened to her.

He was awfully drunk. It was an embarrassment to have him there.

He may get on your nerves, but he has always been awfully nice to me.

She's awfully pretty, don't you think? The most striking person in the room!

It's awfully good of you to find the time to help us with this.

awesome

Note that awesome, meaning very impressive and sometimes a little


frightening is a favourite adjective used by young people and people in the media
currently:

Thierry Henry's ability as a footballer is just awesome.

It was an awesome party. We danced all night and then watched the sun coming up
over the sea. No better way to welcome in the New Year.

adjectives:
comparitive and superlative forms

Babak Bagheri studying English in Canada writes:

As you know, two-syllable adjectives ending in


-y take the suffixes -ier and -iest for their comparitive and superlative forms.

But what do you do when you have hyphenated adjectives? Does easy-going
become easier-going or more easy-going? And does user-friendly become
user-friendlier?

You are quite right, Babek, two-syllable adjectives ending in -y have -ier and -iest
as their comparative and superlative. Thus:

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pretty prettier prettiest
happy happier happiest
dirty dirtier dirtiest
messy messier messiest

• Yours is the messiest room I have ever seen.


• She was the prettiest and happiest girl at the party.

Note that other common two-syllable adjectives ending in an unstressed vowel


normally take the -er/-est patterns:

simple simpler simplest


clever cleverer cleverest

• The cleverest solution to any problem is usually the simplest one.

Others, particularly participial adjectives formed with -ing and -ed and those ending
in -ious and -ful form their comparatives and superlatives with more and most:

boring more boring most boring


worried more worried most worried
anxious more anxious most anxious
careful more careful most careful

• Watching cricket is even more boring than playing it.


• My wife was certainly more anxious than I was when
Penny failed to return.
• I bought the wrong type of hair shampoo for Joan. Next
time I was more careful.

Note that most sometimes means very:

• I was most careful to leave the room as tidy as I had


found it.
• I became most anxious when I heard that there had been
a fire at the hospital.
• I was most impressed by Deborah’s performance as Lady Macbeth.

With some two-syllable adjectives, er/est and more/most are both possible:

• The commonest /most common alcoholic drink in Poland is vodka.


• He is more pleasant /pleasanter to talk to when he has
not been drinking.

Three or more syllable adjectives take more or most in the comparative and
superlative except for two-syllable adjectives ending in -y and prefixed with un-:

reasonable more reasonable most reasonable

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beautiful more beautiful most beautiful
untidy untidier untidiest
unhealthy unhealthier unheathiest

• John is the unhealthiest person I know, but one of the most successful.

Hyphenated adjectives, which are also known as compound adjectives, normally use
more and most for the comparative and superlative forms. This is the general rule.
Sometimes we have to use more/most if, for example, the adjectival part of the
compound ends in -ed. So, sun-tanned would have to be more sun-tanned, just
as tanned would have to be more tanned:

• You’re more sun-tanned than I am.

Sometimes it is not so clear-cut, so we would say that one form is more likely than
the other. In your examples, Babek, both are quite possible, it seems to me.

adjectives with -er/-est, more/most, less/least in comparative/superlative

Kim from South Korea writes:

In a BBC article on a business news web page, a journalist wrote:

"The emerging markets that investors can easily put money into seem a lot more
risky than they did."

Shouldn't it be riskier? Can you explain? Thank you in advance.

-er /-est or more/most with one/three-syllable adjectives?

It is clear that adjectives of one syllable normally end in -er and -est in their
comparative and superlative forms whilst the comparative and superlative of
adjectives with three or more syllables are formed with more and most:

• The water in the pool was colder than I expected it to be on what was the
hottest day of the year.
• They always go to the most expensive restaurants where you can see the
most glamorous people in the world.
• The work I do is now more satisfying because the conditions under which I
work are more satisfactory.

-er /-est or more/most with two-syllable adjectives?

When it comes to two-syllable adjectives, the case is less clear cut. With some two-
syllable adjectives, -er/-est and more/most are both possible:

• The water here is shallower / more shallow than it is further up the beach.

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• The grey squirrel is one of the most common / commonest rodents that
you will see in England.

Others, with particular endings, tend to folllow either one or the other pattern:

-y > -ier

Two-syllable adjectives which end with consonant + -y nearly always form their
comparatives and superlatives with -ier and -iest:

• You are one of the messiest people I know. Even Jane is tidier than you
are.
• I'm busier than I used to be so I have to get up even earlier than before.

It would be unusual, I think, for the comparative or superlative to be formed with


more or most in these examples. However, in your example, Kim, with risky, both
patterns appear possible. It may be the case that more risky works well here
because it is combined with a modifying phrase such as a lot. Compare also the
following:

• Walking along this mountain path is much more risky in winter than it is in
summer.

However, as a general rule, stick to -ier / -iest with two-syllable adjectives which
end with consoant + y

-ful / -less / -ing / -ed / -ous

Note that two-syllable adjectives with these endings always form their comparatives
and superlatives with more and most:

• Having a tooth extracted was more painful than I expected it to be.


• The situation is even more hopeless than I thought. She will never recover.
• The most boring part of the weekend was listening to Jane's jokes.
• I'm more worried than you are about Tom and I've only known him for two
days.
• The two brothers are both well-known internationally, but I would say that
Giles is the more famous.

less / least

Note that when we are making the not-so-much comparison, less and least are the
only options open to us, unless we use the construction not as…as:

• I'm not as hungry today as I was yesterday.


• I am less hungry today than I was yesterday.

• I was angriest with John about the spoilt weekend. I'm less angry with you.
But I'm still angry, nevertheless.

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• Why don't you sit here? This is the least uncomfortable of our chairs.

Note that we tend not to use less and least to form comparatives /
superlatives with one syllable adjectives, as short adjectives often have other
words as their opposites. Compare the following:

• Your cooking is less bland than Mary's. - Your cooking is spicier than
Mary's.
• It's less warm today, don't you think? - It's cooler today, don't you think?

as ... as and as

Hello! I hope you are in the best of health. Would you kindly tell me what parts of
speech as... as are. I know that we use adjectives or adverbs between them, but I
don not know what they are themselves. Kind regards.

as... as as adverb / preposition

Look at this example:

• He came as quickly as he could.

This structure is used to measure and compare things that are of similar proportion.
In this construction, the first as functions as an adverb modifying the following
adjective or adverb. The second as functions as a preposition when it relates to
the following noun or pronoun. (It can also function as a conjunction when it
relates to the following clause.) Compare the following:

• The meal was as good as the conversation: spicy and invigorating!


• She spoke as slowly as she could
• Has everybody eaten as much as they want?
• I hope you will agree that I am as imaginative a cook as my wife (is)!

Note from the above example that if there is an adjective and a noun after the first
as, a / an must go between them. Note also that if we want to make a negative
statement, we can use so…as instead of as…as:

• He is not so / as intelligent as his sister is.


• The cafeteria was not so / as crowded as it was earlier.

There are a large number of idiomatic expressions or fixed phrases which we use in
informal English when we are making comparisons like this. Here are a few of them
in context:

• He went as white as a sheet when he saw the ghost.


• My maths teacher is as deaf as a post and should have retired years ago.
• She sat there as quiet as a mouse and wouldn’t say anything.
• Electricity will be restored to our homes as soon as possible.

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• All the children were as good as gold when they came to visit me.
• These stories are as old as the hills and have been passed down from
generation to generation.

Remember that when we are measuring or comparing things that are of unequal
proportion, we need to use the structure comparative + than:

• Let me finish the report. I can type much faster than you (can).
• He played the piece of music more slowly than I had ever heard it played
before.

as as subordinating conjunction

Note that as by itself is used as a subordinating conjunction in a variety of different


ways.

as = when (for clauses of time)

We may use as as an alternative to when when we are comparing two short actions
or events that happened or happen at the same period of time. We often combine it
with just:

• She left the house (just) as the sun was rising.


• The telephone rang (just) as I was climbing into my bath.

as = because (for clauses of reason)

We may use as as an alternative to because when the reason is already known or


self-evident to the reader of listener. As - clauses are often placed at the beginning
of sentences.
Because puts more emphasis on the reason or introduces new information.
Compare the following:

• As Mary was the eldest child, she had to look after her younger brothers and
sisters.
• As it had started to rain we had to abandon the picnic.
• I’ve decided to end our relationship because my boyfriend has been cheating
on me.

as for clauses of proportion

Here, as means over the same period of time as:

• I think you become more tolerant of other people as you get older.
• As prices rose, the demand for higher salaries became more intense.

as as preposition

Finally, note that as can also be used as a preposition when we want to avoid using
the verb to be. Compare the following:

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• As his father, it is your duty to ensure that he goes to school every day.
• As you are his father, it is your duty to ensure that he goes to school every
day.
• As a social historian, I am always interested in people’s life styles.
• Being a social historian, I am always interested in people’s life styles.
• He established his reputation as a freedom fighter through many heroic acts.
• The police described him as a dangerous criminal.
• The police considered him to be a dangerous criminal

Tomokje, studying English in The Netherlands, writes:

Sometimes when I read English newspapers or books I see some words with
hyphens between them, for example densely-populated. I do not know what they
are called, sometimes I do not know exactly what they mean. Finally, I would like to
make them up by myself, but I don't know how. Could you please help me?

Words like densely-populated are compound adjectives and they are made up of
two or more words, normally with hyphens between them. Something that is dense
contains a lot of things or people in a small area. Thus a densely-populated town
or city is one with a high population count within the city boundaries. A densely-
wooded hill would be one that is difficult to get through because the trees are so
close together.

adj / adv + past participle

Adjective or adverb plus past participle is one of the most common patterns for
forming compound adjectives. Some common examples would include:

cold-blooded kind-hearted old-fashioned open-minded


brightly-lit deeply-rooted densely-populated well-behaved

• Most animals are warm-blooded but all reptiles are cold-blooded.

• He was a cold-blooded murderer and showed no emotion of any kind.

• She lived in an old-fashioned house, but was kind-hearted and open-


minded.

• Nevertheless, she held deeply-rooted beliefs about the sanctity of


marriage.

• The dimly- / brightly-lit streets in our town encourage / discourage


burglars.

Note that adverb / past participle combinations when they are used with a copular
verb like be or seem, and come after the noun they modify, are not hyphenated:

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• The streets in our town are dimly / brightly lit and encourage / discourage
burglars.

There are sometimes many possible combinations, e.g. broad-minded, narrow-


minded, absent-minded, strong-minded, as well as open-minded. It is partly a
matter of knowing which adjectives or adverbs collocate or go with which participles
and nouns. We have brightly-lit streets, but also brightly-coloured dresses or
swimsuits or sweets.

Compound adjectives are regarded as productive features of English which means


that use is not so restricted as it is in many categories of grammar. New
combinations are always possible, so if you think something may work, try it out
with your English-speaking friends, Tokmokje, and see if it is meaningful. For
example, brightly-patterned curtains illustrates the productive nature of this
combination, as would brightly-shining stars, and here we come to a new pattern,
which is also very common:

Adj / adv / noun + present participle

Here are some common examples:

good-looking hard-wearing free-standing


far-reaching long-lasting never-ending
labour-saving mouth-watering record-breaking

• The good-looking chef was dressed in hard-wearing clothing and sitting


in front of a free-standing cooker.

• The dishes he had prepared with all the labour-saving devices at his
disposal were all mouth-watering.

• We signed a long-lasting agreement for his services which we hoped


would be never-ending.

Other common patterns for compound adjectives include:

• noun + past participle: shop-soiled, tongue-tied, sun-dried,


• noun + adjective: trouble-free, lead-free, world-famous,
• adj + noun: deep-sea, full-length, last-minute,
• number + noun: two-door, twenty-page, forty-mile.

• When they refused to exchange the shop-soiled item, I was tongue-tied


and didn't know what to say.

• If you want trouble-free motoring, make sure you use only lead-free
petrol.

• The sun-dried tomatoes that we sell are world-famous.

• She was wearing a full-length dress, quite unsuitable for deep-sea diving.

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• The forty-mile journey in the two-door, open-top convertible was ill-
advised in such inclement weather.

Try out other combinations of these patterns for yourselves, e.g. four-door saloon,
five-page document, well-advised, etc. Make a note of compound adjectives that
you come across in your reading and note the way they are used with particular
nouns.

concern, concerned, concerning

Eunice Cheung from Hong Kong writes:

I would like to ask about the differences in meaning and use between concern and
its related forms concerned and concerning. Thanks a lot.

You are quite correct, Eunice, to suggest that concern and its related forms are
used in a variety of different ways. Here are some of the most important.

concerned (adj) = worried

Note the different ways in which the adjectival form is used:

• Why do you keep ringing me? ~ Well, I'm concerned about you. Are you all
right?

• I was very concerned that my daughter might not have proper clothing for
the skiing trip.

• I was concerned for her safety as well. There have been a lot of avalanches
recently.

• There was a concerned expression on his face. I knew something awful had
happened.

it concerns me = it worries me

Note that when concern is employed as a verb in this way, it cannot be used in the
first or second person and it is normally used with the preparatory subject it. Note
also that concern is not normally used with progressive forms. We need to indicate
the idea of progression in some other way. Compare the following:

• It concerns me that she'll be in London for a whole week on her own.

Rather than:
• That she'll be in London for a whole week on her own concerns me).

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• Doesn't it concern you? She's only nineteen.

• The pollution problem in that part of the river is beginning to concern all
the local anglers.

concern (noun) = worry

When concern is used as a noun, it expresses worry about a situation:

• There is growing concern that the climbers may have lost their lives.

• He expressed deep concern about the way in which the elections had been
held.

concern (verb) / concerning (prep) = about When you use concern or


concerning in this way, you are indicating what a question or a topic is about.
Concerning and relating to are the formal equivalents of the much more informal
about.

Compare the following:

Why are you arguing? What's it all about? What does it concern?

• ~ It's about the long lunch breaks enjoyed by the senior executives.

• ~ It concerns the long lunch breaks enjoyed by the senior executives.

• For information concerning / relating to opening hours during the summer


months, contact the club secretary.

• If you want to know about opening hours in the summer months, give Joan a
ring.

• A number of questions had been tabled relating to / concerning the


dangers of the new vaccine.

• We had a lot of questions about people's concerns about the new vaccine.

concerned as past participle = involved / affected

The participle modifies the noun or pronoun in these examples and can be used
instead of a participle clause:

• There was a brawl outside the nightclub. Those concerned were held in
custody overnight. / The youths (who were) involved were held in custody
overnight.

• Many have lost their savings. The pensioners concerned will receive
substantial compensation / The pensioners who are affected by this will
receive compensation.

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as far as I'm concerned = in my opinion

When you want to express an opinion, you can use this formula as an alternative to
in my view or in my opinion:

• As far as I'm concerned / In my view / In my opinion, the English


football supporters should not be held responsible for starting the fight.

as far as x is concerned = concerning x

You can use these expressions to introduce the topic that you wish to talk about or
the issue you want to refer back to - i.e. it may have been raised once already and
you, as the current speaker, want to return to that topic. As far as x is concerned
is a bit less formal than concerning x:

• As far as foreign languages are concerned, I think they should be taught


in primary schools.

• Concerning foreign languages, in my view it is appropriate to teach them


at primary school level.

'effect' 'affect' and 'efficient' 'effective'

Warda Jamal from Pakistan asks:

I always get confused in the usage of effect and affect. Please give examples of
their use in sentences.

Kisy Kesh from Guadaloupe writes:

I’m 16 and I’ve been studying English for a few years now. I’d like to know the
difference between efficient and effective and the way to use them.

affect – effect

Affect and effect are often confused, Warda, even by native speakers of English.
The most important thing to remember is that affect is used as a verb and effect is
normally used as a noun. When they are used in this way, they are similar in
meaning, signifying ‘influence’, ‘impact’ or ‘change’. Compare the following:

• 'The really hot weather affected everybody’s ability to work.'


• 'I know my neighbours play loud music late at night, but that doesn’t affect
me.I can sleep through anything.'
• 'The number of tourists travelling to Britain this year has not been affected
by the strength of the pound.'
• 'The tablets which he took every four hours had no noticeable effect on his
headache.'
• 'My words of comfort had little effect. She just went on crying and wouldn’t
stop.'

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Note: we talk about someone or something having an effect on something or
someone. If we use effect as a verb, it means to ‘carry out’ or to ‘cause something
to happen’, but it is used only in very formal English. Consider the following:

• 'Repairs could not be effected because the machines were very old.'

efficient – effective

These two qualitative adjectives are often confused, Kisy. If somebody or something
is efficient, then he, she or it works in a well-organised way, without wasting time
or energy. Consider the following examples:

• 'She was efficient in everything she did and was frequently commended for
exemplary service to the organisation.'
• 'He hasn’t made very efficient use of his time in revising for these exams: he
has made no notes and his concentration spans appear to last for no longer
than ten minutes.'
• 'This engine is really efficient, it can run for 30 km on only 1 litre of fuel.'

If something is effective, it works well and produces the results that were intended.
Consider the following examples:

• 'These tablets really are effective. My headache’s much better now.'


• 'The only effective way to avoid hay fever at this time of the year, if you are
a sufferer, is to stay indoors.'

Eminent / prominent

Please, I could not understand the difference between eminent and prominent… -
Javed Ahmed.

Hello Javed! Eminent and prominent are both adjectives, and they can both be used
to talk about people who are very well-known and successful in their profession.
Here are some example sentences:

The proposal for the research centre has the backing of Sir David Jones, one of the
world's most eminent statisticians.

As a prominent local businessman, Mr Johnson served on many committees and


was elected to be the chair of the board of governors.

Eminent contains the idea of respected. For example, if a doctor is very well
qualified, has had a lot of success in his or her career and is often asked to give
advice to other doctors because he or she is known to be so good at the job, we can
describe them as eminent.

Prominent has the idea of being well-known and important. Bill Gates is a prominent
figure in the world of computers, for example.

Now, it's possible to be a prominent person without being eminent, since eminence
depends on respect which is earned through skill, education, public recognition. For

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example, a pop star might be prominent but they probably wouldn't be described as
eminent.

And prominent has a couple of other meanings as well. It can mean 'easy to see or
notice'. For example, we could say:

His arm was badly cut in the accident and he has been left with a prominent scar.

And a further meaning of prominent is 'sticking out', for example:

The builders did a really bad job. The floor was very uneven and there was a
prominent bump in one of the walls.

So, let’s summarise. Prominent means well-known, noticeable and important.


Eminent means highly qualified, successful and respected.

Right, I hope that answers your question, Javed, and I hope that you become both
prominent and eminent one day!

emphasizing adverbs

Aydyn Türk from Turkey writes:

I have been learning English for eight months but some adjectives and adverbs are
still a problem for me, especially adverbs such as absolutely, definitely, certainly,
exactly, etc. These mean almost the same thing in Turkish and I don’t know when
to use them in English or which one to use. If you gave me some examples that
would help me. - Thanks a lot.

absolutely/definitely/certainly/exactly

There is not very much difference in meaning or in use when these emphasizing
adjectives are used to express strong agreement with a statement, question or
suggestion.

Absolutely is perhaps the strongest. If you use exactly, you are emphasizing that
what someone has said is 100% correct.

Compare the following:

• Doesn’t Sandra look stunning in that hat?


Oh, absolutely! I couldn’t agree more.
• Geoffrey is a complete and utter fool.
Absolutely! / Definitely! / Exactly!
• Will you come shopping with me on Saturday?
Definitely! / Certainly!
• If we can’t find those tickets, we shan’t be able to get into the show.
Exactly!
• Are you going to Turkey again this summer?
Definitely! Without a doubt!

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absolutely/simply/utterly/totally/completely/perfectly

These emphasizing adverbs are normally used with adjectives that are in themselves
already quite absolute. They give even greater emphasis to what is said.

Compare the following:

• Your advice was invaluable – absolutely invaluable!


• I was simply amazed when she said that she was going to marry Henry.
• It was perfectly clear that she was serious and I was totally powerless to
stop her.
• I felt that she was completely wrong to even think about it and I am utterly
exhausted by it all.

completely or quite

Note that quite can mean very much or completely. It can also mean fairly or to
some extent.

Compare the following:

• Are you quite certain that Jack’s in Paris? Completely sure?


I’m absolutely sure.
• Are you coming to the pub?
No, I’m quite tired, a bit sleepy. I think I’ll go to bed.

certainly or surely

When it is used in response to a request or suggestion, surely means certainly and


they can be used interchangeably.

Compare the following:

• Can you give me a hand washing up?


Surely! / Certainly! / No problem!
• Would you join us for supper tonight?
Surely! Where are you eating?

However, surely can also be used to express the speaker’s surprise that something
is happening. Certainly CANNOT be used in this way.

Study the following and, as you say them to yourselves, give surely fairly heavy
stress:

• You’re surely not going out again tonight, are you? You went out last night.
• Surely that can’t be Felicity standing over there? I thought she was in
Australia.
• I can’t get any reply, but there’s surely somebody at home. They can’t all be
out.
• Surely you’re not suggesting she poisoned him on purpose?
I can’t believe you could think that!

27
enough/sufficient/adequate

I would like to know the differences in meaning and use of enough, sufficient and
adequate.
enough – sufficient

Enough (where the second syllable is pronounced as in puff or stuff) and sufficient
are very similar semantically, meaning as much as is needed:

I don’t have enough time to finish reading this report before the meeting. But I have
sufficient information to know what the outcome should be.

We have sufficient evidence to convict him for the crimes he has committed.

adequate

Adequate is also close in meaning to enough and sufficient. It suggests that


something is good enough or large enough for a particular purpose:

This country will never maintain an adequate supply of trained teachers if so many
leave the profession after four or five years.
This little car is perfectly adequate for any driving you need to do in town.
His computer skills were adequate for the type of work required of him.

inadequate – insufficient

Note that the negative of sufficient and adequate can be formed with the prefix
in-. For the negative of enough we have to use not:

The level of funding available for the training of teachers is inadequate.


I have insufficient resources to be able to deal effectively with this problem.
We don’t have enough milk if everybody wants cappuccino.

enough as an adverb

Enough can also be used as an adverb to modify an adjective, an adverb or a


verb. When it is used in this way, it comes after the adjective, adverb or verb:

In this climate it’s not warm enough to go out without a jumper in the evening.
You’ve missed him, I’m afraid. You didn’t get up early enough.
I didn’t work hard enough so I was unsuccessful in the exam.
I didn’t revise enough so I didn’t pass the exam.

Modifying adverbs, of course, are normally placed before the adjectives or adverbs
that they modify, so if we want to use the less common sufficiently in these
examples instead of enough, they will look like this:

In this climate it’s not sufficiently warm to go out without a jumper at night.
You’ve missed him, I’m afraid. You didn’t get up sufficiently early.

28
I didn’t work sufficiently hard so I was unsuccessful in the exam.
I didn’t revise sufficiently so I didn’t pass the exam.

enough as a pronoun

Enough can also be used alone without a noun when the meaning is clear:

I’ve only saved up £250. Will that be enough for this type of holiday?
Some more dressing on your salad? ~ Oh no, I have quite enough, thanks.

Enough of + determiner / pronoun

Before determiners (this, the, etc) and pronouns we use enough of:

I’ve had quite enough of this fruit salad, thanks. It’s a bit too sweet for my liking.
I didn’t read it all, but I read enough of the report to get the main idea.
I answered all the questions, but I didn’t get enough of them right to pass the
driving test.

As you can see, Celine, enough is commonly used in a wider variety of contexts
than sufficient or adequate. I haven’t mentioned all of them, but that is enough for
today!

Enough is enough!

as we say when we want to indicate that we wish to bring something to an end.

Especially & specially / continuously & continually

Mark Brown in South Korea writes:

Is there really any difference between the following:

especially & specially


continuously & continually

If there is a difference, has common usage overwhelmed the distinction? The


American Heritage Dictionary and Longman's Dictionary don't think so.

Especially and specially

I don't think the distinction has been completely neutralised either. It is certainly the
case that in usage these two adverbs are often confused and can sometimes be used
with the same meaning.

specially - for a particular purpose

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However, when specially is used to mean for a particular purpose, this form of the
adverb is the norm:

• This shower gel is specially designed for people with sensitive skins.
• This computer programme is specially for children with learning difficulties.
• My father made this model aeroplane specially for me.

especially - particularly / above all

We tend to use especially for emphasis, meaning particularly or above all:

• These butterflies are particularly noticeable in April and May, especially in


these meadows.
• You'll enjoy playing tennis at our local club, especially on weekdays when
it's not so busy.

Before adjectives, meaning particularly, especially is more usual:

• The road between Cairo and Alexandria is especially dangerous at night.


• It is a bit nippy, but it's not especially cold for this time of year.

special - especial

Note that the adjective especial is rarely used nowadays. Its use is confined to
particular contexts where it collocates with particular nouns, e.g. especial interest,
especial value when we want to emphasise the exceptional nature of this interest
or value:

• The police took especial interest in his activities and watched the house
continuously.
• The Koh-i-noor diamond, now among the British crown jewels, has especial
value as its history dates back to the 14th Century.

In all other cases and contexts, when it means important or different from
normal, special is preferred:

• You're a very special person in my life - never forget that.


• On special occasions we have wine with our meal, but certainly not every
day.
• In special cases, prisoners are allowed out on day release twice a week.
• He has such ability, I think he'll be the next special adviser to the President.
• The special effects in the Lord of the Rings films are quite mind-blowing.
• The grapes at the supermarket are on special offer - less than half price.

Continual - continuous

Both adjectival forms, continual and continuous, mean without stopping or


without a break. They are often used interchangeably:

• This refectory has been in continual /continuous use since the 15th
Century.

30
• The continual / continuous croaking of the frogs prevented any sleep that
night.

In certain contexts only continuous is possible because continual here would imply
that breaks are possible. In these examples, there are clearly no breaks, so
continuous is preferred:

• A continuous line of people stretched as far as the eye could see.


• They executed the dance in one continuous movement.
• The progress of pupils was measured though continuous assessment and
not through examinations

When we want to describe things that happen repeatedly, continual is preferred:

• His continual drinking was bound to lead to liver failure one day.
• He refused to give up despite the continual warnings of his family.

continually - continuously

The adverbial forms, continually and continuously, are often interchangeable.

• She sniffed continually / continuously all the way through the film and
disturbed everyone around her.

But when the meaning is clearly very often, rather than without a break,
continually is preferred:

• I've got a very bad stomach upset and I'm continually running to the loo.

Here, continually is behaving as an adverb of frequency, cf. always, all the


time, constantly. If we arranged such adverbs along a continuum of frequency,
starting with least often and ending with most often, it would read:

• never > rarely > occasionally > sometimes > often >generally > nearly
always > constantly/continually

Formation and use of adjectives

Three questions this week on the formation and use of adjectives.

Vivian from Taiwan asks:


Can the word fun be used as an adjective?

Uma from Germany writes:


Could you please enlighten me by explaining how adjectives work in English?

31
M. A. Khaliel from Saudia Arabia writes:
Please let me know how to use adjectives and their formation.

Fun is sometimes used as an adjective in the following contexts:

• It was a fun thing to do.


• It was a fun place to go to.
• She is a fun person to be with.

instead of:

• She is fun to be with.


• It was fun to go there.
• It was fun to do that.

Fun here means pleasant and enjoyable. It/she made you feel happy.

However, funny is the normal adjective and fun is normally used as a noun. Note
that when funny is used as an adjective in this way, it will have one of two quite
different meanings. Consider the following:

She is a funny person. She makes me laugh.


She is a funny person. Her behaviour is really strange.

Adjectives describe the qualities of people, things and places. They are one of the
largest word classes in English. They are normally placed before a noun but, as we
saw above, they can also come after the verb to be and also after other linking
verbs such as stay, look, seem, appear, become, etc. Study the following:

• A tall young man and a petite middle-aged woman were walking along the
narrow road.
• Tasty, fresh, white French bread is always best served with Stilton cheese and
red wine.
• The fine sunny weather is set to continue. It will stay fine for the next few
days.
• New ideas are always interesting and exciting.

Note that if we have more than one adjective before a noun, the order in which they
appear is not always fixed, although it tends to be in this order: quality, size, age,
colour, class. Check to see to what extent this is true in the above examples.

Note also that we often use adverbs of degree to modify the meanings of the
adjectives we use. Among the most common are very, too, quite, rather, much,
more, and most. Consider the following:

• It was very noisy in the garden but much quieter in the house.
• I would have said he was rather tall. But my mother described him as
exceedingly tall.
• She is a very gifted child. Her teacher says that she is too intelligent for her
class.

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adjectival endings

Many of the most common adjectives have no special endings. Consider these pairs
which are opposite in meaning:

light - dark / heavy cool - warm difficult - easy / simple


sad - happy rough - smooth cruel - kind

However, many common adjectives can be recognised as such by their endings. Here
are some of the most common:

-al: typical, special, international, industrial, mental, physical, general


-ant: pleasant, significant, tolerant, deviant, conversant, variant, valiant
-ent: different, violent, patient, sufficient, convenient, excellent, frequent
-ous: serious, anxious, nervous, dangerous, obvious, famous, conscious
-ic: terrific, horrific, democratic, domestic, scientific, platonic, sympathetic,
basic
-y: filthy, dirty, dusty, messy, noisy, sandy, stony, rocky, healthy, hungry,
angry
-ive: active, passive, secretive, attractive, expensive, sensitive, native
-able: comfortable, regrettable, probable, enjoyable, fashionable
-ible: possible, horrible, terrible, sensible, susceptible
-ful: useful, careful, beautiful, skilful, grateful, faithful
-less: useless, careless, pointless, breathless, tireless, toothless
-ed: interested, bored, tired, surprised, worried, confused, excited
-ing: interesting, boring, tiring, surprising, worrying, confusing, exciting

'good' and 'well'

Sven Wagner from Sweden asks:

Why do you use good instead of well in the following phrase?:

'We eat good and drink well.' (An English colleague put it that way.)

good = adjective
well = adverb

Therefore it has to be we eat well as we are describing how we eat and drink. It
might be said that adverbs answer the question How…? whilst adjectives answer
the question What sort of…?

Study the following:

• 'She speaks good Japanese.'

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• 'She speaks Japanese well.'
• 'She speaks Japanese better than I do.'

Note that better is the comparative form of both good and well.
In English, we often play around with basic language, whether consciously or
unconsciously, for effect. So, whilst 'we eat well and drink well' would be
grammatically correct, 'we eat good and drink well' may be more effective in terms
of impact because it breaks the grammatical rule. I would not recommend it,
however, if you are taking an exam, but it will sound good over a drink with friends.

Why not sound well in this particular example? It is because when we use verbs
such as be, seem, appear, sound, look, feel, smell, taste, they are followed by
adjectives rather than adverbs as we are describing the subject of the sentence
rather than the action of the verb.

So we have:

• 'She looks really good in those clothes.'


• 'The food at the reception tasted really good - better than the food we had
last year.'
• 'There's no way he'll get a distinction, but the work he's done appears good
enough for a pass.'
• 'I felt really good when she congratulated me on winning the essay prize.'

For similar reasons we would talk about:


A good-looking woman.
A good-natured boy. (good describes his nature)
But we would also say:

• A well-dressed woman. (well tells us how she dresses)


• A well-behaved boy. (well tells us how he behaves)

Look up good and well in your dictionaries to see if you can find further examples of
adjectives formed in this way.

The only time when well can be used as an adjective by itself is when we are talking
about someone's health. Here well means in good health. Compare the following:

• 'How are you today?' 'Fine. Very well, thanks. / Not very well, actually.'
• 'I often feel unwell when I'm on a boat, but as soon as I get off, I'm fine.

Note that the expression well and good is used to indicate that you find a particular
situation satisfactory or acceptable. Thus, we might say:

• 'If you can do the job in less time and leave early, I don't mind. That's (all
very) well and good.'
• 'If you want to stay here on your own over Christmas, well and good.

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Incidentally, there is now a trend among young people, particularly in the 18 - 25
age range, to use well instead of very in expressions like:

• 'I am well happy with that.'


• 'I was well tired last night.
• 'She was well pleased with her birthday present.'

Again it breaks the rule and is effective in the impact it makes.

Well used in this way often refers to exceptional circumstances or is used as a


summary statement. I wonder if this creative use of the English language has
reached you yet in your part of the world?

hardly/scarcely...neither/nor....so/too

Olga Ivanova from Uzbekistan writes:

If my friend says to me:

I hardly know this author

and if I hardly know her, should I answer:

Neither do I OR So do I?

Are both answers possible here?

hardly....neither/nor

Only Neither do I or Nor do I is possible here, Olga. This is because hardly has a
negative meaning. It means almost not at all. So if you wish to agree with what is
being said, you will also need a negative adverb and use neither or nor in response.
Note that scarcely has the same negative meaning as hardly and that either of
them can be used here. Compare the following:

• I can hardly / scarcely believe you're twenty years old now. ~ Nor /
Neither can I!
• They're hardly / scarcely ever at home.
~ Neither / Nor are we!
• He's dead now, but I hardly / scarcely knew him.
~ Neither / Nor did I.

Note that neither/nor always come at the beginning of the response clause and that
inversion of subject and verb are needed with the tense form agreeing with that of
the first clause.

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not either

As an alternative to neither/nor you can also use not either which has the same
meaning, but normal word order:

• She had changed so much. I could hardly /scarcely recognise her. ~ I


couldn't either.
• I've got hardly /scarcely any money left. What about you? ~ I haven't
either.

neither…nor

Neither…nor are used together when we want to link two negative ideas:

• When I spoke to him, he neither smiled nor looked at me.


• Neither the chairman nor the treasurer was / were able to attend the
meeting.
• Don't bother preparing dessert because neither Jane nor Julie eat / eats
anything sweet.

Note that when singular subjects are connected with neither…nor, the verb which
follows can be either singular or plural.

so / too

When the frequency of occurrence increases from never or hardly ever to


occasionally or sometimes, these adverbs give a positive rather than a negative
meaning to what is being said. If we wish to agree with statements in a positive way,
this is our opportunity to use so or too. Compare the following:

• I would never work as a shop assistant in a large department store. ~


Neither would I.
• I could hardly / scarcely understand a word he was saying ~ Nor could
your parents.
• Neither Henry nor Harry is / are coming to Edward's party. ~ I'm not
either.
• They occasionally eat lunch at 'The Blue Parrot'.
~ So does Tom. / Tom does too.
• I sometimes have to work at weekends to get everything done ~ So do we.
/ We do too.
• I go to the cinema quite often - twice a week usually.
~ Me too. / So do I.
• She always uses olive oil in her cooking
~ So do my Spanish friends / My Spanish friends do too.

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Note that the expressions Me too and Me neither, both of which are used in very
informal speech, can only be used with first person singular agreement:

• Look, it's already two o' clock and I haven't done any work today. ~ Me
neither.
• I'm so tired I could sleep for twelve hours. ~ Me too.

hardly, hardly ever, hardly any

Pual from Thailand writes:

I've learned that the words hardly and rarely have the same meaning and that
moreover we can use these words interchangeably in any sentence. Is this right or
wrong?

They are not quite interchangeable as they stand, but need some modification first of
all. If we add ever to hardly to arrive at hardly ever, then this is synonymous with
rarely and also with seldom.

hardly ever

These adverbs describe how frequently or regularly something happens. Thus along
a spectrum of frequency, starting with most frequent and ending with least frequent,
we might find the following:

• Well doctor…. I always have two meat rolls for breakfast. Without fail. Every
day.
• I usually have poached eggs on toast at the weekend.
Not every weekend. But most weekends.
• I often / frequently have two chocolate biscuits or a pastry with my
morning coffee. Not every day. But most days, I have to confess.
• And I sometimes have a brandy with my coffee after
lunch. After a particularly good lunch.
• I hardly ever / rarely / seldom eat a full English
breakfast. Once every two months perhaps.
• I never drink coffee after 7 p.m. Always tea. So what do you think is
causing the high blood pressure?

Note that hardly ever, rarely and seldom equate with occasionally or very
occasionally in terms of frequency, but that when you use hardly ever, etc, you are
putting a negative gloss on what you are saying. Occasionally sounds much more
positive. Compare the following:

• I occasionally see my daughter when I'm up in London. If she's free, around


lunchtime.
• I hardly ever see my daughter. She's far too busy to find time for me.

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hardly

Hardly, as an adverb by itself, means only just, and equates with barely and
scarcely.

• Jonathan could hardly walk but already knew how to swim.


• I barely / hardly / scarcely knew Jack, although I know he was a great
friend of John's.
• We had barely / hardly / scarcely finished dinner when they arrived.

hardly + any (+ -one/-thing)

Hardly any means very little or very few and is the opposite of plenty of, or
colloquially, loads of. Note again the negative tone in which it is used:

• I've got plenty of friends, but hardly any money.


• I knew hardly anybody at the party, but Katie knew loads of people, nearly
everybody in fact.
• It's worth hardly anything - practically nothing! Just a few pounds, perhaps.
• He's hardly said anything to anybody since the accident.
• He's said hardly anything to anybody since the accident.

'Incredible' and 'unbelievable'

Irene Cordoba from Brazil asks:

I recently found the Learning English section of the BBC webpage (which was such a
delight for me because I really love the language) and I was wondering if you could
tell me the difference between incredible and unbelievable and the right uses of
each of them.

These two adjectives, incredible and unbelievable, are quite interchangeable and
to these two you could add a third: unimaginable.

They all describe things or events which are so amazing that they cannot be
imagined or believed.

Adverbial forms are incredibly, unbelievably and unimaginably.

You can substitute any of these adjectives or adverbs under discussion as you wish:

• 'When she died, Aunt Isobel left me an incredible amount of money – so


much I didn’t know what to do with it!'
• 'I intend to work incredibly hard over the summer so that I pass my exams in
September.'
• 'My performance at the Christmas concert was unbelievably bad.'

38
• 'The weather on the mountain yesterday was unbelievable. There was no
chance of us getting to the top.'
• 'The operation was performed under almost unimaginable conditions. It is
unbelievable that he survived.'
• 'The new computer game was unimaginably difficult. Neither Mike nor I could
work out how to progress from level 1 to level 2.'

Inversion after negative expressions and 'only...'

Jana from The Czech Republic asks:

I have tried to learn English via the BBC, which is great! I like your Quiznet, but I
need an explanation for the fifth item of Quiz Three: 5. Choose the correct answer:

Only at night ..... the safety of their cave


bats leave
bats will leave
leave bats
do bats leave

Why is it not possible to use 'bats leave'? I would like to acquire this grammatical
rule.

Quite often in English, certain expressions with a restrictive or negative meaning are
placed at the beginning of a sentence. The reason for doing so is to emphasize the
point that you want to make. It is striking, original or surprising in some way. And
whenever you make such a statement, inversion is necessary. So, it has to be:

• 'Only at night do bats leave their cave.'


• 'Only after I had returned home did I realize that I had left my watch in
Emma's bathroom.'

Inversion is also used after the not only ... but also construction:

• 'Not only did we visit Cuba's capital, Havana, (but) we also spent three days
exploring the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.'

Inversion is also found in expressions containing the word 'no', when placed at the
beginning of the sentence:

• 'Under no circumstances are you (allowed) to walk home from school alone.'
• 'In no way will I agree to sharing an office with Ben.

The same rule operates for 'seldom', 'hardly', 'scarcely', 'rarely', 'never', 'never
before' and 'no sooner':

39
• 'Never before had I seen such realistic dinosaurs as there were in the BBC
television series.' (This is a reference to a recent BBC series. If you want to
know more have a look at the web site - Walking with Dinosaurs.)
• 'No sooner had I arrived at the station than the train came in.'
• 'Rarely do we see such brightly-coloured birds.'
• 'Seldom do we walk on such green grass.'
• 'Scarcely had we finished lunch when the bell rang for afternoon classes.'

Remember, you are registering surprise, or something similar, when you do this. If it
is inappropriate to be so emphatic, you would say:

• 'We had scarcely finished lunch when the bell rang for afternoon classes.'

Inversion after negative expressions, so, and in conditionals?

Atefe, studying English in Canada,writes:

I'm getting ready for the TOEFL exam and this part of the website has been really
useful for me. I need an explanation for all kinds of inversion and I want to know if it
is an obligation to use inversion patterns.

Martine Talbourdet from France writes:

I would like to know if you really use expressions like So do I, So can I, So must I.
Do you use them or are they formal?

So do I, etc

These expressions are quite informal, Martine, and are readily used in short answers
in spoken English to express agreement with what has been said in the first
statement. So is here followed by inverted word order: auxiliary verb + subject:

• Judy can run 100 m in 11 seconds. ~ So can Henry!


• I've got a blister on my big toe. ~ So have I.
• I'm going to get it seen to by the club doctor. ~ So am I.
• I like to eat really hot food on cold days and so do all my friends.

So is occasionally followed by normal word order in short answers to express


surprised agreement:

• If you don't believe me, just look out of the window. It's snowing! ~ So it is!
• You've given me tea and I asked for coffee! ~ So I have! I'm sorry.

Neither / nor would I, etc

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These expressions are used in a similar way to So would I, etc, to express
agreement with negative statements:

• I can't swim very well and neither can my sister.


• I wouldn't dream of going into the water if the temperature is below 20° C
and nor would any southerner.

inversion after negative expressions

We can use inversion in statements for the purpose of emphasis if we decide to


start the statement with a negative expression. Compare the following:

• Under no circumstances would I wear a mini-skirt.


• I wouldn't wear a mini-skirt under any circumstances.

In this example, the first statement is more emphatic than the second one. We can
use this approach with a wide variety of adverbial negative expressions, although it
makes them sound rather formal. Compare the following:

• At no time would he allow his team mates to argue with the referee.
• Rarely / Seldom have I seen such an exciting game of football.
• Hardly had I taken my seat before two goals were scored.
• I had to show him my press pass and only then did he let me in.
• Only when the players had changed into smart clothes after the match were
they allowed to talk to the TV reporters.

Inversion in conditional sentences

We can use inversion in certain types of conditional sentences when the if-clause
begins with had, were or should. Sentences with inversion sometimes sound more
formal than those with the more conventional if-construction. Compare the following:

• Had he not resigned, we would have been obliged to give him the sack.
• If he had not resigned, we would have been forced to sack him.
• Were she to find out that he was seeing some one else, she'd go berserk.
• If she were to find out that he was cheating on her, she would go mad.
• Should you decide to cancel the contract, please let me know by Friday.
• If you decide to withdraw from the agreement, please phone me by Friday.

My question is about ‘no sooner’ and ‘than’ requiring the semi-inversion. Most of
those sentences sound like 'no sooner came John to the station than the train
arrived'. And my question is, how can I make two sentences of this one sentence, in
order to understand better the way it functions?

Prof Michael Swan answers:

OK, yeah, that’s a good and interesting question. And let’s make it clear first of all
what order things happen in. If I say “no sooner had I arrived at the station than the
train came in”, we need to be clear what happened first. Does it mean, the train
came in and then me, or I came in and right after me the train? Well, my experience

41
is actually that I arrive at the station, and then the train doesn’t come in for hours.

But, to answer your question, if I say “no sooner had I arrived at the station than the
train came in”, it means, I came in, and right after me the train. I got there first…
just! I’ll give you another couple of examples:

“No sooner had I put the phone down than it rang again”.

“No sooner had I finished the meal than I started feeling hungry again”.

It’s actually a rather literary construction. I’d expect to read it, maybe write it, but I
probably wouldn’t say it. Instead I think I’d say something like this:

“The train came in just after I got to the station”, or “ had only just got to the station
when the train came in”…or something like that.

Hardly and scarcely

There’s two similar structures, also rather literary, that have got the same meaning,
with ‘hardly’ and ‘scarcely’. You could say “hardly had I arrived at the station when
the train came in”, or “scarcely had I arrived at the station when the train came in”.

Same meaning: I got there just before the train. It’s a slightly different structure to
the one with ‘no sooner’, because with no sooner we use ‘than’ – after a
comparative, sooner – with ‘hardly’ and ‘scarcely’ we say “when”: “hardly had I
arrived when the train came in”.

Trains are actually a bit unreliable in Britain today as I’ve suggested. I was on one
recently on the way to London, we were moving extremely slowly, and the driver
made an announcement over the loudspeaker saying “we apologise for the slow
running of the train, but we have been moved onto a branch line because of
engineering works, and we are likely to stay there for the foreseeable future!”.

I was pretty upset, because it was my birthday and I really didn’t want to spend it on
a train between Oxford and London! However, no sooner had he made the
announcement than we started going faster again – so I had my birthday at home
after all. So thanks for your question, Michael!

Irregular adjectives and adverbs

Syed Aqil Shah from Pakistan writes

I'm confused about adjectives and adverbs like expensive, dear, costly, dearly,
etc. Can you please explain them to me?

Expensive / dear / costly

These adjectives are all synonyms though they are used in slightly different ways
and in different collocations. It is also the case that dear as an adjective has two

42
meanings, it means both expensive and well-liked, as well as featuring in
expressions such as Oh dear! or in letters as in Dear Sir. The problem with costly
may be that it looks like an adverb as it ends in -ly. This is confusing as most
adverbs end in -ly, but costly is an exception and is an adjective. Compare the
following uses and collocations in these examples:

• It was an expensive suit, but if you want to work for this firm, you have to
dress well.

• These are very nice. ~ They're a bit too dear / expensive, I'm afraid.
Haven't you got anything cheaper?

• Agatha is a dear friend of mine. She is so kind and gentle in everything she
does.

• Oh dear! I've forgotten to bring my ID and I shan't be allowed to take the


IELTS test.

• It was a costly mistake and it meant I wouldn't have another chance until
the autumn.

Dearly

Dearly can only be used as an adverb and normally collocates with the verbs love /
like and in this sense means a lot or very much:

• He's such a nice man. I love him dearly.

• I would dearly like / love to be in your shoes and to have the whole summer
free to travel around Europe.

Common adjectives ending in -ly

There are not very many, but other common adjectives apart from costly ending in -
ly include: friendly, lively, lovely, silly, ugly, unlikely:

• It was a lively party and there were lots of very friendly people there.

• He was really quite ugly and unlikely to succeed in the blind date
competition.

Adverbs formed by adding -ly

As you no doubt know, most adverbs are formed by adding -ly to the adjective:

• He is a slow and careful driver.


He drives slowly and carefully.

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• I'm going to give a house a thorough clean.
I'm going to thoroughly clean the house.

But note that we cannot form adverbs in this way when the adjective ends in -ly.
We cannot say: friendlily or uglily or sillily. We have to find some other way of
modifying the verb, e.g.:

• They greeted us in a very friendly / silly manner.

Adjective and adverb with the same form

A number of adverbs have the same form as adjectives. The most common include:
hard, fast, straight, early:

• I know he has a fast car, but he doesn't need to drive so fast.

• It's hard work, but if you work hard and really concentrate, you'll finish it
by bedtime.

• I caught the early bus to be sure of arriving early.

• The Aurelian Way is a very straight Roman road which goes straight from
Rome to Pisa.

Adverbs with two forms

Some adverbs have two forms. Sometimes there is a difference in meaning.


Sometimes there is not very much difference. Compare the following:

• I haven't seen very much of you lately (lately = recently).

• You always seem to come home late from work.(late = arriving after the
expected time)

• Mary can jump really high on the trampoline.(high = vertical distance)

• Yesterday she jumped right off it. It was highly amusing. (highly = very)

• Alfonso can eat free in the restaurant where he works. (free = without
paying)

• You can speak freely. Nobody can hear us. (freely = without feeling
restricted)

• Can you please be waiting for me outside at nine o' clock sharp? (sharp =
punctually)

• I thought she spoke to him rather sharply. (sharply = in a harsh tone)

44
• Don't talk so loud. Everybody in the room can hear you. (loud = informal
usage)

• Jonathan spoke loudly and convincingly about the advantages of leasing


rather than buying cars. (loudly = more formal usage)

Likely / likely that / likely to

Reinhard Hoffman from Germany writes:

I would like to ask you about the meaning and grammatical construction of the
phrase likely to be hard pressed to in the following sentence:

…this region is one of the least developed in China and the authorities are likely to
be hard pressed to respond to the disaster.

likely

Likely is most often used as an adjective, meaning probable, (opposites unlikely /


improbable). If something is likely, it is probably going to happen:

• The most likely cause of the fire in the stadium was an unextinguished
cigarette

• The most likely outcome to the investigation is that the stadium will have
to be rebuilt.

With the modifiers most, quite or very, likely is also sometimes used as an adverb,
meaning most probably:

• They'll quite likely invite you out to eat in a restaurant when you're staying
with them.

it's likely that + clause

Likely is quite often used with it as a preparatory subject:

• It's unlikely that this afternoon's session will last very long. It should be
over by five o' clock.

• It's more than likely that I shall see Chris in Cambridge. I am almost
certain to bump into him, in fact.

be likely to + infinitive

45
As an alternative, we can use the be unlikely to + infinitive construction with a
normal subject, but probable cannot be used in this way:

• This afternoon's session is unlikely to last very long.


• I'm unlikely to be back late from the meeting.
• Are you likely to be staying in when you get back?

It is this realisation of likely that is used in your example, Reinhard:

• The authorities are likely to be hard pressed to respond to the disaster.

Note that if we wanted to use probably as an alternative in these examples, it would


need to re-phrase them as follows:

• This afternoon's session will probably finish quite early.


• I shall probably be back quite early from the meeting.
• Will you probably stay in when you get back?
• The authorities will probably be hard pressed to respond to the disaster.

hard pressed / pushed

If you are hard pressed or hard pushed to do something, you experience great
difficulty in doing it. Being pressed suggests being under pressure:

• It seems to me that the Labour government will be hard pressed to win the
next election.
• We were hard pushed to complete all the preparations before the guests
arrived.

Use of the adverb hard here suggests a lot of force being used against you. Note
that hard also sometimes suggests physical force:

This door is inclined to stick, but if you push it hard, it will open.

pressed for time / money / etc

Pressed also collocates with time and money and other ideas in a similar way to
hard pressed, suggesting difficulty:

• Are you pressed for time? If not, I suggest we have some lunch.
• This one's worn out. Why don't you buy a new one? ~ I'm a bit pressed for
cash at the moment.
• It's not really her subject, but she says she could teach beginners Spanish if
we're really pressed.

participles as adjectives

46
I am confused as to when I can use participles as adjectives. Let me give you an
example. I can say: I saw a barking dog. Here the present participle barking is used
as an adjective. But I can't say: I saw a barked dog, using the past participle as an
adjective. Why not? Thanks.
barking dogs [ yes ] barked dogs [ no ]

There are not very many adjectives formed from verb participles, Tutul, that can be
used in both -ed and -ing forms.

You can often get a sense of what works and what doesn't by transforming the
participial adjective into a participial clause.

If it doesn't make sense as a participle in a clause, it is unlikely to make sense as a


participle adjective. Consider the following:

The barking dogs kept me awake all night.

The dogs that were barking kept me awake all night.

The barked dogs kept me awake all night.

The dogs that had been barked kept me awake all night.

Barking works in the first pair of examples because -ing forms when used as
adjectives have similar meanings to active verbs.

Barked doesn't work in the second pair of examples because most past participles
have passive meanings when they are used as adjectives. Dogs can be washed,
dried, combed, brushed, fed and walked, but they can't be barked. That is something
they do themselves.

abandoning child [ no ] abandoned child [ yes ]

Abandon (meaning to leave someone when you should stay with them) is commonly
used in passive structures. For this reason, abandoned works as an adjective, but
abandoning does not. Compare the following:

The abandoned child cried for three days without stopping.

The child that had been abandoned cried for three days.

The abandoning child was so unhappy she cried for three days.

The child which was abandoning was so upset she cried for three days.

Abandoning doesn't work because children cannot abandon themselves, though the
unfortunate ones are sometimes abandoned by their parents.

There are a few participial adjectives that can be used in both -ing and -ed forms,
but note the differences in meaning, depending on active or passive use in these
examples below.

47
broken hearts [ yes ] breaking waves [ yes ]

She is suffering from a broken heart

Her heart has been broken by his cruel behaviour.

The breaking waves pushed the surfboard further out to sea.

Huge waves breaking on the beach pushed the surtboard out to sea.

alarmed houses [ yes ] alarming reports [ yes ]

Alarmed houses afford some protection against burglary.

Houses which are alarmed afford some protection against burglary.

Alarming reports are coming in that refugees are being racially abused.

Reports are coming in that refugees are being racially abused. This alarms me.

A small number of verbs have past participles that can be used as adjectives
before nouns with active meanings. Note with these examples there may not be so
much change in meaning between the -ing and -ed forms:

falling/fallen [ yes ] advanced/advancing [ yes ] developing/developed


[ yes ]

The falling leaves covered the path and made it quite slippery.

The leaves that were falling covered the path and made it slippery.

The fallen trees blocked the road and only pedestrians could get through.

The trees that had fallen blocked the road and made it quite impassable.

When we think of countries that are still developing and countries that have
developed, it is true to say that:

a) developing countries need as much help as they can get.

b) it is the developed nations which should provide it.

This class is appropriate only for advanced students.

It is suitable for students who have advanced beyond level five.

The advancing army surrounded the city and cut off all its supply lines.

The army, which was advancing rapidly, had cut off the city by nightfall.

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Ed and -ing as adjectives:
Patrizia Rapali from Italy writes:

I'm Italian but I'm working in Ireland now.

It sounds as if they say I'm finished or Are you finished? to state or to ask if you
have concluded your work.

Why do they use to be instead of to have?

Shouldn't they say: I've finished and Have you finished?? I don't understand.
Thank you for your answer.

The confusion arises because finished operates both as an adjective and as the
past tense and past participle of the verb to finish.

So if your colleagues say 'We're finished for today', they are using it as an
adjective.

If they say 'We've finished work for today', they are using it as the past participle
of the verb to finish. (This would be more normal in standard English).

-ed as an adjective

When we use it as an adjective, we can talk about things being finished as well
as people being finished with something:

• Their marriage is finished. It was a disaster from the beginning, so it's good
it's over.
• She's not ready to leave. She won't be finished for at least another hour
and a half.
• Sheila wasn't finished with Paul yet. They still had a lot to talk about.

There are, of course, a wide range of adjectives ending in -ed which follow the verb
to be and other linking verbs such as seem, appear, look and become. Here are a
few of the most common:

• I became interested in the tennis as soon as I heard that ticket prices


would be reduced.
• I was bored with the performance and decided to leave as soon as the
interval arrived.
• She seemed surprised - even amazed - to see me. She thought I was in the
States.
• They were quite satisfied with the arrangement. Sharing the cost suited
them both.
• Ned was frightened of Lucie. He was also worried that they might be late
back.

Note that all of these adjectives ending in -ed describe people's feelings, mental
states or emotional reactions to something. There are many more. Check those

49
you don't know in a dictionary to see how they are used and which prepositions
they can be used with:

amused, appalled, confused, delighted, disappointed, excited, pleased, puzzled,


shocked, tired, concerned, convinced, determined, prepared, thrilled

-ing as an adjective

There are also a large number of adjectives ending in -ing which relate to verb
forms and are used in the same way as -ed adjectives.

Note that these adjectives usually describe things rather than people directly,
although they also describe the effect that something has on your ideas and
feelings:

• The meeting was very satisfying for all concerned as everybody got what
they wanted.
• The play was quite interesting and commented on many aspects of
contemporary life.
• These results, Tom, are disappointing and must be very worrying for your
parents.
• I don't want to go to the seaside again this year. It's boring.
• His answers were misleading. In fact, everyone thought he was lying.

Here are some more which can be used in the same way. All of these -ing adjectives
listed here have their -ed counterparts:

alarming, amusing, annoying, astonishing, charming, confusing, convincing,


depressing, disgusting, embarrassing, encouraging, entertaining, humiliating,
inspiring, intriguing, refreshing, rewarding, tempting, terrifying, thrilling

Remember:

• The storm was terrifying. I was terrified by it.

• His offer - three weeks in the Caribbean with nothing to pay! - is tempting
and I am tempted to accept it.

-ed adjectives

Leung Waiteng from Hong Kong writes:

I am confused by the way adjectives are formed from verbs with just an -ed added,
e.g.

Have you finished your homework?


Are you finished with your homework?

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The same thing happens with complete (verb) and completed (adjective). Is
there any difference in meaning between the two sentences? Which one is more
appropriate in spoken English?

There is no real difference in meaning or use between finish (verb) and finished
(adj) or between complete (verb) and completed (adj). Both sound very natural
in spoken English:

• Is your work finished for the day or do you still have some to do?

• Have you finished your work for the day or do you still have some to do?

• Can I read the manuscript of your latest novel? ~ No, sorry, it's not
completed yet.

• Can I read the manuscript of your latest novel? ~ No, sorry, I haven't
completed it yet.

Note, however, that complete as an adjective with the slightly different meaning of
whole or entire is more frequently used than completed as an adjective, meaning
finished:

• No house is complete without carpets on the floors and pictures on the


walls.

• If you think I can handle all this work on my own, that shows a complete
lack of understanding on your part.

• With only one hand on the steering wheel he was not in complete control of
the car he was driving .

Adjectives ending in -ed

A large number of adjectives in English end in -ed. Many of them have the same
form as the past participle of the verb:

• Your behaviour this evening has disappointed me.

• I am disappointed with your behaviour this evening.

They indicate that something has happened or is happening to the person referred
to. Thus, a child who is spoilt is a child who has been spoilt by something.

Here are some more common adjectives which have a similar meaning to the related
verb:

amused astonished confused delighted depressed

51
distressed embarrassed excited frightened interested
satisfied shocked surprised tired worried

• It worries me that Jack stays out so late every night. I am a very worried
mum.

• I would be interested to know if you are planning to visit Greece this


summer.

• That interests me because I shall be there throughout August and


September.

• You will embarrass your father if you dare to wear clothes like that.

• She came down the stairs wearing jeans with holes in them and I have
never been so embarrassed.

Occasionally, the adjectival form has a meaning which is different from that of its
related verb. Compare the following:

• I spotted her through the crowded room. She was wearing a spotted
dress.

• We advanced through the jungle as quickly as we could as we needed to


reach the clearing by nightfall.

• The cancer was quite advanced and he had only a few weeks to live.

-ed / -ing adjective or verb?

Alex from Israel writes:

Hi, Roger. I'd like to ask a very simple question. How do I say:

It's very interesting to me.


It's very interesting for me.
It's very interesting me.

Which one is best? Thank you in advance.

Of the three, only the middle one is a possibility. But even here, it sounds slightly
awkward. I think most people would say simply:

• That's very interesting.


OR:
• It's very interesting.
OR:

52
• I find that very interesting.

If you want to use interest as a verb, rather than interesting as an adjective,


you would need to say:

• That interests me a lot.

• That doesn't interest me very much.

-ing adjective or -ed adjective?

Remember: people might be interested in something and it is the thing itself that
people find interesting. Other adjectives describing emotions follow a similar
pattern:

confusing / confused disappointing / disappointed exciting / excited


shocking / shocked surprising / surprised tiring / tired
amazing / amazed annoying / annoyed boring / bored

Compare the following:

• His explanation was confusing. Most students were confused by it.

• I was disappointed not to get the promotion I deserved. A disappointing


day, yesterday.

• I'm starting a new job and I'm quite excited about it. I think it will be quite
exciting.

• The news was shocking. We were shocked when we heard that everyone
had drowned.

• Everybody was surprised when Jenny came top of the class. It was really
amazing!

• It was a tiring day. I was dead tired after all that shopping.

Note that people can also be adjective -ing, if they awaken this emotion in others:

A: Frank is such a boring person, isn't he? I find his conversation really boring.
B: He may be boring, but at least he's not as annoying as Ben who sniffs all the
time.
A: Paul's an amazing guy, isn't he? He amazes me. He can always see the funny
side of things.
B: I'm quite amazed by all the things Paul gets up to, I must say!

interested / disappointed / surprised / pleased + infinitive clause

53
Note that some of these adjectives are often followed by an infinitive clause:

• I shall be interested to hear about how you get on in Cairo.

• We were most surprised to see Kevin and Henry holding hands at the bus
stop.

• I must say we were disappointed to learn that he had abandoned his job.

• I shall be pleased / delighted to accompany you to the exhibition on


Thursday.

Interested in / surprised by / pleased with / etc

Note that if you are using a prepositional structure with these adjectives, it will
normally be either with or by, sometimes both are possible. Interested, however,
is usually followed by in. Compare the following:

• We were pleased / delighted with all the wedding presents we received.

• We were surprised by his rudeness at the family gathering. Quite


disgusting!

• I was quite disappointed with / by the film. He's normally such an exciting
director.

• I would be interested in working in Britain if I could get a work permit.

Interest / surprise / please / etc as verbs

Note that the verb forms of these adjectives describe an emotional state, not an
action, and are thus rarely used with continuous tenses:

• She wanted to please him, but disappointed him when he discovered that
she had spent so much money. (NOT: … was disappointing him…)

• It surprises me to see you making so many basic errors in this game. (NOT:
It is surprising me…)

• The novel interested me because it seemed to reflect real life so accurately.

• It amused me so much that I kept bursting out with laughter.

Pitiful

54
How can I use the word pitiful in a sentence? – Sandro

Hello Sandro. Well, that’s an interesting question. Now, pitiful is an adjective and it
comes from the word pity. Now pity is a feeling that people have of kind of kind-
hearted sympathy, or sorrow or compassion… when you see a person or an animal
that’s suffering in some way, maybe hungry, cold, not looked after. And these
feelings of pity will often lead you to help the person or animal that’s suffering. So, if
something is described as pitiful, it’s suffering in a way which makes you feel sorry
for it and you recognise that it needs help. And here’s some examples:

The horses were in a pitiful condition. They hadn’t been fed for weeks, and they had
sore and infected patches all over their skin.

The children had made pitiful attempts to look after their mother but it was clear
that the family could not manage.

You can use words like sorry and pathetic as synonyms for pitiful. Now these words
pitiful, sorry and pathetic can also have quite a negative meaning. They can be used
to mean a feeling of pity but mixed with contempt or disgust for the lack of skill or
care or attention that’s caused the situation. Here’s an example:

After years of mismanagement, his finances were in a pitiful state.

And another one:

He made a couple of pitiful excuses about why he hadn’t finished his work, but they
were not accepted.

And here are some synonyms for this second meaning of pitiful. They are:
deplorable, woeful, disgraceful and contemptible.

Thanks for your question, Sandro!

Hwang Minsu from Korea writes:

What is the difference in meaning between impossible mission and mission


impossible? In English, many adjectives, including past participles, can come before
or after nouns. But in many cases I don’t know what the difference is between an
adjective placed before the noun and after the noun.

adjectives before nouns

Adjectives are normally placed before nouns and this is known as the modifier or
attributive position. Thus, we would normally say:

• Getting all the way round Brazil in five working days proved an impossible
mission.

55
• He asked me a number of difficult questions.
• I was sitting next to the open window which I couldn’t close.

Mission impossible, if I remember correctly, was originally the name of an


American television series which was later made into a film which you have probably
seen. There is, in fact, no reason for putting the adjective after the noun here other
than for effect. It sounds original and therefore your attention is drawn to it.

exceptions to the general rule: adjectives after nouns

Attributive adjectives can be placed after the verb to be (and other copular verbs).
Then we would have:

• The mission was impossible.


• All the questions he asked were difficult.
• The window remained open.

Copular verbs, which join adjectives to their subjects, describe the state of
something or someone or a change of state. They include: be, seem, appear, look,
sound, smell, taste, feel, get, become, stay, remain, keep, grow, go, turn:

• The policemen became angry.


• The suspects remained calm although I could see that they were anxious.
• The soup looked, smelt and tasted good.

Also attributive adjectives with their own complement, e.g. capable of achieving
first-class degrees, usually require the whole expression to come after the noun
rather than before it:

• We are recruiting students capable of achieving first-class degrees.


NOT: We are recruiting capable of achieving first class degree students.
BUT: She was a capable student.

• I used to live in a house next to the Royal Opera House.


NOT: I used to live in a next to the Royal Opera House house.
BUT: I live quite near you. In the next street, in fact.

In a similar way, participles are placed after the nouns which they define:

• The people questioned about the incident gave very vivid accounts of what
had happened.
• The issues discussed at the meeting all had some bearing on world peace.

In all of these last four examples, however, it is perhaps more normal to use a
relative clause:

• We are recruiting students who are capable of achieving first-class degrees.


• I used to live in a house which was next to the Royal Opera House.

56
• The people who were questioned about the incident gave vivid accounts of
what had happened.
• The issues that were discussed at the meeting all had some bearing on
world peace.

Finally, adjectives come after most measurement nouns and after some-, any- and
no- words:

• The fence around the estate was three metres high, thirty-five kilometres
long and one hundred and twenty years old.
• This place doesn’t look very promising, but let’s try and find somewhere
nice for dinner.
• I couldn’t find anything interesting on the television so I had an early night.
• There’s somebody outside who wants to speak to you. Shall I let him in?
• Nobody present at the meeting was able to offer me any useful advice.

Jang-Joon Lee from Korea writes:

I studied English for more than twenty years in school. But I still don't know the
exact position of an adverb. Is there any rule regarding the position of
adverbs? Thanks a lot.

There are three normal positions for adverbs in a sentence: 1) initial position
(before the subject)
2) mid position (between the subject and the verb or immediately after be as a
main verb) or
3) end position (at the end of the clause).

Different types of adverbs favour different positions and I describe these trends
below. There are sometimes exceptions to the general rule, so please regard this as
a basic guide.

Initial position

Linking adverbs, which join a clause to what was said before, always come here.
Time adverbs can come here when we want to show a contrast with a previous
reference to time. Comment and viewpoint adverbs (e.g. luckily, officially,
presumably) can also come here when we want to highlight what we are about to
say. Compare the following:

• Two of the workers were sacked, and, as a result, everybody went on strike.

• We invited all the family. However, not everyone could come.

• The weather will stay fine today, but tomorrow it will rain.

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• Initially, his condition remained stable, but over the last few weeks it has
deteriorated.

• Margaret ran the office, although, officially, Trevor was the manager.

• I haven't made any plans yet, but presumably you'll want to show her
around London

mid position

Focusing adverbs (e.g. just, even), adverbs of indefinite frequency (e.g. often,
always, never) and adverbs of certainty and degree (e.g probably, obviously,
clearly, completely, quite, almost) all favour this position. Note that when
auxiliary verbs (e.g. is, has, will, was) are used, they normally go between the
auxiliary verb and the main verb:

• She's been everywhere - she's even been to Tibet and Nepal.

• Tom won't be back yet, but I'll just see if Brenda's home. I'll give her a ring.

• My boss often travels to Malaysia and Singapore but I've never been there.

• Have you finished yet? I haven't quite finished. I've almost finished.

• She's obviously a very bossy woman. ~ I completely agree!

adverb-adjective

When adverbs modify adjectives, they are placed immediately before them:

• We had some really interesting news last night. John's been offered a job in
Australia. He's absolutely delighted.

• I bought an incredibly expensive dress last week which fits me perfectly.


But John says I shouldn't wear it. He says it's too tight.

An exception to this rule is enough which is placed after the adjective or adverb that
it modifies:

• I got up quite early but not early enough to eat a good breakfast.

expressing possibility: perhaps/maybe, may/might

Katinka Raupenstein from Germany writes:

58
Hi! I'd like to know when you should use maybe and when you should use perhaps.
I'm not sure, buy maybe perhaps was used only in former times. In any case, I've
never heard perhaps on the radio. All the VIPs use only maybe.

maybe / perhaps

In British English both of these adverbs are still very commonly used and have the
same meaning. You use them to say that something is possible or may be true, but
you are not certain.

They can be used interchangeably but of the two, maybe is very appropriate for
more informal contexts and perhaps is used in more formal situations. Compare the
following:

• I can't find it anywhere. ~ Perhaps / Maybe you threw it away.


• How old is Jane? ~ I don't really know. In her twenties, certainly. Twenty-
five, maybe.
• There were perhaps as many as fifty badly wounded soldiers in the hospital.
• Perhaps I should explain to you how they came to be there.
• St Paul's Cathedral is perhaps one of London's most prominent landmarks.
• Why don't you join us for the New Year celebrations? ~ Yeah, perhaps /
maybe I will.
• Maybe you are right! Perhaps it would be best if you didn't invite Johnnie

Note that perhaps is pronounced 'praps'. Note also from the above illustrations that
perhaps and maybe can be used to refer to past, present or future events.

may / might

Similarly, we can use the modal auxiliaries may or might to say that there is a
chance that something is true or may happen. May and might are used to talk
about present or future events. They can normally be used interchangeably,
although might may suggest a smaller chance of something happening. Compare
the following:

• I may go into town tomorrow for the Christmas sales. And James might
come with me!
• What are you doing over the New Year, Ann? ~ Oh, I may go to Scotland, but
there again, I might stay at home.
• If you go to bed early tonight, you may / might feel better tomorrow.
• If you went to bed early tonight, you might feel better tomorrow.
• One of my New Year resolutions is to go to the gym twice a week! ~ And pigs
might fly!

Note that 'Pigs might fly' is a fixed expression and always uses might. It means
that something will never happen.

59
In the first conditional example, will perhaps could be substituted.

• If you go to bed early tonight, you may / might feel better tomorrow.

In the second conditional example, where might is an alternative for would


perhaps, may cannot be substituted.

• If you went to bed early tonight, you might feel better tomorrow.

Steven Tan from Singapore writes:

Hi Roger! My friends often argue about the meaning of the adverb quite. Webster's
Dictionary defines it as extreme or very. Am I right to say that it is the same in
British English?

In British English, quite has two different meanings. It does mean completely or
entirely, but it also means fairly or rather.

quite = completely

When it is used for emphasis with adjectives that cannot be graded, quite means
completely. The colour adjective black, for example cannot be graded. Things can't
be more black or less black. They are just black. So, if we put this into context and
look at some more examples of quite with ungradable adjectives, we may find:

• There's no trace of red in her hair - it's quite black.


• I see no hope - the future looks quite black to me.
• It's quite impossible to learn twenty new items of vocabulary each day.
• His performance on stage was quite amazing - we were just spellbound for
three hours!
• Are you quite sure? I think you're quite wrong about this.

not quite = not completely

When not is used with quite, it always means not exactly or not completely.
Study the following:

• Shall we go? ~ I'm not quite ready.


• Do you like this one?
~ It's not quite the colour I wanted.
• Have you finished that book on Che Guevara yet?
~ Not quite.

quite = exactly / I agree

60
Quite can be used in an emphatic way as a one-word response, meaning exactly or
I completely agree:

• I always knew their marriage would never last.


~ Quite! / Exactly! / So did I!
• If you stay quite still, those animals won't harm you.
~ Quite! / That's absolutely right.

quite = fairly / rather

If we are using quite with an adjective that is gradable, it means fairly or rather.
The adjective easy, for example, is gradable. Things can be easier or harder. Thus,
quite, when used with easy, means fairly or rather. Study these examples:

• How did you find the maths test? ~ Oh, it was quite
easy, really. / It was quite difficult.
• What did you think of the cabaret? ~ Oh, it was quite entertaining.
• I'm quite tired but I'll try and finish this book review
before I go to bed.

quite with verbs

When quite is used to modify verbs, the meaning depends on whether the verb is
regarded as gradable or not. Compare the following:

• I wouldn't want to be on holiday with him, but I quite like him.


• How did you get on at Barry's party? ~ Oh, it was quite nice. I quite
enjoyed myself.
• I haven't quite finished decorating Jim's bedroom yet, but I will have by
Saturday.
• I quite agree with you. Young children must never be left at home on their
own.

quite with a / an + (adjective) noun

When quite is used to modify nouns or adjectives with nouns, it normally has the
meaning of rather. Compare the following:

• I know they left in a hurry. How did they leave the house?
~ Oh, it was in quite a mess.
• How was the house contents auction?
~ Oh, it was quite a success. Nearly everything went.
• Let's take a picnic with us. I think it's going to be quite a nice day.
• Did you get to see Hamlet at the Barbican?
~ Yes, it was quite an interesting production.

So / Very

61
Halimatus from Malaysia asks

What's the difference between 'so' and 'very'? And what is the difference between
'were laughing' and 'are laughing'? I think both have the same meaning. Can you
explain it to me?

Mark Shea answers:

Hi Halimatus, thanks for your question. Let's start with the easy bit... "We are
laughing" is the present continuous tense, and that normally means that it is
happening right now.

We might say that "We are laughing at the comedy on television" or "Don't worry,
we are not laughing at you - it was something John said earlier!"

In expressions with 'when', it might mean every time we do something, for example,
laugh:
"When we're laughing, I forget about our problems."

But "We were laughing" is the past continuous tense, and so normally talks about a
time in the past:
"We were laughing at the story about Paul when he walked in the room" or
"I saw what happened, but why were you laughing?"

So the difference is the present and the past:


If it's happening now, say 'are'.
If it was happening at some time in the past, say 'were'.

The other question is a bit more complicated...


We use 'very' with adjectives - those are words which describe people, places or
things to make them more extreme. So:
"London is a big city, but Tokyo is a very big city."
"Einstein was a very intelligent man."
"The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur are very tall."

When we use 'so', there's normally another clause - that's part of a sentence - after
it. The 'so' part of the sentence explains why the 'that' part of the sentence happens:

"Tokyo is so big that it is difficult for tourists to find their way around."
"Einstein was so intelligent that some other scientists had problems understanding
his theories."
"The Petronas Towers are so tall that they were once the world's tallest buildings."

The first part of the sentence doesn't really make any sense without the second part,
so although we can say:
"The Malaysian grand prix is very noisy" it doesn't really make sense to say:
"The Malaysian grand prix is so noisy" - unless you're replying to something another
person has just said.

For example:
"I don't like motor sports!"
"No - me neither. I went to the Malaysian grand prix and it was so noisy."

62
What we mean here is that it was so noisy that she didn't enjoy it.
So use 'very' when you don't mean that something is good or bad, just extreme, and
use 'so' when you want to add extra information afterwards.
I hope this answers your question Halimatus. It was very difficult - so difficult that I
think I need a rest now!

Use of 'so' and 'such'


Savino Carrella from Naples asks:

Could you kindly tell me whether the use of so in the following sentence is correct:
'Miles looked older than his brother, revealing so a strange maturity.' Here so should
stand for 'in this way'.

If so here means 'in this way' or 'thus', it would normally come immediately after the
main clause:

• 'Miles looked older than his brother, so revealing a strange maturity.' ('so' =
less formal)
• 'Miles looked older than his brother, thus revealing a strange maturity.'
('thus' = more formal)

However, if you are using so or such for emphasis to mean 'to a very great degree
or extent', their position immediately before the adjective is correct.

But take care using these two forms. It has to be such before a noun or before an
adjective plus noun. So it will be:

• 'Miles looked older than his brother, revealing such a strange maturity.'

So is obviously used in a similar way, but is placed before adjectives standing alone
or before adverb plus adjective, thus:

• 'She was so indescribably beautiful that we couldn't take our eyes off her.'

Remember:

such + noun
so + adjective
such + adjective + noun
so + adverb + adjective

The noun with such is normally preceded by the indefinite article:

• 'We had such a good time at Henry's party.'


• 'I've been working far too hard today and I've got such a headache now.'
• 'She really embarrassed me. She is such a fool.'

63
Occasionally, in certain expressions, when the noun has a gradeable meaning, the
indefinite article is dropped:

• 'Such lovely countryside (around here)!'


• 'Such awful weather (these days)!'
• 'We had such fun at Henry's party!'
• 'I don't know how you have such patience (when dealing with such awkward
customers).'

Frequently heard examples of so in this sense might include:

• 'I'm so glad you are here!'


• 'He was so pleased to see her.'
• 'Don't go so fast! Slow down!'
• 'What's so funny about that?'
• 'I'm so tired! It's as if I haven't slept for a week.'
• 'I love you so much!'

You will already have noticed from at least one of the above examples that so and
such are often followed by 'that'-clauses suggesting result or consequence. Note
that when plural nouns are used after such, the article is, of course, omitted.

• 'I'm so glad (that) you could come!'


• 'It had been so hot on the journey (that) we had to drink a litre of water
when we arrived home.'
• 'There was so much to do on that holiday (that) nobody ever got bored.'
• 'They were such good swimmers (that) they had no difficulty swimming
across the fast-flowing river.'
• 'She prepared such good meals (that) no one ever thought of going out to
eat.'
• 'I've got such a high temperature (that) I'm hoping (that) my husband will
drive me straight to the surgery when he gets home from work.'

There is one exception to the general rule as set out above and that is that only so
can be used with indefinite determiners much and many and it is more usual with
little and few when these are followed by a noun. We therefore have the new
pattern:

so + determiner + noun

• 'So many sun-worshippers had crowded on to the beach that there was no
space left for my towel.'
• 'I'm sure there will be so much noise in the restaurant that I shan't be able to
hear what anybody is saying.'
• 'I had so little rest over the weekend that I couldn't go to work on Monday
morning.'
• 'There were so few leaves on the tree that it was pointless to try to shelter
from the rain beneath it.'

You cannot say: 'such many sun-worshippers', or 'such much noise' and it would be
unusual to say: 'such few leaves' or 'such little rest'.

64
Finally compare:

• 'Such little people!' ('Little' here is used as an adjective meaning 'small'.)


• 'So few people!' ('Few' here is used as a determiner meaning 'not very
many'.)

You will already have noticed from at least one of the above examples that 'so' and
'such' are often followed by that-clauses suggesting result or consequence. Note that
when plural nouns are used after 'such', the article is, of course, omitted. 'I'm so
glad (that) you could come!' 'It had been so hot on the journey (that) we had to
drink a litre of water when we arrived home.' 'There was so much to do on that
holiday (that) nobody ever got bored.' 'They were such good swimmers (that) they
had no difficulty swimming across the fast-flowing river.' 'She prepared such good
meals (that) no one ever thought of going out to eat.' 'I've got such a high
temperature (that) I'm hoping (that) my husband will drive me straight to the
surgery when he gets home from work.'

though / as though / like

Tamas from Hungary writes:

I'm a bit confused about using the word though. It's often used at the end of a
sentence. For example:

• The house isn't very nice. I like the garden though.

Can you help me out and explain the usage of this word?

'though' as conjunction

We normally think of though as a conjunction introducing a contrastive statement,


and as the less formal and less forceful equivalent of although and even though.
Compare the following:

• Even though it was suffocatingly hot, she was wearing a thick woollen
sweater.
• Although she was very fond of him, she had no intention of marrying him.
• We could try to phone her before we go, though we might miss the train if
we do.

'though' as adverb

But in your example, Tamas, though is used as an adverb as the less formal
equivalent of however. We use though and however when we want to add a
comment that seems to contradict or contrasts with what has already been said. As

65
in your own example, Tamas, though often indicates an afterthought. Compare the
following:

• I performed so well at interview I thought I would get the job. However, it


was not to be.
• The economic outlook is not very good. However, I can assure you that
nobody will lose his job.

• I’m sorry, I can’t stay for lunch. I’ll have a coffee, though.
• What a lovely sunny day! ~ There’s a chilly wind, though, isn’t there?

as though / as if / like

Like though, as though and as if are subordinating conjunctions. We use as if or


as though when we want to give an explanation for something which may not be
correct:

• She looked at me as if / as though I were mad.


• Take an umbrella. It looks as if / as though it’s going to rain.
• I can’t understand why she’s so keen on him. It’s not as if / as though he’s
good-looking or anything.

In spoken informal English, particularly American English, we sometimes substitute


like for as if and as though:

• She looked at me like I was stupid.


• It looks like it’s gonna rain.

Strictly speaking, like, meaning similar to, is a preposition which can only be
followed by a pronoun, noun or noun phrase. So, if you want to be grammatically
correct, make sure you use like in this way:

• Like all good curries, it was served with fresh coriander and nan bread.
• Like me, she refuses to work after six o’ clock in the evening.
• On the phone you sound just like your mother. In fact, I always think it is
your mother.

'before' or 'ago'

I am studying how to use tenses correctly in English. I am having difficulty with the
difference between ago and before. Ago cannot be used with the present perfect
tense. We cannot say: I have met him five years ago. We have to say: I have
met him before. Why is present perfect possible with before, but not with ago?

'before' - any time before now

66
Before means: at some unknown time before now. It does not say when. Therefore
we would say:

I know that chap. I've met him somewhere before.


Have you been here before? ~ No, I've never been here before. This is my first time.

We normally use the present perfect tense because the effect of meeting or seeing
someone or being somewhere is still felt in the present. Simple past is also possible
because we are talking about unknown occasions in the past, but it is less likely:

I know that chap. I met him somewhere before.


Were you here before? ~ No, I was never here before. This is my first time.

'ago' - at a certain time before now

Ago tells us how long before the present time something happened. It tells us when
and gives us a time or a date. Because we are referring to a specific time in the past,
the simple past is used:

Your mother phoned five minutes ago. Can you phone her back?
I saw her for the first time at film festival in Cannes some twenty years ago.

'before' - at a certain time before then

Ago always counts back from the present time. Note that if we are counting back
from a past time, before or earlier or previously are used, not ago:

I met him at the AIDS conference in Durban in December 2002 when he told me that
he had contracted AIDS four years before. ( = 6 years ago)

Last year I went back to my hometown that I had left ten years before and
discovered that the house I grew up in was no longer standing. (= left home 11
years ago)

Last year I returned to my hometown that I had left ten years ago and discovered
that the house I grew up in had been demolished (= left home 10 years ago)

'before' - conjunction and preposition as well as adverb

Note that before can be used as a conjunction or preposition as well as an


adverb.

If before is used as a conjunction, it often connects two clauses together which


discuss past events. But note that it can also be used with a present tense in the
subordinate clause to indicate future activity. Compare the following:

They left the dining table before I had finished my meal. How rude of them!
He knelt down to say his prayers before he got into bed.
I shall read all the reports before I decide what action to take.

It can also link clauses denoting habitual current activity with the simple present:

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I always shave before I take a shower.
You must take off your shoes before you enter the mosque.

If before is used as a preposition, it usually refers to time, not to place when in


front of is preferred. Compare the following:

To stay young and beautiful, try to get to bed before midnight each night. To stay in
shape, I try to go for a jog and a swim in the sea every morning before breakfast.

There were so many tall people in front of me that I could see nothing of the
procession as it passed by.

'Ever' and 'whenever'


Tiffany Teng from Singapore asks:

We know it is correct to say: ‘I have never been to London’. But for someone who
has been to London before, is it correct to say: ‘I have ever been to London’?

No. Ever means at any time, so it is inappropriate in the above sentence. Ever is
used mainly in questions.

Although it is usually associated with the present perfect, it can also be used with a
present, past or past perfect verb form or with future reference.

If the answer is no, we often use never in the reply, meaning ‘not at any time’.

If the answer is yes, we might add once or twice, etc, to indicate how many times
we have done whatever is being referred to. Compare the following:

• 'Have you ever been to Ireland?' 'Yes, I’ve been there twice, once in 1983 and
again in 1995.'
• 'Did you ever meet Tom Robinson when you were at uni?' 'No, I never did.'
• 'My driving instructor asked me if I’d ever driven before.' 'I said, no, I never
had.'
• 'Do you ever go to the cinema?' 'No, I prefer to watch films on video or DVD.'
• 'Are you ever going to finish this book?' 'I’ll try and finish it over the summer.
I’ve no time now.'
• 'Will you ever marry me?' 'No, Jason I don’t think I ever will.'

As you can see from this last example, ever can be used in an affirmative sentence
with not as an alternative to the more usual 'never'. It can also be used in
affirmative sentences with if and with adverbs which express a negative idea, like
hardly. Remember the meaning of ever is always ‘at any time’. Compare the
following:

• 'If you ever change your mind, let me know. We’d love to have you on the
team.'
• 'If you are ever in London, be sure to come and see us.'

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• 'We hardly ever go to the theatre. It’s too expensive.'
• 'I don’t think we shall ever see Jenny again now that she’s emigrated to
Australia.'

Remember also that ever can be tagged on to ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘which’, ‘who’
and ‘how’ to make the conjunctions wherever, whenever, whatever, whichever,
whoever and however, meaning 'no matter where’, ‘no matter when’, ‘no matter
what’, ‘no matter which’, ‘no matter who’ and ‘no matter how’. Compare the
following:

• 'We were playing ‘Hide and Seek’ and we couldn’t find him wherever we
looked.'
• 'If you have a problem, you can phone me up whenever you like – at any
time of the day.'
• 'Whatever advice I gave her, she would be sure not to take it.'
• 'Whichever path we took, we were unable to find our way out of the maze.'
• 'I shall sell my computer to whoever wants it.'
• 'However hard I try, I can never seem to learn vocabulary.'

Finally, ever is used in the comparative expression as ever and than ever, meaning
‘as/than at any time in the past’. Study the following two examples:

• 'You’ll have to work harder than ever today, if you want to finish this job
before it gets dark.'
• 'Jayne, it’s so long since I heard you sing, but you sing as beautifully as
ever!'

Time expressions, adjectives and adverbs

Min from South Korea writes:

I'd like to know the difference between lately and recently. My dictionaries say they
are almost the same, but I guess there's a slight difference, isn't there?

Aston Ndosi from Tanzania writes:

Please assist by explaining to me the difference in use between prompt and


punctual.

S. Rajandran from India writes:

I would like to know the difference between instantaneous and simultaneous.

Recently / lately - late

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There is a slight difference in use between recently and lately (see below) but note
that the adverb late is quite different in meaning from lately: its opposite is early.
Compare the following:

• The supermarket has recently opened a new superstore outside town (= a


short time ago)

• I haven't been to the theatre recently / lately. (= over the last few weeks
or months)

• My health hasn't been too good recently / lately - I've hardly been out at
all.

• I arrived late for the performance and couldn't get in.

• It's a good idea to arrive early so that you have time for a drink before the
show starts.

Recently / lately - late

There is a slight difference in use between recently and lately (see below) but note
that the adverb late is quite different in meaning from lately: its opposite is early.
Compare the following:

• The supermarket has recently opened a new superstore outside town (= a


short time ago)

• I haven't been to the theatre recently / lately. (= over the last few weeks
or months)

• My health hasn't been too good recently / lately - I've hardly been out at
all.

• I arrived late for the performance and couldn't get in.

• It's a good idea to arrive early so that you have time for a drink before the
show starts.

Promptly - punctually - on time - in time

If you arrive punctually, you arrive at the right time, neither late nor early - you
arrive on time. Punctually is normally used with the verb arrive, but promptly,
which means without delay, is used with other verbs (see below and note the
position of promptly in these sentences. In time has a slightly different meaning
from on time. If you do something in time, you do it with time to spare - before
the last moment. Compare the following:

• He sat down to watch the television programme and promptly fell asleep.

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• He sat down to watch the television programme and fell asleep
straightaway.

• I received his letter a week ago and I replied promptly to it.

• I received his letter a week ago and I replied to it immediately.

• He was saved from falling overboard by the prompt action of the skipper.

• My guest arrived punctually at seven o' clock, as I expected. He's always


very punctual.

• The train left exactly on time. The show started exactly on time.

• I didn't get to the house in time. They had already left.

• We're in plenty of time. We can have a coffee. There's no need to go in


now.

Instant(ly) - instantaneous(ly)

If something happens instantly it happens immediately. If something happens


instantaneously it also happens immediately but at the same time very quickly.
Instantaneous and instantaneously are used only in a restricted range of contexts
(see below):

• The Beatles songs are instantly recognisable - everybody seems to know


them.

• When I saw Barbara crying I knew instantly what was wrong.

• Death was instantaneous for all the people in the car when the bomb
exploded.

• The airbags for the driver and front seat passenger inflate instantaneously
on impact in a head-on collision.

Simultaneously - at the same time

If things happen simultaneously, they happen at the same time. Note that
simultaneous is used in more formal contexts than at the same time (see below):

• The two-minute silence in memory of the famous footballer was observed


simultaneously on all the football grounds in England.

• The shots were fired simultaneously and three of them hit their target.

• We arrived at the same time. I arrived at the same time as Judy.

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In informal and semi-formal registers, at the same time can also be used to
connect ideas between sentences. It introduces a statement that slightly changes or
contradicts the previous statement. Simultaneously cannot be used in this way.
Compare the following:

I admired her for her courage in the face of such adversity. At the same time, I
was slightly afraid of her. (NOT: Simultaneously I was slightly afraid of her.)

Cities are becoming more and more crowded. At the same time, people are using
their cars less and less in city centres. (NOT: Simultaneously people…)

always or ever?

Could you please explain when I have to use ever and when I have to use always?

ever = at any time

Ever usually means at any time and can be used to refer to past, present and
future situations. The converse, meaning at no time, is never. Ever is mainly used
in questions. Sometimes it is used in negative sentences (not ever) as an
alternative to never. Compare the following:

Were you ever in the Boy Scouts? ~ No, I never was.

Have you ever been to the Everglades in Florida? ~ Yes, I was there once, but it was
years ago.

Will you ever speak to her again? ~ No, I don't think I ever will.

If you ever need any help, just give me a ring.

ever : for emphasis

We sometimes use ever to give emotive emphasis to what we are saying as an


indication that we feel very strongly about it. Thus, in speech, ever receives strong
word stress:

If I ever catch you fiddling your expenses claims again, you'll be sacked.

Don't ever do that again!

How ever did you manage to drive home through so much snow?

When ever will I find time to get to the bottom of my in-tray?

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Why ever did he marry such a domineering woman?

We sometimes use ever in compound expressions with hardly or if:

hardly ever = very rarely / seldom

It seldom / hardly ever / very rarely rains in Puglia in the summer.

seldom, if ever = almost never

Now that we have young children, we seldom, if ever, go out in the evening.

ever = always?

We do not often use ever to mean always, i.e. on every occasion or all the time.
We have to say, e.g.:

I always bike to work now. It's so much healthier. (Not: I ever bike to work now. It's
so much healthier.)

Compare the difference in meaning between these two example sentences. In the
first sentence, they often agree, but not on every occasion. In the second sentence,
they never agree:

My mother and I don't always agree about the best way to rear children.

My mother and I don't ever agree about the best way to rear children.

ever = always

But occasionally, ever is used to mean always. We sometimes end letters with
Yours ever or Ever yours as an alternative to Yours sincerely. Here Ever yours
means Always yours.

And in these contexts too, in which we are indicating that a person has particular
qualities, ever is used to mean always:

Let me open the door for you. ~ Ever the gentleman!

I always year loose-fitting clothes like this ~ Ever the hippie!

In a number of compound expressions, ever is used to mean always. These include


as ever, for ever and ever since:

as ever

As ever, they couldn't agree. They've never ever agreed on anything.

As ever, he was dressed in the style of Eminem.

I thought she might be upset by this, but she was as unperturbed as ever.

for ever or forever

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We plan to live in this village now for ever. We shall never move out.

I intend to remain married to you forever. I shall always love you.

ever since

She's had a drink problem ever since her husband died.

I first met him when I was in the army and we've remained friends ever since.

Note that with the ever since construction the 'always' period commences when
something happens. In the above examples, this is husband's death or army service
meeting.

Finally when ever is combined with a comparative adjective, it is used to mean


always:

The water was rising ever higher and we were in danger of being cut off.

The volume of work is going to increase and I shall become ever more busy.

always = very often

As well as all the time or on every occasion, always can also mean very often
when it is used with the progressive form:

She always going on about the cost of living and how expensive everything is.

I'm always losing my keys. I put them down and can never remember where I've put
them.

Note the difference in meaning between these two examples of use:

I'll always lend you money when you have none. You know you can depend on me.
(Always = on every occasion)

I'm always lending you money when you have none. Why don't you try to budget
more carefully? (Always = very often)

yet / still / already : position and use

Maria Rita Barros from Brazil writes:


I always get confused when I use still, yet and already. Could you please explain
them again with examples.

Maria-Leena Luotonen from Finland writes: I've been wondering why my


grammar book says that yet goes at the end of the clause in interrogative and
negative sentences when I have seen the examples:

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I got the book a month ago and I haven't yet had a chance to read it. (Cambridge
Dictionaries on line) Later issues are not yet published.(British Library)

Yet - position in sentence

I would say that your grammar book, Cambridge Dictionaries and the British Library
are all correct, Maria-Leena.

Yet is normally placed at the end of the clause, particularly in informal English
and in questions, but can go immediately after not in negative sentences in a
more formal style, such as Cambridge Dictionaries and the British Library have
used. Compare also the following:

• How long have you been in Britain?


~ For over a year now.
~ Have you been to Wales or Scotland yet?
~ No, not yet. I haven't even ventured out of London yet.

Although she has been in Britain for more than a year, Maria has not yet visited
either Wales or Scotland.

Yet - meaning and use

We use yet in questions to ask whether something has happened up to the present
time. Not yet then indicates that it hasn't happened yet:

• Is dinner ready yet? I'm starving.


~ No, it's not ready yet. It'll be another half an hour.

In a more formal style it is possible to use yet in affirmative sentences:

• We have yet to discover whether there are any survivors from the plane
crash.

• I have yet to speak to the personnel manager to discuss my future.

In a less formal style, we might say:

• We still don't know whether there are survivors from the plane crash.

• I haven't spoken to the manager yet, so don't know what my future will be.

• I still haven't spoken to the manager, so don't know what my future will be.

Thus, in negative sentences, as we can see from these examples, there is


considerable overlap in meaning and use between yet and still. Still is the more
emphatic of the two.

still - meaning and use

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We use still in questions, affirmative and negative sentences to indicate that
something is not finished and that we are perhaps surprised or concerned about
this. Because it is emphatic, it often carries considerable word stress:

• Is it still raining?
~ Yes, it's still raining. No chance of playing tennis today, I'm afraid.

• I still don't know whether Brendan will be coming to the engagement party.
I've tried to reach him several times on the phone, but can't seem to get hold
of him.

already - meaning and use

Whereas still and yet normally refer to present and future circumstances, already
normally refers to something that is in the present or recent past. It is mainly used
in questions and affirmative sentences and usually expresses surprise that something
has happened sooner than expected.

• When do you expect Polly to arrive?


~ She's already here! Haven't you seen her?

• Can you give me a hand with the layout for this article.
~ No, I'm sorry, I'm already late. I have to leave right now.

• Can you help me move those boxed upstairs?


~ I've already moved them.

• Have you finished that typing already?


Yes, I finished it about five minutes ago.

• By the age of three, Mozart had already learnt to play the piano.

still / already - position in sentence

Note from the above examples that in contrast to yet, still and already usually
occupy mid position in the clause.

A question from Katie Burton in China:


Some of my Chinese colleagues asked me about the phrase 'well and truly'. We can
say 'well and truly stuck' but not 'well and truly beautiful'. Are there any rules for
using this phrase or is it just a case of learning it? Is 'well and truly' an adverb and
what should follow it, or is it an adjective and is it only for negative things?

Karen Adams answers:


Thank you for your question Katie. And first let me explain what 'well and truly stuck'
means. If something is 'well and truly stuck' you really can not move it. So for
example if your car breaks down and you try to push it and it won't move it may be
well and truly stuck. So 'well and truly' here means absolutely stuck, you can't move
it. And really when we say something is well and truly stuck it shows that we are

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actually a little bit frustrated or we really aren't very happy about the fact that we
can't move it. So for example if I come home and I want to have a biscuit and I look
in the biscuit tin and there are none there I can say 'well they are well and truly
finished'.

However 'well and truly' is a very difficult phrase to use because it doesn’t go with
lots and lots of different adjectives. If you were to say the words 'well and truly' to
someone in Britain they would imagine that the next word would be stuck. 'Well and
truly' is an adverbial phrase to describe the adjective stuck. And they just go
together.

There are no clear rules to for why certain adverbs go with certain adjectives, they
just do. So, for example, if you say to someone in Britain the adverb – 'stunningly' –
the adjective they're most likely to think of is 'beautiful'. These are what we call fixed
phrases. They're phrases which just go together, they collocate – co locate – they go
together. It's not just adverbs and adjectives which go together in this way. We
often find nouns and nouns go together. So for example 'fish and …. chips'. Or
adjectives and nouns, for example we can say - 'heavy smoker', someone who
smokes a lot, or 'heavy drinker' someone who drinks a lot. But someone who eats a
lot? No it's not a 'heavy eater' it's a 'big eater'. Basically these phrases which go
together form patterns, there are no real rules to learn. You just have to be able to
work out what the patterns are.

So how do you learn these phrases which go together? Well the two best things you
can do are to read and to listen. When you're reading a newspaper or a book try to
work out phrases that you see coming up more than once. If you see a phrase which
goes together maybe two or three times then you can think 'mmm I think those go
together, I think those collocate.'

And similarly if you're listening to the radio, when you're listening to the BBC World
Service if you hear the phrase two or three times, make a note of it, because then
you know 'mmm this is a collocation, this is a phrase which goes together.'

So hopefully Katie that answers your question. To sum up, 'well and truly is an
adverbial phrase and most often you use it with the adjective 'stuck', 'well and truly
stuck.' You can use it in one or two other circumstances, but usually you will hear it
with he adjective 'stuck'. Although now I'm well and truly finished and I'm going to
go and have a cup of tea.

Worth and worthwhile

Roberto Miguel from Argentina writes:

Would you please explain the difference between these two sentences:

This book is worth reading


It's worth reading this book.

and also the use and meaning of:

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It's worthwhile…
It's worth somebody's while…

There is no difference in meaning between the first two sentences. In both of them
we are talking about the value of an activity. The difference is one of form only
and both forms are frequently used

Is it worth repairing this car?

Worth usually follows the verb to be and is often used with a preparatory it. It can
then be followed by an -ing clause:

• It was definitely worth making the effort to watch this documentary.


• It is always worth fighting for your freedom and independence.

Note that with this construction, it can be used to refer to an action mentioned in the
previous sentence:

• Shall we have this car repaired? ~ No, it's not worth repairing.
• I shall never have any independence. ~ It's worth fighting for, you know.

This car is not worth repairing

With this structure the object of the -ing clause is made the subject of the sentence
and the preparatory it becomes superfluous:

• This documentary was definitely worth watching.


• This documentary was definitely worth making the effort to watch.
• Freedom and independence are always worth fighting for.

Be worth a lot of money

Worth is also often followed by a noun phrase when we are discussing the
monetary value of something or somebody and saying how much it or they are
worth. With this construction the question forms how much and what are often
used:

• What / How much do you think this violin is worth? ~ It must be worth a
fortune. It's a stradivarius.
• He bought me earrings worth two thousand pounds. ~ Gosh, how much is he
worth? ~ He's a dollar millionaire!

be worth a lot / a great deal /etc

With these expressions we are saying how good, useful or reliable something or
someone is:

• She's always there for me. Her companionship is worth a great deal to me.
She's worth her weight in gold.

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• The government's promises and policies are not worth very much. The
policies are not worth the paper they're printed on.

Note that to be worth your weight in gold and not worth the paper they are
printed on are both idioms. Word order cannot be changed.

be worth somebody's while

If you say it will be worth your while to do something, it means that you will get
some (financial) advantage or benefit from it, even though it may take some time or
trouble:

• It would be well worth your while to invest in shares now while the stock
market is low.
• It's not really worth my while to spend the whole day on my feet behind the
counter for as little as fifty pounds.

Note from the above example that worth can also be modified by well to make the
expression well worth.

worthwhile

If something is worthwhile it is well worth the time, money or effort that you
spend on it:

• It was a worthwhile journey - he got to see everyone on his list.


• The meeting was so worthwhile and all the arguments about profit margins
have now been sorted out.

Sometimes, worthwhile simply means of value and can be used in a similar way to
worth with preliminary it. Compare the following:

• It may be worth comparing this year's profit margins with last year's
• It may be worthwhile to compare this year's profit margins with last year's
• It may be worth your while to compare this year's profit margins with last
year's

worthless

Note that if something is worthless, it has no value or use:

• The guarantee will be worthless if the company goes out of business.


• With hyperinflation the local currency has become virtually worthless.

'yet' as conjunction and adverb

Viji Palaniappan from India writes:

Yet is similar in meaning to but. But people also say: not yet. This is confusing.

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~Did you receive the book?

~Not yet.

The problem is that yet can be used as an adverb as well as a co-ordinating


conjunction. Let’s look at its function as a conjunction first of all.

yet as conjunction

You are right, Viji. Yet is similar in meaning to but. But is a


co-ordinating conjunction used to contrast two statements:

• They can speak Arabic but they can’t read or write it.
• He tried to book a holiday on Bali, but he didn’t have enough money to pay
for it.

We use yet as the preferred alternative to but when we want to emphasise that
contrast to achieve a stronger effect:

• She can play the piano very well, yet she can’t read music at all.
• The yachtsman had lost all sense of direction, yet he refused to give up in his
attempt to cross the Atlantic.

We sometimes put and in front of yet when it is used in this way or use even so as
an alternative to yet or and yet:

• She can play the piano very well, and yet she can’t read music at all.
• The yachtsman had lost all sense of direction. Even so, he refused to give up
in his attempt to cross the Atlantic.

However and nevertheless are sometimes used as more formal alternatives to


yet:

• He had no chance of winning the race or even of coming in the first six.
However, he kept going and crossed the finishing line ahead of his team
mates.
• He had not slept for three nights. Nevertheless, he insisted on going into
work the following day.

In colloquial spoken English, mind you, but still or still are sometimes used as less
formal alternatives to yet:

• The weather was lousy. It rained every day. Still, we managed to enjoy
ourselves.
• I don’t like the work very much. Mind you, the people I work with are very
nice.
• You can be very annoying at times, but we still love you.

yet as adverb

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When yet is used as an adverb, it is used to talk about something over a period of
time, up till now:

• Is lunch ready yet?


• Are the Hunts back from their holiday yet?

It is often used with the negative when you are saying that up to the present time
something has not happened. It is normally used with present and perfect tenses,
though in American English you will sometimes hear it used with the past tense. Still
can sometimes be used as an alternative to yet. When we use still in this way, it is
emphatic. We are saying that we are very surprised that it hasn’t happened.
Compare the following:

• Don’t eat the plums. They’re not ripe yet. / They’re still not ripe.
• I haven’t been to Wales or Scotland yet, though I’ve visited England many
times.
• I still haven’t been to Wales or Scotland, even though I’ve visited England
many times.
• Did you phone him yet? No, sorry. I forgot.

As we can see from the above examples, yet is normally used with negative
sentences and in questions, but it is sometimes used in affirmative sentences in a
more formal style:

• I have yet to meet the man I wish to marry.


• We have yet to learn whether there will be any survivors from the
earthquake.

Confusing words & expressions


'accident' and 'incident'

I would like to know the difference between 'accident' and 'incident'.


Mark Shea answers:

Hi Richard - I can see the confusion here - the words even sound nearly the same!

I think that the most important difference is that 'an accident' is something which
happens purely by chance, there was no intention involved, and we can?t really use
'incident' like this.

If you do something by accident, you don't mean to do it, perhaps it's something
you do or did without thinking.

Post-it notes, for example, are little sticky pieces of paper that we use to write notes
on. And they were discovered by accident when a scientist, who was trying to make

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a very strong glue created a very weak one instead. He didn't mean to discover Post-
it notes - he made them by accident.

We often use 'accident' to describe something unpleasant or unfortunate ?


"She had an accident while she was skiing and broke her leg."
It's especially common to use it when we are talking about traffic and vehicle
collisions ...

"The car accident caused a big problem on the motorway."

'An incident' is much more general - we can use it to talk about almost anything
that happens, any single event. If we were describing a particular time when
something went badly wrong, we might talk about "the incident last summer" for
example.
It might be something completely intentional - someone deliberately starting an
argument ...

"We don't talk about politics at home since the incident last summer. Li was looking
for an argument and brought up the subject of the recent elections."

We couldn't call the argument 'an accident' because Li started it deliberately.

We often say 'incident' when we don't want to mention what actually happened, or
sometimes if we want to make an event sound less important. The police use
'incident' to talk about possible crimes, if they're not yet sure if a crime has been
committed. It's quite common to hear:

"Police are looking into the incident."

It means that they are investigating to see if someone has committed a crime.

So the biggest difference is that accidents are never intentional, but incidents
might be!

I hope this answers your question Richard.

Acting / Acting as

A question from M. Mbewe in Zambia:


What is the difference between 'Acting as Chief Executive Officer' and 'Acting Chief
Executive Officer'? This is in relation to office duties.

Susan Fearn answers:

So first of all, let me explain that the Chief Executive Officer is the person at the
head of a company. But you might not have actually heard this said very much, and
that's because it's such a mouthful that speakers of English often just use the initials
- 'CEO', and that's true of both speech and writing.

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I've got a couple of examples from BBC news stories. Here's one from October 2006:

"Streiff resigns as CEO of Airbus"


The chief executive of troubled plane maker Airbus has resigned...

And here's another:

"CEO swaps hedge fund for charity" (Sep 2006)


The chief executive of the world's biggest hedge fund, is to step down to focus on
private philanthropy...

But anyway, the question here isn't 'What is a chief executive officer?' it's about
Acting Chief Executive Officers. And here's an example:

A friend of mine, who's the CEO of a charity, recently took a few months off to have
a baby - she went on maternity leave. And while she was away, someone else took
her job for a few months. That person had an official job title, Acting CEO - Acting
Chief Executive Officer.

Now acting here has nothing to do with Hollywood - it just means being temporarily
but officially in a job. And the person that normally does that job is away - perhaps
they've left and a permanent replacement hasn't been found. You can be an acting
anything, pretty much: an Acting Manager, Acting Head, Acting Editor, but your
role is recognized. So in my friend's case, the Acting CEO got the job title, the
money and the recognition.

She was lucky! Sometimes, a company might not find a replacement immediately, or
perhaps not find one at all. And some poor person still has to do all the extra work.
That person might be acting as the CEO - they're doing the work but not necessarily
getting the recognition, the pay or the official job title - they may or may not be. So,
two examples:

Maurizio is the Acting CEO


That means he gets the official title, the money, the recognition. And he's also doing
the work - he's acting as the CEO.

On the other hand, poor old Maria, in her company, is acting as the CEO but she's
not getting the job title or the extra money; she's not officially the Acting CEO.

Now a quick word about a related phrasal verb 'act up'. If you fill an acting
position, it's normally a level above your usual job; you're acting up. So, we can
say, for instance:

Maurizio is acting up while Glenda's away.


You have to be careful with this verb though. Like many English phrasal verbs it's got
more than one meaning. 'Act up' can also mean 'misbehave', as in:

"My children have been really acting up today."


And if you say: "My boss is acting up" - it could have either meaning!

adjective-noun collocations

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Amin studying English in New Zealand writes:

I usually get confused using adjectives like heavy, strong, severe, hard. For
example, should it be :

heavy traffic or severe traffic or


heavy / strong / severe wind or
heavy / strong / severe / hard rain or
They hit me so hard/strong…?

I would be much obliged if you could give me an answer.

As you progress further with your English studies, Amin, you will become more
sensitive to which adjectives best collocate with which nouns and which adverbs best
collocate with which verbs. You can learn this by listening to as much spoken English
as possible and reading as much written English as possible. Always try to learn use
of vocabulary from the context in which it appears and with the help of an English-
English dictionary which gives plenty of examples of use as well as definitions. In
your examples, we would talk about:

• The heavy rain and heavy traffic made me late for my appointment.
• The strong wind whipped the waves up into three-metre-high breakers.
• They hit me so hard that I found it difficult to stay on my feet.

Other examples or contexts of usage with


heavy / strong / severe / hard might be:

heavy

• He won’t be able to lift such a heavy suitcase. He’s only nine years old.
• He’s been a heavy smoker and drinker all his adult life.
• It was a very heavy meal – far too much meat and not enough vegetables or
salads.
• She had a very heavy cold and her breathing was heavy too.
• I’ve had a really heavy week – I’ve got a really heavy timetable this term.
• The First World War yielded much heavier casualties than had ever been
known before.

Interestingly, thinking about antonyms of heavy, although we would talk about light
suitcases, light meals, light weeks, light timetables and light casualties, we wouldn’t
quite so often say a light smoker or a light drinker. I think you would rarely hear
someone say a light cold. Instead it would be a slight cold, although you might say
that someone’s breathing was very light.(The antonyms of a word is another word
which means the opposite.)

strong

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• Martina Hingis has always exerted a strong influence on the way I play
tennis.
• Although I have strong views on this, I had the strong support of everybody
in the room.
• He has a strong case and there is a strong chance that his appeal will be
successful.
• She speaks English quite well but with a strong French accent.

I am strong in the social sciences and psychology is perhaps my strongest subject.

Thinking of antonyms of strong in these contexts, although we would talk about a


weak influence, a weak case, being weak in social sciences and my weakest subject,
we would have to say a slight chance, and a slight accent.

For the converse of strong views and strong support, we would probably say: I don’t
have very strong views on this and I had some support.(The converse of a
statement or fact is the opposit of it.)

severe

• The severe weather/severe winter meant that hundreds of schools had to be


closed.
• The heavy rain caused severe damage to crops and, later on, a severe
shortage of food.
• We are under severe pressure to reduce the wage bill and make 500 workers
redundant.
• The magistrate imposed severe penalties – they were severely punished.

Conversely, we would talk about mild weather and mild winters, slight damage and
slight shortages, some pressure, lenient penalties or leniently punished.

hard

• It was a hard exam and the final question was really hard – it was a hard
nut to crack!
• It’s been a long hard day and I’ve been working very hard.
• They had a hard life and worked through hard times. We had no hard
evidence that they had used hard drugs.

Conversely, we might say an easy exam, easy questions, an easy day, an easy life,
easy times, soft drugs, circumstantial evidence and I haven’t worked very hard. The
expression a hard nut to crack, which means that it was difficult to do this, has no
converse form.

Faroush from Iran asks:

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What is the meaning of 'afraid' in different sentences and situations?

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

This is an interesting question, Farhoush and I'm afraid that there are at least
seven ways to use the adjective 'afraid'!

The most common meaning of 'afraid' is the one I have just used to introduce the
topic -when we want to politely tell someone something that may upset, disappoint,
annoy or even worry them.

In terms of the grammar, we can say either:


'I'm afraid that there are at least seven ways' OR...
'I'm afraid there are at least seven ways' - without using 'that'.
We usually hear this meaning of 'afraid' in spoken English.

The next most common meaning of 'afraid' is 'to be frightened'.


But remember that 'afraid' can't be used before a noun, so we can't talk about 'an
easily afraid person'. That's not right.

Instead, try these:


'He's an easily frightened person' or even simpler, 'He's easily frightened.'
'He's afraid of something' - for example, ?He's afraid of spiders?
'He's afraid to do something - for example, ?He's afraid to ask for help.?
'He's afraid of doing something - for example, ?He's afraid of flying.?
So lots of examples there!

Less common uses of the adjective 'afraid' are used as a way of saying either 'yes'
and 'no'.
'Afraid' + not... is used to mean 'no'
And 'Afraid' + so... is used to mean 'yes'.

Here's an example of how we can use 'afraid' to mean 'no':


A: Are you doing anything nice this weekend, Femi?
F: I'm afraid not, I have to work - I need the money!

Or when someone calls and the person they want to speak to isn't there:
A: Could I speak to Sun Chen please?
B: I'm afraid not, he's not available at the moment. Would you like to leave a
message?

Next, 'afraid' meaning 'yes':


A: Are you leaving now, Yvonne?
Y: I'm afraid so, I have to be home by 9 o'clock.

So let's sum up...


We can use the word 'afraid' in the following ways:
First, to politely tell someone something that may disappoint them.
Second, to simply mean: 'frightened'.
And third, to mean 'yes' when we say 'I'm afraid so' -
and 'no' when we say 'I'm afraid not'.

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So, to return to the most common meaning of 'afraid'; I'm afraid that there are
several uses of the word! And I hope this has helped.

A question from Mechekef in Algeria:


I would like to ask a question and I would be very thankful if you answered it.
Sometimes you write 'had' as 'hath', 'give' as 'giveth' and 'should' as 'shouldst'. I
cannot understand this method of writing. I'll give you an example to explain clearly
my question: 'Thou seest their eyes overflow with tears.'

Sian Harris answers:


Hi there, thanks for your question. This is a really interesting one.

In some very old forms of English you will see these type of words - 'thou', 'giveth'
'hast' etc - most notably in certain religious texts such as The Bible or possibly
English translations of The Qur'an. In other words, these forms are what we call
'archaic', meaning they're not in active use anymore, other than in either religious or
ancient texts, or as they appear in literature and other forms of writing from
previous centuries.

A specialist in the development and history of English would perhaps be able to tell
you more about the origins and the use of the specific words in your example, but
most of them would have been in use from around the 15th century onwards in a
form now known by academics as 'Early Modern English'.

Although this was by no means used consistently if one examines different texts
from the time, by about the 18th century these forms were not so widely used and I
can clarify that nowadays we would definitely not see or hear these in typical
situations, spoken or written. In today's English, 'thou' would always be replaced
with 'you', for example, 'seest' with 'see' and so on.

afraid / scared - frightening / terrifying

Hasan asks: when do you use afraid and when do you use scared?

Natali asks: Could you please explain to me the difference in meaning between
scary, frightening and terrifying?

afraid / scared / frightened

There are differences in use and I shall try to illustrate these. But all these adjectives
express roughly the same degree of worry or fear and can therefore be used
interchangeably to some extent. Frightened suggests more sudden fear:

All small children are afraid of / scared of / frightened of school bullies.

Don’t be scared / afraid / frightened. I’m not going to hurt you.

All three can be followed by of + -ing clause. Frightened cannot always be followed
by of + pronoun or noun:

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He’s afraid of / scared of / frightened of flying in small planes.

He’s a strict teacher. Everyone seems to be afraid of / scared of him.

All three can be followed by the to + infinitive pattern:

She seemed too scared to swim where there were such big waves.

After such an experience she’s afraid to go anywhere near the sea.

I was too frightened to jump in at the deep end of the pool.

We can be scared by or frightened by something. We cannot use afraid in this


way:

She was scared by the hooting of the owl.

They were frightened / terrified by the gunfire and the breaking of glass.

Note that terrified expresses a stronger degree of fear.

She’s terrified of / by large dogs and won’t go near them.

afraid / scared / frightened - position in clause

Note that afraid is one of those adjectives that cannot normally be used before a
noun, but instead is used after a verb. Scared and frightened can be used in both
positions:

He seemed afraid. He appeared frightened.

He was, without doubt, a frightened man.

I’m afraid I / we / he / etc

I’m afraid… is also used in another way, meaning: I regret that I have to tell
you that…. It is used to introduce bad news in a gentle or polite way:

I’m afraid there’s been an accident at the crossroads. Your son’s been knocked over
on his bike.

I’m afraid we shan’t be able to come on the skiing trip with you. John’s got to work.

He’s done very little work, I’m afraid. He’ll have to repeat the course.

I’m afraid so. / I’m afraid not.

We can use these forms as short answers to confirm bad news:

Will I really have to repeat the course next year? ~ I’m afraid so.

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Can’t you really come on the skiing trip with us? ~ I’m afraid not.

frightened / frightening

As a general rule, adjectives ending in -ed are used to describe how people feel.
Adjectives ending in -ing describe the things or situations that give rise to these
feelings. So, remember, frightened describes how you feel. Frightening describes
the things that make you feel frightened:

She looked very frightened when I told her she would lose her job.

It was one of the most frightening films I had ever seen.

It’s frightening to think that they are capable of producing nuclear weapons.

terrified / terrifying

Similarly, terrified describes you feel. Terrifying describes the things that make
you feel terrified. Terrified and terrifying express a higher degree of anxiety or
worry than frightened and frightening:

I was so much in debt. I was terrified I would lose my job when the restructuring
was announced.

It was a terrifying experience. I doubt he will ever recover from it.

scared / scary

Scary is the adjective relating to things or situations; scared the adjective


relating to how people feel. Scary and frightening express similar levels of fear or
worry:

Being alone in a cave with five thousand bats was scary.

I felt scared when night fell and I was nowhere near human habitation.

Using 'approve'

Frank Hasenmueller from Germany asks:

I would like to know if there is a difference in using approve with or without the
preposition of in your sentence structure. Or is it just the same?

The meaning of approve changes when you add the preposition of to make
approve of. Approve'by itself means 'sanction' or 'endorse' as in these two

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examples. In the first, an accountant is speaking and in the second, a university
admissions tutor.

• 'I cannot approve the reimbursement because you haven't given me the
receipts for your expenditure.'
• 'I cannot approve your application to study law because you do not have the
relevant qualifications.'

f you approve of something, then you consider it to be good or you agree with it.
Consider:

• 'I don't approve of smoking in restaurants because it is so upsetting usually


for non-smokers.'
• 'Why don't you approve of my friends? They are all good upright people.'

archenemy

Thank you for your efforts to teach us English, my beloved language.


I want to know, what does this statement mean?
"...is our arch enemy "

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

Hi Awad! Thank you for this vocabulary question.

Well, first of all, 'archenemy' is a countable noun that is usually spelled as one
word, though I notice that the BBC choose to use a hyphen to join the two parts of
the word - as in 'arch hyphen enemy' - 'arch-enemy'.

In general usage, 'archenemy' means 'the main enemy'. Sometimes 'Archenemy',


usually beginning with a capital 'A', is used to mean 'the devil'. 'Arch' in the word
'archenemy' is from the Greek 'arkhos' meaning 'most important'.

Some examples, all from films and TV shows, of how 'archenemy' is used include:
"...they're bringing back Doctor Who's archenemies, the Daleks..." - the Daleks are
Dr Who's most dangerous enemies and have threatened the Doctor's life on many
occasions.
"Oscar-nominated actor, Thomas Haden Church, is to be Spider-Man's next
archenemy, according to reports..."
"The actor playing Harry Potter's archenemy, Lord Voldemort, has been chosen for
The Goblet of Fire..."

If we'd like to talk about our friends, as well as our enemies, we could use the words
'main ally' as an opposite to 'archenemy'. 'Ally', when used as a noun, means a
person, group or nation that is linked to another or others because they have
something in common that they'd like to achieve. For example:
"Britain and the United States were allies in World War II."

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So 'ally' is a formal noun. But on a more personal level, we might say:
"Rachel is my best friend; I've known her for years!"

But perhaps a word of warning here: some people think it's only possible to have one
best friend, so choose carefully. But maybe that's another topic!

So, have you got an archenemy? I don't think I have, or maybe I do, and just don't
realise it yet. Let's hope we have some allies and at least one best friend as well!

As / Like

Well thank you! What poetic examples you’ve given me to work with! If I could fly
like a bird and I love you just as before.

Well, I think the main difference between like and as is in formality. Like is common
in conversation in comparative metaphors; as is still used in conversation, but it’s
more frequent in written English. I don’t think I can think of examples as romantic as
yours Silvio, but I’ll try! Here we go:

The view was just as I remembered it.

In conversation, we might say, The view was just like I remembered it.

Exercise is just as important as diet for good health.

In conversation, we might say: Exercise, just like diet, is important for good health.

But I think we’d use the as ... as structure to say something like She’s as lovely as
her sister.

In all of these examples, two states or things are being compared: the view before
and now; exercise and diet; two sisters. We can see that as is being used as a
preposition to show comparison, and like is the informal equivalent.

And, to continue with like: as well as being a verb that we’re all familiar with (as in I
do like you, Silvio), like has a couple of different meanings you may not be aware of.
We can use like to give examples, where it means such as. Here we go:

Some consumer goods, like household electrical products, are cheaper to purchase
than repair.

Many successful Broadway shows, like Chicago, Annie and Fame, have been turned
into films.

We were looking for a good present for a five-year-old, like a bicycle or a remote
controlled toy.

And finally Silvio, I’d like to tell you about another use of like, which is as a kind of
filler or a speech marker. Listen to these examples, which are taken from
conversation:

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My brother is like really, really good on the electric guitar.

I’ve just got to get, like, one hundred more points to move onto the next level.

This kind of usage is very common in the speech of young people, like my son. And
I’m going to end my explanation here – thank you for your question and I hope this
has helped, Silvio!

'beyond' and 'behind'.

English language learner Oksana wants to know how to correctly use the words
'beyond' and 'behind'.

Sian Harris answers:


Hi, thanks for your question, there are quite a few different definitions we need to
look at here but the meanings of 'behind' and 'beyond' are actually quite different.

One of the principal meanings of 'behind' is as a preposition of place. If you are


behind a thing or a person you are facing the back of that thing or person. For
example: 'There were two boys sitting behind me.' In these terms it means the
opposite of 'in front of.'

But 'behind' also has adverb uses: if you stay behind, you remain in a place after
others have gone. For example: 'John stayed behind after school to take the test.'
Equally, if you leave something behind, you do not take it with you when you go:
'They'd been forced to leave behind their businesses and possessions.'

As a time expression, behind appears when someone or something is behind, they


are delayed or are making less progress than other people think they should: 'The
bus was behind schedule.'

There are also some more abstract uses of behind that you should be aware of. If an
experience is behind you, it is finished. So, for example, 'Now that the divorce is
behind us, we can move on.'

Also the people, reasons or events behind a situation are the causes of it or are
responsible for it as in the sentence: '...the man behind the modernisation of the
organisation.'

Finally, if you are behind someone, you support them. 'The country was behind the
president.'

If we turn now to think about 'beyond' - 'beyond' can also function as a preposition
of place. If something is 'beyond' a place, it is on the other side of it, as in the case
of '...a house beyond the village.'

But there's a more abstract meaning to 'beyond' as well - it can mean to extend,
continue or progress beyond a particular thing or means to extend or continue
further than that thing or point. For example: 'Few children remain in school beyond
the age of 16.'

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'Beyond' also has some quite interesting idiomatic usages. If someone or something
is beyond belief, understanding or control, it has become impossible to believe,
understand or control it. 'The situation has changed beyond recognition.'

If you say that something is beyond you, you mean that you cannot understand it.
'How he managed to find us is beyond me.'

So, quite a few different meanings there to contend with, but I hope this helps you
to identify which word you might use.

British measures: feet, inches, etc.

I was reading a biography of an actor whose height was given as 6'3''. In Europe we
have centimetres and metres for the height of a person. Could you possibly tell me
how this height would correspond in metres?

Feet and inches / metres and centimetres

Six foot (or six feet) three (inches) would describe a fairly tall man. Note that we
would normally say six foot despite the plural reference, although six feet is also
possible. As a rough guide, three feet is almost one metre, so six feet would be
nearly two metres.

To be precise:

1 inch = 2.54 cm (two point five four centimetres)

12 in (12'') = 1 foot (1') = 30.48 cm (thirty point four eight cm)

3 ft (3') = 1 yard = 0.9144 m (zero point nine one four four metres)

Here are some more tall men and women for you to practise feet and inches with:

Who is the tallest man in the world and how tall is he? ~ It's Radhouane Charbib
from Tunisia and he's 7 ft 8.9 in. ~ That's pretty tall!

And the world's tallest woman? ~ It's Sandy Allen from the US who is 7' 2.5''. By the
age of ten she was already 6' 3''. ~ That's amazing!

We also use inches, feet and yards to measure length and width as well as height.
Note the following examples:

Our dining room is long and narrow - it's about 30' by 10'.

We had over a foot of snow this morning. How much did you have? ~ Oh, we had
about six inches.

The post office is about a hundred yards down this road on the left. ~ Is that two
blocks away in American English? ~ Two or three, I'd say.

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To complete the table:

1760 yd = 1 mile = 1.6093 km (one point six o nine three km)

If you are planning to drive in Britain next year you will need to know the following:

The speed limit in towns and built-up areas is normally 30 mph (thirty miles per
hour) although in some areas it may be 20 mph.

The speed limit on roads outside towns and villages is normally 60 mph except
where it is sign-posted as 50 mph.

The speed limit on motorways is 70 mph, but watch out for lower speed restrictions
which may be sign-posted.

Thirty miles per hour - is that approximately 50 kph? ~ I guess it is.

And seventy miles per hour - is that roughly 110 kph? ~ Round about 110, yes.

Ounces, pounds and stones / grams and kilograms

English people just like to be different, don't they? The bad news is that we still use
pounds and stones to measure people's weight instead of kilograms. At least the
older generation do. Here is another conversion table and note the abbreviations that
are used:

1 ounce = 28.35 g (twenty eight point three four grams)

16 oz = 1 pound = 0.4536 kg (o point four five three six kilos)

14 lbs = 1stone = 6.35 kg

How much do you weigh? I'm eleven stones eleven pounds - that's about 75 kilos.
I'm a little bit overweight for my height. Somebody my height and build (I'm 5' 8'')
should weigh between 10 st 7 and 11 st 7.

And if you are cooking something in an English house, you will know that recipes for
solid substances are still given in pounds (lbs) and ounces (ozs) and for liquid
substances in pints (1 pint = 0.57 litres). A rough guide here is that 4 ozs is very
roughly 100 gr.

Yorkshire Pudding

4 oz plain flour, ½ tsp salt, 1 egg, ¼ pint milk, ¼ pint water

To make Yorkshire Pudding to accompany your roast beef, you will need 4 ounces of
plain four, an egg, a quarter of a pint of milk and a quarter of a pint of water. And a
pinch of salt.

Dresses / shirts / shoes

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Finally, if you are going shopping in England on your next visit, you will need to note
English clothing sizes, although European equivalents are usually also given on the
labels.

presenter, broadcaster, and announcer;

I'm confused about the difference between presenter, broadcaster, and announcer;
and the difference between reporter and journalist. Your answer must be very helpful
for me. Thanks.

Hi Suharno,

All these words are used to describe people who work in the media. The first three:
presenter, broadcaster and announcer are all related to TV and radio: media which is
delivered partly – or wholly – through sound and speech (this type of media is
increasingly available on internet too).

A presenter is a person who introduces or hosts television or radio programmes. A


presenter's opening words on a programme are usually something like Good
evening, and welcome to[name of show] with me [name of presenter]. On tonight's
show we will be... [presenter talks about the content of the programme]. The topic
of the programme is not all about the presenter. The presenter is the person who
introduces the programme, introduces or links sections of the programme together
and says goodbye at the end. Some well-known presenters include Johnny Carson
(an American TV chat show host), Trevor MacDonald (a British TV news presenter),
and Karim Kouchouk (the presenter of BBCe for BBC Learning English Arabic
Service).

An announcer's job is similar to that of a presenter. He or she provides spoken


information about news, weather, programme content, links between programmes,
advertising etc. However, an announcer may have a smaller role in a programme
than a presenter does: on TV programmes, an announcer may only feature as a
voice whereas a presenter will be seen on the screen. Another main difference
between an announcer and a presenter is that the announcer usually reads word-for-
word from a script, whereas a presenter may have some flexibility regarding the
things they say.

The word broadcaster can refer to an organisation such as the BBC (UK) or NBC
(USA) which produces television and radio programmes. It can also be used to
describe someone who is well-experienced in the TV and radio industry. He or she
usually has multiple talents – scriptwriting, directing, presenting etc. and his or her
programmes may be considered to be very important and well-respected. Famous
British broadcasters include Sir David Attenborough, Sir Robert Winston and Sir
David Frost, and Larry King in the USA.

Turning to the second part of your question, Suharno: you wanted to find out about
the difference between a reporter and a journalist. In fact, these jobs are very
similar, and in some respects the terms are interchangeable. A journalist's work is
most often seen in print – especially newspapers – but they can work for TV and
radio too. A journalist gathers, writes and reports news stories, and may also edit
and present news articles.

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A reporter is a type of journalist who gathers information about newsworthy issues.
This may involve researching through several sources – interviews, police and public
records, photographs etc. When the information is gathered, the reporter will create
a report for publication or broadcast in the media. Reporters often specialise in a
particular area, for example: crime, politics, health or education.

Finally, Suharno, I'd like to mention one more media profession. A columnist is a
writer (usually a journalist) who writes regularly (often weekly) for a newspaper or
magazine. She or he chooses a topic that is in the news and writes not only about
the events that have become newsworthy but also often offers some analysis and/or
personal opinion. This job is usually reserved for senior journalists at a particular
newspaper or magazine. Well Suharno, I do hope this has been a useful answer to
your question!

Calling and kidding

Tanya from Russia writes:

In American English, one of the meanings of the verb to call is to make a phone
call. And the verb to kid means to joke. Do these verbs have the same meaning in
British English and are they widely used?

call

Yes, call is very frequently used in British English, as an alternative to ring or


phone, meaning to make a phone call:

• I decided to call / ring / phone him at home as he's always in meetings at


the office.

• Your wife called while you were in the meeting. Can you ring her back?

• If you need more information, you can call this number.

Do you also know the informal expression used in British English to give sb a bell,
meaning to phone?

• I'll give you a bell next week and we'll make the final arrangements then.

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call - phone or visit?

When it is used without an object, call can also mean visit as well as phone. Note
that if the context does not make the meaning clear, this may lead to confusion:

• By the way, Jenny called while you were at the hairdresser's. ~ Do you
mean she rang or she popped in?

Note that if we want to use call with an object, meaning to visit, we normally say to
call on sb:

• I called on my sister on my way home from work. She was pleased to see
me.

• I called my sister on my way home from work from my mobile phone.

call = name / shout / etc

Note that call is also frequently used with these meanings:

• If it's a boy, they're going to call him Cedric Alexander Roderick or Car for
short.

• This area is sometimes called the garden suburb because there's so much
greenery around.

• Did you call me? ~ I called you three times. ~ Sorry, I didn't hear you
because the hair dryer was on.

• If I call your name, please come to the front of the queue.

• He called me into his office because he wanted a private chat.


This train calls ( = stops) at all stations to London Victoria.

kid (verb)

Kid is widely used as a verb in British English meaning to joke if you want to
suggest that what has been said may not be appropriate or true:

• I'm going to call her and tell her she should marry Ben. ~ Are you kidding?
Ben's the last person she should marry!

• I'm going to buy her a ring with diamonds and emeralds. ~ You're kidding
me! Where are you going to get the money from?

• He says he's going to make a million before he's forty! ~ Who is he


kidding? He is kidding himself if he thinks that.

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kid (noun)

Note that kid and kids are also widely used as nouns to refer informally to children,
sons and daughters:

• We're going to take the kids to see Lion King at the theatre in London.

• He's just a kid. He doesn't understand the difference between right and
wrong.

• A group of kids were stealing the apples from the orchard and selling them
on the street corner.

• They don't have any kids so there's always plenty of money for holidays.

'come' or 'go'? 'bring' or 'take'?

Joo from Korea writes:

Hi. I've been learning English in Australia for 5 months. I've been having a hard time
because English syntax is so different from Korean. Some of the meanings of words
too.

Especially go and come. For example:

• Do you want to come with me to Tom's party?

In Korean it would be: Do you want to go with me to Tom's party?

Please explain to me how to use go and come in the correct way.

Andrzej Macalik from Poland writes:

I've got a problem with go back, come back and return, because in my opinion -
(only?) - they are the same!

Whether we use go or come all has to do with perspective and position.

go

98
We use go to describe movement away from the place or position where the speaker
or hearer is:

• Are you going to the pub tonight?


• Let's go and see Auntie Mary before the holiday is over.
• They've gone to live in Australia and I don't think they'll ever come back.

come

We use come to describe movement to the place where the speaker or hearer is:

• Could you come here for a minute, please, Diane?


~ I'm coming.
• We've come to ask you if we can borrow your car for a week.
• I've got some people coming for a meal tonight. Can you and Henry come
too?

go back, come back, return

The same rule applies with go back and come back, Andrzej, but you can use
return for both come back and go back:

• You must have come back / returned very late last night.
I didn't hear you come in.
• He went back / returned to Mexico when he had finished post-graduate
training.

Note, however, that come with and not go with is normally used when we are
talking about joining a movement of the speaker or hearer, even though the
movement is away from their current place or position:

• I'm going to the hospital this afternoon to get the test results. Could you
come with me?
• We're going to Egypt for a week at Christmas . Would you like to come with
us?

bring or take?

Note that the difference in use between bring and take is similar to that between
come and go. We use take to describe movement away from the position of the
speaker/hearer and bring to describe movement to the place where the
speaker/hearer is, was or will be:

99
• Can you take the car in for its service tomorrow, Jan? I’m going to take the
train.
• They’re not here. He must have taken them to the club. He’s taken my
umbrella too.
• These shirts that I bought don’t really fit me. I‘m going to have to take them
back.

• It’s kind of you to invite me to supper. Is it all right if I bring my boyfriend?


• Always remember to bring your calculators when you come to these maths
lessons!
• I’ve brought you some beans and tomatoes from my garden. I hope you can
use them.

'come' or 'go'? 'bring' or 'take'?

Joo from Korea writes:

Hi. I've been learning English in Australia for 5 months. I've been having a hard time
because English syntax is so different from Korean. Some of the meanings of words
too.

Especially go and come. For example:

• Do you want to come with me to Tom's party?

In Korean it would be: Do you want to go with me to Tom's party?

Please explain to me how to use go and come in the correct way.

Andrzej Macalik from Poland writes:

I've got a problem with go back, come back and return, because in my opinion -
(only?) - they are the same!

Whether we use go or come all has to do with perspective and position.

go

We use go to describe movement away from the place or position where the speaker
or hearer is:

• Are you going to the pub tonight?


• Let's go and see Auntie Mary before the holiday is over.
• They've gone to live in Australia and I don't think they'll ever come back.

100
come

We use come to describe movement to the place where the speaker or hearer is:

• Could you come here for a minute, please, Diane?


~ I'm coming.
• We've come to ask you if we can borrow your car for a week.
• I've got some people coming for a meal tonight. Can you and Henry come
too?

go back, come back, return

The same rule applies with go back and come back, Andrzej, but you can use
return for both come back and go back:

• You must have come back / returned very late last night.
I didn't hear you come in.
• He went back / returned to Mexico when he had finished post-graduate
training.

Note, however, that come with and not go with is normally used when we are
talking about joining a movement of the speaker or hearer, even though the
movement is away from their current place or position:

• I'm going to the hospital this afternoon to get the test results. Could you
come with me?
• We're going to Egypt for a week at Christmas . Would you like to come with
us?

bring or take?

Note that the difference in use between bring and take is similar to that between
come and go. We use take to describe movement away from the position of the
speaker/hearer and bring to describe movement to the place where the
speaker/hearer is, was or will be:

• Can you take the car in for its service tomorrow, Jan? I’m going to take the
train.
• They’re not here. He must have taken them to the club. He’s taken my
umbrella too.
• These shirts that I bought don’t really fit me. I‘m going to have to take them
back.

• It’s kind of you to invite me to supper. Is it all right if I bring my boyfriend?


• Always remember to bring your calculators when you come to these maths
lessons!
• I’ve brought you some beans and tomatoes from my garden. I hope you can
use them.

101
A question from Charles Otoghile:
What rules do I need to help me combine words - usually putting two words together
to form one word, such as classroom, blackboard etc.

Amos Paran answers:


Your question, Charles, touches on an important process in forming words in English,
a process that we call compounding. What happens is that two independent words
combine and make one compound word.

Many compounds are spelled as one word - as in the two words that you mentioned:
classroom and blackboard. But there are many compound words that are not spelled
as one word, but that are spelled with a hyphen. And in many cases some people will
spell them one way, and others will spell them another way - so eye-witness with a
hyphen can be spelled eyewitness without a hyphen; the same is true of drop-out.
You can see it written in both ways (drop-out or dropout). Other compounds are
always written as two different words - like petrol station or heart attack.

There are two rules that can help - or maybe I should call these generalisations
rather than rules. Let's look at some words that are compounded and written as one
word: blackbird; whiteboard; bathroom; skateboard; greenhouse. Observe how
many syllables they have - they have two syllables, and each of the independent
words that make them up is one syllable.

On the other hand, compounds where one of the words has more than one syllable
are normally written with a hyphen or as two separate words. So bathroom is one
word; but living room is written as two words. Blackboard is one word, but drawing
board is written as two words.

The second important rule concerns the stress. Teachers always like to talk about the
difference between a blackbird, which is a compound that refers to a specific kind of
bird, and a black bird, which is any bird that is black, and is not a compound. Or
about a greenhouse - a glass building where you grow plants, which is a compound -
and a green house, which is a house that is green - and is not a compound.

You will notice that in these short compounds, made of two words of one syllable,
the first syllable is stressed, and this is always true. This is also true for most longer
compounds - not all, but most of them - so, for example, we talk about a petrol
station, not a petrol station; or a heart attack, not a heart attack.

So, to sum up, I have made two generalisations about compounds, and this may
help you. But there is really no substitute for a good dictionary in this case, because
these rules are not fixed!

Confusing pairs: definite~definitive etc.

I teach English in Germany and have lived here for 26 years. I notice a word which
is being used in Britain these days for which I would have used another.

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The new word definitive appears to be used with the same meaning as definite -
something that is sure.

What is the difference, if any?.

I think the difference is still maintained by most users:

definite = certain, clear, precise, unlikely to be changed

definitive = something that provides a firm conclusion that cannot be challenged

• In 1993 he wrote a definitive work on the behaviour of stem cells.


• Barry and Susan have now got a definite date for their wedding.

I notice, by the way, that teenagers in Britain these days always appear to prefer
definitely to certainly in the following sort of exchange:

• Are you coming to the concert on Saturday? ~ Definitely!

If any of the following pairs of words are easily confused, you might try this sort of
activity as a class exercise with a more advanced group of students.

cook and cooker

One is the person who cooks and the other is the stove that food is cooked on.
But which is which...?

• He was a really good cook and his spaghetti made me think I was in Italy.
• The cooker was really dirty and I could see that it hadn't been cleaned for
weeks.

dessert and desert

One is the sweet food that is served at the end of a meal. The other is an area of
land where nothing grows and there is very little water. But which is which...?

• For dessert I had chocolate cake with whipped cream and then a bowl of
cherries.
• The hot desert sand cut into our faces and we had to close our eyes.

satisfactory and satisfying

One of them describes something that gives you a feeling of fulfilment. The other
describes something that it good enough to be acceptable. But which is which...?

• The doctor said he was making satisfactory progress but it seemed very
slow to me.

103
• There's nothing more satisfying than concluding an agreement after five
days of talks.

alternate and alternative

One describes something that you can choose to have or do instead of something
else. The other describes an activity that is off then on, then off then on again. But
which is which...?

• We could see our father only on alternate weekends. Unfortunately not every
weekend.
• There is no alternative to a prison sentence for such a serious crime.

principle and principal

One of them describes a general rule or set of beliefs that you try to adhere to. The
other means first in order of importance or the person in charge of a school. But
which is which...?

• He was a man of very few principles who later came to regret the path his
life had taken.
• His principal interest in life was to look after the welfare of others.

There are many other pairs that can be used, depending on the level of the class:

• electrical ~ electronic
• economical ~ economic
• historical ~ historic
• complement ~ compliment
• personal ~ personnel
• stationery ~ stationary
• emigrate ~ immigrate
• housework ~ homework
• tasty ~ tasteful
• complexity ~ complication

confusing road signs

John Chan from Singapore writes:

I need your help in answering the following:

• Push your bicycles across the underpass (i.e. a short tunnel under an
expressway).

Does this mean that you push your bicycle through the underpass across the
expressway? Why not write it simply this way instead:

104
• Push your bicycles through the underpass

You are quite right, John. Logically it should be: Push, do not ride, your bicycles
through the underpass, if the underpass crosses a road beneath the expressway
or motorway. I understand that the rationale for this instruction is that it would be
too dangerous to pedestrians if cyclists rode their bikes through the underpass.

Road signs can sometimes be confusing, often because they are too concise. Can you
work out the intended meaning in the following:

CAUTION - CATTLE CROSSING AHEAD

Does this mean:

• (a) drive carefully because when you go round the next bend, you will see
cattle crossing the road in front of you?
• (b) drive carefully because when you go round the next bend, you will come
to the place where cattle sometimes cross the road?

DIVERSION AHEAD

Does this mean?

• (a) that there are some amusements ahead which will enable you to take a
break from driving and take a rest?
• (b) that the road ahead is blocked and you will have to take an alternative
route?

Public Conveniences

100 yds

Does this mean that:

• (a) you will find all the facilities you need, banks, shops, restaurant etc
approximately one hundred metres to you left?
• (b) there are public toilets approximately one hundred
metres to your left?

STOP

CHILDREN CROSSING

105
Does this mean:

• (a) you must do all you can to prevent children crossing the road ahead?
• (b) you must stop because there are children crossing the road in front of
you?

ROAD WORKS

Does this mean that:

• (a) the road ahead is open and in a good state of repair?


• (b) repairs are being carried out on the road ahead?

'Dedicated / Devoted'

A question from Ikram in Pakistan:

I really appreciate your efforts to help us to learn and improve English language.

I have a query about two words in English language. 'dedicated' and 'devoted' are
the two words which are commonly used in speaking and writing. I am well aware of
the meanings of the two words. My question is that in some situations we prefer to
use the word 'dedicated' rather than 'devoted' while in other circumstances we prefer
to use 'devoted'.

Please enlighten me when it is appropriate to use 'dedicated' rather than 'devoted'


and vice versa.

Mark Shea answers:

This is a tricky question, Ikram - the words 'dedicated' and 'devoted' seem very
similar.

If we look at the etymology of the words - that's how they came into English - we
see that they have quite similar meanings originally. Both come from Latin: 'devote'
comes from the word meaning 'a vow', and 'dedicate', which has changed very
little, comes from the word meaning 'to proclaim', 'consecrate' or 'devote'. Both
words have a religious background, and both mean to have great love, affection or
enthusiasm for something.

We might identify some differences in the use of each word today, however...
'Devoted' has remained far closer to its original meaning - we still use it to talk
about someone's commitment to a particular activity or object. It's particularly used
to talk about someone's love for their family -
"He's a devoted father" OR
"She was devoted to her grandchildren."

We can use it, perhaps less frequently, to talk about other areas of life:
"Years of devoted research finally produced results," for example, or...
"The teachers were devoted to their students."

106
The central meaning is that effort and concentration are involved in the object of the
devotion. And it's worth noting that the noun 'devotions' might also mean religious
activities like praying, for example.

'Dedicated' has become more flexible over time...


We're less likely to use it to talk about love for one's family or in a religious context -
it's a more general word.
If you are dedicated to something, you believe that it's right and worthwhile and
you give a lot of time and effort to it. It's especially useful to talk about someone's
attitude to their job -
"A dedicated worker" is very committed, for example. But 'dedicated' could also
be used to describe someone who believes very strongly in the importance of an
ideal...
'A dedicated vegetarian' believes very strongly that people should not eat animals.
'Dedicated' can be used in another way though:
A song on the radio might be dedicated to a particular person - you can call some
radio stations and they'll play songs which you request for your friends or family.
'A dedication' is a statement which says who a book has been written for or who a
song has been sung for.

To sum up then, both words have similar origins and meanings, but we're more likely
to use 'devoted' to talk about family or loved ones, and 'dedicated' to talk about
work or other interests.

So thanks for being such a dedicated learner of English, Ikram!

'deny', 'refuse', 'reject'

Thuy Nhien from Vietnam asks:

Could you please show me the difference between 'deny', 'refuse', 'reject',
'decline'...

Mark Shea answers:

Hi Thuy Nhien,

This is a very common question as 'deny', 'refuse', 'reject' and 'decline' often
translate to the same word in other languages, so learners often have problems
distinguishing between them.

One useful way of seeing the difference between words is to look at the opposite of
each one...

'Accept' could be the opposite of 'refuse', 'reject' and 'decline', so we can see that
these words have very similar meanings.

The opposite of 'deny' would be 'admit', however, so this is different to the others -
an 'odd one out'.

107
The main meaning of 'deny' is to say that something is not true. If the police are
questioning somebody, the suspect might deny that he committed a crime, for
example.

'Deny' also has a less common use, which is quite similar to 'refuse' - if you deny
somebody something, you 'refuse' to give it to them - for example:

"The guards denied their prisoners food and water"

Finally, if you 'deny' someone, you say that they aren't connected to you at all - but
this use is rather old-fashioned.

To 'refuse' is the opposite of to 'accept' - if you refuse to do something you choose


not to do it, or say firmly that you will not do it.

You could also refuse something, which means that you don't accept it. For
example:

"I offered him a cold drink but he refused it"

Notice that the pronunciation has the stress on the second syllable - refuse as
opposed to refuse, which is a formal word for rubbish.

'Reject' is quite similar to 'refuse' - the opposite of both would be 'accept'.

If you reject a proposal or a request, for instance, you decide not to agree with it...

"Judge Dread rejected the lawyer's request for more time to study the case"

If you reject a belief or a theory, you decide that you do not believe in it and you do
not wish to follow it...

"The rebels rejected the authority of the central government."

'Reject' often carries the added meaning that you don't think something is good
enough - if an employer rejects a job applicant, or a machine rejects a credit card
it is because something is considered unsuitable, invalid or wrong in some way.

If someone rejects a lover, their family or friends, they behave with cruelty or
indifference towards them and perhaps do not want to see them any more.

Notice that in all cases, the pronunciation is reject, reject, with the stress on the
second syllable, which is common for verbs with two syllables.

The noun, a reject, has the stress on the first syllable and means somebody or
something which has not been accepted. For example:

"This shirt was very cheap because it was a reject"

108
Finally, we come to 'decline'... 'Decline' can be a rather formal synonym for
'refuse' - if you decline something or decline to do something, you politely refuse
to accept it or do it...

"The princess is believed to have declined various proposals of marriage"

for example.

It can also be a noun - but this time it is pronounced the same as the verb, decline.

Then there's the intransitive verb - that's a verb without an object.

If something declines, it loses quality, importance or strength. Listen to how the verb
'decline' is used in this sentence:

"As China and India become more powerful, the economic power of the United
States may be declining"

So, in conclusion then, we might

deny an allegation

refuse an offer

reject a suggestion - and

decline a formal invitation.

Thanks for your question Thuy Nhien.

expressions with do/did/done

Navid, studying English in the United States, writes:

I have difficulty understanding the meaning of done in this sentence:

• It's not done to call your teachers by their first names.

I would like to know why done doesn't appear to make very much sense in this
sentence in American English.

In British English there are a large number of expressions with do/did/done in


regular use.

In your example, Navid, it's simply a matter of usage. Americans that I have
consulted would all recognise this expression, as they would an almost identical

109
expression it's (not) the done thing to, though they might not use them actively
in speech or writing.

In British English, both of these expressions are commonly used. The meaning is that
it is (not) socially acceptable to do this. It may not be politically correct, to use
another similar expression to describe actions which might appear insulting to
particular groups of people (also sometimes referred to as PC and non-PC).

Compare the following:

• In this society, it is quite the done thing to eat with your hands.
• It's not the done thing to poke fun at disabled people.
• It's not done to remain seated when your National Anthem is played.
• It is clearly politically incorrect (non-PC) to refer to childcare workers as
nursemaids.

Sometimes, expressions which may appear similar at first glance have quite different
shades of meaning.

Use of the past participle done in expressions normally suggests completed action,
but whereas done and dusted means successfully completed and refers to
something that you are upbeat about, over and done with suggests something
mildly unpleasant which you are pleased is now finished:

• I finally completed that project last month. Yes, it's all done and dusted.
• At long last their divorce has come through. Now the whole thing's over
and done with.

What about he's done his nut and it's done his nut in?

In both of these nut means head, as in nutcase to describe someone who is crazy
or insane. But are these two very informal expressions the same or different? What
do you think?

• I didn't have time to clear up after the party and my mum's done her nut.
• He was so tired he couldn't concentrate on the details in his contract. It did
his nut in.

Clearly, they are different. To do your nut means to lose your temper, to fly into a
rage. It did his nut in means that it confused or bemused him.

And what about have done with and do away with? Are these two informal
expressions the same, similar or different?

• Aren't you still going out with Robert?


No, I've done with him.
• They've done away with the death penalty in many countries recently.

110
Slightly similar, though have done with means end relations with someone and do
away with means abolish or put an end to.

If we substituted done away with for have done with in the first example, it
would mean murdered!

How about do a good turn to and done to a turn? Same, similar or different?

• He did me a good turn and took care of Felix while I was on holiday.
• The goose was done to a turn: lovely soft breast meat with the juices
oozing out of it!

Quite different: done to a turn means cooked perfectly and do a good turn means
do someone a favour.

In very common use are: Well done! All done! and Done!
But how exactly are they used?

• How would you like your steak, sir?


Well done, please. I don't want to see any blood.
• You've done really well to win first prize! Well done!
• Have you finished that job, Asha?
Yeah, all done.
• What about you Jim? All done?
All done!
• If I offered you £200 for your old car, would you accept it?
Done!

Well done = cooked thoroughly or slightly overcooked


Well done! = words of congratulation for someone who has done something
successfully
All done = completely finished
Done! = one-word acceptance of an offer or a bet someone has made

As an introduction or greeting, remember that How do you do? and Hi! How're
you doing? are complete opposites in terms of formality - informality:

• Hi Bob! How're ya doin'?


I'm fine, thanks.
• How do you do?
How do you do? (Must be accompanied by a handshake and no kisses!)

Wear, put on, dress, be dressed in

Tugba from Turkey writes:

Hello. I would like to know the difference between wear, put on, dress, and
dressed in.

111
Wear

When you wear your clothes, shoes or jewellery you have them on your body:

• She was wearing a beautiful diamond necklace with matching earrings.

You can also wear your hair in a particular way:

• David Beckham used to wear his hair short, but now he is wearing it long.

There is another meaning to wear. If something wears, it becomes thinner or


weaker because it is used frequently over a long period of time. We also have the
expression to wear thin and the phrasal verb to wear out. People can also feel
worn out. If something wears you out, it makes you feel extremely tired. Compare
the following usages:

• This carpet is beginning to wear. We shall soon have to replace it.

• He is such an annoying person. My patience is wearing thin.

• If you didn't play football every day, your shoes wouldn't wear out so
quickly.

• Don't rush around so much. You'll wear yourself out.

• I've spent all day shopping and I feel quite worn out.

Put on

When you put clothes on you place them on your body in order to wear them.
And when you have finished wearing them, you take them off. We also put on
weight, the opposite of which is to lose weight. Compare the following (additional)
usages of put on:

• Take that shirt off and put on a new one. You can't go out in such an old
shirt.

• The amateur dramatic company put on a new show, but had to take it off
after three days as nobody came.

• The casserole is in the oven. Put the potatoes on now and put the rice on
in five minutes.

• I thought I was going to put some weight on on holiday, but I lost half a
kilo as I swam every day.

• Why don't you put that new CD on so that I have some music while I'm
ironing?

112
Dress

When you dress, you put clothes on. You can also dress children, dress a
wound by cleaning it and covering it and dress a salad by putting oil and vinegar
on it. If you dress up, you put on different clothes to make yourself look smarter, if
you dress down, you put on clothes that are less smart than usual. We often speak
of getting dressed as a colloquial alternative to dress. Compare the following
usages:

• You'd better get dressed now. Henry will be here in ten minutes.

• She came in covered in mud. So I bathed her and dressed her in new
clothes.

• I must dress now for the party. Have you dressed the salad yet?

• I think it's better not to dress that wound. We'll just leave it so that the air
can get to it.

• It is customary now to dress down in certain offices in the city on Fridays.


There is no need to wear a suit.

• I just love dressing up and Edward's having an Edwardian party on


Saturday.

Be dressed in

If you dress or are dressed in a particular way, you wear clothes, usually for a
particular purpose:

• She was dressed in a multi-layered organdie gown with a duchess satin


opera coat for the open-air production of Don Giovanni. Her chaperone was
wearing a white dinner jacket.

Either, neither and too

Qemal from Albania writes:

I am a military man from Albania and I would be very grateful if you could give me
some explanation of how to use neither, either and too. I find it very difficult.

Wojciech Szczupa from Poland writes:

Try as I might, I couldn't find a clear answer to this question. How should we say:
neither of them is or neither of them are? Which form would you use? Is one
more proper than the other?

113
Either indicates a choice between two alternatives. Neither combines two negative
ideas. Study the following examples of use:

• Which of these apples would you prefer? ~ I don't want either of them,
thanks.
• You can have either the £15 cotton top or the £17 cotton-and-polyester
blouse. You can't have both.
• Neither Richard nor Judy could come to the party.
• I want neither alcohol nor cigars for my birthday. Now that I'm fifty I must
live a healthier life.

Both either and neither can function as pronouns, determiners or adverbs.

When they function as pronouns, they are often followed by of + noun phrase:

• I've known you for two years, but I haven't met either of your two brothers
yet. (OR: I've known you for two years, but I haven't met either Francis or
Damien yet.)

• Neither of my two brothers survived the war. Neither Francis, nor Damien.
• Which of these fur coats is yours? ~ Neither (of them). That one's mine.

When they function as adverbs, they behave as linking words which can be tagged
on in agreement at the end of a negative sentence. But with neither, subject and
verb are inverted, with either this does not happen:

• I can't make the meeting on Tuesday. ~ No, neither can I (OR: No, nor can
I.)
• I can't make the meeting on Tuesday. ~ No, I can't either.
• I don't approve of sex before marriage. ~ No, neither do I. (OR: No, nor do
I.)
• I don't approve of sex before marriage. ~ No, I don't either.
• I don't go mountain climbing and I don't go mountain walking, either. (OR: I
don't go mountain climbing and neither do I go mountain walking.

Too can function as an adding adverb which is placed in agreement at the end of an
affirmative sentence. Compare the following:

• I like peaches and nectarines best. ~ Yeah, I like peaches and nectarines,
too.
• I don't like peaches or nectarines. ~ No, I don't like peaches or nectarines,
either.

When either and neither function as determiners, they are placed before the
noun.

114
• On neither side of the road was there anybody to be seen.
• Neither player could raise his game. It was a very boring game of tennis to
watch.
• The sisters in the photograph were standing on either side of their dad.
(OR: ...on each side..., OR: ...on both sides....)

Neither of them is or neither of them are?

I don't think there is a clear answer, Wojciech. Although this of-pronoun is normally
considered singular, it is normally followed by plural nouns or pronouns. Thus, the
boundary between singular and plural is blurred and effectively it can go with either
a singular or plural verb form. Strictly speaking, it should be singular, but you will
hear both formulations with no clear preference for one or the other:

• Neither of them are coming. They both have to work next weekend.
• Neither of them is coming. They both have to work next weekend.
• Which of these umbrellas is yours? ~ Neither of them are. That one's mine.
• Which of these umbrellas is yours? ~ Neither is. That's mine.

There is similar confusion, I think, when neither...nor are employed as


conjunctions, meaning not one and not the other. Consider the following:

• Neither Francoise nor Helmut likes to eat English breakfasts, even at


weekends.
• Neither Franciose nor Helmut like to eat English breakfasts, even at
weekends
• Neither Emma nor Susan gets on with Chloe.
• Neither Emma nor Susan get on with Chloe.

A question from Qais Mohammed:


What is the difference between effect and affect?

Catherine Walter answers:


Hi Qais, You have asked a question that many native speakers of English ask when
they are writing and part of the problem is that these two words, although spelt
differently, are pronounced the same by many people in many contexts. So many
people say affect and effect - for the word that begins with 'a' they say and for
the word that begins with 'e' they say . I tend to say and /Ifekt/ - so I
tend to pronounce the one that begins with 'e', / Ifekt/ but not everybody does.

What's the difference? The main use of 'affect' - with an 'a' - is as a verb meaning to
have an influence. So you could say: 'Your emotional state affects how you
remember things'. The word with an 'e' - effect - is usually used as a noun and it
means the result of an influence. So: 'What effect will the new law have on road
use?' Part of the problem, you see, is not only that these two words are spelt very
similarly, often pronounced the same, but their meanings are also very similar -
one's a noun, one's a verb. There is a rarer and more formal use of 'effect' as a verb
- that's the one with the 'e' - meaning 'to make something happen'. So you could

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say: 'It is pointless to try and effect a chance in policy now'.

There are also a number of fixed phrases so something that you might hear quite
often is 'take effect'. So that's effect - with an 'e' - used as a noun. Here's an
example: 'New privacy regulations will take effect on July 1st.'

Since we're being complete here, I'll give you one last little meaning. You may
sometimes run across the word with an 'a' but it's pronounced differently, meaning a
good or bad feeling towards something, or an attitude towards something. And that's
usually pronounced /æfekt/. So it's a psychology term. You might hear, or read more
likely: 'The influence of positive effect on social behaviour'. But, that's quite rare and
I hope that differentiating 'affect' - with an 'a' - as a verb, and 'effect' - with an 'e' -
as a noun, will at least set you on the right track. Hope that's helpful.

'effective' / 'efficient''?

A question from Hervé in France:


Could you explain the difference between something 'effective' and something
'efficient'?

Both could be translated in French by "efficace", although the word "efficient" also
exists in French and there is a difference between both.

When it is 'efficient' in French, it means that it produces effect. When it is 'efficace', it


means that it works well. Does that difference exist in English too - 'effective' /
'efficient''?

Gareth Rees:
Well Hervé, thank you very much for your question. Your question in fact relates to
the topic of false friends. These are words in a foreign language which seem similar
to words in your own language. However, in fact they have a different meaning in
the foreign language, so they're not really friends, they're false friends.

English is a language that has developed from Germanic and Latin languages, and it
has also adopted words from other languages such as Hindi and Urdu. Because
English has, in part, developed from Latin, and so has French, there are many similar
looking or sounding words. And this is the problem that Hervé has with 'effective'
and 'efficient'. In French there are similar sounding words, but the meanings are not
exactly the same.

In English, 'effective' means that something produces results or an effect. It does


what it is supposed to do. 'Efficient' means that something is done in a good way,
without wasting time, money or energy. For example, a car with an effective engine
will move, because the engine does what it is supposed to do. It produces results. It
moves the car.

A car with an efficient engine is a car that travels a long way without using a lot of
petrol. It is efficient, it doesn't waste energy.

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It seems from what Hervé says, that the French word efficient' is more similar to
'effective' than the similar sounding 'efficient'. However, I am not a French expert, so
I?ll leave him to decide.

A couple of other examples of these false friends include 'sympathetic' and 'sensible'.
'Sympathetic' is a false friend for the French and 'sensible' is a false friend for the
Spanish.

I hope my explanation has been effective, and that I have made it in an efficient
way.

Assure, ensure, insure - assurance, insurance

Betty Choy from Hong Kong writes:

I would be most grateful if you could tell me the difference between assurance and
insurance. I was told that we talk about life assurance but property insurance.
However, I have also heard that American insurance companies talk about life
insurance. Please help.

I will start with the verbs from which these nouns are derived as they are in more
common use and then deal with the more specialist noun forms second.

assure - ensure - insure

If you assure someone that something is true or will happen, you tell them that it
is definitely true or will happen, often in order to make them less worried. We often
use such phrases as I can assure you or let me assure you in order to emphasise
the truth of what we are saying:

• She hastened to assure me that the report contained no critical comment


on my department's performance.

• Let me assure you / I can assure you that the children will be totally safe
on this adventure holiday. No risks of any kind will be taken.

Ensure is subtly different from assure and people often confuse the two. If you
ensure that something happens, you make certain that it happens. A less formal
equivalent of this verb in spoken English would be make sure:

• Ensure / Make sure that your working hours as well as your rate of pay are
written into your contract.

• I tried to ensure that everybody wore their life jackets the whole time that
we were on the sailing boats, but not everybody carried out my instruction.

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In American English, ensure is sometimes spelt insure:

• I shall try to insure that you have a nice time while you are here.

Insure has another meaning, as you suggest, Betty. If you insure yourself or your
property, you pay money to an insurance company so that if you become ill or if your
property is stolen or damaged, the company will pay you a sum of money:

• We can insure your car against fire, theft and third party damage for as little
as £30 per month.~

• Make sure you remember to insure the digital camera and the mobile
phones. They're not included under the house contents insurance.

Assurance

First and foremost, assurance has the same meaning as assure. If you give
someone an assurance that something is true or will happen, you say that it is
definitely true or will definitely happen in order to make them feel less worried:

• He sought an assurance from me that i'd always be available on Saturdays


to undertake the work.

• I was unable to give her any assurance that Beth would arrive in time for
the family re-union.

Secondly, in British English we sometimes talk about life assurance as an


alternative to life insurance to describe the form of insurance in which a person
makes regular payments to an insurance company in return for a sum of money
which is paid to them after a period of time or to their family if they die. Both terms
are freely used in British English:

• As we came down that hill, I thought we were going to die and I started
thinking about my life insurance / life assurance policies.

Insurance is the term used to describe all other types of insurance:

• That car is not insured. The insurance expired at the end of July and you
haven't renewed it.

Note that we cannot say ensurance. There is no noun which is derived from
ensure.

inquire and enquire

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question from Eric in Singapore:
Please would you answer another question for me? What is the difference between
inquire and enquire?

Amos Paran answers:


There is a very simple answer here - there is no difference in meaning. The spelling
with 'e' is British, the spelling with 'i' is North American. The same goes for the
nouns, 'inquiry' and 'enquiry'.

There are of course other differences in spelling between American and British
English. The most common ones are words that end with 'our' in British English and
are spelled 'or' in American English - labour (labor), honour (honor), and so on.

Another common difference is words that end in 're' in British English and are spelled
with 'er' in American English- theatre, centre.

And finally, words that end with - 'ize' in American English and are often spelled with
- 'ise' in British English - sympathise, criticise, and so on.

Luckily, my spell checker accepts both!

Equipment, utensil, tool and apparatus

What is the difference between 'equipment', 'utensil', 'tool' and 'apparatus'?

Thank you for these four items, Sam. They are clearly all from the same lexical field.
What you need to know is what restrictions are placed on their use.

Equipment usually describes (all) the necessary articles for a purpose. Thus you
would say:

• 'A lot of equipment was needed for this mountaineering (or camping)
expedition.'

Apparatus is similar in meaning to equipment, although it tends to relate to


particular contexts. Thus gymnastic apparatus refers to all the apparatus you
would expect to find in a gym. It tends to be used in scientific or technical contexts:

• 'The chemistry lab was full of the apparatus needed for a range of
experiments'.

For tools and utensils it is also very important to know which other words they
collocate with. For example, we talk about garden tools for a gardener and work
tools for a carpenter, but kitchen utensils for a housewife or house-husband.

'take'- expressions

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Mirto F Santos from Brazil writes:

I don't quite understand the meaning of the expression take for granted. Can you
please help me?

Derek from Taiwan writes:


What does this expression mean: take it as it comes?

take something / someone for granted

There are two realisations of this expression, Mirto. In one of them when somebody
takes you for granted, they are befitting from your help, without acknowledging it:

• He just takes me for granted - never any thanks for all the things I do for
him.

If you take something for granted, you assume it will happen or is the case
without thinking about it:

• I took it for granted that I would give the opening address at the
conference.
• The things I take for granted in Madrid just do not apply to my life in
London.

take it as it comes

If you take things as they come, you take them in sequence or in order with no
need to prioritise:

• You're going to be very busy today - lots of customers. ~ Oh, that doesn't
bother us. We'll just take it as it comes.

take-expressions

We noted in another answer (to review that answer click here) that take is one of
the most frequently used verbs in the English language. Consequently, there are
more than fifty expressions in current use that incorporate the verb take. Here are
eight of the more opaque.

take it lying down - submit to insult without protesting, like a dog when cowed

• She's horrible to you all the time - don't just take it lying down!

take it on the chin - accept a difficult situation without complaining

• Her criticism was quite justified. He took it on the chin and apologised.

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take it out on someone - work off frustration by being unpleasant to someone

• I know you've had a bad day at work, but don't take it out on me.

take one's breath away - stress that something is extremely beautiful

• When you get a first glimpse of the Niagara Falls, it takes your breath
away.

take one's hat off to - express admiration for someone's achievements.

• I take my hat off to the police for managing the protest without arresting
anyone.

take someone to the cleaners - deprive them of their money or possessions

• They took me to the cleaners. I went into the casino with £100 and came
out £1,000 in debt.

take someone for a ride - trick or deceive them, perhaps for financial gain

• He's taking you for a ride. Why did you lend him £100? You'll never get it
back.

something takes the biscuit - a stupidity that evokes surprise

• I didn't mind her borrowing my jeans, but stealing me underwear - well, that
just about takes the biscuit!

take multi-part verbs

Similarly, there are numerous multi-part verbs where take is combined with a
preposition and/or adverbial particle. Some of them have a literal meaning, like
take away or take off which are relatively easy to understand:

• Have you finished with that yet? ~ Yes, I have. Please take it away.
• I took off my dirty clothes and put them in the laundry basket.

Other examples have an idiomatic meaning where the meaning may not be clear
from an understanding of the individual words. These include:

take after - to resemble a family member in appearance, character or behaviour

• Sylvia has always been a worrier - she takes after her mother in that
respect.

take up an activity - become interested in it or start doing it.

• She took up line dancing after her husband died.

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take up on - accept an offer OR challenge someone verbally

Can I take you up on that lift to Manchester? ~ Sure! No problem.


I'd like to take you up on that. I don't agree that cloning is inevitable.

take over - assume management, control or ownership

• It's possible that the supermarket chain Safeway will be taken over by
Sainsbury's.

Note that the verb needed for going past someone is overtake:

• He overtook me on the brow of the hill - really dangerous driving!

take to - develop a liking for someone or something

• He's taken to drinking heavily since his wife left him.


• Tommy has really taken to his new teacher and can't wait to get to school.

Expressing views and opinions

in my view / opinion

I think we would normally drop point of and simply say in his view (in my view /
in their opinion / etc):

• In my view, birds should not be kept in cages.

• How important is it, in your view, that the twins should stay together? ~ In
my opinion, it's very important.

If we want to use point of view, I think we would more often say from my point
of view rather than according to my point of view. Both these expressions
emphasise the position or angle you are judging the situation from:

• From my point of view it makes no difference whether you return on Saturday


night or Sunday morning.

• From a political point of view, the agreement of the UN is extremely


important.

• From the point of view of safety, always wear a helmet when you are on the
building site.

to my mind / etc

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In my view, from my point of view, in my opinion are all fairly formal ways of
expressing your opinion characteristic of written English. Less formal equivalents
more characteristic of spoken English, include the following:

to my mind: to emphasise that this is your opinion


reckon: usually to express an opinion about what Is likely to happen
feel: to express a strong personal opinion
if you ask me: to express an opinion that may be critical
to be honest (with you): to express a critical opinion without seeming rude
as far as I'm concerned: to express an opinion that may be different from others'

• To my mind the quality of their football is just not good enough.

• I reckon it'll rain later today. Let's go tomorrow.

• I feel she shouldn't be getting married so young.

• If you ask me, it's unreasonable to pay for something which should be free.

• To be honest (with you), I'm surprised you got into university with such low
grades.

• As far as I'm concerned, the matter is over and done with and we can now
move forward.

academic writing and expressing opinions

If you are required to write an academic essay in which you are asked to express an
opinion (see below), useful alternatives to in my view include:

I think that…
It seems to me that…
I would argue that…
I do not believe that…
I am unconvinced that…
I do not agree that…

• How acceptable is it for wild animals to be kept in zoos?

• I believe that it is quite unacceptable for animals to be kept in zoos. It seems


to me that when they are confined to a cage they never have enough room to
move around. I would argue that it is kinder to allow a rare animal to die
naturally in the wilds rather than to prolong its life artificially in a zoo.

making concessions

To achieve balance in any essay, it may be useful to incorporate opinions that are
different from your own. Useful linking words and expressions include:

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Of course, many / some people argue…
It is sometimes argued…
Admittedly…
While…

• It is sometimes argued that it is possible for conditions in the zoo to


replicate the wild animal's natural habitat. While this may be feasible for
smaller reptiles, it will never be possible, in my view, for the larger
mammals which needs acres of space to roam around in.

clarifying an opinion

It may sometimes be necessary to explain a thought in greater detail. Useful linking


expressions for doing this include:

By this I mean…
Here I'm referring to…
To be more precise…
That is to say…

• By spending money on confining wild animals to zoos, we are wasting


resources. By this I mean there are more urgent economic problems to deal
with: hospitals and schools should be our first priority.

faults, flaws, weaknesses and drawbacks

Could you help me to work out the differences in use between the following words:
faults, flaws, weaknesses and drawbacks? Are they interchangeable when talking
about someone’s character?

Of these four synonyms, or expressions with similar meanings, fault is probably the
most widely term used.

Faults

Fault is not so much used to talk about someone’s character, Helen. Instead we talk
about electrical, mechanical or technical faults:

There was a fault in the wiring and I had no idea how to correct it.
There was a delay in the broadcast of the programme and this was due to a technical
fault.
A mechanical fault caused the train to come off the rails.

A fault then describes a weakness in something, primarily. But sometimes it is used


to describe a weakness in someone’s character:

She has her faults, but, on the whole, she’s a nice person.
We all have our own faults, I suppose.

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We also have the frequently used expression: It’s (not) my/your/his/etc fault.
This is a more idiomatic way of saying: I am (not) to blame or I am (not)
responsible (for this unfortunate situation).

It’s not my fault he’s late. Don’t blame me.


I’m sorry. It’s my fault. I forgot to pass on the message.

If you don’t get enough sleep, it’s entirely your own fault.
It was partly the teacher’s fault for giving them too much homework.

Flaws

We use flaw mainly to talk about a minor fault or weakness in something which
make it less effective or valuable. We talk about flawed arguments for example.
Note also a flawless complexion:

There’s a flaw in your argument. I agree with you up to a point, but the last part
doesn’t make complete sense to me.
There was a tiny flaw in the necklace and it certainly wasn’t worth all the money we
had paid for it.
She attributed her flawless complexion to the moisturising creams she used.

However, we can also talk about serious or major flaws:

There are major flaws in the way we train teachers in this country.
There were serious flaws in the construction of the pedestrian bridge.

And, yes, we can also use flaw to describe a fault in someone’s character:

The only flaw in his character was his short temper – he tended to fly off the handle
at the slightest provocation.

Weaknesses

Weaknesses generally describe the state or condition of being weak and of lacking
strength or resilience.

The main weakness of this government is that it keeps changing direction on key
policy issues.
He showed great weakness in not owning up to his part in the bad behaviour.

Weaknesses can also refer to faults or problems that make something less
attractive or effective:

They were keen to know how well it would sell in Russia so they listed all the
strengths and weaknesses of their product for this market.

The only weakness in her character that I could spot was that she seemed to be
over-dependent on others.

Note that if you have a weakness for something, you are very fond of it:

I have a great weakness for chocolate. I can never refuse it.

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Drawbacks

We use drawback to refer to a feature of something which makes it less useful or


acceptable than it could be. Drawback is often synonymous with disadvantage,
but note that drawforward does not exist as an alternative to advantage!

The only drawback / disadvantage with this accommodation is that it’s a fifteen-
minute walk to the bus-stop.
The main drawback of this examination is that it takes two months before the results
are released.

So, Helen, from the shades of meaning inherent in all four of these terms, note that
we can refer to faults, flaws and weaknesses in someone’s character, but we are less
likely to talk about drawbacks in someone’s character.

"to fire in anger"

Could you, please, explain the meaning of the phrase "to fire or shoot (something or
someone) in anger", and provide a paraphrase. I realise it doesn't actually mean to
fire or shoot because one is angry. But I'm also unsure whether the phrase "to fire in
anger" is used specifically in a war context or also applies to non-military conflicts.

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

Hello Pierre, and thanks for sending in such a challenging question!

Well, none of the dictionaries I consulted (including a dictionary of military terms)


had information about 'fire in anger', so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able
to answer your question, Pierre! Luckily, two of my colleagues at York St John
University are specialists in Military English and I was able to ask them about the
meaning of the phrase. So, here goes...

In a military context, 'to fire in anger' means to shoot for a purpose in war. For
example, a submarine that 'fires in anger' shoots missiles at an enemy ship. Shots
fired in anger are never just for practice; they're fired to deliberately cause damage
or harm.

When I typed "fire in anger" into an internet search engine, the military websites
clearly used the phrase to mean 'shooting in war, not for practice'. Interestingly, as
far as I could tell, the non-military websites used the phrase to mean 'to shoot
angrily', or as you say in your question, 'to shoot because one is angry'. For
example:
"The man waved his gun around, shouting and shooting in anger."

So I think the best answer to your question is that 'fire in anger' has two
meanings, depending on whether the context is military or non-military.

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The military meaning is 'in a real situation, not for practice' and has no connection
with the emotion of the person or thing doing the shooting. You'll notice that from
these authentic examples of the phrase, as used in a military context:

"The sinking of the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano, during the Falklands war by
HMS Conqueror, the first British nuclear submarine ever to fire in anger, is fully
recounted."

"...the first military guns in World War I to fire its guns in anger on British soil..."

"...becoming the first VII Corps unit to fire in anger since World War II."

Now, in contrast, the non-military use of 'fire in anger' implies strong emotion. In
our previous example, we heard how...
"The man waved his gun around, shouting and shooting in anger."
So it's clearly implied that the gunman was extremely upset, distressed and angry
about something he felt was very important.

I hope this helps, Pierre - and special thanks to my Military English colleagues for
their specialist knowledge!
Foot / Feet

My question is - which of the responses is correct:


When somebody asks me how tall I am, what should I say?
I'm five foot tall, or I'm five feet tall?

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

Thanks for your question, Maria. It's an interesting one because of the differences
between the way we write and the way we speak.

As you say, 'feet' is an example of a measurement for height, length and distance.
'Feet' is a non-metric measure, unlike 'metres' and 'centimetres' which are metric.

Other non-metric measures, which we can use for distance, are:


'inches', 'yards' and 'miles'. For example:
"It's a mile from my house to the centre of York, so it only takes me 20 minutes to
walk there."

Other non-metric measures, which we use for weight, are:


'ounces', 'pounds', 'stones' and 'tons'.
For example:
"I weigh fourteen stones, seven pounds. That's fourteen and a half stone! I
really need to go on a diet."

Non-metric measures are still widely used in the UK, especially for personal weight
and height, and for distance. But some things are changing. Most people now use
metric litres rather than non-metric gallons for volume. For example, we buy

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orange juice and petrol by the litre.

Most people also use Celsius rather than Fahrenheit for temperature, for example:
"Today, the temperature in London is 18 degrees Celsius, so you'll be fine in just a

t-shirt!"

Most older British people still use 'feet', rather than 'metres', to describe their own,
and other peoples', height. They might say, for example:
"He's just like his dad; he must be at least six foot tall."

However, in an old passport of mine, issued in 1987, it states my height in metres. I


suppose that's because metric measures are used here in Europe. The US, on the
other hand, uses non-metric measures.

But listen to that example again:


"He's just like his dad; he must be at least six foot tall."

You're absolutely right about 'five foot tall'; if you're talking to someone or writing
and don't need to be formal, saying that you're 'five foot tall' is fine. However, to say
you are 'five feet tall' is correct and is probably safer when you're writing in English.

Maria, you don't have to tell us your real height, but if you really are five foot tall,
you may be interested to know that you are the same height as the Australian singer
Kylie Minogue and the Columbian singer Shakira! However, there does seem to be
some confusion over Shakira's height, with some sources saying that she is 'four foot
eleven' and others claiming she is 'five foot two'.

Shakira, if you're listening to BBC Learning English, perhaps you could contact us
and let us know!

So I hope that's helped, Maria.

'Get' and 'become'

Olga from Latvia asks:


Please tell me when we must use become and when we must use get.

Margarete Stepaneke from Austria asks:


I would very much like to know when to use become. My feeling is that verbs like
get, turn, go and grow are often preferred to become. Is there a rule for when to
use become?

Get, as we shall see, has many different meanings whereas become basically
indicates development of some kind.

Get is more informal and is frequently used in speech; become is more formal and
is more often used in writing.

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Get/become + adjective

When used with adjectives, get indicates growth or development and can therefore
be used as the preferred alternative to become in an informal register. Compare the
following sentences:

Informal Formal
I got interested in photography when
I became interested in art in later life.
I was ten.
As he got older, his garden got really As he became older, he could no longer
messy. maintain his garden
It got colder and colder the further It became increasingly cold as we travelled
north we went. north.
I'm getting quite hungry now, aren't He became quite angry when he discovered
you? there was no food

Become + noun

We cannot, however, use get with a noun, even though the meaning is 'grow' or
'develop into'. We have to use become in this sense:

• 'She was only seventeen when she became a beauty queen.'


• 'Texas became the twenty-eighth state of the USA in 1845.

Get + noun/pronoun

When we use get with a noun or a pronoun as a direct object, get usually means
'obtain', 'acquire', 'receive' or 'fetch'.

Become is impossible here:

• 'I got the highest marks in the class for my essay on Lord Byron.'
• 'I got my goldfish from the pet shop down the road.'
• 'I was getting about fifty emails every day when I was working on the
project.'
• 'Could you get me a punnet of peaches from the supermarket?'
• 'Let me get you a drink. What'll you have?'

Get and go to indicate movement

Get indicates the end of a journey and can be used informally as an alternative to
'reach' or 'arrive at'. When we use go, we are talking about the 'complete journey',
usually. Compare the following:

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• 'I usually go to work by car, but I went to Bristol by train yesterday.'
• 'I didn't get home until nearly midnight.'
• 'Can you tell me how to get to Buckingham Palace?'

Go, grow and turn to indicate a change of state

Grow indicates a slow change and sounds literary. It can be replaced by ‘become’ or
‘get’. Turn indicates a faster change and can be replaced by ‘go’:

• 'As they grew richer, they invested more money in shares.'


• 'My aim is to grow old gracefully and with dignity.'
• 'He drove away as soon as the lights turned green.'
• 'The leaves turned brown as the weather got colder.'

There is so much more to get to know about get, Margarete, but I'll get into trouble
with my editor if I make this reply any longer. It is a difficult area, but I hope it is
slowly becoming clearer.

Tien in Malaysia asks:


What is the difference between hear and listen? This question has been confusing me
for some time. Thank you.

George Pickering answers:


Hello, Tien. Thank you for your question about what is the difference between hear
and listen.

We use hear for sounds that come to our ears, without us necessarily trying to hear
them! For example, 'They heard a strange noise in the middle of the night.'

Listen is used to describe paying attention to sounds that are going on. For example,
'Last night, I listened to my new Mariah Carey CD.'

So, you can hear something without wanting to, but you can only listen to something
intentionally. An imaginary conversation between a couple might go:
'Did you hear what I just said?'
'No, sorry, darling, I wasn't listening.'

A question from Abdalla Salih:


Which is correct: 'Let's go home' or 'It's high time we went home', and why do you
use the past tense of 'go' here?

'It's high time we went home'

Callum Robertson answers:


This is a very interesting question, which is correct - "It's high time we went ", or
"Let's go"? The first thing to say is that they are both grammatically correct; they are

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both examples of accurate English. This is often true in English that there are
different ways to say more or less the same thing. Which one you use will depend on
the situation, who you are talking to and sometimes the way you like to sound, your
own style of speaking.

Let's look at each of these in a little more detail and describe a situation when they
could be used.

First, the structure "let's" - which is the common short form for "Let us". This is
followed by the infinitive of a verb without "to" and is usually an informal suggestion.
When it's a suggestion it is often followed by the tag, "shall we?"

Imagine that you are at a party, it's quite late at night, you are tired and you have to
go to work the next day. You are there together with a friend and because it's late
you want to go home. You might say to your friend something like, "Let's go, shall
we?" You want to leave and you want your friend to come with you. "Let's go, shall
we?" It's not really an order to do something but a polite way of suggesting that you
want to leave.

If you just say, "Let's go!" that is more of a polite instruction and suggests that you
have made the decision that it's time to leave and you expect the person you are
talking to do what you say. It could be a parent talking to his or her children - "Come
on kids, let's go." However often there is no real difference between "let's go" and
"let's go, shall we?" It really does depend on your tone of voice and the relationship
you have with the person you're speaking to.

Now, the other phrase from Abdallah's question was, "It's high time we went". This is
quite an unusual structure because it has what looks like a simple past form -
"went", the past of the verb "to go." - "It's high time we went." - What is unusual
about this is that this sentence is not talking about the past at all! There are a
number of phrases, all using the word "time" where this happens.

We have the example - "It's high time we went", but you could also say:

- It's time we went, or


- It's about time we went

and you can use a continuous form as well:

- It's time we were going


- It's about time we were going, and
- It's high time we were going

The past form in these examples is, I think, the subjunctive form of the verb. The
subjunctive is often used when we talk about unreal or imagined situations. You can
see it clearly in a conditional sentence like this one:

"If I were you, I'd change my job"

Normally you wouldn't expect to see the form "were" following the pronoun "I". You
expect "I" to be followed by "was". But that is only true if the verb form is the past
simple. However "I were" as in "If I were you" is the correct form of the past
subjunctive which is used here because obviously I am not you and I can't be you -

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so it's an imagined or unreal situation - "If I were you." And that's the same form
that's being used in the expressions after the word 'time'

However, to be honest, I wouldn't worry about trying to remember this or trying to


work out if a sentence is subjunctive or not.

You can remember the time expressions I mentioned above as fixed expressions and
they all have more or less the same meaning. They are quite formal in their use and
are stating that it's time that something happened. A parent might say to a child, for
example - "it's time you went to bed!" Which means "I want you to go to bed".

In the party situation you could say, as I mentioned above, "let's go!" - but you
could also say - "It's time we went." You can imagine the person who said that might
be looking at their watch and worrying perhaps about catching a train.

And if the situation is a little more urgent, we use the expression "It's high time"
which means it's very important that this happens now - "It's high time we left -
come on or we'll miss the train." Or again a parent might say to an older child - "It's
high time you found a job, young man!"

So in summary -

"Let's go" is an informal suggestion or a polite instruction -

"It's high time" - is a formal statement that it is important that something happen
soon or that something happen now.

And now - it's about time I finished this answer.

'hire' / 'rent', 'rise' / 'raise', 'drive' / 'ride'

Anne Beeker from the Netherlands asks:


What exactly is the difference between to hire and to rent? I know American
English uses to rent whereas British English uses to hire, but I thought there might
also be a difference between what you can hire and what you can rent. 'Hire a help'
but surely not 'rent a help'?? 'Rent a car', but not 'hire a car'?

Erica from Hong Kong asks:


I want to know the difference between ‘rise’ and ‘raise’.

Sanjay Mishra from India writes:


When I return from my place of work on a automotive two-wheeler (like a scooter or
a motorbike), do I drive back or ride back?

hire or rent?

The meaning is the same: to rent or hire something, you pay money in order to be
allowed to use it for a limited amount of time. It is simply a matter of usage. With

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some nouns you can use one or the other – it doesn’t matter which as both are
freely used. You can: rent or hire cars, bikes, electronic equipment:

• 'We rented a TV and video as we intended to stay in England for only six
months.'
• 'If you’re planning to go to Cambridge for the day, hire a bike when you
arrive. It’s the best way to get round the town.'

With other nouns it is customary in British English to use one and not the other. We
would: rent a flat, caravan, cottage, house:

• 'I rented a cottage by the sea for the summer.'


• 'He rented me his flat in London while he was on holiday in Greece.'

(However, note the difference in use, depending on whether it is used as a verb or a


noun: ‘flats to rent’, but ‘bikes for hire’)

We hire some help (i.e people), tools, equipment:

• 'I had too much to do on the farm, so I decided to hire some help three
mornings a week.'
• 'The police enquiries were making no progress, so we decided to hire a
private detective.'
• 'I was painting the outside of the house and had to hire a tall ladder to get to
the top.'

rise or raise?

Two verbs which are similar in meaning: to move to a higher position. The essential
difference is that raise is a transitive verb which needs an object to complete its
meaning and rise is intransitive, it functions without an object and is sometimes
followed by a phrase of time or place. Compare the following:

• 'The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.'


• 'I rise (i.e. get up) at six o’ clock every weekday morning in order to be at
work by seven.'
• 'He rose (i.e. stood up) to greet her.'
• 'I raised my hand because I wanted to raise a question, but he took no
notice of me.'
• 'If you are raising a family as a single parent, you shouldn’t try to work full-
time.'
• 'My child was ill and I had to raise money to pay for the operation.'

drive or ride?

Anything with four or more wheels (like a car, a bus, a lorry or a train) we drive;
anything with two wheels or that we straddle (like a horse, a bike, motorbike or
scooter) we ride, (even though you need a driving licence to ride a motorbike. In a
recent court case, a judge in Britain has ruled that riders of go-peds – those tiny

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scooters which have a very small engine at the back – will also need to have a
driving licence to ride them on the roads.)

Consider the following:

• 'I had never driven such a powerful car before.'


• 'I hadn’t ridden a bike for over twenty years and wondered if I would
remember how to.'

Note that when we are passengers rather than drivers, we ride in cars and trains,
but we tend to ride on buses.

Hold or keep?

Jana from the Czech Republic writes:

Can you please explain to me the different uses of keep and hold?

I know there are some phrases where I must use keep and some where I must use
hold but sometimes I don't know which one I should use.

Hold or keep

We use the verbs hold and keep in many different ways and with many different
meanings. Only when the meaning is to prevent something from moving can
they be used interchangeably:

• Hold / keep the ruler steady so that I can draw a straight line.
• Keep / hold still while I put this necklace on you.
• Her talk was so boring that she was unable to hold / keep my attention.
• This is a firm arrangement which cannot be changed. I'll hold / keep you to
this.

We also keep or hold data and records:

• He kept / held all his data on a hard disk.


• For tax purposes, you do not need to hold / keep financial records for more
than five years.

But you can only hold records in sport, etc, you do not keep them:

• John Lees from the UK holds the record for the fastest walk across America -
2628 km in 53 days 12 hours 15 minutes between 11 April (the eleventh of
April) and 3 June (the third of June).

hold on to = keep

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You can see from the above example that one of the slight differences in meaning is
that hold sometimes suggests something temporary while keep may suggest
something more permanent. There is a similar distinction between hold on to and
keep, meaning not to lose:

• Can you hold on to these CDs for me while I'm away?


• Hold on to the instructions so that you know what to do if something goes
wrong.
• Keep the instructions safely somewhere in case something goes wrong.

Hold somebody up = keep

The phrasal verb hold somebody up, meaning delay, can also be used as an
alternative to keep with this meaning:

• I don't want to hold you up / keep you, but could I just have a word?

hold = carry / put arms around / contain / organise event

When hold means to carry, or to put ones arms around or to contain or to


organise an event, we cannot substitute keep in its place:

• Can you hold my books for me while I look for my mobile phone?
• He held her tightly and hoped that she would stop crying soon.
• Old Trafford, the home of Man U, holds 67,000 spectators while Highbury, the
home of their main rivals, Arsenal, holds only half that amount.
• I plan to hold a meeting soon to see if we can increase profitability.
• Referendums have been held in all central European countries in connection
with EU membership.

Keep = continue / store / stay in good condition

When keep means any of these, we cannot substitute hold in its place. When keep
means continue, note that it may be followed either by verb-ing or by the
preposition on + verb-ing:

• Don't turn left or right, just keep right on till the end of the road.
• You must keep taking the medication until you are quite better.
• I kept (on) reminding him that he should take my advice, but he ignored me.
• Where do you keep the keys to the shed? I can't find them.
• Let's buy two kilos of peaches now. They'll keep in the fridge for about two
weeks
• If you want to keep fit, eat plenty of fruit!

We also keep secrets and promises and you keep your word. You do not hold
them:

• Can you keep a secret? Jane's going to have a baby.


• He failed to keep his promise / his word and told everybody about it.

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horrible and horrific; terrible and terrific

Charlie Qin studying English in Canada writes:

What's the difference between horrible and horrific?

horrible

You can describe something as horrible (or deadful or awful) when you do not like
it at all:

• The hotel was horrible - just awful. The walls were all painted a horrible
colour and I've never had such dreadful meals.

horrific

You would describe something as horrific when it is really upsetting or frightening to


think about it or speak about it:

• Having to survive in the desert for eight days with very little water and
practically no shelter from the sun was horrific.
• It was a horrific motorway accident: twelve people died, a further twenty
four suffered horrendous burns.

horrendous - horrifying

Horrendous can mean horrifying, describing something you feel dismay or disgust
about, but it can also be used in a less extreme way, meaning unpleasant or
shocking.

Compare the following:

• The traffic this morning was horrendous. It took me seventy-five minutes to


travel eleven miles.
• It was a horrifying picture: the dead and the wounded had all been left by
the roadside.

Note that all of these adjectives with their various endings -ible, -ic, -ous, -ing, are
derived from the noun horror which also crops up in the compound noun horror
film:

• Horror films on television are usually screened late at night.

terrible - terrifying - terrific

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In a similar way, terrible and terrifying, which have similar shades of meaning to
horrible and horrifying, are both derived from the noun terror from which we get
the nouns terrorist and terrorism:

• Ridding the world of terrorists and terrorism is easier said than done.

Be careful however with the adjective terrific which does not have the same
meaning as horrific. Whereas horrific means very bad, terrific means very good.

Compare the following:

• The food was terrible. Nobody at the camp had any idea about how to cook.
• Everybody in the team was terrific. I had never seen them play so well
together before.
• Sharing a prison cell with a convicted murderer was a terrifying prospect.

horribly - terribly

These adverbs are used even more frequently than the adjectives terrible and
horrible. They often mean little more than very.

Note how they are used in these examples:

• It was terribly important not to make any mistakes on the certificate as it


was going to be framed.
• I'm terribly sorry. That was very clumsy of me to barge into you like that.
Are you all right?
• I was terribly upset when I heard that James had gone to Mexico without
telling me.

• I know that something is terribly / horribly wrong. They should be back by


now.
• They were horribly / terribly expensive, so I could only afford one, I'm
afraid.
• We're going to be horribly / terribly late if we stop to buy flowers on the
way.

Here are some more adjectives which are used informally and which mean very good
and very bad. Note that they all have very common adjectival endings:

Very good:

fabulous tremendous marvellous stupendous


amazing breathtaking outstanding smashing
fantastic wonderful magnificent

Very bad:

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awful dreadful frightful
shocking revolting appalling
hideous monstrous

Can you think of any others meaning very good or very bad, like superb or dire,
which do not have these common adjectival suffixes? If you can, write to our
Message Board and put them into sample sentences, e.g.

• Their performance was dire. Most of the audience walked out long before it
was over.
• The dancers were superb. They had obviously spent a long time rehearsing
it.

Hot dogs and hat tricks

Could you please tell me the origin of the words hot dog and hat trick?

hat trick

A hat trick was originally performed by a conjurer at a circus or variety show. The
conjurer or magician pulled rabbits or other impossible items out of a top hat as if by
magic.

In a sporting context, it was first used in the game of cricket in 1887 to describe an
unlikely situation where a bowler takes three wickets with three successive balls.
This entitled the bowler to pass his hat around the ground for a collection of cash, or
he might have been presented with a new hat or cap by the club he represented.

This usage quickly spread to the game of football to describe three goals scored by
the same person in a football match:

• Geoff Hurst's hat trick in the 1966 World Cup Final will always be
remembered by English football fans.

It has since spread to describe similar situations in other games:

• Now as he approaches the tenth green, he's on a hat trick of birdies. A birdie
on the eighth. A birdie on the ninth. Let's see if he can make it three in a row
with a birdie on the tenth.

old hat

If something is old hat, it is out of date or obsolete or so well-known and familiar


that it has become uninteresting or boring. The expression is thought to originate
from the fact that hats, and particularly ladies' hats, tend to go out of fashion long
before they are worn out.

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• Wearing a tie with a jacket - for young people, that's really old hat.

hot dog

For those among you who don't yet know this Western delicacy, a hot dog is a
sausage, especially a frankfurter, inserted lengthways into a hot bread roll and
garnished with onions, ketchup or other relishes. It originated in America and was an
invention attributed to Henry Stevens, a caterer with the New York Stadium in 1900.
There may have been an allusion to the 'sausage' dog or dachshund which is roughly
the same shape.

• A diet of hot dogs, pumpkin pie and ice-cream sundaes is not good for your
waistline!
• On the pier there were all the usual side-shows, plus hot-dog, hamburger
and ice-cream stands.

Note that we also have to hot dog in slang usage, possibly derived from top dog or
best person, meaning to show off or perform very well in skiing or surfing:

• If you can hot dog on two-metre-high waves, you are king!

Similarly, hot dogger (noun):

• On Bondi Beach in Australia, we noticed that almost every wave carried a


hot-dogger performing tricks - fast slides, rapid turns, cut-backs and flick-
offs. They were hot-dogging for all they were worth.

hot pants

Hot pants were very brief skin-tight shorts originally worn by young women in the
early 1970s in Britain - 'hot' because they looked sexy.

• The mini skirt is back in fashion, but I don't think hot pants ever will be.

hot potato

A hot potato is a delicate or tricky situation that has to be handled with extreme
care.

• The new law is politically a hot potato for the government as many people
are very unhappy with it.

As you will know, the original hot potatoes are difficult to handle when you take
them out of the oven or pluck them from the barbeque fire. Care has to be taken not
to drop them!

Hope / wish

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J Daudt from Brazil asks:

I was told by an English teacher that the main difference between the verbs hope
and wish is that when we use hope we do not know all the facts (a kind of future
meaning) and when we use wish we know all the facts already. For instance, 'I hope
you will be OK' and 'I wish you were here' (from Pink Floyd). This led me to think
about Christmas time. Why should I say 'I wish you a Merry Christmas' instead of 'I
hope you a Merry Christmas'? Is there any grammatical explanation on this issue?

The answer is that the verb wish is used in a variety of different ways and hope
cannot be used as a 'stand alone' verb in a sentence, other than in the expressions 'I
hope so' or 'I hope not.'

Let's look at wish first of all.

In your 'Merry Christmas' example, or when you wish someone good luck or Happy
Birthday, you are expressing the hope that they will have good luck in the future,
often in connection with a particular event, or that they will enjoy their birthday
which is to come. Thus we have expressions like:

• 'I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.'


• 'Remember it's Sarah's birthday tomorrow. Don't forget to wish her many
happy returns.'
• 'They wished me all the best in my new job.'
• 'I wish you good health and every happiness in the New Millennium.'

As you suggest, wish is also used when you wish that something were the case or
you would like it to be the case even though you know that it is impossible or
unlikely. In this sense, the verb which follows wish has a past tense inflection. Thus
we have:

• 'We wish you could be here.'


• 'He wished he hadn't said that, for Fiona was terribly upset.'
• 'It rained every day. I do wish I hadn't gone there for my holidays.'
• 'I wish you didn't have to work so hard.'

Wish, as in 'wish to', is also sometimes used as a slightly more formal alternative to
'want to'. So we have:

• 'They were very much in love and wished to get married as soon as it could
be arranged.'
• 'I don't wish to see him ever again,' she said, five months after they were
married.'
• 'He could do most of his work from home, if he wished.'
• 'I don't wish to interrupt (your conversation), but the potatoes are burning
dry.'
• 'I don't wish to be rude, but that red dress really doesn't suit you.'

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Now let's take a brief look at hope. We speak of people's 'hopes for the future' and
hope normally signals future intentions. If you hope to do something, you want to
do it and intend to do it if you possibly can.

Like wish it can be used with to, plus infinitive. So we might have:

• 'I hope to be a millionaire by the time I'm thirty.'


• 'I was hoping to catch the 5.30 train and would have caught it, if Jennifer
hadn't phoned.'

However, when a new subject is introduced, hope must be followed by a clausal


construction. Thus, we would find:

• 'I hope (that) she'll like these flowers.'


• 'Her mother hoped (that) Judith would become a doctor, but her heart was
always set on the stage.'
• 'I hope (that) you won't think me rude, but that red dress that you're wearing
definitely doesn't suit you.'
• 'They were stranded on the side of the mountain and hoped (that) the rescue
team would reach them before nightfall.'

Hopes and wishes! It is my hope and wish that all of you out there reading this
column will enjoy good health and every happiness in the New Millennium. Or, to put
it in two other ways: I wish you good health and every happiness in the 21st
Century. I hope you'll enjoy good health and every happiness in the 21st Century.

'house' or 'home'

House describes a particular type of building.

Home is the place where you live and feel that you belong to.

Compare the following:

• 'Most people in Britain live in semi-detached houses.'


• 'We’re going to buy Emma a doll’s house for Christmas.'
• 'The Houses of Parliament in London are visited by 50,000 people each
year.'
• 'I’ve enjoyed living abroad for the last six years, but it’s time for me to go
back home now!'
• 'We were at home in bed when our car was stolen from outside the house.'
• 'These children need a good home and we are in a position to give them one.'

Note also the differences in meaning and use between 'houseproud', 'housework' and
'homework', 'homesick' and 'homeless'.

Study the following:

• 'I did my housework (i.e. cleaning the house) this morning and my
homework (work given to me by my school to do at home) this afternoon.'

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• 'People say that I’m houseproud because I spend so much time cleaning the
house so that others will admire it.'
• 'She said that she was missing her home and family so much. She sounded
really homesick.'
• 'I am homeless. I have no home to go to.

interfere and intervene

Could you kindly explain what is the difference between interfere and intervene?
Thank you.

Amos Paran answers:


Yes Eric, these two words are similar and yet so different. Both start with 'inter-',
meaning 'between'. The difference is in the connotations of the two words.

'Interfere' has very strong negative connotations. There's a wonderful short story by
Julian Barnes called 'Interference', in his collection Cross Channel, and the title refers
to two types of interference which happen in the story.

One type of interference that the title refers to is interference with radio signals - you
know, when you're listening to a radio programme and there are other signals and
reception is not very good.

The other type of interference is the type where people interfere in other people's
business, telling them what to do, how to behave, what to eat and so on. If I say to
someone, Stop interfering I mean that what I am doing is none of their business.
And there's some of that happening in the story too.

'Intervene' has got more positive connotations; it has the connotation of wanting to
improve a situation, change things for the better. You intervene between two people
in order to prevent a quarrel, for example.

job applications

I would like to know the difference between an application letter and a cover
letter. I would like to have examples of application and cover letters. This is because
I am always confused as to why both must be sent when one is looking for
employment.

letter of application

If you are responding to a job advertisement you may be asked to write a letter of
application. This is the letter which lists all your work experience and qualifications
and should also explain why you want the job. Begin your letter by telling the reader
where you saw the advertisement:

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• I am writing to apply for the post of Fashion Shop Manager advertised in the
'News Shopper' of 14 February 2002.

You would then go on to list your experience and relevant qualifications:

• I have worked in the retail industry for a total of ten years, first as a sales
assistant in a department store and for the last three years as a Section Head
and Deputy Manager at Jones the Bootmaker.

You might then go on to say why you are particularly interested in this job and
mention the particular abilities and skills that you have.

• I am applying for this position as I am looking to progress from junior to


senior management. I have always been interested in the latest fashion
trends and developments and I believe your organisation is a well-run quality
fashion business. I would very much like to work for your company.

• I believe I have all the skills, knowledge and expertise that you are looking
for. I have lots of retail initiative, can schedule and prioritise tasks and can
work to strict deadlines. I also work particularly well with people and would
enjoy leading the team and working with clients and customers.

You might then close the letter with the following formula.

• I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you will be able to invite me
for an interview.

covering letter

Many employers will ask you to write to them or phone them for an application form
and further details when they advertise jobs. Sometimes you will be asked to send
your CV or resume.

Your CV or curriculum vitae lists your educational and career history and is a
useful summary for an employer of all your educational and employment
achievements up to the present time. You must always ensure that it is up to date.

A covering letter may then be very useful because you can enclose it with your CV
or a completed application form. In your covering letter you can draw attention
to particular information which you wish to highlight. Such a covering letter might
look like this:

Dear Mr Sorefoot

Fashion Shop Manager

Please find enclosed my completed application form for the above position.

As you will see from my form, I have ten years experience with Bates Retail as a
Fashion Shop Manager.

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I look forward to hearing from you and hope that you will be able to invite me for an
interview. I can be contacted at any time by phone, fax or email at work or at home.
I would very much welcome an opportunity to discuss my application in greater
detail and convince you that I am the right person for the job.

Yours sincerely

Frances Slimwaist

If you have filled in an application form you do not need to send a CV because all the
relevant information should be on your form.

cover

Note that cover as verb, noun and adjective is used in a variety of different ways:

If you cover something, you place something else over it to protect it or hide it or
close it:

• Always cover what you are cooking with a tight-fitting lid and cook it slowly.
• His desk is always covered with papers. I don't know how he can work in
such a mess.
• She covered all her bedroom walls with posters of Eminem.
• There are always lots of cafes and restaurants within the covered shopping
malls in British towns and cities.

cover = protection

Cover can also be used to talk about protection from enemy attack or for talking
about insurance.

• The air force was unable to provide any sort of air cover for their ground
troops.
• There was no cover of any kind, no trees, no valleys, just the endless barren
plain.
• Are you covered to drive this car? Do you have proper insurance cover?
• Does your travel insurance cover you against theft or loss of valuables?

cover = address or report on a topic

Cover can be used to talk about studying a subject or in a journalistic context to talk
about reporting.

• We haven't covered molecular biology yet. We're going to do that next term.
• He's going to cover the World Cup later this year for BBC World Service.

cover for = substitute for someone at work

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• Can you cover for me this afternoon while I visit my father in hospital?
• There were not enough teachers to cover for absent colleagues and some
students had to be sent home.

reporter and journalist

I'm confused about the difference between presenter, broadcaster, and announcer;
and the difference between reporter and journalist. Your answer must be very helpful
for me. Thanks.

Hi Suharno,

All these words are used to describe people who work in the media. The first three:
presenter, broadcaster and announcer are all related to TV and radio: media which is
delivered partly – or wholly – through sound and speech (this type of media is
increasingly available on internet too).

A presenter is a person who introduces or hosts television or radio programmes. A


presenter's opening words on a programme are usually something like Good
evening, and welcome to[name of show] with me [name of presenter]. On tonight's
show we will be... [presenter talks about the content of the programme]. The topic
of the programme is not all about the presenter. The presenter is the person who
introduces the programme, introduces or links sections of the programme together
and says goodbye at the end. Some well-known presenters include Johnny Carson
(an American TV chat show host), Trevor MacDonald (a British TV news presenter),
and Karim Kouchouk (the presenter of BBCe for BBC Learning English Arabic
Service).

An announcer's job is similar to that of a presenter. He or she provides spoken


information about news, weather, programme content, links between programmes,
advertising etc. However, an announcer may have a smaller role in a programme
than a presenter does: on TV programmes, an announcer may only feature as a
voice whereas a presenter will be seen on the screen. Another main difference
between an announcer and a presenter is that the announcer usually reads word-for-
word from a script, whereas a presenter may have some flexibility regarding the
things they say.

The word broadcaster can refer to an organisation such as the BBC (UK) or NBC
(USA) which produces television and radio programmes. It can also be used to
describe someone who is well-experienced in the TV and radio industry. He or she
usually has multiple talents – scriptwriting, directing, presenting etc. and his or her
programmes may be considered to be very important and well-respected. Famous
British broadcasters include Sir David Attenborough, Sir Robert Winston and Sir
David Frost, and Larry King in the USA.

Turning to the second part of your question, Suharno: you wanted to find out about
the difference between a reporter and a journalist. In fact, these jobs are very
similar, and in some respects the terms are interchangeable. A journalist's work is
most often seen in print – especially newspapers – but they can work for TV and
radio too. A journalist gathers, writes and reports news stories, and may also edit
and present news articles.

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A reporter is a type of journalist who gathers information about newsworthy issues.
This may involve researching through several sources – interviews, police and public
records, photographs etc. When the information is gathered, the reporter will create
a report for publication or broadcast in the media. Reporters often specialise in a
particular area, for example: crime, politics, health or education.

Finally, Suharno, I'd like to mention one more media profession. A columnist is a
writer (usually a journalist) who writes regularly (often weekly) for a newspaper or
magazine. She or he chooses a topic that is in the news and writes not only about
the events that have become newsworthy but also often offers some analysis and/or
personal opinion. This job is usually reserved for senior journalists at a particular
newspaper or magazine. Well Suharno, I do hope this has been a useful answer to
your question!

Explanation of a joke

Lisa from Taiwan asks:

Why is it funny? What does the last sentence mean?

'Taking his seat in his chambers, the judge faced the opposing lawyers. "So," he
said, "I have been presented, by both of you, with a bribe."
Both lawyers squirmed uncomfortably. "You, attorney Leon, gave me $15,000. And
you, attorney Campos, gave me $10,000." The judge reached into his pocket and
pulled out a check. He handed it to Leon.
"Now then, I'm returning $5,000, and we're going to decide this case solely on its
merits."'

To decide a case 'solely on it merits' means that only the intrinsic rights and wrongs
of the arguments will be considered. In a court of law one would expect all cases to
be decided solely on their merits.

It is funny because that is no longer possible in this case as the judge has already
pocketed bribes of $10,000 from both the defense and prosecution counsels. He
argues that his judgement will be unbiased now that the amount of bribe from
defense and prosecution is equal, but would you expect to get a fair trial in a court of
law from a judge who was open to bribery?

kinds / types / sorts / varieties (of music)

I have always had problems using the words kind and type. Is there any difference
and can you give me some examples of usage?

kinds of / sorts of / types of / varieties of

Kinds, sorts, types and even varieties can all be used interchangeably, (although
varieties may be used more in more scientific sorts of contexts, e.g. varieties of
tomato) The first three are very common and can be used in singular and plural

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forms. Compare the following and note that all the examples today are taken from a
global music theme:

What kind(s) / type(s) / sort(s) / varieties of music do you like most? ~ I like all
kinds / sorts / types: hip-hop, R&B, pop, rock, rap and classical.

Global Music – or World Music as it is known in Britain – is the synthesis of different


kinds of music from around the world, often using traditional instruments in an
original way.

If you want to know what type of instrument a morinhoor is, how to find music
from Yakutia or how to buy an organo pinareno from Cuba, Global Music websites
can help you

various / different / many / all - kinds / types / sorts varieties

These nouns collocate readily with different, various and many as well as with all:

There are various kinds / types / sorts / varieties of jazz, originating with
ragtime, blues and swing of the 20s and 30s and then the later varieties of hard bop,
soft bop, funky, third stream and free styles of the 50s and 60s.

sort of (a) / kind of (a) / type of (a)

Sort of / kind of / type of are usually followed by an uncountable noun or a


singular countable noun with no article, but a / an is sometimes retained in an
informal style:

What sort of (a) / kind of (a) / type of (a) dance is that?

Well, it’s a sort of jig or reel, danced to very fast time. I don’t know exactly what it
is because there are several types of jigs – single jigs, double jigs, slip jigs and hop
jigs.

Note that when the indefinite article is retained, it sometimes has a derogatory
meaning:

What kind of a DVD player is that? You don’t seriously expect me to listen to
electronic music with no surround sound, do you?

sort of / kind of

Sort of and kind of, but not type of, are used in another important way in informal
spoken English when we want to demonstrate to the listener that we are not
speaking very precisely but simply indicating a general idea. They are used to modify
many different parts of speech including adjectives, verbs and clauses, see below:

Why don’t you like this kind of music? ~ Well, it’s sort of loud and tuneless.

They may also be used as fillers, i.e. to fill a gap in the conversation and to give the
speaker more time to think:

How would you describe your singing voice on this track?

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Well, I… I kinda howl like a wolf, and then ...kinda...kinda...squeal like a pig, but
it seems to work, sort of.

Uses of the word 'lack'

Would you please tell me all the uses of the word lack (in different forms) and make
a sentence for each of its uses? Is the sentence 'Many children are in lack of sleep'
correct? If it is wrong, what should it be?

I'm not too happy with 'in lack of', Wong, which doesn't sound quite right to me.
Lack of is fine where lack is used as a noun, so you can say, for example:

• 'The lack of amenities in the hotel surprised all of us.'


• 'There was a general lack of enthusiasm among the trainees.'

Lack may also be used as a verb:

• 'They lacked the courage necessary to cross the fast-flowing river.'


• 'When she came to start making the cake, she discovered that she lacked
half the basic ingredients.'

Large / Big

What is the difference in use and meaning between the words 'large' and 'big'?

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

Well, this is a big question Iryna, so I'll do my best to answer it clearly and briefly!

First I'll talk about form:


'Large' and 'big' are both regular adjectives...
Their comparative forms are 'larger' and 'bigger',
Their superlative forms are 'largest' and 'biggest'.

'Big' is a very common word in both written and spoken English; in fact, it's in the
top 1,000 most frequently used words.
'Large', on the other hand, is a less frequently used word and doesn't even make it
into the top 3,000 most frequently used words in English.

Now, onto the question of meaning...


The general meaning of both 'large' and 'big' is:
'of more than average size/amount/weight/height' etc.
For example:
'Iryna has got a well-paid job and can afford to live in a house' - OR...
'Iryna lives in a large house'.

In these examples, both 'big' and 'large' mean that Iryna's house is of more than
average size. Although 'big' and 'large' both mean the same in these examples,
'large' sounds a little more formal.

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Neither 'large' nor 'big' can be used with uncountable nouns.
This means, we can say:
'The house has a (big or large) garden' - because 'garden' is countable.
However, we can't use 'big' or 'larg' with 'traffic', because 'traffic' is uncountable.
With uncountable nouns, you can use 'a lot of' - for example:
'There's a lot of traffic on the road next to the house.'
So, although 'large' and 'big' are often interchangeable, sometimes they are not.

So next, I'll try and give you some examples of when this is the case...

'Big' can mean 'important', for example:


'Buying a house is a very big decision'.
It can also be used in informal situations to mean 'older', for example:
'He's my big brother'...
as well as 'successful' or 'powerful', for example:
'York is a big tourist destination'.

Also in informal situations, we can use 'big' to mean 'doing something to a large
degree', for example:
'She earns a lot of money, but she's also a big spender' - OR...
'I'm a big fan of yours'.

'Big' is used in a lot of fixed phrases, and because these phrases are fixed, to
change 'big 'to 'large' would sound wrong. Examples of fixed phrases using 'big'
include:
'It's no big deal' - it's not really important.
'I have big ideas for this house' - impressive plans for the future.
'She's a big mouth' - a person who can't be trusted to keep a secret.
'He's too big for his boots' - too proud of himself.

There are also some fixed phrases using 'large'.


Examples include:
'The prisoners are at large' - they have escaped and may cause harm.
'She's larger than life' - more exciting or amusing than most people.

Finally, quantity words....


'large', more often than 'big', is used with the following quantity words:
'a large amount', 'on a large scale', 'a large number of', 'a large quantity of', 'a large
proportion', 'to a large extent', 'a large percentage of', 'a large part of', 'a large
volume' and 'a large area'.

So......a very big - or large - question, Iryna! I hope this has helped a little!

Take (and last)

Gisela from the Czech Republic writes:

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I'm not sure about the difference in use between take and last. Which is better in
these examples:

How long does the film last?


How long does the film take?

Take or last?

Both take and last are used to talk about the amount of time needed for something.
We tend to use take when we are more in control of the experience and last when
we have little or no control over it. Take suggests more active involvement and
last implies a more passive experience. Thus we are more likely to say:

• How long does the film last?


~ It's a long one. It lasts (for) over three hours

Compare also the following examples of greater and lesser control of the action using
take and last:

• It takes half an hour to prepare lunch and an hour to prepare supper


usually.

• Dinner lasts for / takes at least ninety minutes when Henry's at home -
there's so much to talk about.

• The five-set match lasted for more than three-and-a-half hours before the
champion went through to the next round 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 6-2. "I didn't
expect it to take so long, but it took me twenty minutes to settle down in
the opening set," he said afterwards.

Note that when we use preparatory it as subject and when it is followed by a


personal pronoun, me, you, her, him, or them, we have to use take, not last:

• It will take you all day to tidy your room - it's in such a mess.

• It only takes me five minutes to put my make-up on now. It used to take


me ninety minutes before I got married.

Like get, take is a very common multi-purpose verb and is used in many different
ways. Here are a few of the commonest:

take (opposite of give)

• I offered him four tickets for Romeo and Juliet, but he only took two.

• The burglars have taken all my jewels. There's nothing left.

• I'll take a copy of the agreement, if you don't mind. Then I won't forget
anything.

• I'm going to take ten minutes now to explain to you how this works.

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take (opposite of bring) meaning 'carry'

They are opposites in the sense that when we use bring we are describing
movements to where the speaker or listener is located, and when we use take we
are describing movements away from the speaker/listener. Compare the following:

• She took me to the hospital because I was feeling decidedly ill.

• Take an umbrella with you. It's going to rain.

• My secretary always brings me my mail first of all and then she takes the
children to school.

• I took my calculator to school every day until the maths teacher said: "You
needn't bring them any more. We have enough now for everybody."

take (= have)

• I'm going to take a shower now. ~ Why don't you take a bath? It'll be
more relaxing.

• Let's take a break now. You've been driving for two hours and you need to
take a rest.

• I'm going to take a holiday as soon as my boss gets back from leave.

• We took a long walk along the seashore every evening before dinner.

• Take a good look at this and make sure it's in perfect working order before
you decide to buy it.

In all of these expressions with take + noun to describe common actions, we can
use either have or take. Have is more characteristic of British English whereas
Americans would be more inclined to use take.

lazy and idle

A question from Anne McConnell in England:


Why aren't lazy and idle exact synonyms?

Karen Adams answers:


Well we have two words here that mean very similar things. Lazy which we know
means someone who doesn’t really word very hard, but also one with a very similar
meaning, idle.

That’s idle – i.d.l.e. Both words can actually be used to describe someone who
doesn’t work very hard, for example “John is really lazy.” or “John is really idle.”
Both mean that John’s doesn’t really work as much as he should do.

However, there are some very subtle differences between the two words which

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means we can’t use them completely interchangeably. For example, “lazy” will
always have a negative connotation; it will give us a very negative idea of the person
it’s being used to describe. So lazy is always seen as a very bad thing.

However, idle can be used in other contexts, still to mean something or someone
doesn’t work, but without the negative judgement. So for example, if you press print
on your computer, you may see a sign which says “Printer idle.” This means that the
printer, at the moment, isn’t doing anything. Similarly, sometimes factories must
close, because there isn’t enough work, an so at that point, the factory is idle. Also,
the work force, the people are idle.

So when we use idle in this way we are not giving a negative comment on the people
or the thing, we are just saying they’re not working.

It’s very very important to think about the adjectives you use in particular because
very many of them can carry different connotations. For example: cheap and
inexpensive. Both mean that something doesn’t cost a lot of money. However, in
British English, we often use the adjective cheap to describe something that’s not of
very good quality. So it can sometimes have a negative connotation.

Similarly, you may find two adjectives that mean similar things, but one adjective
can be used with a wider range of nouns. So for example wealthy and rich. We can
talk about wealthy people or rich people. Both mean people with lots of money.

However, we can also talk about rich food, rich furnishings, meaning very good
quality. So here, rich has a slightly different meaning. It’s important to remember
that it’s difficult to find words that are exact synonyms, which can be used
interchangeably, in all contexts.

So when you learn some new synonyms, it’s important to learn not just what they
share, but also what the difference is between them.

Remember, when we say someone is lazy, we mean they don’t work very hard, but
we can’t say the printer is lazy, we can only say the printer is idle.

Learning and using synonyms

People use synonyms to avoid repeating the same word. For example:

This hotel is so expensive. It's very pricey.

What is the difference in meaning between expensive and pricey? When should I use
synonyms?

expensive / pricey

Synonyms are words with the same or sometimes slightly different meanings.
Alternatives are sometimes used in the same context with little or no difference as in
your example, Yeon-Ju, except that pricey is a bit more informal than expensive.

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Virtually anything that costs a lot of money may be considered expensive or
pricey.

keen / eager

I am always keen / eager to introduce synonyms in this way in the examples of use
that I quote on the learnit pages. In this example, keen and eager are very close in
meaning and may be used interchangeably.

Finding alternatives with the same or similar meaning is undoubtedly a good way of
expanding your vocabulary and use of English, Yeon-Ju, but we have to be careful.

disgusting / appalling

These synonyms are quite close in meaning, but not as close as in the previous
pairs. Compare the following:

The food they served at John and Paula's wedding reception was disgusting.

The food they served at John and Paula's wedding reception was appalling.

The service at this hotel is disgusting.

The service at this hotel is appalling.

Both adjectives are possible in both contexts, but disgusting is perhaps more
appropriate to the first context as it suggests that the food was highly unpleasant to
the taste. Appalling is perhaps more appropriate to the second context as it
suggests that the service was generally unpleasant, shocking, offensive and
unacceptable.

pretty / good-looking / beautiful

These three synonyms, indicating someone or something that is pleasing in


appearance, are also quite close in meaning, but use is restricted:

It was a beautiful summer's day.

She was wearing a pretty polka-dot bikini.

With his jet-black hair and high cheekbones he appeared unusually good-looking.

A summer's day cannot be pretty or good-looking. A bikini is not substantial


enough to be called beautiful (whereas an attractive wedding dress we would
describe as beautiful). Only people, of either sex, can be described as good-looking
and men are not usually thought of as pretty or beautiful.

Collocation

What we learn from this is that words sometimes occur together, or collocate with
each other, in fairly fixed ways.

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verb + adverb

Certain verbs tend to be used with certain adverbs.

If you think hard / carefully about it, you'll realise that I'm right.
(Not: If you think strongly / powerfully / precisely….)

If I remember correctly / rightly, you were not there at the time.


(Not: If I remember exactly / precisely / truly…)

If you truly / really love me, you'll turn down that job in Norway.
(Not: If you purely / justly / rightly / precisely love me….)

adjective + noun

Certain nouns tend to occur with certain adjectives:

It came as a complete surprise to me when she married him


(Not: It came as a comprehensive / full / entire surprise to me…)

He carried out a full / comprehensive market survey before launching the


product.
(Not: He carried out a complete / all-embracing market survey…)
(And not: …before discharging / dispatching / propelling the product.)

verb + noun

Certain Verbs and nouns habitually occur together.

If you eat chocolate before a meal, it will spoil / ruin your appetite.
(Not: …it will damage / harm / suppress your appetite.)

The government has recently conducted / carried out a survey on the causes of
obesity in children.
(Not: The government has fulfilled / administered / run a survey…)

I can't change my eating habits so I shall continue to eat junk food.


(Not: I can't alter / amend / modify my eating habits…)

learning and using synonyms

When you are learning new words it is always a good idea to learn them in the
contexts in which they are used and the typical collocations that go with them.

'lend' or 'borrow'

How can I use the word owe when I lend someone some money. Do I say: 'I owe
you 20 dollars' or do I say: 'You owe me 20 dollars?' The importance of my question
is how do I use this word in both ways such as when I borrow some money from
someone and also when I lend someone some money?

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If you borrow something from somebody, you take it with their permission and
promise to return it in due course, at the end of a limited period usually. If you
borrow £5,000 from the bank, you will owe them £5,000, plus interest on the
period of time you have borrowed if for.

Consider the following:

• 'I borrowed five pounds from my brother and forgot to pay it back.'
• 'I always buy the books I want to read, although I agree it would be cheaper
to borrow them from the library.'
• 'Many of his ideas are borrowed from other sources.'

If you lend somebody something, or lend something to somebody, then you give
them something of yours for a limited period of time. If you lend someone some
money, they will owe you the money.

Consider the following:

• 'She lent her sister her car for the weekend.' (NB: verb + indirect object +
direct object)
• 'If you lend your coat to Philip, you’ll never see it again.' (NB: verb + direct
object + indirect object)
• 'If you can lend me a hand with these reports, we might finish them by
suppertime.'

In the sentence, ‘work hard lest you should fail in your examination’ can
'lest' be used without the support of the word 'should'?

Yes, it can. First, what does lest mean and when do we use it? Lest is a very rare
word and quite old fashioned.

Most people in Britain know it, because we see it written very often in the same
place - on war memorials, on statues, which have been put up so that we remember
people who died in wars; and what's very often written on these statues is ‘lest we
forget’! Now, what lest means is ‘so that we don't’ or ‘so that you don't’. It's a
warning. It's introducing a danger to be avoided.

And Shazad’s example: ‘work hard lest you should fail your examination’ lest
introduces the danger of things to be avoided: if you don't work hard, you will fail
your examination.

Here are further examples:

We often use it after a command, ‘work hard lest you fail your exam’ and ‘dress up
warmly (wear warm clothes) lest you catch cold’.

We can use it without a command, we might talk about something we did in the
past, so we might say ‘I worked really hard, lest I failed my exam’.

Written

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What we do need to remember though is that it is a very, very formal and old-
fashioned word and if you use it when you're talking, you're going to sound rather
strange. It's a word which we see written - it's not a word that is used in
conversation. Remember it, because you will see it written; but only use it if you
really want to impress somebody in a very, very formal situation.

Can lest be used without the support of the word should?

Yes. And it normally is used without should. In Shazad's example, 'lest you should
fail your examination', that use of should of course has a completely different
meaning from the usual meaning of should. We usually think of should in terms of an
obligation: something you have to do. And here, it doesn't mean that - here, the
meaning introduces a conditional that suggests that this is a possibility, but not a
strong possibility. It is not necessary. We usually do leave it out.

The interesting thing is, that when we do leave it out, the word that is left there is an
infinitive - which means, that if we're using ‘he’, we don't say ‘he must work hard,
lest he fails the examination’; we say ‘he must work hard, lest he fail the
examination’. And that's a curious and interesting little bit of English.

let or leave

I am 22 years old and have been learning English for 6 months. I would like to know
the difference between let and leave.

Please explain with examples. I shall be very grateful to you.

We use both let and leave in different ways and for different purposes. They cannot
be used interchangeably.

let + infinitive

A very common usage of let is in the phrase let us or let's when we are making a
suggestion involving others.

We say this instead of Why don't we…? or I suggest we… which is quite formal.
It is often used with shall we? as a question tag.

Compare the following:

• Let's just have a cold salad for supper this evening, shall we?
• And let's go for a run before we eat!
OK. Let's do that!
• Let's forget I ever said that, shall we? I didn't mean to offend you.

When it is used with the negative there are two alternative versions to choose from:
don't let's or let's not. Both are very common.

• Let's not get too involved in their argument. It's better if they sort it out
themselves.

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• Don't let's go to Sheila's party tonight. Let's just have a quiet evening at
home

Let is also commonly used to make a suggestion to oneself in the phrase let me or
to a third person in the phrase let him/her/them. Note also the usage with the
infinitive of there is/there are.

Compare the following:

• Do you like this outfit?


Let me see. I like the orange dress but not with that hat.
• I'm going to sell my car. Do you want to buy it?
I'm not sure. Let me think about it.
• There's still a stain on this jumper.
Let me try to get it out with this stain remover.
• Can Joey and Phoebe stay overnight next weekend? Oh, please let them
stay.
• Let there be no doubts in your minds that we shall win this battle.

Let = allow/permit

We can see from these last examples, particularly the Joey and Phoebe example,
that let also means allow or permit. These are more formal alternatives and
require to before the infinitive.

Compare the following:

• Let me say how pleased I am to see you here this evening.


• Allow me to say how pleased I am to see you here this evening.
• Permit me to say how pleased I am to see you here this evening.

• I wouldn't let them stay up after nine to watch the adult film on TV.
• I can't let you go to France without me.

Note that with the passive voice, we have to use permit or allow:

• We didn't let him go home until he had spoken to the Headteacher.


• He wasn't allowed/permitted to go home until he had spoken to the
Headteacher.

let me know/ let me have

Finally, let is frequently used with know, where it means tell, and have, where it
means send or give.

Compare the following:

• Please let us know as soon as possible whether you are able to accept our
offer.
• If you had let me know earlier, I would have saved it for you.
• Can you let me have those reports by midday on Friday, please?

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• Let me have half an hour to think about it and then I'll let you know.

leave = go (depart/quit/abandon)

As we saw with let, leave has a number of different meanings and uses.

Compare the following:

• The plane left early as everybody was on board half an hour before take-off.
(= departed)
• Nobody leaves school at the age of sixteen now, like they used to. (= stops
attending)
• Don't tell Maureen I'm leaving her. (= abandoning)

left = remaining

Here it is almost opposite in meaning and is used as a past participle normally at the
end of the clause, often with there is/are or have got:

• I haven't got any cash left. Can you get the sandwiches?
• There were only two days' rations left, but they had to last for six days.
• Nothing was left of the castle. It had been completely destroyed.

leave = let it remain

It is here that the meaning of leave comes closest to let, close but not identical.

Compare the following:

• I'll eat later. Just leave it for me in the fridge.


• I left my car in the car park and took the bus into the town centre.
• I can't make the decision. I'll leave it for you / to you to decide what to do.
• I can't get the stove to work.
Leave it with me / to me. I'll deal with it.

This final example combines a number of different usages of let and leave:

• Let me finish off the translation for you.


OK. There are only four pages left. I'll leave it for you. I have to leave now
anyway!

There are even more shades of meaning of leave than we have covered. Check
them out in a good dictionary.

*******************************************************************

'Lie' or 'lay' on a bed

What's the easy way to remember the difference between lie and lay ?

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lie (+ phrase of place) / lay (+ object)

Perhaps the easiest way to remember the difference, Antonio, is that lay is a
transitive verb which needs an object to complete its meaning and lie is an
intransitive verb which functions without an object and is followed normally by a
phrase of place.

First, see how the words look in the present and the past tense.

Present Past
lie he lies..., he is lying... he lay..., he was lying..., he has lain...
lay she lays, she is laying he laid, he was laying, he has laid

Now compare the following:

lay ( + object) She laid the baby on the bed in order to change its nappy.
lie ( + phrase of She was lying asleep on the sofa when her husband arrived
place) home.
lay ( + object) Can you lay the table for me please? Lunch is ready.
lie ( + phrase of I told her not to lie out in the sun, but she must have lain there
place) for at least an hour for her back was very sunburnt.
I had never laid carpets before, but I was determined to have a
lay ( + object)
go.
lie ( + phrase of When I looked out of the aircraft window, I could see that London
place) lay beneath us.
His lawyer will lay great emphasis on his state of mind when the
lay ( + object) murder was committed and claim that it was manslaughter, not
murder.
lie ( + phrase of None of us knows what lies ahead, but you must try to take a
place) grip on your life and decide where your future lies.

'look', 'see' and 'watch'

A question from Muhammed Nadeem in Pakistan :


What's the difference between the verbs 'look', 'see' and 'watch'?

Karen Adams answers:


'Look', 'see' and 'watch' seem very similar, they all talk about different ways of using
your eyes. However, there are two very important differences. It depends on how
you intend to look or watch and how intense the looking is. When we say 'see' we
are normally talking about things we can't avoid – so for example, "I opened the
curtains and saw some birds outside." - I didn't intend to see them, it just happened.
However, when we use the verb 'look', we're talking about seeing something with an
intention. So, "this morning I looked at the newspaper" – I intended to see the

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newspaper.

When we watch something, we intend to look at it but we're also looking at it quite
intensely, usually because it's moving. So, for example, "I watched the bus go
through the traffic lights." "I watched the movie." We want to see it, we're looking at
it intensely and it's normally moving.

When we use verbs of the senses, and this group, 'look', 'see' and 'watch' are verbs
of visual sense, there's usually a difference between intention and non-intention, so,
for example, "I heard the radio." - I didn't intend to, it just happened, or, "I listened
to the radio" - I switched it on to find my favourite programme. Similarly, "I felt the
wind on my face." - I didn't intend to feel this, it just happened, or "I touched the
fabric." - I intended to feel the fabric.

It's important when you find these verbs of the senses to gather them together and
try to find the differences between them. Remember that when you look at words
which seem to be similar it's important to find out exactly the differences between
them because basically you can't really use them interchangeably.

Remember, 'see' – you didn't really intend to, it just happened; 'look' – you intended
to do it; and watch you intended to do it and you were looking intensely, usually
because it was moving.

look forward to / agree to / object to

Adriana, learning English in Canada, writes:

I have been studying English since I came to Canada, about four years now, but
because there are so many exceptions to rules, it's hard for me to apply what I've
learnt. For instance, I don't understand why it's correct to say I look forward to
hearing from you and not I look forward to hear from you.

Jolie from Vietnam writes:

In the example In no way will I agree to sharing an office with Ben, I just
wonder why you can use both infinitive and V-ing form for the verb share.

look forward to something = anticipate something with interest

Look forward to is one of the many phrasal verbs in English in which an adverbial
particle (forward) as well as a preposition (to) is combined with the stem verb to
signify a particular meaning. What we are looking forward to can be exemplified as
either as a noun phrase or as a verb-phrase with an -ing pattern

• Jill says she's not looking forward to Jack's party next weekend.
• I very much look forward to meeting you soon.
• They're looking forward to joining their children in Australia

There are many such three-part verbs, e.g.:

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look back on = think back to
put up with = tolerate
come down with = fall ill with

There are a number of instances where such verbs end with the preposition to, e.g.:

face up to = confront
get round to = do something after some delay
get down to = concentrate on

Note that in such instances to is not part of any infinitive phrase. It is an integral
part of the verb. And whatever it is that we face up to or get round to is normally
expressed as either a noun phrase or as a verb phrase with an -ing pattern:

• I must get round to cleaning my car next weekend.


• And I must get down to reading Jack's article which he sent me two weeks
ago
• I must face up to the fact that I'm never going to be promoted in this
organisation.

Note that when verbs follow prepositions (any prepositions) the V-ing form is
normally used, not the to-infinitive pattern:

• I managed to finish reading Jack's article by staying up till midnight.


• He's talking about getting it published in National Geographic magazine.
• Instead of going on holiday last summer, he undertook this arduous trip
up the Amazon.

agree - agree to

There is a complication in your example, Jolie, where both the -ing form and the to-
inifnitive pattern appear possible:

• I cannot agree to share / to sharing an office with Ben.


• In no way can I agree to sharing / to share an office with Ben

The complication arises because there are two different forms of pretty much the
same verb, agree and agree to. If we are using the phrasal verb, agree to, the
-ing pattern is more likely. If we are using the non-phrasal verb, agree, the to-
infinitive pattern is imperative. Compare the following:

• What have you agreed?


We've agreed to tidy our rooms when we get up, to clear the dishes from
the table after eating and not to go out until we've finished our homework.

• What have you agreed to?


We've agreed to arriving punctually before the working day begins and to
not leaving before five o' clock in the afternoon.

object to

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Note that the opposite of agree to is object to and here only the -ing pattern is
possible:

• What do you object to in her behaviour?


I object to her going out every evening and not telling me where she is
going.

A question from Pia in Poland:


Could you please explain the difference between lunch, supper and dinner. Does the
expression relate to the time of the day that you eat the meal, the type of food or
the size of the meal?- 'lunch / supper /dinner'

Gareth Rees:
Well Pia, thank you for asking a question about my favourite topic, food and meals
during the day. The expressions you've chosen - lunch, supper and dinner, belong to
a larger set which includes words such as breakfast, tea and brunch. I'll be talking
about those later.

The expressions do relate to the time of day that you eat the meal and the type of
food and the size of the meal. That's why it can get confusing.

First of all, breakfast. This is simplest; it's the first meal of the day in the morning.
In the middle of the day, you might have lunch or dinner. Lunch sounds more
informal or more typical, particularly for people who are working.

In the evening, you might have dinner or supper. I think that people who have a
quick lunch in the middle of the day will say they have dinner in the evening and this
dinner will be a good meal.

A supper is usually a light meal and is probably had after a larger dinner has been
had in the middle of the day.

Confused? Well most people see a dinner as a more complete meal. A common lunch
in England is a sandwich, but dinner might include soup, meat with vegetables, and
then a dessert like apple pie and ice cream. So, dinner is really the main meal and
people might have it in the middle of the day or in the evening. Lunch and supper
are both light kinds of meal. Lunch is in the middle of the day, supper is in the
evening.

Now I mentioned there are some other meals. We talked about breakfast. Two more
words that you could add to your list are brunch and tea. Brunch is a mixture of
breakfast and lunch, as you can tell by the sound of the word: 'brunch'. And people
usually have brunch as a replacement for both lunch and breakfast. Brunch is usually
had at about 11 o'clock.

And the final word is tea. Now of course this is a drink, like tea and coffee, but it can
also be a light evening meal. I think this word is often used in families, particularly
with their children. "It's tea time", "It's time for tea!" This means their small evening
meal.

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To finish, it is of course unusual to have breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, tea and
supper all in one day. But let me tell you, not impossible. And from that comment
you'll understand that I have the ideal physique and dietary habits for radio and the
internet and not for TV.

'make' and 'do'

Davivien asks about 'make' and 'do' collocations:

I would like to know the differences between the verbs to do and to make. Do you
'make an exam' or do you 'do an exam'?

do

You do an exam. But there are no easy rules to follow. We always use do to describe
indefinite activities, often with what, thing, anything, nothing, etc and generally
speaking we also use do to talk about duties, jobs or (leisure) activities. Look at the
following examples:

• 'What shall we do now?' 'You can do what you like. I'm going home!'
• 'He didn't do anything. He just sat there.'
• 'You expect me to do everything around the house. Well, I'm fed up!'
• 'I did all my homework last night so tonight I'm going to do the housework.'
• 'I did a lot of research and I think I did a good job on that essay. I did my
best anyway.'
• 'I intend to do lots of walking on holiday this year, and perhaps some bird-
watching too.

make

We tend to use make when we are talking about constructing, creating or


performing something. Study the following examples:

• 'I made three suggestions and left it to him to make the final decision.'
• 'I've made all the arrangements for the trip and I've made a great effort to
get it all right.'
• 'I'm afraid I'm going to have to make my excuses and leave.'
• 'I have to make three phone calls.'

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make or do?

Test your knowledge of make and do now by clicking on what you think is the
correct box in the examples that follow.

It is not always as easy as the above examples suggest. It is often simply a matter
of usage, of learning and knowing which of these two verbs collocate with which
nouns. Best of luck! The first two examples are done for you.

1 make do the cleaning and the cooking check answer


2 make do a lasting impression (on someone) check answer
3 make do the shopping and the washing-up check answer
4 make do some serious work check answer
5 make do a lot of damage (to something) check answer
6 make do an announcement or a speech check answer
7 make do an application (e.g. for a driving test) check answer
8 make do a sound or a noise check answer
9 make do one's hair or one's teeth check answer
10 make do a lot of harm rather than good check answer
11 make do business (with somebody) check answer
12 make do (somebody) a favour check answer
13 make do love, not war check answer
14 make do a mess, a profit or a fortune check answer
15 make do fun of someone or a fool of someone check answer
16 make do amends for one's behaviour check answer

Answers
do the cleaning and the cooking
make a lasting impression (on someone)
do the shopping and the washing-up
do some serious work

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do a lot of damage (to something)
make an announcement
make an application (e.g. for a driving test)
make a sound or a noise
do one's hair or one's teeth
do a lot of harm rather than good
do business (with somebody)
do (somebody) a favour
make love, not war
make a mess, a profit or a fortune
make fun of someone or a fool of someone
make amends for one's behaviour

Media related jobs

I'm confused about the difference between presenter, broadcaster, and announcer;
and the difference between reporter and journalist. Your answer must be very helpful
for me. Thanks.

Hi Suharno,

All these words are used to describe people who work in the media. The first three:
presenter, broadcaster and announcer are all related to TV and radio: media which is
delivered partly – or wholly – through sound and speech (this type of media is
increasingly available on internet too).

A presenter is a person who introduces or hosts television or radio programmes. A


presenter's opening words on a programme are usually something like Good
evening, and welcome to[name of show] with me [name of presenter]. On tonight's
show we will be... [presenter talks about the content of the programme]. The topic
of the programme is not all about the presenter. The presenter is the person who
introduces the programme, introduces or links sections of the programme together
and says goodbye at the end. Some well-known presenters include Johnny Carson
(an American TV chat show host), Trevor MacDonald (a British TV news presenter),
and Karim Kouchouk (the presenter of BBCe for BBC Learning English Arabic
Service).

An announcer's job is similar to that of a presenter. He or she provides spoken


information about news, weather, programme content, links between programmes,
advertising etc. However, an announcer may have a smaller role in a programme
than a presenter does: on TV programmes, an announcer may only feature as a
voice whereas a presenter will be seen on the screen. Another main difference
between an announcer and a presenter is that the announcer usually reads word-for-
word from a script, whereas a presenter may have some flexibility regarding the
things they say.

The word broadcaster can refer to an organisation such as the BBC (UK) or NBC
(USA) which produces television and radio programmes. It can also be used to

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describe someone who is well-experienced in the TV and radio industry. He or she
usually has multiple talents – scriptwriting, directing, presenting etc. and his or her
programmes may be considered to be very important and well-respected. Famous
British broadcasters include Sir David Attenborough, Sir Robert Winston and Sir
David Frost, and Larry King in the USA.

Turning to the second part of your question, Suharno: you wanted to find out about
the difference between a reporter and a journalist. In fact, these jobs are very
similar, and in some respects the terms are interchangeable. A journalist's work is
most often seen in print – especially newspapers – but they can work for TV and
radio too. A journalist gathers, writes and reports news stories, and may also edit
and present news articles.

A reporter is a type of journalist who gathers information about newsworthy issues.


This may involve researching through several sources – interviews, police and public
records, photographs etc. When the information is gathered, the reporter will create
a report for publication or broadcast in the media. Reporters often specialise in a
particular area, for example: crime, politics, health or education.

Finally, Suharno, I'd like to mention one more media profession. A columnist is a
writer (usually a journalist) who writes regularly (often weekly) for a newspaper or
magazine. She or he chooses a topic that is in the news and writes not only about
the events that have become newsworthy but also often offers some analysis and/or
personal opinion. This job is usually reserved for senior journalists at a particular
newspaper or magazine. Well Suharno, I do hope this has been a useful answer to
your question!

melt, thaw and antonyms

Keith Gama de Carvalho from Brazil writes:

Could you please tell me if there are any differences between the verbs melt and
thaw? I'm thinking about the second scene of the first act of Hamlet by William
Shakespeare:

O, that this too solid flesh would melt

Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

melt

When something melts, it changes from a solid to a liquid state, usually because it is
heated:

• Melt 50 grams of butter in a saucepan and then add the onions and
mushrooms.
• The snow on our grass melted quickly in the warm sunshine.

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We also have the phrasal verbs melt away and melt (away) into meaning to
disappear:

• At first they were enemies, but over time their differences melted away.
• The shoplifters just melted (away) into the Oxford Street crowds of
Christmas shoppers.

thaw

When something thaws it warms up slowly and changes gradually from a frozen
state to a temperature above freezing point:

• The snow was thawing and the streets had become slushy.

We also have the phrasal verb thaw out, which we use when referring to frozen
food or if we have just come inside from very cold weather:

• If I were you, I would take it out of the freezer and leave it to thaw out
overnight.
• Let me just stand by the radiator and thaw out a bit before I start to cook
dinner.

Hamlet, in the speech you refer to, Keith, is mourning the death of his father two
months earlier and is distraught about his mother's hasty re-marriage to his father's
brother. For this
reason he wishes that his flesh might melt into the dew.

We still use melt figuratively today when we speak of our feelings or emotions
melting, e.g.:

• Once on stage, his inhibitions melted and he gave a confident performance.

Antonyms of melt and thaw would be:

freeze harden solidify stiffen

Study the examples below to see how these verbs may be used:

• If it's cold enough in January, the lake will freeze (over) and we can go
skating.
• His assets were frozen because he was five hundred thousand pounds in
debt.
• This glue dries very fast and hardens in less than an hour.
• His attitude to the company hardened when he realized that his shares were
worthless.
• Pour the beef dripping into a bowl and when it has solidified you can spread
it on toast.
• All the various factions solidified and promised allegiance to their leader.

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• She was afraid. Her whole body stiffened when she heard him come through
the door.
• They were clearly going to lose, but their resistance stiffened and they
fought harder than before.

miss / missing / missed

Bernadette from France writes:

It is always hard for me to use the verb miss correctly. I always get confused, for
instance, when I try to translate: Tu me manques. Please advise me. Thanking you
in advance.

miss = fail to make contact with

There are a number of shades of meaning when miss means 'fail to make contact
with'. Compare the following:

• If you're not careful you'll miss the flight and there isn't another one till
next week.
• Is Jenny still here? ~ You've just missed her. She left five minutes ago.
• He scored four goals, but then he missed a penalty.
• The bullet just missed my head. It whizzed past my ear and embedded itself
in the wall.
• No, you've missed the point. Bobby GAVE her the money. He didn't want it
back.
• The railway station is right at the end of this road. You can't miss it!
• If you leave the queue now, you'll miss your chance of seeing this film.
• It was my granny's funeral last Thursday so I had to miss all my lessons
last week.

miss = be sorry to be without

In this sense, we can miss both people and things. This is the meaning of miss that
you allude to in your sentence Tu me manques, Bernadette. Note in English we
would not translate it as You are missed by me. Instead, we would say simply: I
miss you! Compare the following:

• I miss my grandmother terribly. She was such a kind, gentle person.


• Will you miss me when I'm away? ~ Oh, I shall miss you all right!
• What do you miss most about the south of France now you're in Britain?
~ I miss my family, I miss the people, I miss the sunshine, I miss the
cheese and the wine.
• Do you miss walking in the Pyrenees? ~ Yes, I miss that too.

missing / missed (adjs) = lost / cannot be found

When missing and missed are used as adjectives, they behave like present and
past participles, e.g missing pages are pages that are missing, a missed
opportunity is an opportunity that has been missed. Note also that missing is

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often placed after the noun it qualifies, rather than in front of it. Compare the
following:

• The weather cleared. We should have climbed the mountain. It was a missed
opportunity.
• They were unable to complete the jigsaw as several pieces were missing.
• Did you know there are five pages missing from this book? It goes from 32
to 43.
• My name was missing from the list of participants but it was clear that I
had enrolled.
• Ten people are known to have died in the blast and a further fifteen are still
missing.
• Did you know you've got a button missing from your blue shirt?
• She has been missing for over six months and has now been placed on the
missing persons register.

Note that in this last example we talk about a missing person or a missing
persons register, rather than missing people or a missing peoples register, to
emphasize the individuality of people who have left home and it is not known
whether they are alive or dead.

miss in idioms

Note also idiomatic usage in the following expressions:

• He didn't have all the advantages of a proper education and really missed
out.
• Growing asparagus is very difficult and can be a very hit-and-miss affair.
• There have been several near misses between planes landing at this airport
recently.
• He's failed his exams again and I think he has missed the boat as far as
higher education is concerned.
• I think I've missed a trick here in failing to consult my accountant about tax
returns.
• I think I'll give the book signing ceremony a miss. What about you? ~ No,
I'm going.
• They came fourth in the league and missed promotion by only one point, but
as the old saying goes: a miss is as good as a mile.

miss out on something = miss an opportunity that you would clearly benefit from

hit and miss / hit or miss = sometimes very successful, sometimes not

near miss = when something is nearly hit by e.g. a vehicle or a bomb

miss the boat = miss an opportunity which will probably not arise again

miss a trick = fail to take advantage of an opportunity

give something a miss = to avoid it

a miss is as good as a mile = a failure is a failure by however small an amount

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NB1 Miss can be used as an alternative to Ms placed in front of the name of an
unmarried woman when the person concerned wishes it to be known that she is
single.

NB2 Miss Right or Mr Right can be used as expressions to describe a woman or


man who is regarded as an ideal marriage partner:

• He was looking for the perfect Miss Right and had some difficulty in finding
her!

meeting/gathering/assembly/rally

Chen Jianxin from China writes:

Can you please tell me what the difference is between these four nouns: assembly,
gathering, meeting and rally? How do we distinguish between them when we use
them?

Meeting (and meet) are the most generally and widely used from your list of four,
Jianxin. Assembly (and assemble), gathering (and gather) and rally are more
restricted in use.

meet (verb)

When two or more people meet, they come together or are brought together for
some reason or they just happen to be in the same place and start talking:

• Where shall we meet this evening? ~ Let's meet under the clock at Waterloo
Station.

• Have you met my dad? ~ No, I haven't. ~ Well, come and meet him. Dad,
this is Martin. ~ Pleased to meet you, Martin.

• Representatives from the two countries will meet again in June to resume
their talks.

meeting (noun)

A meeting is any event where a smaller or larger group of people come together to
discuss something or to make a decision:

• Can I speak to Jane please? ~ No, I'm sorry she's in a meeting. ~ When will
the meeting be over?

• Can we hold a meeting with everybody to discuss this, please? You can't
make a decision without having a meeting first.

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• Can you come to supper on Thursday? ~ I don't think so. I've got a meeting
in the afternoon which is sure to go on till six or seven in the evening.

gather (verb)

When people or things gather somewhere, they come together for a particular
purpose. They do not meet by chance:

• The storm clouds are gathering. It's going to rain soon.

• Can you see the birds gathering on that tree over there?

• We gathered around the camp fire and started singing folk songs.

When you gather things or pieces of information, you collect them with a particular
purpose in mind:

• We went out to gather mushrooms in the woods.

• I need to gather as much information as I can so that I can write this report.

I gather means I understand in the sense that somebody has told me or I have
read about this. As far as I can gather… is an expression meaning As far as I
can find out…:

• I gather there will be no alcoholic beverages at the his party.

• As far as I could gather, he was trying to raise money by selling cars which
had been stolen.

gathering (noun)

A gathering is a group of people who are meeting together for a particular purpose:

• There was an exclusive gathering of show-business people and footballers at


Posh and Becks' Gucci and sushi garden party last Saturday.

• It was a friendly gathering. Everybody was in good humour and there was a
lot of laughter.

assemble (verb)

Assemble is very close to gather in meaning in the sense of coming together for a
particular purpose. It perhaps suggests a greater sense of organisation:

• They assembled / gathered in the school canteen after the exam to discuss
how well they had done.

When we assemble things, we fit the different parts together to make a whole:

• He couldn't assemble the jigsaw without seeking the help of his older sister.

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• If the police can assemble / gather enough evidence, they will arrest him
for burglary.

assembly (noun)

Assemblies are usually larger gatherings of people who meet regularly for a
particular purpose:

• The National Assembly voted to hold the first entirely free elections for over
20 years.

• The assembly of musicians was impressive. Over 300 were gathered


together in the Festival Hall.

In a school, the assembly is a gathering of all teachers and pupils at a specified


time in the school hall for matters that affect the whole school:

• The Junior School Assembly lasted for 45 minutes as there was a


presentation on road safety.

You will also find assembly lines in factories where employees work on particular
part of a product (e.g. a car) at a particular stage of its manufacture.

rally (verb)

When people rally, they unite to support something:

• He rallied his supporters in the hope that his party would win the election.

When someone or something rallies, it begins to recover from a weak position:

• The stock markets rallied and shares returned to their early morning values.

• After four days in bed, he rallied sufficiently to be able to sit out in an


armchair.

If you rally at tennis, badminton or squash, you manage to keep the shots going
with your partner for as long as possible without losing. Rally can also be used in
this sense as a noun:

• It was one of the longest and most exciting rallies of the entire tournament.

rally (noun)

A rally is primarily a large public meeting that is held to show support for a cause or
a political party. Rallies, like meetings, are held:

• Over ten thousand people held a rally in the square to demonstrate their
support for international human rights.

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Mother tongue, honeymoon and a small amount of gold

Saeed asks: Why do we say mother tongue and not mother language and why
honeymoon and not honey month?

Marga asks: Do you say: a small amount of gold or a little amount of gold? What is
the difference?

Honeymoon

Honeymoon is a compound noun, meaning a holiday spent together by a couple


immediately after their marriage.

We also have the expression honeymoon period, meaning the beginning of a


period of time when everything is pleasant in a relationship and partners don't
criticise each other:

They plan to go on honeymoon to Thailand for a month.

The honeymoon period for this new government is now over.

Honey month is an impossible combination and would not make any sense now,
even though the word honeymoon was originally used to describe the first month of
marriage. The reference to the moon (and therefore lunar month) is ironic:
everybody knows that as soon as the moon is full, it starts to wane and dies.

Mother tongue - native language

Mother tongue is another fixed collocation. You are right, Saeed, we do not say
mother language. Instead, we would normally say native language, though
native tongue is also possible, see below:

Her mother tongue was Russian, but you would never have guessed it from her
perfect pronunciation of English.

You should acquire a perfect grasp of your native tongue before you start to learn a
foreign language.

The greater part of learning a foreign language, Saeed, is all about knowing which
words naturally occur together. The examples given so far are relatively
straightforward but it becomes more complicated when we look at the words which
small and little naturally occur with.

A small house / a little house

When little and small both mean not large, with some nouns they can be used
interchangeably with little or no difference in meaning:

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They lived in a little house in the country.

They lived in a small house in the country.

However, little also suggests that you feel sympathy for something, whereas small
is more neutral and does not suggest this. Compare the following:

He's only a little boy. He doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. ~ He
may be a small child, but that doesn't excuse his behaviour!

Because little invokes sympathy, it is often used with other adjectives like nice,
sweet, tiny, pretty, poor. Small cannot be used in this way:

This job is a nice little earner. Maximum reward for minimum effort.

She's a sweet / pretty little thing. Always has a smile on her face.

They live in this tiny little bed-sit in Shepherds Bush.

Little = not much

Little is also more complicated than small because it can also mean not much.
Small can only mean not large. Compare the following:

Will you have beer or wine with your meal? ~ I'd like a little wine, please. A small
glass of red wine would be nice.

Would you like a large or a small coffee? ~ Oh, a small coffee please. I shan't sleep
tonight if I have a large one.

Abstract nouns that often follow little (meaning not much) include hope, chance,
change, effect, use and point:

There's little chance / hope of finding any survivors after such a massive explosion. I
see little point in continuing the rescue mission.

There has been little change in his condition over the last seventy two hours. The
new drugs appear to have had little effect.

Small amount / small number

When we define small as not large we are thinking about small in size, amount or
number:

These shoes are too small. They really don't fit me at all.

I only had a small amount of gold but enough to purchase everything I needed.

A disappointingly small number of people entered the competition.

Note that small also combines readily with very and few as well as with too. Few
cannot be combined with little and little is not normally used with very or too:

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I noticed that there were a few small mistakes in your essay.

The phone box was very small, but we all managed to squeeze in.
I've heard the term 'Soho nail bomb attack'. What does the term nail bomb mean? I
know the word bomb. What does the addition of nail do to the meaning?

A nail bomb is a bomb which is filled with nails. When the bomb explodes the nails
fly out and cause serious injury.

On Friday 30 April 1999, a massive explosion devastated a gay pub in Soho in the
heart of London. The blast tore through the Admiral Duncan pub at 6.37 p.m. when
the area was crowded with people enjoying the evening sunshine at the start of a
holiday weekend. Three people were killed and more than one hundred were injured,
many of them very seriously.

It was the third in a series of three bombings in the capital in which ethnic minorities
and homosexuals had been targeted.

The Soho nail bomb caused particularly horrific injuries as a consequence of the
confined space in which it exploded and because of the shrapnel effect of the long
nails contained within it.

Normal, Ordinary and Usual

I have studied English in high school for three years but I can't tell the difference
between

normal,
ordinary
and usual.

Hi Hoa,

Well, this is a good question! There are so many words in English that have similar
meanings, which I know can be confusing for learners. In the examples you give,
normal and ordinary do have very similar meanings, but usual has a slightly different
meaning. I think it’s useful here to talk about vocabulary collocation, which means
words that are often used together. And when you’re studying English vocabulary,
it’s worth spending some time just studying collocation. You can do this by looking at
a good quality monolingual (English-English) dictionary, which explains collocation.
You can also study collocation by reading texts (fiction or non-fiction) in English and
looking carefully at the combinations of adjectives and nouns, and verbs and their
objects. And it’s also possible to purchase specialist vocabulary books and collocation
dictionaries.

But to get back to the words you asked about Hoa, I think normal and ordinary have
[a] very similar meaning, which is probably: ‘how you expect something to be, not
unusual or special’. So if we had a normal or ordinary day at work, it would mean
that nothing particularly special happened. A normal or an ordinary meal in a

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restaurant doesn’t sound very exciting, but I suppose it’s better than having an awful
one!

There is a slight nuance in meaning, however, when we talk about normal people
and ordinary people. If we mention normal people, it probably means ‘people who
think and behave in the same way as most other people’. But the phrase ordinary
people may carry a nuance in meaning about wealth and social status, meaning
‘people who are not particularly rich’. So we might say:

These houses have been built for ordinary people to buy.

…which contains an indirect reference to wealth. I don’t think we’d say:

These houses have been built for normal people to buy.

… because this seems to be commenting on behaviour rather than income. Similarly,


if we make a comment like

His new watch is very ordinary.

… it would be a slightly rude or negative comment. And the opposite of ordinary is, of
course, extraordinary, and if we described a watch as extraordinary it would mean
‘very special or unusual’.

Now let’s get back to the other word you mention, usual. This is slightly different
because it implies habit or regular behaviour. For example, my usual bus would be
the one I always take, at the same time, every day. My usual newspaper would be
the one I always buy. You can arrange to meet someone at the usual, meaning the
usual bar, café or place where you meet. In this case it would be impossible to use
normal or ordinary. Finally, regular customers in pubs often ask for their usual,
meaning the drink they usually order!

Well thank you for your question and I hope this has helped!

no = not / not any

In the sentences:

Hong Kong's goal: zero accidents on the road.


Hong Kong's goal: no accidents on the road.

shouldn't the plural form be changed to singular?

Hong Kong's goal: zero accident on the road.


Hong Kong's goal: no accident on the road.

Zero means no and the noun that follows it should surely be in singular form. Please
answer my question.
zero = not any

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With countable nouns, zero is always followed by plural nouns. With uncountable
nouns, the singular form is used. Compare the following:

Zero degrees centigrade is the same as 32 degrees fahrenheit.


We are likely to see zero growth on the stock market this year.
We are not likely to see any growth on the stock market this year.

no = not a / not any

With countable nouns, no is normally followed by plural forms. It sounds more


natural and makes better sense to say:

It was early December and there were no leaves on the trees.


No dogs, unless they are on a lead, are allowed in the flower garden.
No road accidents were reported in Chelsea throughout August.

than:

It was early December and there was no leaf on the trees.


No dog, unless it is on a lead, is allowed in the flower garden.
No road accident was reported in Chelsea throughout August.

Sometimes, no may be followed by singular or plural nouns, depending on whether


one is thinking of one or more than one:

It was 9 a.m., yet there was no policeman on duty outside the embassy.
It was 9 a.m., yet there were no policemen on duty outside the embassy.

In the Premiership last Saturday, no players were sent off.


In the Premiership last Saturday, no player was sent off.
In the Premiership last Saturday, not a single player was sent off.

Sometimes, it is more natural to combine singular and plural use:

He must lead a lonely life in that village: he has no wife and no children.

(A man normally has one wife, but often has more than one child!)

no = emphatic use

Note that we tend to use no, rather than not a or not any when we want to
emphasise a negative idea. In the lonely man example above, no is more effective
than not a / not any. Compare:

He must lead a lonely life: he doesn't have a wife and he doesn't have any children.

With subject nouns, when no is used emphatically, not a / not any are not
possible:

No politician tells the truth all the time.


No writer has won the Booker prize more than once.

Note that singular use sounds more natural in these examples.

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no collocations

There are a number of common nouns that normally combine with no, rather than
not a or not any. Most of them are uncountable and include no amount, no time,
no idea, no doubt, no reason, no need, no evidence, no problem, no way, no
point, no use. Study these examples of use:

No amount of washing could remove the stain from the garment.


There's no time to lose. We must leave immediately.
I have no idea how you solve this problem. It's quite beyond me.
There was no doubt she had lied. All the evidence pointed to her guilt.
I've no reason to think he won't return. He needs me as much as I need him.
There's no need to cry. We can sort this out together.
She complained of chest pains but the doctors found no evidence of infection.
Can you help me with the ironing? ~ No problem. I'm not busy this evening.
Can you help me with the cleaning? ~ No way. I have to be out by seven.
There's no point in shouting. He's deaf and can't hear you.
It's no use complaining. They won't bother to answer your letter.

once, twice, thrice

I’m a little confused because I’ve found the word thrice in a book. A few teachers
told me there is no such word or that I cannot use it and that I should use three
times instead. Can I use this word and in what circumstances?

We’ll take this opportunity to look at a number of complications with the expression
of numbers and frequency in English.

once, twice, thrice

The norm here is to say once (rather than one time) to say three times (rather
than thrice) in current usage. Thrice is definitely old-fashioned, although you may
still come across it in certain contexts:

This vehicle travels at thrice the speed of sound.


They play football thrice weekly.

Better to say:

This vehicle travels at three times the speed of sound.


They play football three times a week and train every night.

When it comes to twice, this is more often used than two times, although two
times is also quite common in informal usage. Compare the following:

I’ve visited her twice already this autumn and she’s visited me once.
I’ve visited her two times already this autumn and she’s visited me once.

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Unemployment in the north of England is twice the national average.
Teachers say they would be twice as effective if they had no administrative tasks.

One time is occasionally possible as an alternative to once. Compare the following:

He had only ever seen his great-aunt once before.


He had only ever seen his great-aunt one time before.

We go out with our colleagues for a drink once a week or once a fortnight and have a
staff party once a year.

You will hear the recording only once.


I’m only going to say this once.

Once, (not one time) can also mean at some time in the past:

I once ran a fish-and-chip shop in Brighton. ~ When was that? ~ Before I bought this
business.

Our house in the village was once the train station. ~ When was that? ~ When the
trains used to run here.

Do you know the different references to these numbers?

nought / zero / nil / o / love (0)


half a dozen (6 or approximately 6)
a dozen (12 or approximately 12)
a score (20 or approximately 20)
a billion (1,000,000,000 or a very large number)

Note how they are used:

House prices rose by nought point two per cent last month.
Visibility was almost zero at the City Airport last night because of the fog.
England won their recent match against Liechtenstein by two goals to nil.
My phone number is o two o, eight seven o seven, nine nine o three.
Roddick was leading by two sets to love and forty love in the first game of the third
set when rain stopped the match.

Can you set out the arguments for and against capital punishment in half a dozen
paragraphs?
I bought two dozen eggs but we’ve only used four. ~ Why didn’t you buy half a
doxen?
Scores of volunteers offered to help in the search for the missing child.

How many zeros do I write down for a billion? Is it six or nine?


Billions of dollars need to be invested to re-build this country.
I’ve told you billions of times to lock the door before you go to bed.

maximum / minimum; maximal / minimal

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To express the idea of the largest amount possible, we would normally use
maximum as both adjective and noun. Maximal as adjective or maximally as
adverb are more rarely used. Compare the following:

Arsenal now head the Premiership table with maximum points from five games.
The maximum sentence for armed robbery is twenty years.
How long are the shifts for this type of work? ~ Four hours is the minimum and
twelve hours is the maximum.
How long should I sit in front of the computer screen? ~ Maximally three hours.

Minimal, however, meaning very small in quantity, is much more often used as an
adjective. Note the slight difference in meaning. Mimimum describes the smallest
amount possible. Compare the following:

He managed to pass all his exams with minimal effort.


There may be one or two delays on this service but they are expected to be minimal.

The minimum wage in Britain is now four pounds fifty an hour.


The minimum height for a policeman used to be five foot ten.

The language of love

Mojca Belak from Slovenia asks:

How old can a boyfriend/girlfriend be?

A friend who is 50 recently sent me an email gladly informing me that he now has a
girlfriend. In Slovenian this sounds really funny. Which could be the alternatives – if
there are any? ‘Partner’ didn’t seem to be accepted, so what DO you say for
somebody who is not in his/her teens or twenties any longer and is in a relationship,
but they are not married?

We don’t have very much choice in the matter, Mojca. ‘Boyfriend/girlfriend’ and
‘partner’ are the words that we normally use to describe somebody who is in a
sexual relationship. Although boyfriends and girlfriends are often associated with
teenager years, as in:

• 'I remember my first boyfriend was a very spotty individual whose voice had
only just broken.'

it is also quite common for people in their twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties to
use the words 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' to describe someone that they are in a
relationship with, but do not necessarily live with.

Partner’ is perhaps the preferred term to describe the person you are living with on a
more permanent basis, but are not married to:

• 'I don’t think you’ve met my partner. This is Guy Wilkinson.'

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It is unlikely that teenagers would have ‘partners’, although people from their
twenties onwards may well have.

However, 'partner' can sound rather formal because partnerships, of course, are not
only of a sexual nature. If you play a game against another pair of people, or dance
then you would do so with a ‘partner’. Consider the following:

• 'After their Wimbledon experience, it looks as if sister Serena will be Venus


Williams’ doubles' partner for some time to come.'
• 'He is such a good dancer that he has no difficulty in finding appropriate
partners for all the Latin-American competitions.'
• 'Will you be my partner at bridge this afternoon?'

And ‘partners’ in a firm or business are the people who share the ownership of it:

• 'He was partner in a firm of lawyers.'

There are some other expressions that can be used, such as 'lover' and 'other half'
but it's true to say that in English there is no one preferred term!

parts of the body

M Ramesh Kumar from India writes:

Could you please give me the parts of the body from head to toe with exact
pronunciation of native English speakers?

Here's a chart which shows the major parts of the body: obviously not to be used for
an anatomy lesson! Some words are used mainly in the medical profession - others
are more popular. You can use this list for pronunciation practice, particularly the
practice of vowel sounds.

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1 - hair
2 - head
3 - eye
4 - ear
5 - nose
6 - lips
7 - face
8 - neck
9 - shoulder
10 - arm
11 - elbow
12 - wrist
13 - hand
14 - thumb
15 - fingers
16 - breast
17 - chest
18 - stomach/tum/
tummy
19 - abdomen
20 - bottom
21 - thigh
22 - leg
23 - knee
24 - ankle
25 - foot/feet
26 - big toe
27 - toes

Parts of the body


From head to toe,
But for the sake of rhyme
And pronunciation practice
This time they are not in order.

On your head is your hair


You can wear your hair long
Or you can wear your hair short

On your face
your eyes, nose and lips
are placed.
And at the side
are your ears
to help you hear.

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You hear with your ears,
You see with your eyes,
You smell with your nose
And kiss with your lips.

Your lips are about one metre


from your hips
- shake your hips!
And your nose is nearly two metres
from your big toe
if you grow full-size.
And don't forget your eyes
- they're about one metre
from your thighs.
And your lovely white teeth
- about two metres from your dainty feet!

Let's add them together:

Two lips and two hips,


One nose, two big toes,
Two eyes and two thighs,
Lots of lovely white teeth
And two dainty feet

That's well over thirty body parts, I suppose!


Add on fingers, two thumbs,
And every other toe.
That's well over sixty, as far as I know!

Your breast is the upper part


of your chest.
Between your chest and your legs
is your abdomen.
At the front is your tum
- short for tummy
At the rear is your bum
- short for bottom!
Between your bum and your tum
Are your thighs - roughly speaking.

Joints are formed where two bones meet


Your upper and lower arms are joined at your elbows
Your upper and lower legs are joined at you knees
Your wrists join your hands to your arms
And your ankles your feet to your legs.

Your bones are covered by flesh, blood and skin.


And it's the skin that holds it all in.

Your organs are all inside - don't let them escape.


They're all very busy - fully awake.

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We'll touch them in order.
Get as close as you can:

· brain: make me think


· lungs: breathe in and breathe out
· heart: I can feel you beating
· stomach: I can hear you rumbling when I'm hungry
· bladder: I'll empty you when you're full

We sometimes say that we are only flesh and blood


And made up of feelings which we cannot touch.

Glossary:

Tum: your tum or tummy is the part at the front of your body, just below your
waist.

I'm going to be doing a lot of sunbathing this summer, so I don't want my tummy to
show.

It can also be used to refer informally to stomach, i.e. the parts inside your body
where food is digested. In this sense tummy, as an alternative to stomach, is often
used by children or by adults talking to children:

Jonathan's got tummy ache from eating too many unwashed strawberries.

Bum: your bum is the part of your body which you sit on. It is frequently used in
informal English and is slightly rude:

Do you think my bum looks too big in these jeans?

More neutral alternatives would be bottom or backside.

Dainty feet: feet which are dainty are small, delicate and pretty.

A question from Yumi in Japan:


Hi, I would like to know about the difference between 'epidemic' and 'pandemic',
related to the bird flu.

Catherine Walter answers:


Yumi, that's a very topical question. We hope that we won't be talking too much
about pandemics in the next few months. The answer is actually very simple.

'Epidemic' is the word that we use when we're talking about a large number of
people or animals in a certain place that are affected by disease or illness. 'Pandemic'
is the word we use when almost all the people and animals in a certain place are
affected by a disease or illness. And that's the short answer.

But that little 'pan-' prefix is something that you might want to remember because

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we often use it to mean 'all'. So people make up new words by putting 'pan-' in front
of something ? you might hear about a 'pan-Asian' conference, for example.

So don't forget 'pan-', but let's hope we can forget the pandemic. Thank you.

My full name is Yaciel Edelio Tellez Toledo. I come from Cuba. I wrote to you because
I am in doubt with the correct use of 'person' and 'people'. That was my question -
because I know that 'person' and 'people' both are nouns and I would like to know
when I'm going to use 'person' or 'people'.

Karen Adams answers:


Hi Yaciel and thank you for your question, there are several points to make here. The
first one os to do with singular and plural nouns, I'm sure you know that most nouns
in English are made plural by putting an s on the end, so for example, girl – girls,
boy – boys. But some nouns have irregular plurals, for example child – children. And
'person' is one of those nouns that has an irregular plural. 'People' is in fact the
plural form of person. So for example we talk about one person and two people. So
in normal everyday speech you will hear people talking about 'many people', 'there
were a lot of people at the concert', for example.

However it becomes slightly more complicated because sometimes you do see the
word 'persons'. For example if you're in a lift or elevator you might see the sign 'Four
persons only'. And sometimes if you're listening to the news, to news reports you
may hear news reports talking about persons. So for example 4 persons were injured
in the accident, or police are looking for 5 persons. Persons is normally a more
formal use, a more formal plural form.

It gets slightly more complicated when you find the word peoples. People can be
used to mean a nationality – all of the people of one country – so for example 'the
people of Cuba'. And when you're talking about a group of nationalities you may find
the word 'peoples', for example, 'the peoples of South America'. So that's another
slightly more complicated and not so common use of the word 'peoples'.

Finally you may find the word 'person' attached to a number. For example 'a two-
person car', 'a three-person room'. This is where 'person' is being used to describe
the noun. '2 – person' is the adjective describing 'car' and as you know we don't put
an 's' on an adjective. So far example we talk about a 'two-week holiday' not a 'two-
weeks holiday' or a 'three-year course' not 'a three-years course'. So hear we use
'two-person car'.

So in summary, normally you find 'people' as the plural form of 'person' – one
person, three people. Sometimes you'll find people used to describe the nationality
so you'll find 'peoples' to describe different nationalities and sometimes you'll find the
word 'persons' in more formal styles of writing or in signs for example.

I hope that answers your question.

185
Problems and troubles

A Writer from Cameroon in West Africa writes:

I'm having difficulty distinguishing between problems and troubles. Can you please
explain to me how to use both terms correctly?

Problem

Problem is a countable noun and describes something that causes trouble or


difficulty. We talk about having a problem or having problems with something,
not about having a trouble. Compare the following:

• I've got a big problem with my computer. Can you come and have a look at
it?
(NOT: I've got a big trouble with my computer. Can you come and have a
look at it.)

• I can't meet him in Paris and he can't meet me in London. It's a real problem.
(NOT: I can't meet him in Paris and he can't meet me in London. It's a real
trouble.)

We also talk about mathematical problems and solving problems of various


sorts. Trouble cannot be used in this way:

• Children with learning difficulties find mathematical problems impossible.

• We couldn't solve the problem of getting across London in less than two
hours.

With the verb cause, we can use both trouble and problems, problem as a
countable noun and trouble as an uncountable noun. Compare the following:

• The recent football hooliganism in Sunderland caused the police a lot of


trouble.

• The current drought is causing serious problems for the farmers in this area.

No problem! - What's your problem?

We also have the expressions No problem! which we use to say that we will be
happy to do something or are happy for something to happen and What's your
problem? which we use in a threatening way to ask someone about something we
disapprove of. Compare the following:

• Could you look after Jimmy for me for five minutes while I pop out to the
shops? ~ No problem!

186
• I'll finish this off tomorrow, if you don't mind. ~ No problem.

• I don't like people wearing face jewellery. ~ What's your problem? It's quite
harmless.
I think it could cause health problems in later life. ~ Well, that's their
problem!

trouble

Trouble is mainly used as an uncountable noun and describes problems, worries or


difficulties. Trouble can also be used as a verb. Compare the following:

• I'm having trouble with the printer now. Can you come and have a look at it?

• I'm a bit deaf and I had trouble hearing what she said as she spoke very
softly.

• Why are you crying? What's troubling you? ~ It troubles me that I haven't
heard from him for five weeks.

• I'm sorry to trouble you, but could you move your car forward a bit. It's
blocking my drive.

In addition to cause, the verbs that the noun trouble collocate with include the
following: put to, take, go to, save, get into, run into, and be in. These verbs
cannot be used with problem in the same way. Compare the following:

• I'm sorry to put you to all this trouble ~ It's no trouble at all!
• I'm going to take the trouble to bake my own bread, rather than buy it from
the shop.
• If you buy a dishwasher, it will save you the trouble of washing your dishes
by hand.
• We ran into trouble as soon as we reached the motorway. It was jammed all
the way from Epping to Cambridge.
• I shall get into real / big trouble, if I lend you my brother's bike.
• I was in serious trouble. I had run out of water and was still ten miles from
the nearest oasis.

No trouble!

Note that the expression No trouble! is used in a similar way to No problem!

• I'm sorry to have kept you waiting for so long ~ That's no trouble!

problem / trouble + adjs

Note from the examples above that the adjectives big, real and serious collocate
with both trouble and problems. Note that fundamental, insoluble and
intractable collocate only with problem:

• A fundamental problem in the design of this car is the transverse engine.

187
• It was an intractable / insoluble problem. There was no way out of it.

A question from Jean-Francois from Limoges, France:

I find it difficult to understand the word 'quite' in a conversation. Does it mean


'partially' or 'totally'? Please help!

Alex Gooch answers:

Hello Jean-Francois, thanks for your question. You asked whether 'quite' means
'partially' or 'totally'. The simple answer is that it has both meanings.

If we say:
"I am quite happy"...
This can mean that I'm partially, fairly, somewhat happy but not completely happy -
or it can mean I'm totally, entirely, completely, 100% happy.

Your next question will probably be: How can we tell the difference?
When somebody says:
"I am quite happy"...
How do we know if they mean partially happy or totally happy?
Well, I'm sorry, but simply reading the sentence on the page can't help us with this.
If I read the words, 'I am quite happy', I really don't know if this means'partially'
happy or 'completely' happy. However, don't despair - there are some clues that can
help us solve this problem.

Firstly, we have some adjectives in English which include the idea of 'very'.
For example:
'delighted' means 'very pleased'
'exhausted' means 'very tired'
'enormous' means 'very big', and so on.

'Quite' is often used with one of these adjectives, and in this situation, it always
means 'totally'.
So, if we say:
"I am quite exhausted"...
This means I'm absolutely, completely, 100% exhausted.

If you think about this, it's logical because it's impossible to be 'somewhat very tired'
- that doesn't make any sense.

Secondly, we have to think about the context. Often we can clearly understand which
meaning of 'quite' the speaker intends, by looking at the meaning of what he or she
is saying.

William's here with me... (William: Hello!)


Let's imagine that William has recently been ill:

Alex: Are you feeling better now?

188
William: Yes, I'm feeling quite healthy, thank you. In fact, I feel great!

Here, William probably means that he has fully recovered, and he's feeling 100%
healthy.

On the other hand, we could have a conversation like this:

Alex: Are you feeling better now?


William: Well, I'm feeling quite healthy, but I still have a terrible headache.

In this case, William probably means that he feels partially healthy, but not
completely healthy.

Also, when these sentences are spoken, we can often get a clue from the speaker's
tone of voice and intonation:

If he or she speaks in a positive, definite tone of voice, going down at the end of the
sentence, that probably means that he or she feels totally happy, or healthy, or
whatever.

However, if the speaker's tone is more uncertain, and if it rises at the end of the
sentence, that probably means that he or she is partially happy or healthy, but not
completely.

In fact, it's quite old-fashioned to use 'quite' to mean 'totally' or 'completely' - at


least in spoken English. It's still used this way sometimes in writing, especially in
formal writing, so you might read that in a novel for example. But in modern
conversational English, 'quite' normally means 'partially'.

A question from Alice in France:


'Raise' and 'rise' - it's difficult to use them. Will it be possible to explain these two
verbs in BBC learning English? Thank you.

Amos Paran answers:


Well, the basic meaning of the two verbs, 'raise' and 'rise', is almost the same -
moving up, from a low position to a higher position, either physically or
metaphorically.

The difference between them is a grammatical one. 'Raise' needs an object, and 'rise'
cannot take an object. So, for example, I can say that I personally think that the
government of this country needs to raise taxes (and 'taxes' is the object of the
verb); another way I can say that is that I think that taxes need to rise. We are
always talking about the need to raise standards (and 'standards' is the object of the
verb) - another way of saying it is that standards need to rise.

Hope this helps!

189
Relative / relation – relationship

Denis Baizeau from France writes:

I do not feel comfortable when I have to use the words relation and relationship.
Could you please help me to clarify the main usages and differences of these two
closely related words. Many thanks in advance.

Relationships

A relationship is a close friendship between two people, especially one involving


romantic feelings:

• They had been together for two years and Mike wanted to carry on, but Jenny
felt that their relationship wasn't really going anywhere.

Relationship can be used in two other ways. It can describe two things and the
way in which they are connected:

• Doctors now believe that there may be some relationship / connection


between autism and the MMR vaccine.

It can also describe close ties between people or groups of people and the way they
feel and behave towards each other:

• The Smiths placed great emphasis on close family relationships and


always went on holiday together.

• The relationship between the leaders of the two countries has never been
closer.

Relations

Relation also describes the link between people, groups or countries and the way
they behave towards each other. In this sense there is very little difference between
relations and relationship. For instance, we could also say:

• Relations between (the leaders of) the two countries have never been
closer.

Most of the differences are context specific in this sense. For example, we talk about
diplomatic relations and race relations, not diplomatic relationships or race
relationships:

• Diplomatic relations between the two countries were broken off over this
incident and their ambassadors were sent home.

190
• The need to improve race relations in Inner London boroughs is of
paramount importance.

Your relations are also members of your family:

• I invited all my friends and relations to my twenty-first birthday party.

• Mark Totterdale and Simon Totterdale (no relation) are both head teachers
in Bristol.

Your blood relations are the people who are related to you by birth, not through
marriage. If you say that they are your own flesh and blood, you are emphasizing
that they are members of your own family:

• He's my own flesh and blood. I can't leave him to fend for himself when he
needs my help.

Relatives (noun) - relative (adj)

Note that we also use the term relative to describe members of your family:

• She couldn't get any of her relatives / relations to look after the children,
so had to employ a childminder.

• The chimpanzee is native to equatorial Africa and is believed to be the


closest living relative to man.

The adjective relative and the adverb relatively are used when you are
comparing the quality or size of something in relation to something else:

• Both cactuses were relatively small and I wanted one that was larger to fit
into the pot.

• Fitness is a relative concept. You must always ask the question: fit to do
what?

• They were discussing the relative / comparative merits of Liverpool and


Leeds as places to live when I entered the room.

• He was able to smuggle the animals out of the country with relative /
comparative ease.

Related (adj)

When two or more things are related, there is some kind of connection between
them. When people are related, they are members of the same family:

• He was arrested for theft-related offences.

• In the social sciences anthropology and ethnography are closely related


disciplines.

191
• I had all the equipment needed for gymnastics and related activities.

• Aren't you two related? ~ No, we're not. ~ Oh, I thought Henry was your
cousin.

Rise, arise and raise

Would you please be so kind as to explain the difference between the following
verbs: rise and arise? Thank you so much.

Rise - rose - risen

Generally, if something rises it moves upwards. If you rise, this is a rather formal
way of saying that you get of out bed, get up or stand up:

• I needed to catch the 7.30, so I had risen early.

• He rose to greet me when I entered his office.

When the sun and the moon rise, they appear in the sky. If the water in a river
rises, it becomes higher. If the wind rises, it blows more strongly:

• I hope to be out in the desert on my horse as the sun rises behind the
Pyramids.

• The water in the river had risen to a dangerous level and everyone had to
be evacuated from the village.

• The wind rose later in the night and kept me awake as it howled through
the trees.

If an amount rises, it increases. If you get an increase in your wages or


salary, this is also known as a rise. (In American English, it's known as a
raise.) If you rise to a higher position in your organisation, you become
more successful or powerful:

• Inflation rose by 0.5 percent last year, the lowest increase since 1992.

• Industrial use of oil rose by over 200 % in the 1970s whilst industrial use
of coal fell by the same proportion.

• I got a rise of over £4000 when I was promoted to a position of greater


responsibility.

• At the age of 32, she has risen to the top of her profession.

192
Arise - arose - arisen

Arise is mainly used in a more abstract way. If a situation or problem or something


arises, it comes into being and people become aware of it:

• I don't think the question of compensation will arise, but if it does, just give
a vague reply.

• I shall certainly go to Scotland next year, if the opportunity arises.

• A problem has arisen with the TV that I bought last week. I can't get
teletext.

We can also use arise to mean to get up, get out of bed or stand up, but it is
even more formal than rise in this sense. Note that when a knighthood is bestowed
in Britain, the monarch touches the recipient's shoulders with a sword and then says,
e.g.

• Arise, Sir William!

meaning that he, William, may now (a)rise from his kneeling position as a knight of
the realm.

Raise - raised - raised

If you raise something, you move it to a higher position. If you raise your
voice, you speak more loudly. If you raise the standard of something, you
improve it:

• If you are in agreement with what Mr Jenkins has put to you, would you
please raise your hand.

• The flag on the roof of the palace is raised whenever the queen is in
residence.

• Amy was sitting at the back and had to raise her voice in order to be
heard.

• We want to raise standards of literacy in British schools. Make no


mistake about it: standards will rise.

Note that raise is a regular verb, whereas rise is irregular. Note also that raise
is a transitive verb, in other words, it must always be used with a direct object.
You always raise something. Rise, on the other hand, is an intransitive verb: it
does not involve anything or anyone other than the subject.

Note the following idiomatic expressions with raise:

to raise the alarm = warn people of danger

not to raise or lift a finger = do nothing to help

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to raise a smile or a laugh = say something which makes people smile or laugh

to raise the roof = make a building reverberate with loud singing, shouting,
clapping etc

• I decided to raise the alarm and alerted the rescue services when my
companions had not returned by nightfall.

• His wife does everything around the house. He never raises / lifts a finger
to help her.

• I thought it was a good joke, but it didn't even raise a smile, let alone a
laugh.

• The female audience raised the roof when the boy band appeared on stage.

remind - remember / recall / recollect

Agustin from Spain writes:

I have a question about verbs which appear very similar. Could you possibly explain
the differences between remember, remind, recall and recollect? Thank you very
much.

remind

Remind and remember are not the same. If you remind somebody about
something, you make them remember it. Thus, remind is a transitive verb, i.e. it
always has an object which may be followed by to + infinitive or a that-clause.
Compare the following:

Remind me to send Denny an email about the change of dates.


I reminded them that the dress rehearsal had been brought forward to
Wednesday.
I shouldn't need to remind you to wash your hands before you sit down to eat.

When you say that somebody or something reminds you of something, you
associate it with a memory from your past:

She reminds me of The Princess Royal. They are so alike in looks and appearance.
Doesn't this countryside remind you of Cornwall? It does me.
I think I know which one it is, but remind me of your house number.

Remember

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If you remember something, you recall people or events to your mind. Remember
can be used transitively with an object or intransitively without an object. It
is often used with to + infinitive and with when- where- or that-clauses.
Compare the following:

Do you remember the first time we sat under the stars, listening to Beethoven's
Ninth?
Do you remember when we first ate wild mushrooms? ~ Yes, I remember.
I can't remember where I've put the spare set of car keys. Have you seen them?
Will you remember to collect your suit from the dry-cleaners or shall I do it?
She remembered that she was going clubbing that evening and cheered up.

remember + infinitive or remember + verb-ing?

A lot of readers ask about verbs that are followed by verb-ing forms or to +
infinitive. Some, like want, decide, agree, are always followed by to + infinitive.
Some, like look forward to, enjoy, finish, are always followed by verb-ing forms.

I decided to turn off the computer and go home. I would finish writing the
report tomorrow.

Some verbs can be followed by either verb-ing forms or to + infinitive, sometimes


with some difference in meaning. Remember and forget are two such verbs.
Remember and forget with an infinitive always refer forward in time. Remember and
forget + verb-ing forms always refer back in time. Compare the following:

I don't remember talking to you about Terry's divorce. I don't even remember
you asking me about that.
I shall always remember flying to America on Concorde.
Remember to close all the windows and lock all the doors before you leave the
house.
I forgot to warn him about the dangerous dog and he was bitten.
I shall never forget sharing a bottle of iced water with you beside the Pyramids in
Egypt.

recall

When you recall something, you remember it and tell others about it:

The Prime Minister recalled his visits to France and the six meetings he had had
with the French President.

We often say: as far as I can recall or as I recall or I seem to recall to refer


back to something that you have been talking about:

I seem to recall that you were against the idea of Henry joining the Board of
Directors.
As far as I can recall, you were warned three times that you would lose your job if
you persisted in being late. I distinctly recall warning you about this.

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If a company recalls a product, it asks for it to be returned because it has found
to be defective:

The pharmaceutical company is going to recall one of its drugs because of possibly
dangerous side effects.

If a player is recalled to a team, s/he is included in the team again after being left
out:

Many people in Ireland still hope that Roy Keane might be recalled to the Irish
squad in time for the World Cup.

recollect

If you recollect something, you remember it and usually talk about it. There is
little difference between recollect and recall in this context. We could also use
remember here as the most common of the three verbs, although remember
would not imply that the experience was talked about.

She recollected / recalled that she had been living in Paris when Picasso and
Matisse were both working there.

A question from Dahlia.

I just want to know the meaning of this word: rote learning, what's the exact
meaning?

Martin Parrott answers:


What is 'rote learning' ? Rote learning is learning something by repeating it, over and
over and over again; saying the same thing and trying to remember how to say it;
trying to say it fluently and fast. Now, it doesn't help us to understand - it helps us
to remember - and often we learn a poem, or a song, or something like that by rote
learning. What have you learnt by rote learning, Dahlia?

Dahlia: My most studying is like rote learning.

Martin: Oh, is it?

Dahlia: I just keep saying it to pass my exam, without understanding, most of what I
read, or study.

Martin: Well, if you need to remember it for the examination, then I'm sure that's
very useful. It's an interesting term, rote learning. It describes the technique for
learning - but often we say "I learnt something by rote", and we use the expression
"by rote".

Question: If Dahlia wants to learn some useful vocabulary, that could also
help her to pass the exam, but she wants to know the meaning as well,

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what else can you do apart from rote learning then?

Martin: Reading and underlining words, and words that come up several times,
looking them up and then perhaps putting them on a list, and perhaps using some
rote learning. But, Dahlia, I'm interested in what you learnt by rote for your exams -
is this your English?

Dahlia: No, it's not my English. It's something related to my studying. I'm studying
economics…

Martin: Yes...

Dahlia: ...and there is a lot of subjects quite difficult to understand every single
word.

Martin: Yes?

Dahlia: So, we just keep just rote learning it - you know, to pass the exam…

Martin: Yeah

Dahlia: ...but, erm, many words is hard to know the meaning of.

Martin: That's right, and it doesn't actually help to understand it, does it?

Dahlia: Yeah. Most of our books are translated from, from Russian to Arabic…

Martin: Yeah?

Dahlia: …so... quite difficult sometimes to understand everything.

Martin: It is. I think sometimes in learning a language rote learning can be useful. I
know that I worked in China at one time, where my students astonished me by how
good they were at rote learning, and I used to set lists of words for them to learn
and the next day I'd discover that they remembered them. And then as a teacher I'd
just have to help them understand them.

Question: In terms of learning a language, could you offer an alternative to


a student at home who maybe does want to learn vocabulary and improve
their vocabulary, and maybe isn't finding rote learning good. So, I mean just
as a practical tip, what other ways of learning are there?

Martin: I think rote learning may be useful for remembering it - to understand it, we
have to see vocabulary in a context - so we need to be not necessarily reading a long
book, but reading text in which those words occur. The best is when perhaps the
word is used several times in different contexts, and we can understand from the
context what it means. A good bilingual dictionary is such a useful tool as well.

A question from Ha in Vietnam:


Could you tell me the difference between "satisfying" and "satisfactory"? Thank you.

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George Pickering answers:
Well Ha, thank you very much for your question about the difference between
"satisfying" and "satisfactory".

"Satisfactory" means that something is adequate, or acceptable. Whereas


"satisfying" means that something meets your needs or requirements and has
positive associations.

So what would be the difference between a "satisfactory" meal and a "satisfying"


one?
In the first case the meal was ok, in the second case it was one that you enjoyed.

So generally we prefer to have "satisfying" experiences to "satisfactory" ones.

See and watch

I'd like to know the different meanings of see and watch and the typical uses of
these two verbs.

See / Watch

Seeing is noticing something or somebody with your eyes, usually with no explicit
intention or purpose behind the action. If you watch something or someone, you
look at them deliberately, usually for a longer period.

Watch is often used with progressive tense forms. See is not used with progressive
forms, but may be used with can to suggest something in progress. Compare the
following:

Can you hear me at the back? Am I speaking loudly enough?

I could hear a dog barking but apart from that there was no sound.

I'm surprised to hear you say such awful things about her. I thought you liked her.

I could hear them talking in the next room, but I tried not to listen to what they were
saying.

You need to listen to the tape very carefully if you want to understand what she is
saying.

I didn't hear the phone ringing because I was listening to a Mahler symphony on the
radio.

See / Hear + that-clause

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We often use I hear and I see with a that-clause to indicate that we have noted
something or that we understand or gather that something has happened or will
happen.

I hear / understand / gather that you're planning to quit your job with IBM and go
freelance.

Have you heard that Jenny's gone freelance? ~ No, I've heard nothing about that.

I see / understand / gather that the postal workers are threatening another one-day
strike in October.

I can't see / understand what all the fuss is about. It's only a one-day strike.

Note these further, more specific uses of see and watch:

see = meet (note that in this meaning progressive forms are often possible)

I'll see you outside the hospital at eleven o' clock.

He's seeing the doctor about his bronchitis tomorrow.

I'm sorry, but he's not well enough to see you now.

She must really stop seeing him. He has a bad influence on her.

see = find out (note progressive forms never possible)

I'll go and see if I can help them.

He went back to see if they needed any help.

As we saw when he went back to help them, these guys are totally independent.

see = accompany

You may not be able to find your way out. I'll just see you to the door.

He's old enough to come home by himself, but can you just see him across the busy
road?

watch = be careful about ...

We must watch the time or we shall be late.

Watch that you don't spend too much money in Oxford Street. Watch your purse too.
Watch out for pickpockets.

watch = look after

Can you just watch my bags while I go to the loo?

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You may also watch your weight if you decide to be careful about the things you
eat or watch the world go by, if you stand or sit somewhere and watch people as
they pass by.

Situation / Position / Condition

All three nouns are similar in meaning, but they have different nuances or shades of
meaning and are used in different contexts in different ways.

Condition

Condition describes the physical state of something or some one. We talk about
people or things being in good / bad / terrible / etc condition. Condition can
also refer to a health problem:

Considering its age, this house is in excellent condition.

He was in a terrible condition and had drunk far too much whiskey.

She has a severe heart condition and shouldn't be smoking at all.

Conditions (plural) refer to the environment in which something occurs. We talk


about things happening in or under appalling / terrible conditions. We also talk
about people's living or working conditions:

The rescue was attempted under extremely difficult conditions and with little chance
of success.

The refugees were living under appalling conditions with no access to clean water.

Are you happy with your working conditions? ~ Yes, they are excellent. I have no
complaints.

The extremely windy conditions made it difficult for either side to play decent
football.

Conditions also describe things that must be true or be done before something else
can happen. We talk about meeting or satisfying or imposing conditions.

In order to qualify for a grant as a postgraduate student, you will need to satisfy
certain conditions.

The conditions imposed by the university meant that no one was likely to qualify.

Terms and conditions describe the business or financial arrangements of an


agreement.

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Make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully before you take out the
student loan

on condition that

Note the expression on condition that for saying that one thing will happen only if
another thing happens:

You can have the day off tomorrow on condition that you agree to work on Saturday.

They spoke to the police about the incident on condition that they would not be
called as witnesses.

Situation

Situation refers to a set of conditions that are in place at a particular time and in
a particular place:

If the situation had been different, our marriage might have succeeded.

I am particularly concerned about the situation in the south of the country where the
rules of law and order appear to have broken down.

We also talk about an economic or financial situation:

The financial situation is dire - the company has failed to make a profit in each of the
last four years.

situation comedies / situations vacant

Note also the compound nouns situation comedies (abbreviated to sitcoms) which
describe amusing television drama series revolving around a set of characters in a
family or organisation and situations vacant which refers to a column or page in a
newspaper where jobs are advertised:

'The Office' is regarded as one of the most original sitcoms the BBC has produced so
far this century.

If you just want a clerical job, look in the situations vacant column in the local
newspaper.

position

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Position is used in a wider variety of contexts than situation or condition. First and
foremost, it refers to the way or where somebody or something is placed.

I was quite badly injured in the demonstration but managed to drag myself to a
sitting position under a tree.

This plant loves sunlight and should be placed in an open sunny position in the flower
border.

This is quite a detailed map showing the position of all the oil refineries.

Position can also describe a general situation and in this context can sometimes
be replaced by situation:

The position / situation is that everyone must be interviewed about the break in by
the security services.

If I were in your position / situation, I wouldn't dream of sheltering an escaped


convict.

Position also means opinion, i.e. where you stand or are placed, on an issue:

My position on fox hunting is that it is a useful way of keeping the number of foxes
down.

Position can also refer to a job in a company, a place in a list or where you play in a
team sport such as football:

Is the assistant manager position still open? ~ No, I'm sorry, it's already been filled.

What is their position in the league? ~ They're in forth position at the moment, but if
they win today, they'll move up to third.

My best position is on the left in midfield, just in front of the back four.

A question from Lilia in Rio de Janeiro:


Since I'm improving my English, I'm trying to write my reports in English. I need to
know the difference between the verbs 'solve' and 'resolve'. Thank you.

Sian Harris answers:


Hello Lilia, thanks for getting in touch.

The simplest answer I can give you here is to say that in many contexts they are
roughly synonymous - in other words similar in meaning and therefore sometimes
used interchangeably, where the basic meaning is to find a solution or answer to a
problem.

202
For example, we could say either "we have solved the problems in management" or
"we have resolved the problems in management". To resolve a problem, argument or
difficulty means to deal with it successfully. As in the example, "The cabinet met to
resolve the dispute."

However, be aware that 'resolve' can be used with the infinitive with a slightly
different meaning. If you resolve to do something you make a firm decision to do it.

"They resolved to take action."

'Resolve' also sometimes appears as a noun meaning a determination to do


something. "We must be firm in our resolve to oppose them."

So Lilia, you'll find more examples in your dictionary, but in them meantime, I hope
I've clarified the key differences there.

'sport' or 'game'

Martina Sotona from from The Czech Republic asks:

The Olympics are over and I would like to ask why we call them the Olympic Games
when they are about sports. Can you please explain in more detail the difference
between sport and game?

Sports are activities which require physical effort and ability and some degree of
mental skill usually. They are often organised competitively, played outdoors and
with a ball, although not necessarily. Thus:

rugby cricket football basketball hockey baseball


netball tennis table tennis squash badminton volleyball
golf motor racing cycling skiing running swimming

However, we talk about games when two teams or individuals meet to play against
each other. (So, for this reason, they are called the Olympic Games.) Compare the
following:

• 'Do you fancy a game of golf this afternoon?'


• The game (or match for most ball games) between Manchester United and
Liverpool had to be abandoned at half time. The pitch was waterlogged.'
• 'Cricket is my favourite sport. I spend all weekend every weekend either
watching it or playing it in summer.'

203
Games are also activities involving skill, knowledge or chance in which you try to win
against an opponent or solve puzzles. Thus, we have 'word games', 'card games',
'computer games' and games like chess, backgammon, dominoes, darts, snooker,
mahjong and Monopoly. For games like these, not so much, if any, physical ability or
skill is needed.

seem, appear and look

Are there any significant structural or semantic differences between seem, appear
and look in the sense of to give the impression of being or doing something?

look, seem and appear

Look, seem and appear are all copular verbs and can be used in a similar way to
indicate the impression you get from something or somebody. Copula verbs join
adjectives (or noun compounds) to subjects:

She looks unhappy.

He seems angry.

They appear (to be) contented.

Note that adjectives, not adverbs, are used after copular verbs. We do not say:

She looked angrily

He seems cleverly.

We have to say:

She looked angry.

He seems clever.

Of course, when look is not used as a copular verb, but as a transitive verb with an
object, an adverb will describe how someone looks:
She looked angrily at the intruder.

look / seem - as if / like

After look and seem, but not normally after appear, we can use an as if / like
construction:

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It looks as if it's going to rain again.

It looks like we're going home without a suntan.

It seems as if they're no longer in love.

It seems like she'll never agree to a divorce.

seem / appear to + infinitive

After seem and appear we often use a to + infinitive construction ( or a perfect


infinitive construction for past events). We cannot use look in this way. Compare
the following:

They appear to have run away from home. They cannot be traced.

I seem to have lost my way. Can you help me?

It seems to be some kind of jellyfish. Do not go near it.

They appear not to be at home. Nobody's answering.

They do not appear to be at home. No one's answering.

We can also use a that-clause after It seems?... and It appears..., but not after
look. It looks... has to be followed by an as if / like clause:

It seems that I may have made a mistake in believing you did this.

It appears that you may be quite innocent of any crime.

It looks as if / like you won't go to prison after all.

appear / seem - differences in meaning

You can use seem to talk about more objective facts or impressions and about more
subjective and emotional impressions. We do not usually use appear to refer to
emotions and subjective impressions. Compare the following:

impressions / emotions

It seems a shame that we can't take Kevin on holiday with us.

It doesn't seem like a good idea to leave him here by himself.

It seems ridiculous that he has to stay here to look after the cat.

more objective facts and impressions

They have the same surname, but they don't appear / seem to be related.

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She's not getting any better. It seems / appears that she's not been taking the
medication.

non-copular use of appear and look

Note that seem is used only as a copular verb, but both appear and look have
other meanings and uses:

appear = (begin to) be seen

She has appeared in five Broadway musicals since 2000.

Cracks have suddenly appeared in the walls in our lounge.

Digital radios for less than £50 began to appear in the shops before the end of last
year.

look = direct your eyes / search

I've looked everywhere for my passport, but I can't find it.

I've looked through all the drawers and through all my files.

He didn't see me because he was looking the other way.

Note that look is used in a wide range of phrasal verbs:

Could you look after the children this afternoon while I go shopping?

Could you look at my essay before I hand it in?

I'm looking for size 36 in light blue. Do you have it?

It's been a hard year. I'm looking forward to a holiday now.

I've written a letter of complaint and they've promised to look into the matter.

Look out for me at the concert. I'll probably be there by ten o' clock.

Don't you want to look round the school before enrolling your children?

He's a wonderful role model for other players to look up to.

If you don't know the meaning of these phrasal verbs, look them up in a dictionary.

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Krista Soenen from Belgium asks:

I’m a student attending an English course in Gent, Belgium. Recently we had a


discussion about the correct use and the difference between the following words: Is
there any difference in use?

Solicitor
lawyer
attorney
barrister
counsellor

These legal terms all belong to the same family of words, but are quite different in
use.

Solicitors are lawyers who give legal advice to clients and prepare legal documents
and cases. Solicitors often specialise in different areas: there are, for example,
family law solicitors and company law solicitors. They do not usually, to my
knowledge, appear in court. The following would be an example of usage:

• 'When my husband left me, I was advised to put the matter into the hands of
a solicitor.'

Attorney is American English word for a British English lawyer. The D.A. or District
Attorney is a lawyer in the U.S. who works for the state and prosecutes people on
behalf of it. There are also, of course, defense attorneys in America who act on
behalf of their clients. Consider the following:

• 'Nobody wanted the position of district attorney – it was poorly paid in


comparison with that of defense attorney.'

(Note that in British English defence is spelt ‘defence’ and not ‘defense’.)

A lawyer, then, in British English, is a person who is qualified to advise people about
the law and represent them in court. We talk about lawyers for the prosecution and
lawyers for the defence. Study the following:

• 'The defence court case cost £560,000 in lawyers’ fees alone.'

A barrister in British English is a lawyer who operates in the higher courts of law in
Britain and speaks on behalf of either the prosecution or the defence:

• 'He was regarded as an eloquent and persuasive barrister and was much in
demand for a period of over twenty years.'

We also speak about the prosecution counsel or the defence counsel when
referring to the team of lawyers who are operating on behalf of either the state or a
client:

207
• 'The counsel for the defence argued that the case should never have been
brought to court as it relied only on circumstantial evidence.'

However, please note that we do not use the term counsellor in the legal sense at
all! A counsellor can be any person whose job it is to give advice, care and support to
those who need it. Consider the following:

• 'This hospital employs 15 counsellors whose job it is to deal with patients


suffering from severe depression.'

A question from Arif Kizilay from Turkey:

I have a question - can you please answer it for me? What's the difference between
as such, and such as? Thank you.

'Such as' and 'as such'

Alex Gooch answers:

Hi Arif - thanks for your question. These two phrases, as such and such as, look
similar, but in fact their meanings are very different.

As such has two meanings. The first is quite difficult to explain, so let's look at an
example. I could say,

I'm an English teacher, and because I'm an English teacher I hate to see
grammar mistakes.

Another way to say this, with the same meaning, is like this:

I'm an English teacher, and as an English teacher I hate to see grammar mistakes.

However, in this sentence I'm saying the words 'an English teacher' twice. An easier
way to say it is like this:

I'm an English teacher, and as such I hate to see grammar mistakes.

In this example, we use the word such to represent the words 'an English teacher',
the second time it appears. Here are some similar examples. You could say:

She's an athlete, and as such she has to train very hard.


The film was a romance, and as such it had the usual happy ending.

208
We can also use as such to mean something like 'exactly' in a sentence like this:

The shop doesn't sell books as such, but it does sell magazines and newspapers.

Magazines and newspapers are similar to books, but they are not exactly books. Or:

He isn't American as such, but he's spent most of his life there.

Spending most of your life in America is similar to being American, but it isn't exactly
the same as being American.

Such as is much easier; it has the same meaning as 'like' or 'for example' (but not
exactly the same grammar, so be careful there!). We use it in sentences like this:

There are lots of things to see in London, such as the Tower of London, the London
Eye and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Or:

Many countries in Europe, such as France and Germany, use Euros.

suppose and supposed to

Sanmati Pragya from India writes:

Hi! I’m an Indian citizen living in America. Here people use suppose and supposed
to a lot of the time in conversation. Can you please tell me in which sense and where
they should be used?

Suppose and supposed to are used very frequently in British English too. We shall
see that suppose has a number of different meanings and uses and that supposed
to is different again from suppose.

suppose = think/believe/imagine/expect

In this sense, suppose is often used in requests with negative structures when we
hope the answer will be positive:

• I don’t suppose you could lend me your dinner jacket, could you? ~ Sure!
When do you need it?
• I suppose it’s too late to see the doctor now, isn’t it? ~ Hold on. Let me see
if I can fit you in.
• I don’t suppose I could see the doctor now, could I?~ I can fit you in at
11.30. Can you wait till then?

209
It is also used in short answers with the same meaning of
think/believe/imagine/expect. Note that two forms of the negative are possible
here:

• Will Jeremy be at Peter’s this evening? ~ I don’t


think/suppose/imagine/expect so.
• Will you try to see Jennifer when you get back? ~ I think/suppose/imagine/
expect not.
• Would you be prepared to stay on for an extra week? ~ I
suppose/expect/guess so.

Note that suppose here describes a mental or emotional state, and it is not normally
used in the continuous form.

Suppose/supposing = what if…?

Suppose or supposing can also be used in a quite different way instead of What
if…? to introduce suggestions or to express fears. Compare the following and note
that the verb that follows suppose or supposing can be in either present of past
tense form:

• We haven’t got strawberry jam for the filling, so suppose / supposing we


use(d) raspberry jam, would that be all right?
• Suppose / Supposing I come / came next Thursday rather than Wednesday,
will / would that be all right?
• Will these shoes will be OK for tennis? ~ I don’t think so. Suppose /
Supposing the court is wet and you slip(ped)?

be supposed to + infinitive = should

Supposed to in this sense means that something should be done because it is the
law, the rule or the custom. However, in practice it is often not done:

• I’m supposed to tidy my room before I go to bed at night, but I always tidy
it when I get up in the morning instead.
• In Germany you’re not supposed to walk on the grass in the parks, but in
England you can.
• I’m supposed to return these books by Friday, but I’m not sure whether I
can.

In the past tense, it is used to mean that something was planned or intended to
happen, but did not happen. Note that in these examples, we can use should have
as an alternative to was supposed to:

• I was supposed to go to Cuba for a conference last year but then I got ill
and couldn’t go.
• Wasn’t Tom supposed to be here for lunch? I wonder what’s happened to
him!
• I should have gone to Cuba for a conference last year but then I got ill and
couldn’t go.
• Shouldn’t Tom have been here for lunch? I wonder what’s happened to him!

210
supposed to be = generally believed to be

Finally, we can use supposed to be in this sense:

• This stuff’s supposed to be good for stomach cramps. Why don’t you try it?
• The castle was supposed to be haunted, but I had a good night’s sleep there
nevertheless!

When you are practising these examples in speech, note that the final d in
supposed to is not pronounced. It is pronounced as 'suppose to', but should
always be written in its correct form grammatically as supposed to.

synonyms for: I (don't) understand

Stefan Babec from the Slovak Republic writes:

Could you please explain to me the expression


in this sentence:

...they do not cotton to the idea that...

cotton to / cotton on to

To cotton to means to like, to admire or to become attached to. The allusion is to a


thread of cotton which very easily attaches itself to clothing for example. It is an
expression which is not used very much any more in contemporary British English.

Much more common is the colloquial expression to cotton on to which means to


catch on or to grasp a line of thought:

• They didn't know much English and it was surprising how quickly they
cottoned on / caught on to what I was saying.
• He still hasn't cottoned on to the fact that I'm not in the least bit interested
in him.

The allusion is the same as before: cotton fibres or threads which become attached
to clothing.

lose the thread /pick up the thread(s)

Other expressions which use the idea of cotton threads are to lose the thread of
something and the opposite to pick up the thread(s).

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To lose the thread means to lose one's train of thought because of some sort of
interruption or digression. To pick up the thread(s) means to resume one's line of
argument or to get back into the way of things:

• I haven't done this sort of work for over five years so it will take me a while
to pick up the threads.
• I'm going back to John and we're going to try to pick up the threads of our
marriage.
• Sorry, I've lost the thread of what you were saying. Could you go back over
that last bit again?

I don't understand

English, and particularly British English, appears to be incredibly rich with informal
expressions for I don't understand. Here are a selection of the most common. Can
any of you answer these difficult questions?

If someone is described as 'sagacious', what does it mean they are?

• I don't know
• I've (got) no idea
• I haven't (got) a clue

Which British king is supposed to have imprisoned his nephews in the Tower
of London?

• I haven't (got) the faintest


• I haven't (got) the foggiest
• I've got no notion

Notion is another word for idea. Originally, we would have said:

• I haven't got the faintest / foggiest / slightest idea.

But now, it is sufficient to say:

• I haven't got the faintest / foggiest.

Who made the first telescope in the world?

• You've got me there.


• You've stumped me there.
• I'm a bit stymied there.

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The expression 'You've stumped me' or 'I'm stumped' derives from the game of
cricket, where if the batsman is stumped, he is out and his innings is over.

We can also use get in this question to mean 'Do you understand?':

• Do you get what I'm saying?

Or if you don't understand something you can say:

• I don't get it.

In the Bible, which is the second book of the Old Testament?

• Sorry, that's beyond me.


• That's beyond my ken.
• Sorry, my mind's gone blank.

If something is beyond your ken, you do not have sufficient knowledge to be able
to understand it. Ken is much used in informal Scottish English as both a verb and a
noun for know and knowledge. But if your mind goes blank, this suggests that you
do know the answer which might even be on the tip of your tongue, but it is not
immediately available.

In music, what is the sixth note in the tonic sol-fa scale?

• I'm not with you.


• Come again.
• Search me.

These last two synonyms for I don't understand are more colloquial and not quite
in the same politeness register as the earlier alternatives. However, they are quite
acceptable in discourse among friends. The idea of the last one is that if you did a
body search on me, you would not find the answer to the questions you have asked.

If you do know the answers to all these questions, please write to our Message
Board and tell us. A score of 100% would suggest that you might be a suitable
candidate for a TV quiz game!

I do understand!

Finally, let's finish on a more positive note with some synonyms for I do
understand! We don't seem to have as many of these!

• I'm afraid I can't agree to you borrowing £500 from your sister.
• I completely understand!
• That's absolutely clear!
• You're quite right!
• Of course!

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Absolutely is currently one of our most favoured adverbs when expressing strong
agreement with something:

• Are you going to Jim's party on Friday? ~ Absolutely!


• Do you really want to wear that? ~ Yes, absolutely!

slang, idiomatic expressions and euphemisms

slang

Slang consists of very informal expressions or words which normally feature in


speech rather than writing and are used by people who know each other well or who
have the same jobs, backgrounds or interests. They often relate to sex, drink, drugs,
relationships, social groups, etc. They are often fairly strong in emotive terms and
may sometimes be found offensive to people outside the group. Have a look at some
of the slang expressions on our Talk Lingo pages. Here are some more
expressions:

• It may be big bucks to you, but it's chickenfeed to me.


• So, who came to this knees-up, then?
• My ex was absolutely bonkers.
• We'll have to get some booze in for tonight.

Big bucks denotes a large amount of money (bucks are dollars), chickenfeed is
small change. Knees-up = party, my ex = former boyfriend or girlfriend.
Absolutely bonkers is very crazy or unpredictable. Booze is alcohol, just as a
boozer is a pub or someone who drinks a lot of alcohol.

If you are exposed to slang expressions in your learning of English, it is important


for you to understand their meaning and the emotive force behind them. It may be
less appropriate for you to use them if you are not part of that group. In fact, it may
sound strange and inappropriate if you do so. Also slang changes very quickly.

idiomatic expressions

Idiomatic expressions are combinations or collocations of words which cannot be


translated word for word. Thus:

• I could eat a horse.

is an idiomatic way of saying:

• I'm very hungry.

Idiomatic expressions are extremely common and are found in all kinds of
English, both formal and particularly informal. But do not make a special effort to
learn them. There are too many. You will learn the most common naturally through
the learning material that you are using. And it is much better to be accurate when

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using non-idiomatic English than inappropriate when using an idiom. For example, it
is better to say:

• It's raining very hard out there.

than:

• It's raining cats and dogs out there.

which has gone out of fashion. As a learner, it may be difficult for you to know what
idioms are in fashion and which are not.

idiomatic expressions with 'out'

Good dictionaries will usually list idiomatic usage of words after the literal meanings
are given. Thus after the literal definitions of out, you may find the following
idiomatic usages listed and illustrated:

• I was so tired I went out like a light.


• I've never seen such behaviour: he was completely out of order.

These two are in current use. (As a rule of thumb, if you come across idiomatic
expressions more than once in your study of contemporary English, they are
probably current.) To go out like a light is to fall asleep or unconscious instantly.
The allusion is to falling asleep immediately like switiching off a light. If someone is
out of order, they have acted in bad taste or their behaviour is unacceptable. Note
that the primary meaning of out of order relates to machines that are not working
or are not in good order:

• Go and put this out-of-order notice on the photocopier. It's not working
again.
• He was totally out-of-order. I can't believe he was so rude to her.

euphemisms

A euphemism is a polite word or expression that people use when they are talking
about something which they or other people may find unpleasant, upsetting or
embarrassing. When we use euphemisms we are protecting ourselves from the
reality of what is said. There are many euphemisms that refer to sex, bodily
functions, war, death, etc. Euphemisms are often good examples of idiomatic
language use:

• He passed away (i.e. died) after a long illness (i.e. cancer).


• I decided to come out (i.e. admit to being homosexual). I didn't want to be
outed (i.e. allow others to let it be known that I am homosexual).
• It's no good. I can't hold it in. I shall have to spend a penny (i.e. urinate).
• We keep the adult (i.e pornographic) magazines on the top shelf and the
adult videos under the counter.

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• You know that we're in the middle of a rightsizing exercise (i.e. compulsory
redundancy programme). We have no alternative but to let you go (i.e. sack
you).
• Many of the outlying villages suffered collateral damage (i.e. civilian
deaths).

Spend a penny derives from the days when there were door locks on the outside of
cubicles in public lavatories which could only be opened by inserting one old penny
into the lock. This was not just the pre-euro era. It was the pre-decimal era. The
expression is still in frequent use today.

Collateral damage is unintended damage and civilian casualities and deaths caused
by the dropping of bombs in the course of a military operation. The term is of US
origin and was first used to describe deaths in the Vietnam War, then in the Gulf
War, then in the action (euphemism!) in Serbia at the end of the 1990s and most
recently in Afghanistan.

Izmaelov from Denmark writes:

Hi Roger! Are you familiar with the words switch and change? I guess you are, but
me and my friends have had some pretty hot discussions about the meaning and
different usage of these two words…

change - verb and noun

If there is a change or if something changes, it becomes different in some way or it


is replaced by something of a similar kind - and it in this respect that the meaning is
most similar to switch. However, in all of these examples that follow, only change
is possible or normal. We cannot easily replace change with switch.

• Going out to work every day is quite a change from university life, I must
admit.
• I can't go straight from work. I shall have to come home and change first.
(i.e. change clothes)
• There's no direct (train) service to Oxford after 10 p.m. You'll have to change
at Reading.
• I was away for the whole weekend so I packed two changes of underwear.
• I hardly recognised her - she had changed so much. (i.e. changed in
appearance)
• I'm the father of three children but I still don't know how to change a nappy.
• Could you change the light bulb for me please?
~ OK. But I'll change the oil in your car first.
• Can anybody change this £50 note? (i.e. give me the same amount of money
in smaller coins or notes)
• I had no loose change (i.e. smaller coins) so I had to pay with a £10 note.
• You must wait till the (traffic) lights change (i.e. from red to green) before
you cross the road.

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We also talk about:

changing the subject - starting to talk about something else to avoid


embarrassment
changing your mind - deciding to do something else, usually the opposite
changing your tune - a more informal expression for saying or doing something
else
having a change of heart - reversing your opinions or attitudes
a sea change - a complete change in someone's attitudes or behaviour
things which change hands - things which pass from one owner to another

• Did you know that Brenda's sex-change operation hasn't been successful?
~ Do you mind if we change the subject?
~ Of course we can, but you should know that she's going ahead with her
plan to change her name from Brenda to Brendan.
• I can't afford to take everybody to this football match. ~ You've changed
your tune, haven't you? You were going to get a season ticket three weeks
ago!
• He suddenly became responsible for his actions. This sea change in his
behaviour surprised his parents.

switch - verb and noun

A switch is a device for making and breaking the connection in an electrical circuit in
e.g. a light, radio, TV or heater. We
switch these things on and off. We also turn them on and off. We can turn them
down or up, but we cannot switch them
down or up:

• You call that music? It's a terrible row! Either turn it down or switch it off.

If you switch to something different, you change suddenly to a different task or


activity from what you were doing before. We can use switch or change in all these
examples, but switch is more dramatic:

• Would you mind switching / changing places with me so that I can sit next
to my child?
• I had to switch / change planes in New York. There was no direct service to
Miami.
• I was going nowhere so I decided to switch / change jobs.
• I think you would create more space if you switched / changed / moved
the furniture around.

Because of its dramatic quality, switch is frequently used in newspaper headlines.


These three examples all appeared in the Independent daily newspaper on 28 or 29
January. See if you can work out the meaning. The answers are below:

• Abel Xavair set to switch to Liverpool.


• Switch to euro uncovers Ireland's excessive prices.
• Gang switched signals to help refugees.

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Abel Xaviar, the Portuguese defender, is ready (= set) to move from Everton across
town to Liverpool football club.
The changeover or switch from the Irish punt to the euro has revealed the high cost
of certain goods.
A criminal group of men (= gang) changed or switched train signals from green to
red so that trains would stop to allow refugees to climb on board.

Finally, note these more informal and idiomatic usages of switch and turn:

to switch off - to stop paying attention


to be switched on - to be well-informed or up-to-date about contemporary issues
to turn someone on - to excite them, to stimulate their interest, especially when
you find somebody attractive
Whatever turns you on! - a stock/fixed response to a description of unusual
practice

• His description of his working day was so boring that I just switched off.
• He is really switched on when it comes to fashion. He knows all about the
Italian fashion houses.
• I thought you liked me, but I don't really turn you on, do I?
• Oh no - it's a film about philosophy. What a turn-off!
• And then I became really interested in the triassic, jurassic and cretaceous
periods.
~ Whatever turns you on!

Travel/journey/trip/expedition/safari/
cruise/voyage

Haidar Mirhadi from Iran writes:

What is the difference between these words all concerning travel:

travel/journey/trip/expedition/safari/
cruise/voyage? Thank you.

It's the right time of year to talk about travel as the holiday season is now beginning
in most countries north of the equator.

travel/travelling (nouns)

Travel is the general term to describe going from one place to another. We can talk
about someone's travels to refer to the journeys he makes:

• His travels abroad provided lots of background material for novels he wrote.

Travelling is also a general term which refers to the activity of travel:

• Travelling by boat between the islands is less tiring than travelling by road.

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• I don't do as much travelling as I used to now that I'm retired.

Travel often crops up as part of compound nouns. Compare the following:

• Make sure you keep all your travel documents safely. You can obtain your
travel tickets from the travel agents in the High Street if you don't want to
order them over the Internet. Some of you may suffer from travel sickness.
Air travel may well give you a bumpy ride. If you don't have a credit or debit
card, make sure you take plenty of traveller's cheques with you.

We often use travel as a verb:

• I love to travel during the summer holidays. This year I plan to travel all
around the Iberian Peninsula.

journey (noun)

A journey is one single piece of travel. You make journeys when you travel from
one place to another. (Note that the plural is spelt journeys, not journies):

• The journey from London to Newcastle by train can now be completed in


under three hours.

• We can talk about journeys taking or lasting a long time:

• How long did your journey take? ~ Oh, it lasted for ever. We stopped at
every small station.

• We occasionally use journey as a verb as an alternative to travel, although


it may sound a bit formal or poetic:

• We journeyed /travelled between the pyramids in Mexico on horseback.

trip (noun)

A trip usually involves more than one single journey. We talk about day trips,
round trips and business trips. We make journeys usually, but we go on trips:

• I went on a day trip to France. We left at 6.30 in the morning and returned
before midnight the same day.

• The round-trip ticket enabled me to visit all the major tourist destinations in
India.

• Where's Laurie? ~ He won't be in this week. He's gone on a business trip to


Malaysia and Singapore.

• The trip went well. It was an old car, but we didn't break down in four weeks
of travelling

expedition (noun)

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An expedition is an organised trip whose purpose is usually scientific exploration
of the environment. You go on expeditions, just as you go on trips.

• Numerous expeditions to The Antarctic have ended in disaster.

• Are you going to join the expedition up the Amazon this year, like the one
Tom went on last year?

• Less dangerous and less adventurous are shopping expeditions when you
are hunting down particular goods or bargains and fishing expeditions
when you go in search of fish which are not easy to locate or catch.

safari (noun)

A safari is a trip or expedition to observe wild animals in their natural habitat in


Africa, usually. You go on safari to safari parks. In days gone by, you might have
worn your light cotton safari suit for this purpose:

• His one ambition in life was to go on safari to Kenya to photograph lions and
tigers.

cruise (noun and verb)

A cruise is a holiday during which you travel on a ship or boat and visit a number
of places en route. When we cruise, this is exactly what we do:

• They cruised all around the Mediterranean for eight weeks last summer and
stopped off at a number of uninhabited islands.

• My parents have seen nothing of the world so are saving up to go on a world


cruise when they retire. They are hoping to take a trip on the cruise liner,
the QE2, in 2004.

voyage (noun)

A voyage is a long journey, not necessarily for pleasure, on a ship. We don't talk
about voyages very much in the present time, but historically they were very
significant:

• His second voyage (1493 - 96) led to the discovery of several Caribbean
islands. On his third voyage (1498 - 1500) he discovered the South American
mainland.
(Christopher Columbus, the great explorer)

take care / take a look: verb + noun collocations with take

Maria asks: Please can you give me some information about collocations, especially
about verb + noun collocations with take? Thanks a lot.

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collocation

Collocations are words that habitually or typically occur together. There are verb +
adverb collocations like wave frantically (not wave hecticly). There are adjective +
noun collocations like regular exercise (not steady exercise). There are adverb +
adjective collocations like completely or wholly satisfied (not utterly satisfied).
And there are verb + noun or verb + object collocations like follow someone's
example (not pursue someone's example).

take

Take is one of the most commonly used verbs in the English language whose basic
meaning is to move something or somebody from one place to another, e.g:

I took him to the hospital because he was having difficulty breathing.

Take plenty of warm sweaters. It will be cold in Scotland.

There are a large number of take + noun collocations of which I include a selection
of the most common below. Note how much of the original meaning of take is
retained in these examples.

The first five are relatively easy to understand:

take a walk / a bus / a train

take a minute / a while / ten minutes

take exercise

take an interest in

take a photo

I'm not ready yet. Why don't you take a walk round the park?

It's essential for your health to take regular exercise.

I took 300 photographs when I was on holiday in Patagonia.

Since Sharapova won Wimbledon my son has taken an interest in tennis.

Aren't you finished yet? ~ No, it will take me a while, I'm afraid

The middle five are a bit more difficult so an explanation of the meaning is given
after each example:

take steps / measures / action

take advice

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take offence

take cover

take pity

If you take my advice, you'll stop seeing him.

We should take steps to ensure that no more money is lost on this venture.

There's no need to take offence. I was only joking!

They were firing over our heads, so we had to take cover.

She took pity on the stray dog and be became a family pet.

take steps, measures, etc: perform an action in order to achieve something

take advice: follow someone's guidance (on how best to achieve something)

take offence: feel upset because of something someone has said or done

take cover: hide of shelter from e.g bad weather or gunfire

take pity: show sympathy for someone because they are in a bad situation.

The final five are most difficult as they are idioms whose original meaning has been
lost (but which is explained in the notes below):

take the mickey out of someone

take the axe to something

take a raincheck

take heart

take one's breath away

Stop taking the mickey. I'm fed up with being the butt of your jokes.

Can you manage Friday? ~ I'll have to take a raincheck on that, I'm afraid.

The way she played Lady Macbeth was so compelling it took my breath away.

Try to take heart from the fact that he's no longer in pain.

The company took the axe to senior management and abolished five posts.

take the mickey out of someone: to tease. Mickey represents Mickey Bliss, Cockney
rhyming slang for piss. The expression then is a euphemism for take the piss.

take the axe to something: make drastic cuts, particularly in workforce

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take a raincheck: politely decline an offer whilst implying that you may take it up
later. A rainckeck was originally a voucher used in the US entitling one to see
another baseball game if the original one was rained off.

take heart: take courage In former times, moral courage was supposed to come
from the heart and physical courage from the stomach.

take one's breath away: be so surprised by something that it makes you hold your
breath

Ones that we have not worked on include:

take a seat

take a bath / shower

take care

take a look

take milk / sugar in tea / coffee

take a break

take somebody's word for something

take your temperature

take a risk

take the credit

take responsibility

take the weight off ones feet

take a dim view of something

take ones hat off to someone

take a page out of someone's book

take a leak

take stock

that takes the biscuit!

Check them out in a good dictionary, if the meaning is not clear. Start with the most
commonly used ones which I have listed first.

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Teacher/trainer/instructor/lecturer etc.

Would you please tell me the different usage of the terms: teacher, trainer,
instructor, lecturer, professor? Thank you in advance.

Teacher

Teacher is the general term for someone whose job it is to teach:

I'd like to go into teaching and get a job as a teacher in an inner city primary or
secondary school.

Teaching assistants can only ever support the classroom teacher; they can never
replace him.

Tutor

We sometimes use the word tutor instead of teacher to describe somebody who
gives personal or private lessons:

My son wasn't making much progress in school, so I hired a maths tutor to give him
private lessons after school.

If you are enrolled as a student in a British university, you will have a personal
tutor who provides you with close support throughout your studies and with whom
you will have tutorials to discuss aspects of the subject being studied:

There are just six students in my tutorial group and we had a very interesting
tutorial on global warming and climate change last week. On all quality distance
learning schemes, face-to-face support from trained tutors is essential.

Lecturer

A lecturer is someone who gives a lecture or formal presentation, particularly at a


college or university

Dr Gradgrind is our lecturer on the Victorian novel and the course will be taught
through a series of lectures and seminars.

Note that a seminar at a college or university is a class for a small group of students
to discuss the subject with the lecturer.

Professor

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In the UK, professor is a university teacher of the highest rank in a subject area:

Professor Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of


Cambridge, is one of the most formidable intellects ever to theorise on the origins of
the universe.

The first step in an academic carrier is usually lecturer, then senior lecturer, then
reader, then eventually perhaps professor.

Note that in the US, a professor is a full-time teacher at university. A teacher at


secondary school or high school or junior college is never a professor.

Instructor

In British English, an instructor teaches you on how to learn or improve in a


particular skill or sport:

If you want to learn how to drive, you will need a driving instructor.

If you want to learn how to fly, you will require a flying instructor.

If you intend to ski this winter on the higher slopes, you'll need a ski instructor.

In the US, an instructor is a university teacher below the rank of assistant


professor.

Coach

A coach is someone who trains individual sports players or a team. The examples
below are taken from tennis and football:

Tim Henman, Britain's No 1, has a new coach, Paul Anacone, who worked with Pete
Sampras for six years.

Paul Bracewell, national coach with the England youth teams for the past two years,
has resigned.

Trainer

A trainer can be someone who trains people for a particular job or profession or who
trains someone in certain varieties of sport.

225
In-service teacher trainers are in very great demand here as there is no pre-service
training for teachers.

If you can get Kevin as your personal fitness trainer, you'll work on a wide range of
strategies and techniques.

'tell', 'say', and 'speak'

A question from Dmitrij in Latvia:


Hello! I am learning English by myself (excluding BBC Learning English!) My question
was... what is the difference between 'tell', 'say', and 'speak'? Thank you!

Catherine Walter answers:


Hello Dmitrij. It's not surprising that you find these confusing because as far as
meaning goes these three words mean more or less the same thing. It's more a
question of how we use them, of patterns of use. So let me try to tell you about
those.

With 'tell' we usually say who is told. You could say there is a personal object, so:
'Can you tell me what's happened?' We say, 'me'.

With 'say' we don't usually say who is told. So you might say 'please say each word
clearly and distinctly'. And if we do say who is told, we use the word 'to', so: 'He said
goodbye to me as if we would never see one another again'.

Now... There's another limit on the usage of 'tell'. We only use 'tell' to mean instruct
or inform. 'I told him to wait for me on the platform'... that's an instruction. "My
father used to tell me wonderful stories" - informing me.

'Say' can be used for any kind of talking. So here are three sentences where you
could not use 'tell':

She said 'Where have you been?'


So I said what a good idea.
Maureen said 'What's the matter?'

We use 'tell' without a personal object in a few expressions, that are kind of fixed
expressions like tell the truth, tell the time and tell the difference.

And we use 'say' before words like a word, a name, or a sentence. An example would
be: 'Don't say a word.'

That's 'tell' and 'say'. You also asked about 'speak'. We use 'speak' to mean 'talk
formally', and when we do use 'speak', we use the word 'to' if there's a personal
object. So you could say, 'I spoke to him severely' or 'She spoke to our teachers'
association last year'.

And of course we use it when we're talking about people's language ability: 'Do you
speak English?' And you do, and I hope this will help you be happier with the way
you speak it.

226
A question from Amir Gilani:
Hi. Can you tell me what 'is anything to go by' in the text below means?

'And if the experience of earlier Asian economic miracles like Japan and South Korea
is anything to go by, China should carry on growing at this hectic pace for another
twenty or thirty years.'

Sarah Bradshaw answers:


Well Amir, 'is anything to go by' means 'in our experience' or 'in the experience of
the person writing' or 'in the experience of the person speaking'.

Another example of 'is anything to go by' could be: you're standing on a station
platform, you're looking at your watch, the train is late, you go up to a guard and
say: 'When is the next train to London?' And the guard might say, 'Well, if previous
trains are anything to go by, it will be half an hour late', meaning that his previous
experience of the trains running late is about thirty minutes.

Another example would be if, perhaps, we invited a well-known pop star onto our
programme, Britney Spears, for example and we said, 'If we had Britney Spears on
the programme, do you think we would get lots more listeners' letters asking us
questions?' And our producer might say, 'Well, if last week's programme with Phil
Collins is anything to go by, yes we would.'

So in his experience in something similar is anything to go by. So it begins with if: 'if
x is anything to go by then... something else.' So remember how to construct that:
it's 'if' and 'is anything to go by', 'then', and then the concluding sentence.

To / For

A question from Paulo from Brazil:

Hi Samantha, my name is Paulo. I like to study English and my question is about the
use of the prepositions to and for in some special cases. As I wrote to you, I know
that I must say Happy birthday to you and That’s a gift for you. But I just don’t know
the reason I can say, for example, That’s a gift for you. I would like some guidelines
to help me with this matter. Thank you Samantha.

... and a similar question from Renato from Brazil:

I am always confused when to use to or for. For example, should I say an efficient
method to solve my problem or an efficient method for solving my problem? Why,
according to one American, does it sound natural to hear Let's go out for lunch?
Shouldn't to be used with go when followed by a verb? Please enlighten me on this
topic. Yours sincerely, Renato

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Hi Paulo and thanks for your question. And, as well as answering your question, I’m
going to answer a similar one at the same time from Renato.

And the use of preposition is a topic that worries many of my students – I know
because I’m often asked for advice about which preposition to use where, especially
around the time that assignments are due in!

I do think that prepositions are one of the most difficult areas of English to master,
because there are so many prepositions and so many different combinations of verb
and preposition that have to be memorised individually.

But let’s begin with your first example Paulo, when we say Happy Birthday. And
when we use Happy Birthday we’re using a set expression or a greeting like Happy
Christmas, Happy New Year or Congratulations, and if you wanted to follow this
expression with a pronoun, you would have to use the preposition to with it - Happy
Christmas to you!, Happy Birthday to you! – although it might be more common
simply to use the greeting without a pronoun in speech.

In your second example Paulo, for is followed by a pronoun, you, and functions as a
preposition showing the intended recipient:

The parcel is for Jenny.

The flowers are for mother.

Here is a gift for you.

So now to answer Renato’s question. In the examples you give, Renato, I’d say that
the first example, with the infinitive verb, is the better choice. You’ve only given me
part of the sentence – an efficient method to solve my problem – but the phrase
suggests an outcome or the solution to a problem. Let’s put this into a complete
sentence by adding a verb:

I discovered an efficient method to solve my problem.

In this case, the second verb always appears in the infinitive form because these are
all examples of the infinitive showing purpose:

I watched television all day to relieve my boredom.

I made her a chocolate cake to make her feel better.

He went into town to order his new computer.

In each of the examples above, there is an outcome or an intention which is reported


by the to clause, similar to the one in your own example, Renato.

Finally, to look at the last example, if I said Shall we go out to eat lunch? the verb go
out would be followed by a verb, wouldn’t it? However, in your own example, Renato
– Let’s go out for lunch – the verb is followed by a noun (lunch), so we have to use
the preposition for in this expression!

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Well Paulo, thanks for your question and I hope that both the answers will be useful
to you.

'used to' / 'get used to'

Supawadee from Thailand asks:

I always confuse to be used to and used to, especially the meaning of them. Please
kindly show me what the differences are.

When we use used to, we are talking about something which happened regularly or
was true at an earlier stage in our lives but which is now over.

Thus, it can only be used in the past tense. If we want to talk about present habits or
states, we simply use the present simple tense.

With the negative we often say never used to in preference to didn't use to or
used not to - in an informal register. Study the following examples:

• 'Do you remember? There used to be fields of clover where those houses are
now.'
• 'I never used to smoke, but now I smoke twenty a day.'
• 'You used to play chess with your friends, but nowadays you play chess
with your computer.'
• 'I used to buy really expensive make-up, but that was when I was working
full-time.'

To make questions, we use the normal auxiliary did. Note that used to cannot be
used in question tag form. Note also the possible/probable replies to used to
questions.

Study the following examples:

• 'Did you use to go ice-skating when you were young?' 'No, I never did.'
• 'Didn't you use to ring the school to say you were ill and then play poker with
Sam?' 'I sometimes did, yeah!'

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• 'You used to do ballet in the church hall, didn't you?' 'Yes, I did. Every
Saturday between the ages of nine and twelve.'

be used to + noun or -ing


get used to + noun or -ing

If somebody gets or is used to something, he becomes or is fully familiar with it. It


is no longer strange or awkward. It can refer to past, present or future experiences.
Study the following:

• 'These are very high heels, I know, but I'm sure you'll get used to (wearing)
them.'
• 'I wasn't used to living in such a small flat and I found it really hard at first.'
• 'I'm used to all the noise now, but I'd always lived in the country before, you
see, where it is very quiet.'
• 'I never got used to shaking hands with people all the time when I lived
there. It's just not the custom in our country.'
• 'Are you getting used to the accent now? It's very different from standard
English, isn't it?

In all of the above examples be or get used to can be replaced by be or become


accustomed to which is very similar in meaning, if a little more formal.

Read through them again using these replacement verbs. So, just to recap and
confirm:

• 'When I lived in Mexico, I used to drink tequila at every opportunity.' (A


regular habit then, but probably not now.)
• 'I found it quite a strong drink at first, but I soon got used to it.' (It quickly
became quite palatable.)

verbs with adverbial particles

Amin, studying English in New Zealand, writes:

Many times I have heard sentences like these:

• I'll just pop into the supermarket.


• You can pop over to this office any time tomorrow.

I understand the meaning, but I am not sure how to use them.

What are the differences between pop into and pop over? And how about pop out?
Can we say pop out somewhere?

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I would be most grateful if you could tell me which sentences in those settings (along
with prepositions) are most common.

These verbs with adverbial particles or prepositions are extremely common in


informal idiomatic English and are often preferred to a single verb equivalent.

Compare the following:

• I decided to lay on transport for everybody as the train drivers were on


strike.
• I decided to provide transport for everybody as the train drivers were on
strike.

Informally, we would be more likely to say and write the first of these two
possibilities, whereas in more formal English we might write the second of these two:

• Alternative transport was laid on for all employees throughout the train
drivers’ strike.
• Alternative transport was provided for all employees throughout the train
drivers’ strike.

The problem with phrasal verbs (verb plus preposition or verb plus adverbial particle)
is that the meaning of the two-word (or sometimes three-word) verb is very different
from the meaning of the two parts taken separately.

Lay on is not the same as lay + on:

• I lay on the bed thinking about what to do next. (lay on = was in a


horizontal position on)
• Caroline laid on a wonderful spread of food for everyone. (laid on =
provided)

Let’s have a look at how pop is used with either particles or prepositions:

pop into pop in pop out pop off


pop over pop round pop down pop up

In all of these examples with pop, Amin, all the prepositions function as adverbial
particles, not as prepositions with objects except for:

• He popped into the shop.

They are all similar in meaning with the adverbial particle indicating direction, except
for pop off which has a more distinctive meaning and is not quite so common.

Compare the following:

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• My new neighbours across the road had just moved in so I popped over to
see them.
• I was passing by, noticed the light was on, so thought I would just pop in for
a chat.
• I’m going to pop out to the shops for ten minutes. Don’t answer the door if
anyone calls.
• My friend, Dora, lives in the flat above me. So she often pops down if she
needs anything, or I might pop up to see her if I’m feeling lonely.
• I hadn’t seen him for years. Then he just popped up one day at the club we
used to belong to.
• I may be 85 and I may have to use a stick to get around, but I’ve no
intention of popping off yet.

In the first five examples above, we might define pop + particle as appearing or
disappearing (popping out) briefly and casually. In the sixth example it means
appearing unexpectedly. And in the final example it is a euphemism for dying.

Of course, we can also use pop in its original literal sense, meaning to burst open
with a short sharpish sound.

• He had shaken the champagne bottle and the cork popped out before he
was ready to pour.

When you are learning phrasal verbs, it is safest to assume that for each one each
particle introduces a different meaning and sometimes more than one meaning!

Let’s compare the following pairs. Are they similar or different in meaning?

drop off pop off


drop in/by pop in
drop out pop out
drop over pop over

• Could you give me a lift in your car and drop me off at the station? (= let me
get out)
• The lecture was so boring that I dropped off half way through. (= fell into a
light sleep)
• Drop by any time you’re passing. You don’t need to phone first. (= pay a
casual visit)
• He dropped out after a term - he just wasn’t prepared to study. (= left
college early)
• I opened the car door carelessly and my purse dropped out. (= fell out)
• I dropped over to see her because I knew she wasn’t feeling well. (paid a
casual call).

Learning phrasal verbs is probably a lifetime’s work and if you want to do it well, it’s
probably worth getting hold of (= obtaining) or lashing out on (= spending a
substantial sum of money on) a dictionary of current idiomatic English which pays
attention to verbs with prepositions and particles. I emphasise the word ‘current’ as
idioms come into and go out of fashion.

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The reward is that if you can use them appropriately in context, they are
distinguishing marks of a native-like command of English.

wedding or marriage?

Morena Diego from Italy asks:

Could you please explain to me the difference between wedding and marriage?

wedding / wed

A wedding is a marriage ceremony which is held in church or a registry office and


also includes the party or special meal which follows the ceremony. All of this usually
happens on your wedding day.

There are a number of other wedding compounds that are associated with wedding
day:

• The newlyweds had told everybody that they wanted no wedding presents
as they were emigrating to Australia.
• The predominant colour at Sophie's wedding was creamy white. Her
wedding dress was this colour and the icing on the three-tier wedding
cake was this colour too.
• Is it true that in Britain you wear your wedding ring on the third finger of
your left hand?
• A silver wedding is celebrated after 25 years of marriage and a golden
wedding after 50 years.

If you wed someone, you marry them, but wed is not used very much nowadays as
a verb as it is rather old-fashioned. It can sound quite effective however, because it
is unusual. Sometimes it has a poetic ring to it:

• We got wed soon after the baby was born.


• I shall never wed as I like to be independent.

marriage / marry / get married

Marriage describes the relationship between husband and wife or the state of being
married:

• They enjoyed a long and happy marriage.


• Most marriages these days do not last.
• The bride's parents did not approve of Victoria's marriage to George.

If you marry someone, that person becomes your husband or wife and we use the
verb marry in preference to wed normally.

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However, even more usual than marry is get married. This use of get with a past
participle is a very common structure in contemporary English and is used across a
range of common expressions. It has the same sort of force as reflexive verbs have
in other languages. Thus in English we would say: Don't get lost! NOT Don't lose
yourselves! Consider the following:

• I married the man next door / I got married to the man next door.
• They didn't get dressed until two o'clock in the afternoon.
• I didn't bother to get washed as I knew I would be working on the farm.
• Remember, it's a big dark wood. Be careful not to get lost.
• We had known each other for fifteen years before we got engaged.
• I never get invited to Sarah's parties.
• We got married on 10 June, but by the beginning of the autumn both of us
knew that the marriage would not last and that sooner or later we would have
to get a divorce / get divorced.

Interestingly, although we can say they married and they divorced as an


alternative to they got married and they got divorced, we cannot say: they
engaged. Here, only they got engaged is possible.

A question from Sergio Gil Rejas in Peru:


I would like to know what is the difference between 'wait' and 'await'. When should I
use 'wait' and 'await'? Thanks a lot and congratulations for the site. Kind regards.

Amos Paran answers:


Thanks for this, Sergio. There are two kinds of difference between 'wait' and 'await'.

The first difference is in the grammatical structures that are associated with these
two verbs.
The verb 'await' must have an object - for example, 'I am awaiting your answer'. And
the object of 'await' is normally inanimate, not a person, and often abstract. So you
can't say, 'John was awaiting me'.

The verb 'wait' can come in different structures. Firstly, you can just use 'wait' on its
own: 'We have been waiting and waiting and waiting and nobody has come to talk to
us.'

Another structure that is very common is to use 'wait' with another verb - for
example, 'I waited in line to go into the theatre.'

Very often, with 'wait', you mention the length of time that you have been waiting -
for example, 'I have been waiting here for at least half an hour.'
Finally, speakers often mention what or who they have been waiting for - so, if a
friend was really late you could say, 'I have been waiting for you for two hours!'

The other difference between the two verbs, 'wait' and 'await', is the level of

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formality. 'Await' is more formal than 'wait' - it would be used in formal letters, for
example.

If you want a tip about using these two verbs, I would suggest that you should use
'wait for'; use 'await' only in cases where you are absolutely sure that you have
heard good users of the language using it, and in cases where things are quite
formal.

Well off, better off


well-off

Well-off relates mainly to money matters. If you are well-off, you may not be rich
exactly, but you have enough money to live well and comfortably:

By central European standards they are quite well-off They have their own flat and
drive new cars.

well-off for

However, if you say you are well-off for something, this means that there are many
of them:

We’re well-off for coffee shops in this town. There’s one at every corner in the High
Street.

better-off

The comparative form of this adjective is better-off which is used to talk about the
varying degrees of wealth different people have:

We’re not as well-off as the Jones’s. They’re definitely better-off than we are. Just
look at the way they dress!

To be better-off, as you suggest, Mariano, also has another meaning of being in a


better situation and is used mainly in conditional patterns as follows:

If you’ve got heavy bags to carry, you’d be better-off taking a taxi.

It says on the sign that the motorway ahead is blocked. You’ll be better-off if you
leave the motorway at this junction which is coming up now.

the better-off

The better-off is sometimes used as a noun to describe a category of people, cf the


rich / the poor:

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The rich and the poor live side-by-side in this part of town.

The better-off should pay a higher rate of income tax, while those who are worst-off
should pay no tax at all.

rather and better?

Omar studying English in Canada writes:


I’ve just found this page which is for learning english and I find it amazing and easy
to follow. I'd like to know the difference between prefer and would rather.

• I'd rather do x than do y


• I prefer doing x to doing y

Prefer and would rather can be used interchangeably. As you indicate, Omar,
when we are talking about general preferences, prefer is followed by verb-ing,
thus:

• I prefer listening to music to watching TV.


• I'd rather listen to music than watch TV.

'd rather

However, when we are talking about specifics, would rather is used as an


alternative to would prefer to followed by an infinitive. Would rather is very
common in spoken English and is often abbreviated to 'd rather. It is used in this
form with all personal pronouns:

I'd / you'd / he'd / she'd / we'd / they'd rather…

Study these examples:

• Would you like to go out for dinner tonight? ~ No, I think I'd rather eat at
home / I'd prefer to eat at home.
• Would you rather drink beer or wine with the curry ~ I'd rather drink beer.
What about you?
• They'd rather have the strawberries by themselves, but I'd prefer to have
them with cream.

Note that would rather is followed by a bare infinitive without to, whereas prefer
requires to + infinitive. Would rather (but not would prefer to) is also followed by
a past tense when we want to involve other people in the action, even though it has
a present or future meaning. Study the following:

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• Shall we go out for dinner tonight? ~ No, I'd rather we ate at home, if you
don't mind.
• Shall I write to Harry and tell him that we've sold the car? ~ I'd rather you
didn't.
• My mother would rather we caught the bus, rather than walk home after the
party.

Rather than means instead of and can be used in combination with would prefer
to and would rather. Study the following and note the intricacies of the verb forms:

• Rather than lose precious sleep discussing it now, I think we should go to bed
and talk about it in the morning.
• My mother would prefer us to email each other once a week, rather than
spend half an hour on the phone every night.
• My mother would rather we emailed each other once a week instead of
spending half an hour on the phone every night. In fact, she insists on it. So
we'd better do that, I suppose.

'd better

Note that 'd better, which is similar structurally to 'd rather, is used to suggest
necessary action. In this case however, 'd is the abbreviated form of had, not
would. Like 'd rather, 'd better is followed by the bare infinitive without to. Study
the following:

• We'd better not be late for the Ambasador's party. It would be unforgivable to
arrive late.
• You'd better phone him and tell him that you're not going.
• They'd better buy me a Christmas present or I shall never forgive them.

Note that it is sometimes slightly threatening in tone, as in the last example. Had
better is always more urgent than should or ought to and has the same force as I
would advise you strongly to…. or We must / we mustn't….

injure/wound/hurt/harm/damage as verbs/adjectives/nouns

Agustin from Spain writes:

I would be very grateful if you could explain the difference between injure, wound,
hurt, harm, damage and their associated adjectives: injured, wounded, hurt,
harmed and damaged. Their meanings are so close that I have difficulty
differentiating them.

You are quite right, Agostin. These verbs and related nouns and adjectives are quite
close in meaning and use, but there are a number of distinguishing characteristics.

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hurt (verb)

If part of your body hurts, you feel pain there. If you hurt someone, you cause
them to feel pain. Note that verbs that refer to physical feelings (hurt, ache, etc)
can often be used in simple or progressive tenses with no difference in meaning:

• Have you been knocked over? Tell me where it hurts / it's hurting. ~ My
arm hurts.
• You're hurting my arm. Ouch! Don't touch me. That hurts!

You can also hurt someone's feelings, and cause them to feel emotional pain:

• I think she's going to be hurt. I don't think she'll ever fall in love again.
• What hurt me most was the betrayal. How could he behave like that?

hurt (noun/adjective)

• The hurt that she felt was deep and would only be softened with the passing
of time.
• They were suffering from shock but did not seem to be otherwise hurt.

injure (verb)

In the sentence describing people suffering from shock above, hurt could be
replaced by injured. If you injure somebody, you cause physical damage to part of
their body usually the result of an accident or through fighting:

• A number of bombs have exploded, seriously injuring scores of people.


• The demonstrators injured a number of innocent people when they started
throwing stones.

injured / injury (nouns) / injured (adj)

• The injured were taken to hospital by air-ambulance.


• Their injuries were thought to be serious.
• He was not seriously injured, though his coach took him off at half-time as a
precaution.
• Two minutes of injury time were played at the end of the fist half.

wound (verb)

If you wound somebody, you inflict physical damage on part of their body,
especially a cut or a hole in their flesh caused by a gun, a knife or some other
weapon, often in battle.

• There was no escape. They were mortally wounded by the enemy fire.
• The driver of the Red-Cross ambulance was wounded by the shrapnel.

In English, it is often a matter of knowing which adjectives collocate with which


nouns and which adverbs go with which verbs. In this particular word family, the

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adverb-verb collocations are normally as follows: badly hurt / seriously injured /
mortally wounded. You will also have noticed that with these verbs the passive
voice is often used.

wound (noun) / wounded (adj)

• The open wound really needed stitches and took a long time to heal.
• The four wounded men were taken to the field hospital in the back of the
Jeep.

We also have the expressions: to rub salt into the wound, i.e. to make an
unpleasant situation even worse and to lick one's wounds, i.e. to slowly recover
after being defeated or made to feel ashamed or unhappy:

• I didn't want to rub salt into the wound so decided not to mention Bob's
infidelity.
• The British team could only retire and lick their wounds after such a
comprehensive defeat on Spanish soil.

damage (verb)

It is things that are damaged, not people. Damage is the physical harm that is
caused to an object. More abstract qualities, such as reputations and the economy
can also be damaged. Compare the following:

• The car was so badly damaged in the accident that it was barely worth
repairing.
• When he got home, he discovered that the vase he had bought had been
damaged.
• If he continues drinking like that, his reputation as a defence lawyer will be
damaged.
• High inflation was damaging the country's economy.

damage (noun) / damaged (adj)

However, we can also speak of someone being brain-damaged (not brain-injured)


or suffering brain damage. But this is an exception. Normally damage relates to
inanimate objects:

• Professional boxers sometimes suffer irreversible brain damage.


• It was a huge bomb and the damage caused to the shopping precinct was
quite extensive.

We also have the informal expression: What's the damage? meaning 'What is the
damage to my purse or my pocket?' in other words: What do I owe you in payment
for this service or these goods?:

• Thanks very much for the work you have done on those curtains. What's the
damage?

harm (verb)

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People OR things can be harmed or physically damaged:

• The bank robbers were anxious not to harm anyone.


• Without doubt,the burning of fossil fuels harms the environment in which we
live

harm (noun)

We have a number of expressions with the noun harm which are confusingly similar:
will come to no harm, it will do no harm to…, there's no harm in…, no harm
done:

• Will my dog be all right with you? ~ He'll be fine. He'll come to no harm in
my garden.
• It will do / can do no harm to remind him to take the medication before he
goes to bed.
• She might not agree, but there's no harm in asking her to postpone the
meeting.
• I'm sorry to crash into you like that! Are you all right? ~ I'm fine. No harm
done!

harmful / harmless (adjs)

Harmful and harmless describe something that has or does not have a bad effect
on something else:

• He looks quite ferocious and barks quite loudly, but he's


quite harmless.
• The harmful effects of smoking on people's health is
well-documented.

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BBC Learning English
Conjunctions & clauses
Prefixes and suffixes
Prepositions & prepositional phrases

241
Conjunctions & clauses
as, while, when, as long as

William Martinez from Puerto Rico writes:

How can I correctly use the following conjunctions concerning time expressions: as,
as long as and while? Also, would you be kind enough to give me some examples
of use of these two expressions: as a basis for and on the basis of?

as or while

We can use as or while to talk about two longer actions that are in progress at
the same time:

• There was a lot to do. While I cleaned the car, my wife was preparing lunch.
• She then did the ironing after lunch as I cleared away the dishes.

As a general rule, we tend to use while here rather than as because as has many
different meanings and uses. It could be confusing if as meaning while could be
mistaken for as meaning because:

• As I was doing my homework, my mum prepared my supper. (As = because)


• As I was doing my homework, my mum prepared my supper. (As = while)

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as or when

We use as or when to talk about two short events that happen at the same
moment. As and when are often used with just in this context. We cannot use
while here:

• The telephone rang just when / just as I was about to leave. I decided not
to answer it.

However, if we want to say that when one thing changes another changes at the
same time, when one is the consequence of the other, we tend to use as:

• As the day wore on, it became hotter and hotter.


• As you get older, it becomes more and more difficult to make friends.

while or when

In more formal speech and writing, it is possible to leave out subject + be with
when and while when main and subordinate clauses refer to the same subject. We
cannot use as in this way:

• When making cranberry jam, remember to use as much sugar as fruit.


• When you are making cranberry jam, be sure to use as much sugar as fruit.
• While in France, he grew particularly fond of all varieties of cheese.
• While he was in France, he grew particularly fond of all types of cheese.

as long as: expressing time

The as ... as construction is used when we are making comparisons and comparing
ideas of similar magnitude or duration

• There was extra time, so the football match lasted as long as the concert.
• He worked for as long as he wanted to on the project.
"Take as long as you like," they said. "There's no hurry!"
• As long as I live, I shall smoke no more cigarettes.

as long as: expressing condition

Note that as long as is also used in conditional sentences as an alternative to


provided, meaning if and only if. So long as is also possible in this context:

• I don't mind. You can leave early, as long as you finish the work.
• I don't mind. You can go home early, so long as you finish the work.
• I don't mind. You can leave after lunch, provided you finish all the work.

on a ... basis

The noun basis suggests a particular method or system for organising or doing
something. We have the expressions on a/an
hourly/daily/monthly/annual/temporary/permanent basis:

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• These toilets are checked for cleanliness on an hourly basis
• She thought she would have the job on a permanent basis, but it turned out
to be temporary.
• This place is known as 'the windy city' and typhoons are expected on a
regular basis.

on the basis of / as a basis for

Here we have two further expressions with basis with a slightly different meaning.
Used with the preposition on, method or system is suggested. Used with the
preposition as, ideas, facts or actions from which something can develop is
suggested:

• The contract was awarded on the basis of cost more than anything else.
• These preliminary talks will be very useful as a basis for further negotiations.

'as' and 'like'

Cristina Pinho from Brazil asks:

I love this section of the BBC.

Here is my question:- "I’ve worked as a dog" or "I’ve worked like a dog." What is
the difference between as and like?

As and like are used in a number of different ways and can be different parts of
speech.

'as' and 'like' - prepositions

As refers to something or someone's appearance or function. Consider the following


examples:

• 'Before I became a teacher I worked as a waiter.'


• 'I'm going to the fancy dress party as Superman.'
• 'The sea can be used as a source of energy.'

The expression 'I've been working as a dog' sounds unusual because it suggests that
you were doing the work of a dog!

Like has the meaning 'similar to' and is used when comparing things. Look at these
examples:

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• 'I’ve been working like a dog.'
• 'She looks a bit like her brother.'
• 'Just like you, I’m always a bit wary of large dogs.'

The expression 'I've been working like a dog' is idiomatic and means that you have
been working very hard. Note that we can use adverbs of degree, such as just,
very, quite, not much, not at all, a bit, etc, to modify like:

• 'He’s very serious – not at all like his father, perhaps more like his mother
at times.

'as' and 'like' - conjunctions

As and like can also be used as conjunctions:

As means 'in the same way that'. Consider the following:

• 'I always drink tea without milk, just as they do on the continent.'
• 'Try to keep your balance on the tightrope, as I do, by spreading out your
fingers like this.'
• 'The first ten days of July were very wet this year, as they were last year and
the year before.'

In informal English, like is used in the same way. This is particularly common in
American English. Consider the following:

• 'Nobody else would look after you like I do, baby!'


• 'She needs the money, like I do, so she works in a bar in the evenings.'
• 'I hope you’re not going to be sick again, like you were when we went to
Brighton.

as ... as and as

Mohammad Tariq from Afghanistan writes:

Hello! I hope you are in the best of health. Would you kindly tell me what parts of
speech as... as are. I know that we use adjectives or adverbs between them, but I
don not know what they are themselves. Kind regards.

as... as as adverb / preposition

Look at this example:

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• He came as quickly as he could.

This structure is used to measure and compare things that are of similar proportion.
In this construction, the first as functions as an adverb modifying the following
adjective or adverb. The second as functions as a preposition when it relates to
the following noun or pronoun. (It can also function as a conjunction when it
relates to the following clause.) Compare the following:

• The meal was as good as the conversation: spicy and invigorating!


• She spoke as slowly as she could
• Has everybody eaten as much as they want?
• I hope you will agree that I am as imaginative a cook as my wife (is)!

Note from the above example that if there is an adjective and a noun after the first
as, a / an must go between them. Note also that if we want to make a negative
statement, we can use so…as instead of as…as:

• He is not so / as intelligent as his sister is.


• The cafeteria was not so / as crowded as it was earlier.

There are a large number of idiomatic expressions or fixed phrases which we use in
informal English when we are making comparisons like this. Here are a few of them
in context:

• He went as white as a sheet when he saw the ghost.


• My maths teacher is as deaf as a post and should have retired years ago.
• She sat there as quiet as a mouse and wouldn’t say anything.
• Electricity will be restored to our homes as soon as possible.
• All the children were as good as gold when they came to visit me.
• These stories are as old as the hills and have been passed down from
generation to generation.

Remember that when we are measuring or comparing things that are of unequal
proportion, we need to use the structure comparative + than:

• Let me finish the report. I can type much faster than you (can).
• He played the piece of music more slowly than I had ever heard it played
before.

as as subordinating conjunction

Note that as by itself is used as a subordinating conjunction in a variety of different


ways.

as = when (for clauses of time)

We may use as as an alternative to when when we are comparing two short actions
or events that happened or happen at the same period of time. We often combine it
with just:

• She left the house (just) as the sun was rising.

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• The telephone rang (just) as I was climbing into my bath.

as = because (for clauses of reason)

We may use as as an alternative to because when the reason is already known or


self-evident to the reader of listener. As - clauses are often placed at the beginning
of sentences.
Because puts more emphasis on the reason or introduces new information.
Compare the following:

• As Mary was the eldest child, she had to look after her younger brothers and
sisters.
• As it had started to rain we had to abandon the picnic.
• I’ve decided to end our relationship because my boyfriend has been cheating
on me.

as for clauses of proportion

Here, as means over the same period of time as:

• I think you become more tolerant of other people as you get older.
• As prices rose, the demand for higher salaries became more intense.

as as preposition

Finally, note that as can also be used as a preposition when we want to avoid using
the verb to be. Compare the following:

• As his father, it is your duty to ensure that he goes to school every day.
• As you are his father, it is your duty to ensure that he goes to school every
day.
• As a social historian, I am always interested in people’s life styles.
• Being a social historian, I am always interested in people’s life styles.
• He established his reputation as a freedom fighter through many heroic acts.
• The police described him as a dangerous criminal.
• The police considered him to be a dangerous criminal

S Boon and D Nukoon from Thailand write:

Could you please explain the usage of the adjective unfair to us?

For example: I won't argue with you, but I think you are being unfair. Also, we'd
like to learn why being is placed in front of unfair. How is you're being unfair
different from you're unfair?

Santhosh KP from India writes:

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Really, this site has helped me a lot. The doubts which people are asking about are
really the doubts of a majority. I am doubtful about using being. So can you please
explain to me the different uses of being with different examples?

Bhavin from India writes:

Can you please explain how being is used with the past participle?

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being + adjective

We normally use the progressive form with an adjective when we are talking about
actions and behaviour. And being unfair in your example sentence, Boon and
Nukoon, relates to somebody's behaviour of not being fair in their actions, so the
progressive form is preferred. Here are some further examples:

• You're being silly / foolish / childish when you do such silly / foolish /
childish things.

• I was walking on tiptoe and being very careful not to wake the baby.

However, when the adjectives relate to feelings, we do not use the progressive form:

• I was upset / worried when I heard that they would have to operate on
John's knee.

• I am delighted / overjoyed to hear that you have passed all your exams.

being + past participle

We use being with the past participle, Bhavin, in present progressive and past
progressive passive forms. So we might say:

• My car is being serviced. Instead of: The local garage is servicing my car.

• The computers are being installed tomorrow.


Instead of: They're installing the computers tomorrow.

• My nieces enjoyed being taken to the circus.


Rather than: I enjoyed taking my nieces to the circus.

• I was quite sure I was being followed.


Instead of: I was quite sure someone was following me.

• She was being punished for being cruel to the cat.


Rather than: They were punishing her for being cruel to the cat.

Note that cruel in the above example is an adjective describing behaviour so the
progressive form is used with it.

Note that other passives with being, i.e the future progressive passive (will be
being) and perfect progressive passive (has been being) are quite rare.

being in participle clauses

We can use an adverbial participle clause to express reason or cause as an


alternative to a because/since/as clause. Using a participle clause in this way is

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more characteristic of written English or a literary style, rather than spoken colloquial
English. Compare the following:

• Being French, he is passionate about wine and cheese.


Instead of : Because he is French, he is passionate about wine and cheese.

• Being a friend of Tony Blair, I'm often invited to No 10.


Rather than: As I am a friend of Tony Blair, I'm often invited to No 10.

• Being quite slim, I was able to squeeze through the hole in the railings.
Instead of: Since I am quite slim I was able to squeeze through the hole in
the railings.

• Being rather over weight, Geoffrey was unable to squeeze through. Rather
than: Because he's rather over weight, Geoffrey was unable to squeeze
through.

verb + verb-ing / adj + prep + verb-ing

Note that being as verb-ing, is required in all such instances:

• Would you mind being quiet for a moment?

• I look forward to being interviewed on the current affairs programme.

• She was afraid of being accused of a crime which she did not commit.

• I am tired of being taken for granted and expected to do all the


housework.

The difference in use between 'because', 'as', 'since' and 'for'

Agnes Leyen asks:

Could you please tell me the difference (in use) between because, as, since and
for. I think it's very confusing.

The present perfect is often used with since and for to denote periods of time up to
the present. (Note that we do not use present perfect with expressions that refer to
a time period that has finished, i.e. 'last week' or 'the day before yesterday'. Here
the simple past is used: 'I went to the cinema three times last week.')

If you use since with the present perfect or present perfect continuous, you are
signalling when something started. If you use for, you are signalling how long
something has been going on. Compare:

• 'She has been living in Holland since the summer of 1992.'


• 'She has been living in Holland for the last nine years.'

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That is one use of since and for.
But since and for can also be used in a similar way to as and because to give the
reason for an action or a situation. However, there are important differences
between them.

Because is used when the reason is the most important part of the sentence or
utterance. The because clause usually comes at the end:

• 'I went to Spain last summer because I wanted the guarantee of sunshine on
every day of my holiday.'

As and since are used when the reason is already well known and is therefore
usually less important. The as or since clause is usually placed at the beginning of
the sentence:

• 'As the performance had already started, we went up to the balcony and
occupied some empty seats there.'
• 'Since John had already eaten, I made do with a sandwich.'

For suggests that the reason is given as an afterthought. It is never placed at the
beginning of the sentence and is more characteristic of written, rather than spoken
English:

• 'I decided to stop the work I was doing - for it was very late and I wanted to
go to bed.'

but as conjunction and preposition

L S Ng from Singapore writes:

What does but mean in this sentence?

• All but two of the boys are coming.

Here it means except (for) or apart from and we can substitute these prepositions
for but in this sentence. We could also use bar which has the same meaning:

• All but / bar / except for / apart from two of the boys are coming with us.

but as conjunction

We usually think of but as a conjuction linking two contrastive sentences or clauses:

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• They had very little money, but (they) always bought their children expensive
presents.
• They were poor, but (they were) hardworking.
• My car is fifteen years old, but (it) still drives beautifully.
• I've been to Hong Kong but (I've never been to Shanghai) not to Shanghai.
• I sometimes swim in the North Sea, but (I) only (ever swim there) in July
and August.
• I wanted to sign the contract there and then. But my husband insisted that
we should read the small print first.
• These earrings would look really good on your wife! ~ But I'm not married!

In the first five examples, repeated information from the first clause can often be left
out in the second clause.

But as preposition

We use but as an alternative to except (for), apart from and bar to introduce the
only thing or person that the main part of the sentence does not include. It is often
used after words such as everyone, nobody, anything, anywhere, all, no, none,
any, every.

• I'll go anywhere for my holiday but / bar / except (for) Blackpool. I really
hate it there.
• On holiday he eats nothing but / bar / apart from hamburgers and French
fries.
• She took everything on holiday with her but / bar / apart from the kitchen
sink.
• Everybody but / bar / the very young must carry their own belongings in a
rucksack.
• I've marked all the essays but / bar / except (for) / apart from two.
• Nobody but / except (for) / bar Jessica would wear a mini-dress at a formal
dinner

In a British court of law, a witness giving evidence is required to take the oath before
he gives his testimony. He is required to say the following:

• I swear by Almightly God to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but
the truth.

But if he has no religion, he says instead:

• I affirm that I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Note the useful expressions next but one, last but one.

• They live in the house next but one to Mary. (i.e. two houses away from
Mary)
• Is this the final candidate? ~ No, it's the last but one. (i.e. there are two
more people to be interviewed)

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but for

Note that but for as a preposition has a different meaning from but by itself. We
can sometimes use it as an alternative to an
if-clause with a third conditional negative sentence, indicating what might have
happened if other things had not happened. Compare the following:

• If it hadn't been for your generosity, I wouldn't have been able to go to


America.
• But for your generosity, I wouldn't have been able to go to America.

• I would have been home in time for supper, if there had been no fog to
delay me.
• I would have been home in time for supper but for the fog.

• But for his broken leg in the earlier part of the season, he might have been
in the England team to play Poland last May.
• If he hadn't broken his leg in the earlier part in the season, he might have
been in the England team to play Poland last May.

Kristina from Bulgaria asks:

What is a cleft sentence and how do we use it?

Cleft sentences are used to help us focus on a particular part of the sentence and
to emphasise what we want to say by introducing it or building up to it with a kind of
relative clause.

Because there are two parts to the sentence it is called cleft (from the verb cleave)
which means divided into two.

Cleft sentences are particularly useful in writing where we cannot use intonation for
purposes of focus or emphasis, but they are also frequently used in speech.

Cleft structures include the reason why, the thing that, the person/people
who, the place where, the day when and what-clauses which are usually linked
to the clause that we want to focus on with is or was.

Compare the following sets of sentences and notice how the cleft structure in each
case enables us to select the information we want to focus on:

• I've come to discuss my future with you.


• The reason why I've come is to discuss my future with you.

• Your generosity impresses more than anything else.

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• The thing that impresses me more than anything else is your generosity.

• The jewels are hidden under the floor at 23 Robin Hood Road, Epping.
• The place where the jewels are hidden is under the floor at 23 Robin Hood
Road, Epping.
• Under the floor at 23 Robin Hood Road is the place where the jewels are
hidden.

• Mary works harder than anybody else in this organisation.


• The person who works harder than anybody else in this organisation is
Mary.
• Mary is the person in this organisation who works harder than anybody
else.

• The Second World War ended on 7 May 1945 in Europe.


• The day (when) the Second World War ended in Europe was 7 May 1945
• 7 May 1945 was the day (when) the Second World War ended in Europe.

• We now need actions rather than words.


• What we now need are actions rather than words.
• Actions rather than words are what we now need.

• I enjoyed the brilliant music most of all in the Ballet Frankfurt performance.
• What I enjoyed most in the Ballet Frankfurt performance was the brilliant
music.
• The brilliant music was what I enjoyed most in the Ballet Frankfurt
performance.

Note from the last two examples that cleft structures with what-clauses are often
used with verbs expressing an emotive response to something like adore, dislike,
enjoy, hate, like, loathe, love, need, prefer, want, etc.

Cleft structures with what-clauses are also often used with does/do/did and with
the verb happen when we want to give emphasis to the whole sentence, rather than
a particular clause.

Compare the following:

• The police interviewed all the witnesses to the accident first.


• What the police did first was (to) interview all the witnesses to the accident.

• You should invest all your money in telecoms companies.


• What you should do is (to) invest all your money in telecoms companies.
• What you should invest all your money in is telecoms companies.

• She writes all her novels on a typewriter.


• What she does is (to) write all her novels on a type writer.

• Their car broke down on the motorway so they didn't get to Jo's wedding on
time.

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• What happened was that their car broke down on the motorway so they
didn't get to Jo's wedding on time.

It is sometimes very effective to use all instead of what in a cleft structure if you
want to focus on one particular thing and nothing else:

• I want a new coat for Christmas.


• All I want for Christmas is a new coat.
• A new coat is all I want for Christmas.

• I touched the bedside light and it broke.


• All I did was (to) touch the bedside light and it broke.

Finally, we can also use preparatory it in cleft sentences and join the words that we
want to focus on to the relative clause with that, who or when.

In the example which follows, note how this construction enables us to focus on
different aspects of the information, which may be important at the time:

• My brother bought his new car from our next-door neighbour last Saturday.
• It was my brother who bought his new car from our neighbour last
Saturday.
• It was last Saturday when my brother bought his new car from our
neighbour.
• It was a new car that my brother bought from our neighbour last Saturday.
• It was our next-door neighbour that my brother bought his new car from
last Saturday.

Look out for cleft structures in your reading. They are a very common feature of
written English.

Subordinating and coordinating conjunctions

Khadija Attarabulsi from Libya writes:

Would you please help me to learn and understand coordinating and


subordinating conjunctions? I would be so grateful if you could explain them in
full. Thank you in advance.

Conjunctions are joining words and their main function is to link together two
different parts of a sentence.

And / but / or (coordinating conjunctions)

And, but and or are the three main coordinating conjunctions. They join two clauses
which are grammatically independent of each other and would make sense if they
stood alone. Compare the following:

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1. She's already had two holidays this year and now she wants another one.

She's already had two holidays this year. Now she wants another one.

2. I had a terrible cold last week, but I still went to work.

I had a terrible cold last week. I still went to work.

3. You can sit at the front, or you can stand at the back. I don't mind.

You can sit at the front. You can stand at the back. I don't mind.

But note they way in which conjunctions help to add meaning to the
sentence. And indicates that we are listing items or ideas, or means that we
are discussing alternatives and but means that we are contrasting facts or
ideas.

Note also that in the second of the two coordinating clauses, the subject
words and modal auxiliaries can often be left out:

• She's already had two holidays this year and now wants another one.

• I had a terrible cold last week, but still went to work.

• You can sit at the front or stand at the back. I don't mind.

This is not normally possible in subordinate clauses. Compare the following:

• She was anxious and unhappy and didn't know where her husband was.

• She was anxious and unhappy because she didn't know where her
husband was.
(NOT: She was anxious and unhappy because didn't know where her husband
was.)

If / when / because / since / even though / etc (subordinating


conjunctions)

Words like if, when, because, since, although, etc, are subordinating conjunctions
which introduce subordinate clauses. Subordinate clauses are dependent on the main
clause in some way and do not normally stand alone.

Note the way in which subordinating conjunctions also give meaning to the sentence:

* if suggests a condition
* when / whenever indicate time
* while suggests time or contrast of surprising facts
* because points to reason
* since suggests reason or time

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* as suggests reason or time
* although / though / even though all indicate a contrast of surprising facts

Compare the following examples of use and note the way the same conjunction (e.g.
while, since, as) can be used for different purposes. Subordinating clauses of this
kind can normally go first or last in the sentence, depending on what you want to
emphasize:

• If you feel thirsty or hungry, help yourself to anything at all in the fridge
or freezer.
Help yourself to anything at all in the fridge or freezer, if you feel hungry or
thirsty.

• While they were away, I helped myself to an ice-cold beer and a pizza from
the freezer.
I helped myself to an ice-cold beer and a pizza from the freezer while they
were away.

• Whenever I babysit at their house, I am always very well looked after.


I am always very well looked after whenever I babysit at their house.

• When I babysat for the Robinsons last month, I was given nothing to eat
or drink.
I was given nothing to eat or drink when I babysat for the Robinsons last
month.

• While I am fond of their children, I think the parents are very mean.
(BUT NOT: I think the parents are very mean while I am fond of their
children)

• Since I started working full-time, I don't have so much time now for
babysitting.
I don't have so much time now for babysitting since I started working full-
time.

• Because / since / as I work six days a week, I can't even find time to
see my friends.
I can't even find time to see my friends as I work six days a week.

• As I was leaving work the other day, I bumped into an old friend.
I bumped into an old friend as I was leaving work the other day.

• Although I am happy with my life, I think I should try and get out more.
I think I should try and get out more, even though I am happy with my
life.

'Due to', 'owing to', on account of' and 'because of'

Sathya Narayanan from India asks:

What is the difference in the usage of owing to and due to?

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Due to and owing to are similar in meaning to on account of and because of.
They are all prepositions used with noun phrases and are often used
interchangeably. They indicate that something happened as a result of something or
introduce the reason for something happening:

• 'He was kept in after school due to/owing to his bad behaviour.' = He was
kept in after school on account of/because of his bad behaviour.
• 'Due to/owing to a broken propeller, the new cruise liner returned
immediately to port.' = 'The new cruise liner returned immediately to port
because of/on account of a broken propeller.'

It used to be thought that it was incorrect to use due to in this way, but modern
usage shows no hesitation in using these expressions interchangeably.

Note that these prepositions are sometimes used in cleft structures with it and the
verb to be:

• 'It is due to/on account of all his hard work over the winter months that he
has passed the exam with such a good grade.'
• 'It was owing to/because of traffic congestion on the road leading to the
airport that I missed my flight.'

The noun phrases which these prepositions introduce are often rather formal and it
may be more natural to use because in informal, conversational English. But
remember that because is a conjunction and must therefore be used to introduce a
subordinate clause of reason:

• 'We had to give up the idea of a boat trip because it started to pour with
rain.'
• 'Owing to the heavy rain, we had to give up the idea of a boat trip.'

In this final owing to example, there is a mismatch of formal and colloquial styles
and it does not sound quite right. In the following examples, however, the
prepositional phrase might be preferred as it is more succinct:

• 'Why are you so late?' 'On account of the traffic. Incredibly heavy!'
• 'Why are you so late?' 'Because the traffic was so incredibly heavy on the
road into London. '

even if, even though, even, even so

Damien van Raemdonck from Belgium writes:

Is there any difference in meaning between even if and even though?

For example, in the sentence:

Even if I had time, I wouldn't do it.

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Could even though be substituted and used instead of even if?

even if / even though

No, they are not interchangeable. If you want to use even though, the meaning
changes.

Even though means despite the fact that and is a more emphatic version of
though and although.

Even if means whether or not and has to do with the conditions that may apply.

Compare the following:

1. Even if I had two hours to spare for shopping, I wouldn't go out and buy a
suit.
2. Even though I had two hours to spare for shopping, I couldn't find the suit I
wanted.

The first example describes an unreal situation where we could substitute 'just
supposing' for even if and say: just supposing I had two hours to spare for
shopping, I still wouldn't go out and buy a suit.

The second example describes a real situation where the shopper spent two
hours looking for a particular kind of suit, but couldn't find it. When we attach even
to though in this way, we are in effect saying: you may find this surprising
but...!

Compare the following pairs of sentences:

• Even though he lost his job as Arts Minister, he continued to serve in the
government.
• Even if he loses his job as Arts Minister, I think he'll continue to serve in the
government.

• Even though the injury was serious, she decided to carry on playing. It was
an important match.
• I know she'll want to carry on playing, even if she gets injured. It's an
important match.

• Even though I've cleaned it and polished it, it still doesn't look new.
• Even if I clean and polish it, it still won't look new.

even

Note that even cannot be used as a conjunction like even if and even though
when it stands alone.

We cannot say:

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Even I've polished and cleaned it, it still doesn't look new.

When even stands alone, it functions as an adverb and means this is more than
or less than expected. Again, you are registering something that may be
surprising when you use it.

Study the following and note the position of even in these sentences:

• I can't dive. I can't even swim!


• She speaks so many languages. German, Polish, Russian, Arabic, French,
Spanish. She even speaks Catalan!

Even can also go at the beginning of a phrase when it refers to words or


expressions that we wish to emphasize, again because this is surprising information
for the listener:

• He works all through the year. Even at Christmas and New Year!
• I know his English isn't very good but even I can understand him!

even so

Even so is a prepositional phrase that can be used in a similar fashion to


introduce a fact that is surprising in the context of what has been said before. It
connects ideas between clauses or sentences:

• I know her English isn't very good, but even so I can understand her.
• The evidence was only circumstantial. Even so, he was convicted and spent
ten years in prison for a crime that he perhaps did not commit.

'Ever' and 'whenever'

Tiffany Teng from Singapore asks:

We know it is correct to say: ‘I have never been to London’. But for someone who
has been to London before, is it correct to say: ‘I have ever been to London’?

No. Ever means at any time, so it is inappropriate in the above sentence. Ever is
used mainly in questions.

Although it is usually associated with the present perfect, it can also be used with a
present, past or past perfect verb form or with future reference.

If the answer is no, we often use never in the reply, meaning ‘not at any time’.

If the answer is yes, we might add once or twice, etc, to indicate how many times
we have done whatever is being referred to. Compare the following:

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• 'Have you ever been to Ireland?' 'Yes, I’ve been there twice, once in 1983 and
again in 1995.'
• 'Did you ever meet Tom Robinson when you were at uni?' 'No, I never did.'
• 'My driving instructor asked me if I’d ever driven before.' 'I said, no, I never
had.'
• 'Do you ever go to the cinema?' 'No, I prefer to watch films on video or DVD.'
• 'Are you ever going to finish this book?' 'I’ll try and finish it over the summer.
I’ve no time now.'
• 'Will you ever marry me?' 'No, Jason I don’t think I ever will.'

As you can see from this last example, ever can be used in an affirmative sentence
with not as an alternative to the more usual 'never'. It can also be used in
affirmative sentences with if and with adverbs which express a negative idea, like
hardly. Remember the meaning of ever is always ‘at any time’. Compare the
following:

• 'If you ever change your mind, let me know. We’d love to have you on the
team.'
• 'If you are ever in London, be sure to come and see us.'
• 'We hardly ever go to the theatre. It’s too expensive.'
• 'I don’t think we shall ever see Jenny again now that she’s emigrated to
Australia.'

Remember also that ever can be tagged on to ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘which’, ‘who’
and ‘how’ to make the conjunctions wherever, whenever, whatever, whichever,
whoever and however, meaning 'no matter where’, ‘no matter when’, ‘no matter
what’, ‘no matter which’, ‘no matter who’ and ‘no matter how’. Compare the
following:

• 'We were playing ‘Hide and Seek’ and we couldn’t find him wherever we
looked.'
• 'If you have a problem, you can phone me up whenever you like – at any
time of the day.'
• 'Whatever advice I gave her, she would be sure not to take it.'
• 'Whichever path we took, we were unable to find our way out of the maze.'
• 'I shall sell my computer to whoever wants it.'
• 'However hard I try, I can never seem to learn vocabulary.'

Finally, ever is used in the comparative expression as ever and than ever, meaning
‘as/than at any time in the past’. Study the following two examples:

• 'You’ll have to work harder than ever today, if you want to finish this job
before it gets dark.'
• 'Jayne, it’s so long since I heard you sing, but you sing as beautifully as
ever!'

To + infinitive and for + verb-ing to express purpose

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Gloria Fulvia from Italy writes:

Do I say Schools are for learning or Schools are to learn? I would like to know
the grammar of to + infinitive and for + -ing form when I'm talking about
purpose. I greatly appreciate your explanation. Thanks.

for or to + infinitive: individual purpose

For is commonly used with nouns to express individual purpose:

• I popped into the supermarket for some apples on the way home.
(Not: I popped into the supermarket for buying some apples…)

• I stopped by at his office for a chat about our marketing strategy.


(Not: I stopped by at his office for having a chat about marketing.)

• I decided I would save up for a new computer.


(NOT: I decided I would save up for buying a new computer.)

If we want to express individual purpose with a verb pattern, we are obliged to


use to + infinitive:

• I stopped by at the supermarket to buy some apples on the way home.

• I popped into his office to have a chat about our marketing policy.

• I decided to save up to buy a new computer.

For + verb-ing: the purpose of an object

However, if we are talking about the purpose of an object or an action, we normally


use the for + verb-ing pattern. Note that this pattern commonly answers the
question: What are they (used) for? Compare the following:

• Schools are for educating children not for entertaining them.

• Schools are for learning. Life is for living.

• This kitchen knife is especially useful for slicing vegetables.

• What's this for? ~ It's for opening oysters. It's much better than a knife.

• What's this fifty pound note for? ~ It's for buying food for the weekend.

Note that when the subject of the sentence is a person rather than the thing
described, the to + infinitive pattern is also possible:

• I use this small knife to slice vegetables with.

• I use this gadget to open shellfish with.

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in order to / so as to

Note that, as an alternative to to + infinitive, we might use in order to, or so as


to, to express individual purpose when we want to be more formal or explicit
about the reason for doing something. All of these structures answer the question:
Why…?. Compare the following:

• I went to bed early in order to get enough sleep before the exam.

• After four weeks of exams, I went to the seaside to rest.

• After twenty days of exams, I went to the seaside for a rest.

• After all those exams, I went to the seaside so as to have a good rest.

The in order to and so as to structures are particularly useful with stative verbs
such as be, have, know, appear, and before negative inifinitives:

• So as not to appear foolish, I learnt all I could about the company before
going for the interview.

• I'm going to move to the city centre in order to be near where I work.

• In order not to have to commute, she bought a flat in the town centre.

• In order to know more about him, she studied his movements carefully.

however / nevertheless / moreover

Wutthichula Khunpatwattana from


Thailand writes:

I have a very simple question, but nobody has been able to make it clear to me. I
know that the words however and nevertheless are slightly different in meaning
and use. I would much appreciate it if you could make the differences clear to me.

However and nevertheless: to express a contrast

We can use either of the adverbs however or nevertheless to indicate that the
second point we wish to make contrasts with the first point. The difference is one of
formality: nevertheless is bit more formal and emphatic than however. Consider
the following:

• I can understand everything you say about wanting to share a flat with
Martha. However, I am totally against it.

• Rufus had been living in the village of Edmonton for over a decade.
Nevertheless, the villagers still considered him to be an outsider.

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Note that however and nevertheless are normally placed in initial position in a
sentence when contrasting two ideas. They can, however, also come in mid position
or end position:

• There will be no more pay increases this year. That is for sure. We have,
however, agreed to carry out a full review of pay and conditions. We have
agreed, nevertheless, to carry out a full review of pay and conditions.

• He's still able to get around quite well.


His whole life has been plagued by illness, however.
His whole life has been plagued by illness, nevertheless

Less formal equivalents of however and nevertheless would be even so, in spite
of this, yet or yet..still. These alternatives would be better suited to spoken English
discourse:

• She's really quite ill and has been for some time. Even so / In spite of this
she remains in good spirits.

• He has over a million pounds in his bank account. Yet he still gets up at six
every morning to go to work.

however and nevertheless: for counter-argument

If you need to write essays, it is also useful to use however, nevertheless,


nonetheless or even so to introduce the final part of a three-part structure:

* in the first part you might outline an argument, introducing it perhaps with it is
often said;

* in the second part you might indicate that there is supporting evidence using it is
true or certainly to introduce these ideas;

* in the third part introduce the counter-argument with however or one of the other
discourse markers listed above.

• It is said that water pollution is one of the greatest evils in this country.

• It is true that more and more factories are being built along this stretch of
the river and that a certain amount of waste will inevitably be discharged into
the river.

• However, in all the discussions that I have had with these firms'
representatives, I have not found one who does not have a responsible
attitude to environmental protection.

moreover: for adding

I often find when marking essays that moreover is used as an alternative to


however. But be careful here. It does not have the same meaning. Moreover is the
very formal equivalent of futhermore or in addition which would be the least

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formal of these three. These adverbs should be used to support or to add information
to what has already been said:

• The refugees are desperately short of food. They have very little shelter to
protect them from the winter winds that are now blowing. Furthermore,
they are desperately in need of medical supplies.

• She had noticed that there was a man sitting in the second row of the stalls
to her right who was observing her, rather than watching the play.
Moreover, he seemed to be smiling at her as if he recognised her.

in conclusion

Finally, remember that if you are writing essays, it is useful to introduce the final
paragraph with one of these expressions: to conclude, in conclusion, to sum up:

In conclusion, it is clear that pollution will continue to plague our planet for the
foreseeable future. However, if individuals and governments act responsibly, there
may come a day in the not too distant future when a more optimistic outlook is
justified.

clauses of purpose: 'in order to' and 'so that'

Gyonggu Shin from South Korea writes:

I would like you to talk about the difference between to + infinitive and in order to
+ infinitive.

In these two sentences:

a) I went to school to study.


b) I went to school in order to study.

(b) seems to be all right, though perhaps you do not say it.

to… / in order to…. / so as to….

You are right, Gyonggu. If we use in order to it sounds a bit more formal and
explicit than to by itself, but both are equally possible in both spoken and written
English.

They both convey exactly the same meaning when expressing purpose:

• To cut the tree down, I had to hack through the undergrowth first.
• In order to cut the tree down, I had to hack through the undergrowth first.

In order to is normal before a negative infinitive. We do not usually use to by itself


here:

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• In order not to oversleep, I set the alarm for seven o’clock.
• I walked very slowly across the room with the drinks in order not to spill
them.

We can also use so as to instead of in order to and it carries the same degree of
explicitness or formality:

• We moved house last year so as to be closer to our children and


grandchildren.
• I gave him a cheque in advance to ease his financial problems and so as not
to delay the building work.

Before stative verbs like know, seem, appear, understand, have, etc, it is more
usual to use in order to or so as to:

• I talked to them both for half an hour so as to have a thorough


understanding of the problem.
• I followed her around all day in order to know whether she had any intention
of meeting him.

So that.../ in order that ...

These structures are also frequently used to talk about purpose, although so that is
more common and less formal than in order that.

Note that these structures are normally used with (modal) auxiliary verbs.

Compare the following:

• He’s staying on in Australia for nine more months so that he can perfect his
English.
• He’s staying on in Australia for nine more months in order to perfect his
English.

• We’re going to leave by three so that we don’t get stuck in the rush-hour
traffic.
• We’re going to leave by three so as not to get stuck in the rush-hour traffic.

• Jamie had an afternoon nap so that he wouldn’t fall asleep at the concert
later.
• Jamie had an afternoon nap in order not to fall asleep at the concert later.

• In order that you may pass the exam, we recommend you read through all
your notes. (Very formal.)
• In order to pass the exam, we recommend you read through all your notes.
(Less formal.)

Note that in informal colloquial English, that may be omitted from the so that
construction.

Listen out for this variation, though I wouldn’t recommend that you use it:

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• I’ll come early so we can have a good chat before Denise arrives.
• I’ve bought a video camera so I can film the children as they grow up.
• We shall wear warm clothes when we go camping in October so we don’t get
cold.

David Cho from South Korea writes:

'I have difficulty in using 'in which'.

Sometimes I understand it, sometimes not. It is one of the relative clauses, I think.

Please explain more about relative clauses such as 'of which', 'by which', 'on
which', 'where', etc.

relative clauses

We use relative clauses and relative pronouns like who, which, where to
introduce them in order to identify people and things or to give more information
about them.

• That boy who is standing at the bus stop over there is my little brother.
• My new camera which I bought on the internet last week is broken.
• The High Street jeweller's which bought and sold silver and where you could
get a good price by bargaining has closed down.

where / in which / at which

In which and at which are sometimes used as more precise sounding alternatives
to where to introduce relative clauses after nouns referring to place:

• Near where I live there's a wood where you can find woodpeckers.
• Near where I live there's a wood in which you can find woodpeckers.
• The fancy-dress party, where the men all turned up as gangsters, was
held in Manhatten.
• The fancy-dress party, at which the men all turned up as gangsters, was
held in Manhatten.

when / on which

On which is sometimes used as a more precise sounding alternative to when to


introduce relative clauses after nouns referring to time:

• The day when I'm forced to give up riding will be a sad day for me.
• The day on which I'm forced to give up riding will be a sad day for me.

position of prepositions

Note that in questions the preposition is more frequently placed at the end of the

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clause. It can also be placed before the relative pronoun where it sounds more
formal:

• In which street does he live?


• Which street does he live in?

• He lives in the street where all the houses are surrounded by high fences.
• He lives in the street in which the houses are surrounded by high fences

• For which organisation does he work?


• Which organisation does he work for?

• He works for a spy network, about which I know nothing.


• He works for a spy network (which) I know nothing about.

Note from examples above and below that putting the preposition at the end of the
clause is usually also possible in statements:

• The people with whom he worked have all been arrested. (Formal)
• The people (who) he worked with have all been arrested. (Informal)

• This is the bedroom in which he was murdered. (Formal)


• This is the bedroom (that) he was murdered in. (Informal)

Note from these examples, that in statements when the preposition is placed at the
end of the clause, we can use that instead of who or which or we can omit the
relative pronoun completely!

preposition + relative pronoun

A wide range of prepositions are often used in prepositional structures with relative
pronouns who and which to introduce relative clauses. In most cases, the
prepositions retain their original meaning. Compare the following:

• That post marks the beginning of the mined area, beyond which it is
inadvisable to go.

• In the clearing lay the badly injured soldier, above whom birds of prey were
circling.

• We passed a giant toadstool in the forest, under which fairies were sitting.

• They had collected the sap from the sugar maple trees, from which maple
syrup is manufactured.

• Before us we could see a forest orchid of which there are many varieties.

• An Austrian naturalist, with whom I worked closely in the Eighties,


discovered this particular orchid.

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Note that when the relative pronoun is placed immediately after the preposition
we can't use who instead of whom, and we can't use that or zero pronoun
either.

Ken Peng from Malaysia writes:

What are linking adverbs - please give me some examples - and are they also
called conjunctive adverbs?

Xiao Ling from China writes:

I'm having difficulty distinguishing some linking devices like however,


nevertheless, whereas, etc. Would you please explain to me how to use those
terms correctly?

Linking adverbs

Linking adverbs are adverbs that are used to link ideas or clauses in spoken
discourse or written text. They could also be called conjunctive adverbs in so far as
they perform the same sort of function as conjunctions.

We use a very wide variety of linking adverbs. Some are more commonly used in
formal written English, whilst others are more characteristic of informal, spoken
language. Here are some of the most common.

Yet / but still

Yet and but still are used to link contrasting ideas together. But still is very
informal, yet is semi-formal. In the examples below, note how different meaning and
usage is when they are employed as adverbs, adding information to the verb, and as
linking adverbs, contrasting ideas:

• Haven't you finished that work yet? Come on. Get a move on!

• I have yet / still to see an English orchid as beautiful as those in the rain
forests of Brazil.

• I've cautioned him three times already for arriving late for work. But he still
turned up ten minutes late again this morning.

• He claims he is a vegetarian, (and) yet he eats everything my mother puts in


front of him.

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Note that yet as a linking adverb can only be placed in front position in the clause.
Still can be placed before or immediately after the subject: but he still… / but still
he….

As well / too

As well and too are linking adverbs, meaning also or in addition, which would
be a more formal equivalent. Again, note the difference in meaning and usage when
they are employed as adverbs modifying the adjective or adding information to the
verb, and as linking adverbs, meaning in addition:

• This T-shirt is too small for me. I need a larger size.

• I certainly can't play the piano as well as she does. Katerina is good enough
to be a concert pianist. I play quite well, but not as well.

• My birthday's on the sixth of June. ~ That's funny. My birthday's on the sixth


of June too / as well.

• We're all going to Cornwall for our holidays this year. Oh, and Jeremy's
coming as well / too.

Note that too and as well as linking adverbs are normally placed in end position
in the clause, although in a more formal style too can be placed immediately after
the subject:

• You like Beethoven. I too am fond of Beethoven's music.

However / nevertheless

As linking adverbs, however and nevertheless are used to emphasize a contrast


with what has been said or written before which may appear surprising to the
listener or reader:

• It is clear that prices have been rising steadily throughout this year. It is,
however, unlikely that they will continue to rise as quickly next year.

• I would be the first to admit that prices have risen sharply this year.
Nevertheless, they are unlikely to rise as sharply next year.

• The politician was confident of success. His advisers were not so certain,
however.

• He always remains cheerful. But his life has been beset by constant illness,
nevertheless.

Note that however and nevertheless reflect more formal usage and that both can
come in front, mid or end position in the clause.

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Whereas / while

Whereas and while are both conjunctions which we use as linking devices to
balance ideas or contrasting points in a more formal style of English. As
conjunctions they can only come at front position in the clause

• It rains quite a lot in England in the summer months whereas rain in Spain
in the summer is a rare occurrence.

• While I don't mind you having the occasional glass of wine, drinking too
much is not in order.

• A less formal equivalent which might be used in more informal contexts


would be the connecting phrase: on the other hand.

• Perhaps we should spend the whole week under canvas. On the other hand,
it may rain a lot and then we could return home earlier.

A question from Paul Zaffaroni in Mexico:


Several years ago I heard this dialogue in a movie: "I will never forget you." The
other person replied: "nor I you." I have never heard this kind of reply before, but I
know it is grammatically correct. Could you please tell me how you would classify it?

Karen Adams answers:


This is a really interesting question. But before we begin I do need to say that it
sounds as if Paul has been watching a very old English film, because the phrase “nor
I you” isn’t really something you would hear nowadays in British English.

However, the question does give us a very clear example of something which is very
common in English. It’s an example of ellipses. Ellipses is missing out what you, the
speaker and the listener already know. In Paul’s example, we have “I will never
forget you” and “nor I you.”

The person who is answering really means “nor will I ever forget you.”

However, both the listener and the speaker know that this information is shared so
they don’t need to say it. You can find much more common examples of ellipses in
everyday language, for example, in the sentence: “I drove to work, and then I
parked the car in the car park.” You wouldn’t really expect to hear “I” said twice. So
normally you would hear “I drove to work and parked in the car park.” We miss out
the second “I” because we already know that it’s there.

Similarly, “I listen to the news on the radio and I listened to the drama programme
on the radio.” You would normally say “I listened to the news and the drama
programme on the radio.” This gives us all of the new information, but it misses out
the things which we know already. In this case, “I listened” so “I listened to the news
and the drama programme on the radio.”

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We can think of lots of other examples if we can think of the example of love and
forgetting, you may hear in a film, for example, “I will always love you.” And the
person who’s listening may say “and I you.” What they mean is, “and I will always
love you.” But they don’t need to repeat the words which the other speaker has
already said.

Ellipses also feature in sentences where we know exactly what the speaker is saying,
and they may drop off a final word. So for example: “he is as tall as I am.” You may
actually hear someone say “he is as tall as I.” We don’t need the “am” as it doesn’t
add any new information.

We try to be as economical as possible when we speak, using only the words which
will give the listener the information which he or she needs. Therefore, if we’re
repeating information or adding in extra words which don’t give any more
information, we tend to drop them out. This is what ellipses are.

One important thing to remember, however, is that sometimes, in our examples,


ellipses can sound a little old fashioned. So in our example “he is as tall as I”
normally in British English you would hear, these days “he’s as tall as me.” However,
grammatically, “he is as tall as I” is the more correct.

And in Paul’s example “I will never forget you”…“nor I you” - this is something you’re
actually unlikely to hear these days in British English. Probably the person answering
would say “me neither.” However, grammatically, “nor I you” is the more correct.

Do try to listen out for ellipses in everyday language.

In the sentence: Today we learned that the university is going to close the
math department it is necessary to include that, but in the sentence The work I
do is very important it is not included. Shouldn't it be: The work that I do...?

There are a number of instances in English, Saulo, where it is possible, even


desirable, to omit that.

that as conjunction with reporting verbs

In your first example sentence, that is used as a conjunction, joining two parts of
the sentence. After verbs like learned, discovered, found (out), knew, felt,
thought, it is quite natural to omit that, especially in informal speech:

I discovered Julian had borrowed my car without my permission.

I felt he was wrong to do this, but he thought it would be all right.

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After the more common reporting verbs, (e.g. say, tell) it is also entirely natural to
omit that in informal speech:

I told him I'd be back by ten o'clock but he said he needed me here by nine.

After certain verbs (e.g. replied, shouted) that cannot be omitted and it is not
normally dropped after nouns:

The Dean of the Humanities Faculty informed the students that the drama dept was
going to close.

He left a message on my voice mail that he was leaving immediately for Vienna.

I replied (to his message) that he should remain in Britain.

He shouted at me that he was fed up with living in Britain.

omitting that in two-word conjunctions

There are a number of two-word conjunctions where that may be omitted. These
include so that and now that which we can use to talk about purpose and result
and providing that and provided that which we can use to talk about imposing
conditions.

In a more formal style we may prefer to retain that, but in an informal style it is
often omitted. Compare the following:

We intend to send her to Brazil so that she can perfect her Portuguese.

I spent Easter with Anneke in Switzerland so I could learn to ski.

Now that we've joined the EU, prices are sure to rise.

Now the exams are over I can lie in bed all morning.

Provided that / providing that you sign the contract before we join the EU, you won't
have to pay VAT.

You can borrow my DVD player, providing / provided you return it on Monday.

omitting that as relative pronoun

In your second example sentence, Saulo, that is used as a relative pronoun,


introducing a relative clause. When that is the object in a relative clause, as in your
example, we normally leave it out:

The work (that / which) she does for this company is much appreciated.

The representatives of the company (that / who) I met in Portugal were very helpful.

Note from the above examples that that can be used to refer to both things and
people, whereas which as a relative pronoun can only refer to things and who can
only refer to people.

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Note also that when the relative pronoun is the subject of a relative clause, it has to
be included. It cannot be omitted then:

Menorca is one of the Balearic Islands that / which lies to the north east of Mallorca.

We have a number of friends who / that have built holiday homes on the island.

Tamas Hoczat from Hungary writes:


I’m learning about relative clauses. I’ve got two sentences:

• At the end of the street there is a path leading to the river.


• At the end of the street there is a path that leads to the river.

Are both of them correct? Which one should I use? Thank you for helping me.

Both are perfectly correct and sound perfectly natural in this example, so use either
or both. Generally speaking, the participial clause, starting with -ing or -ed, is
more characteristic of written English, as it allows us to say the same thing as a
relative clause, starting with who, which or that, but with fewer words.

Participial clauses are also frequently heard in radio and TV news broadcasts (as
well as newspaper articles and reports) as they permit a lot of information to be
compressed into a limited amount of time. This is one reason why they are often
difficult for a learner of English to follow.

The reporting of The Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs’ arrival back in the UK a couple
of weeks ago as he stepped off the plane after 35 years on the run in Australia and
Brazil was reported as follows:

"The only glimpse of Biggs, dressed in blue shirt and green sweater, lasted only
a few seconds. Lawyers acting for Biggs have said they will seek a hearing before
the Court of Appeal".

A participial clause, starting with –ed or past participle, is used instead of a


relative pronoun plus passive voice. Study these further examples:

• Food sold (= which is sold) in this supermarket is of the highest quality.


• Anyone found touching (= who is found ) these priceless exhibits will be
escorted out of the museum.
• The tailback on the A34 caused ( = which was caused / which had been
caused) by the head-on collision stretched for over 20 miles in both
directions.
• It took the ambulances called ( = that were called / that had been called) to
the scene over half an hour to get through.

A participial clause, starting with -ing is used instead of a relative pronoun plus
active verb, continuous or simple.

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• The train now arriving (= which is now arriving) at platform 1 is the 6.36
from Newcastle.
• There are delays for people travelling to work (= who are travelling to
work) on Southern Region trains this morning.
• Anyone touching (= who touches ) these priceless exhibits will be
escorted out of the museum.
• The police impounded all the vehicles belonging to (= which belonged to)
his brother.
• The boy driving (= who was driving) the BMW was underage, unlicensed
and over the limit.

Note that when we are talking about a single completed action in a defining relative
clause, we cannot use an active participle:

• The girl who fell down the cliff broke her leg.
(NOT: The girl falling down cliff…)

What is the difference in meaning between these two sentences:


Seeing an accident ahead, I stopped my car.
Having seen an accident ahead, I stopped my car.

There is not very much difference in meaning between these two pairs of sentences.
Sometimes we can use an -ing or past participle clause with similar meanings, as
here, although use of the past participle form emphasises that the first action has
been completed before the second action begins. Thus, we could paraphrase these
two sentences as follows:

Having seen an accident ahead, I stopped my car. I noticed that there had been an
accident ahead and stopped my car.

Seeing an accident ahead, I stopped my car. When I saw the accident ahead, I
stopped my car.

In general, we tend not to use participle clauses so much in speech. They are too
formal. In speech we would probably say:

I saw an accident ahead, so I stopped my car.

However, in written English participial clauses can be very useful. As you can see
from the examples above, when the subject in the participle clause is the same as
the participle in the main clause, they enable us to say the same thing, but with
fewer words.

participial clauses = adverbial clauses

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Participial clauses often express condition, reason, cause, result or time in a
similar way to full adverbial clauses, only more economically. Compare the following:

Used sparingly, this face cream should last you until Christmas. If you use it
sparingly, this face cream should last you until Christmas.
Having taken the wrong train, I found myself in Bath, not Bristol. Because I had
taken the wrong train, I found myself in Bath, not Bristol.
Passing the theatre on my right, I walked up the steps and could see all the lights on
the Thames ahead of me. After I had passed the theatre on my right, I walked up
the steps and could see all the lights on the Thames ahead of me.

Note from the above examples that the -ing form participle is used to talk about
past, as well as present events, e.g.:

Talking to you I always feel that my problems will be solved.


By talking to you, I always feel that my problems will be solved.

participle clauses following conjunctions and prepositions

Participle clauses, with -ing particularly, can be used after various conjunctions and
prepositions, such as: when, while, before, after, on, without, instead of. Note
the following examples:

Remember to take all your belongings with you when leaving the train.
I sprained my ankle while playing tennis.
Before entering the mosque you must take off your shoes.
After taking everything into consideration, we decided to sell the house.
After having driven 300 miles across country, I arrived to find the house had been
sold.
On hearing that my sister was planning to marry him, I decided to leave the flat to
her.
Without wanting to seem rude, I must tell you that you are ungrateful.
Instead of listening to my advice, she walked out without saying goodbye.

Note from the above examples that the participle clause normally, but not invariably,
comes in front of the main clause.

negative participle clauses

Negative participle clauses are also possible, in which case not normally comes
before the -ing form or past participle:

Not having had a shower for two days, I was desperate to get to the bathroom.
Whilst not wishing to appear impolite, I must ask you to leave so that I can make a
private telephone call.

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having been + past participle

Note that this passive structure can also be used in participle clauses as an
alternative to a since-clause:

Having been invited to the party by Prince William himself, we could hardly refuse to
go. ( = Since we had been invited…)
Having been deprived of food for over twenty days, the castaway was fed
intravenously at first.
Having been unemployed for over two years, I found it difficult to get work.

'since' as time preposition, conjunction and adverb

Is it correct to use the present perfect after since, for example:

Mr and Mrs Smith have been quarrelling since they’ve been married. They’ve been
happy since they’ve lived here.

I was taught that since introduces a date, not a period of time, and no grammar has
given me a clear explanation on that question. Thank you.

Since is used in a variety of different ways, both with the present perfect and with
other tenses.

'since' as preposition

When it is used as a preposition to introduce a date or a specific time in the past, it


is normally used with present perfect and past perfect tenses. It refers to a period of
time starting at a particular point in the past and continuing up till now (present
perfect) or up until another point in the past (past perfect). Compare the following:

I haven’t seen my younger brother since 14 July 1998.


They’ve been on strike since the beginning of April and there’s no sign of it ending.
I hadn’t visited the area since my childhood days and I noticed last summer how
everything had changed.

'since' as conjunction

Since can also be used as a conjunction, as in your examples, Michele, introducing


a clause. The tense in the since-clause can be past or perfect, depending on
whether it refers to a point in the past or to a period of time leading up to the
present or, in the case of the past perfect, leading up to a point in the past.

Since as a conjunction sometimes combines with ever to make ever since. Note
also in these examples that present and past tenses are possible in the main
clause as well as the present perfect:

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We’ve been patronising this pub (ever) since we’ve been living in this village.
We’ve been patronising this pub (ever) since we moved to this village.

Henry’s been teetotal since we got married.


Henry’s been teetotal since we’ve been married.

It’s only a week since I met him, but we’re very much in love.
It’s only a week since we’ve known each other, but we’re very much in love.

They’re a lot happier since they separated.


They’re a lot happier since they’ve been living apart.

You’re looking much better since you came out of hospital.


You’re looking much better since you’ve been out of hospital.

It was in the summer of 2001 that I saw her and it was over 20 years since we had
last met.
'Do you realize,' I said, 'it’s over 20 years since we last met?'

'since then' / 'ever since'

Note that since can also be used as an adverb. Since then refers to a particular
point in time and ever since to a period of time. Which one we use depends on
whether we want to focus attention on the point in time or on the continuing period
of time. Compare the following:

She left home in 1992 and hasn’t contacted us since then. The company started
losing money in 2002 and has been in serious decline since then.

The company started losing money in 2002 and has been in serious decline ever
since. I took my final exams five years ago and have been working as a doctor ever
since.

Use of 'so' and 'such'

Savino Carrella from Naples asks:

Could you kindly tell me whether the use of so in the following sentence is correct:
'Miles looked older than his brother, revealing so a strange maturity.' Here so should
stand for 'in this way'.

If so here means 'in this way' or 'thus', it would normally come immediately after the
main clause:

• 'Miles looked older than his brother, so revealing a strange maturity.' ('so' =
less formal)
• 'Miles looked older than his brother, thus revealing a strange maturity.'
('thus' = more formal)

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However, if you are using so or such for emphasis to mean 'to a very great degree
or extent', their position immediately before the adjective is correct.

But take care using these two forms. It has to be such before a noun or before an
adjective plus noun. So it will be:

• 'Miles looked older than his brother, revealing such a strange maturity.'

So is obviously used in a similar way, but is placed before adjectives standing alone
or before adverb plus adjective, thus:

• 'She was so indescribably beautiful that we couldn't take our eyes off her.'

Remember:

such + noun
so + adjective
such + adjective + noun
so + adverb + adjective

The noun with such is normally preceded by the indefinite article:

• 'We had such a good time at Henry's party.'


• 'I've been working far too hard today and I've got such a headache now.'
• 'She really embarrassed me. She is such a fool.'

Occasionally, in certain expressions, when the noun has a gradeable meaning, the
indefinite article is dropped:

• 'Such lovely countryside (around here)!'


• 'Such awful weather (these days)!'
• 'We had such fun at Henry's party!'
• 'I don't know how you have such patience (when dealing with such awkward
customers).'

Frequently heard examples of so in this sense might include:

• 'I'm so glad you are here!'


• 'He was so pleased to see her.'
• 'Don't go so fast! Slow down!'
• 'What's so funny about that?'
• 'I'm so tired! It's as if I haven't slept for a week.'
• 'I love you so much!'

You will already have noticed from at least one of the above examples that so and
such are often followed by 'that'-clauses suggesting result or consequence. Note
that when plural nouns are used after such, the article is, of course, omitted.

• 'I'm so glad (that) you could come!'

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• 'It had been so hot on the journey (that) we had to drink a litre of water
when we arrived home.'
• 'There was so much to do on that holiday (that) nobody ever got bored.'
• 'They were such good swimmers (that) they had no difficulty swimming
across the fast-flowing river.'
• 'She prepared such good meals (that) no one ever thought of going out to
eat.'
• 'I've got such a high temperature (that) I'm hoping (that) my husband will
drive me straight to the surgery when he gets home from work.'

There is one exception to the general rule as set out above and that is that only so
can be used with indefinite determiners much and many and it is more usual with
little and few when these are followed by a noun. We therefore have the new
pattern:

so + determiner + noun

• 'So many sun-worshippers had crowded on to the beach that there was no
space left for my towel.'
• 'I'm sure there will be so much noise in the restaurant that I shan't be able to
hear what anybody is saying.'
• 'I had so little rest over the weekend that I couldn't go to work on Monday
morning.'
• 'There were so few leaves on the tree that it was pointless to try to shelter
from the rain beneath it.'

You cannot say: 'such many sun-worshippers', or 'such much noise' and it would be
unusual to say: 'such few leaves' or 'such little rest'.

Finally compare:

• 'Such little people!' ('Little' here is used as an adjective meaning 'small'.)


• 'So few people!' ('Few' here is used as a determiner meaning 'not very
many'.)

You will already have noticed from at least one of the above examples that 'so' and
'such' are often followed by that-clauses suggesting result or consequence. Note that
when plural nouns are used after 'such', the article is, of course, omitted. 'I'm so
glad (that) you could come!' 'It had been so hot on the journey (that) we had to
drink a litre of water when we arrived home.' 'There was so much to do on that
holiday (that) nobody ever got bored.' 'They were such good swimmers (that) they
had no difficulty swimming across the fast-flowing river.' 'She prepared such good
meals (that) no one ever thought of going out to eat.' 'I've got such a high
temperature (that) I'm hoping (that) my husband will drive me straight to the
surgery when he gets home from work.'

Though
I have a little question about though. I'm not sure of its many meanings.
Sometimes it is in the middle of a sentence and sometimes at the end of a
sentence and I get confused.

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George Pickering answers:
Thank you Raphael for your interesting question.

Yes, it's true, you can put though at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of
sentences.

We can use though, and although, or even though at the beginning of a subordinate
clause to mark a contrast with the idea in the main clause. For example:
'Even though he didn't have much time, he stopped to help the old lady.'

We can change the order of the two clauses and say:


'He stopped to help the old lady, even though he didn't have much time.'

In these examples, though means 'despite the fact that'.

We can also put though at the end of the contrasting clause. For example:
'I still find English hard to understand; I can understand more than last year,
though!'

When placed at the end of a sentence like this, though means 'nevertheless' or
'however'.

Nguyen Tu Thang from Vietnam writes: Could you please explain the use of the word
though in sentences where its role seems to be nothing but an added word used at
the end of sentences in conversation?

Alex from Peru writes: Is the meaning the same when we use even though and
even when? I'm quite confused about this.

Though can be used both as a conjunction and as an adverb

though as conjunction

We usually think of though as a conjunction as the more informal alternative of


although, introducing a subordinate clause of contrast. When we use though or
although, they introduce an idea that makes the statement in the main clause seem
surprising:

(Al)though I was late for the meeting, I decided to go nevertheless

(Al)though the sausages were past their sell-by date, I ate them and didn't become
ill.

even though

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Note that we use even though as an alternative to though or although when the
ideas expressed appear more extreme or surprising::

Even though the earthquake occurred ten days ago, the authorities believe it may
still be possible to find survivors under the rubble.

though as adverb

In your definition of the word, Nguyen, though is used as an adverb with a meaning
similar to however. Again it indicates a contrast. Used in this way, it occupies either
mid or end position in a sentence and makes the previous statement or idea seem
less true or appealing:

I thought Steve's essay was very good. ~ Yes, he made some good points and it was
good in parts. It was a bit repetitive, though.

I drove that new convertible the other day. Very impressive. ~ Isn't it rather
expensive, though?

It seems he's still suspected of the crime. His main defence, though, is that he spent
the evening with his girlfriend and she seems totally credible.

even if / even when / even though

When we use even before if, when and though, it has the effect of making the ideas
expressed appear more extreme or surprising. Even if is used for emphasising that
although something might happen, the situation will not change:

I shall continue to work from 6 a.m. till midnight, even if it kills me.

Even if I became a millionaire, I would not stop working.

Even when is used for emphasising that although something happens on a regular
basis, the situation does not change:

She checks her text messages when you least expect her to, even when she's
driving.

He never stops talking and goes on and on even when other people are talking.

Even though, as we have seen, introduces a fact that makes the main statement in
your sentence seem very surprising:

Even though she has a degree in business administration, all her business ventures
have failed.

They made me feel as if I was one of the family, even though I'd never met any of
them before.

even so

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Note that even if, even when and even though are conjunctions, linking two
clauses. Even so like though, meaning however, is an adverb and is used for
introducing a statement that seems surprising after what has been said before.

This time he has kept all the promises he made. Even so, I don't really trust him.

I know you know this piece of music off by heart, but, even so, you should follow the
score.

Unless and otherwise

Haja Najubudeen from Dubai writes:

Please help me to use unless and otherwise.


Does unless have to be used with a past participle in a sentence?

unless = if not

Unless is similar in meaning to if not and can be used instead of if not in certain
types of conditional sentences. We normally use unless with present tenses when
we are referring to the future:

You won't get in to see the show, if you don't have reserved seats. OR:
Unless you have reserved seats, you won't get in to see the show.

Let's play tennis on Saturday, if it's not raining. OR:


Let's play tennis on Saturday, unless it's raining.

I'll see you at the gym this evening, if you're not too tired. OR:
I'll see you at the gym this evening, unless you're too tired.

if not

However, we cannot use unless in questions:

• What will you do if you don't pass those exams?


• If I don't pass those exams, I won't be able to study in Australia
• I won't be able to study in Australia, unless I pass those exams.

And we cannot use unless with would to talk about unreal future situations:

• If he didn't take everything so seriously, he would be much easier to work


with.
• If he weren't so bad-tempered, I would help him to get the work done

We cannot use unless with would have to talk about unreal situations in the past
either:

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• If you hadn't driven so recklessly, you wouldn't have had this accident.
• If you hadn't had that last glass of wine, this would never have happened.

unless

We have to use unless, and not if not, if we are introducing an idea as an


afterthought:

• I shan't bother to go to the meeting at the school tonight - unless you want
to go, of course.

Note that in written English, as regards punctuation, the afterthought is usually


preceded by a dash.

unless + past participle

Unless can be used with a past participle in a reduced clause, Haja, when you
choose to omit the subject words and the auxiliary verbs within the brackets in the
examples below:

• Don't shut down these computers unless (you are) instructed to do so. Just
log off.
• Unless (he is) given sufficient warning of the consequences, he will continue
to misbehave.

However, this often makes the language produced sound rather formal and in spoken
English we would normally retain subject words and auxiliary verbs.

otherwise = apart from this / if not

Otherwise is used as a linking adverb and has the meaning of apart from this or if
we disregard this:

• The sea was very rough and we couldn't swim all week, but otherwise /
apart from this we enjoyed ourselves.
• They all suffered from hypothermia. Otherwise, / Apart from that, they
were OK.

It also has the meaning of if not, in the sense of if this does not happen, or if
this were not the case, when it is used as a linking device:

• Remember to use sun cream with high protection when you go down to the
beach. Otherwise, / If you don't, you'll get sunburnt within half an hour.
• Look, we really must hurry. Otherwise, / If we don't, we'll miss the train.
• He must be quite intelligent. Otherwise, he wouldn't have got into
university. / If he wasn't, he wouldn't have got into university.

What or that? and noun-verb collocations

284
Maria Grazia Rinieri from Italy writes:

I have two questions. Firstly, is it a mistake to say all what I have done instead of
all that I have done?

Secondly, I would like to know if it's possible to write: students gave their
feedback on the arguments treated by the teacher, or must I use subject or
topic instead of arguments and the verb dealt with instead of treated?

What or that?

Yes, it is a mistake to say: All what I have done…. What cannot be used as a relative
pronoun coming after a noun or pronoun. We have to use the relative pronoun that
and say: All that I have done…. Or, if that is the object of the relative clause as in
this example, we can simply omit it, use zero pronoun instead and say: All I've
done…

• All (that) I've done is to offer to help him with his homework. I haven't done
his homework for him.

Here are some more examples. Note that that cannot be omitted if it is the subject
of the relative clause as in the last example below:

• Everything (that) you ordered is now in the shop and can be collected.
• The paintings (that) I bought are now hanging on the walls in my house.
• The only thing that keeps me awake at night is wondering if the house is
properly insured.

What can, however, be used to introduce a clause where it combines the function of
noun and relative pronoun and means that which or the thing(s) that:

• What I did was help him with his homework, not do it for him.
• What he does in his free time doesn't interest me.
• I don't remember what time he went to bed last night. (what = the time
at which)
• I have no idea about what happened after I left.

Noun-verb collocations

In your example, Maria, of students gave their feedback on certain arguments, the
verb which best collocates with arguments here is raised, so the sentence would
read:

• The students gave their feedback on the arguments raised by their teacher.

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Collocation (or co-location if you like) refers to the way in which some words
regularly occur together. We do not usually treat arguments. We normally
would not say that. Instead, we raise arguments or discuss arguments.

However, if we are talking about wounds or injuries, these are the things we
treat. We might also treat a topic or subject if we are writing an essay as an
alternative to dealing with it.

• His injuries were serious and could only properly be treated in hospital.

• How do you propose to treat this topic when you are writing about
Napoleon?

In language learning, it's very important to develop an understanding of words that


regularly occur together. Test your knowledge of these noun-verb collocations in the
text below. One of the alternatives listed is the best fit or the normal collocation.
Choose that one.

• The female crocodile usually assembles/builds/manufactures/erects her


nest on the banks of a river. She normally lays/releases/drops/spawns
about fifty eggs.
She then closes/shuts down/seals/binds the nest for protection against
predators. Provided the nests are not
molested/assaulted/bothered/disturbed, the baby crocodiles proceed/
hatch/appear/arise from the eggs after about twelve weeks.

Now scroll down the page to check your selections

Crocodiles, birds and insects all build their nests.


They lay their eggs.
And crocodiles seal their nests for protection against predators.
If they are unlucky, their nests might be disturbed by predators. But if they are
lucky, the baby crocodiles will hatch from the eggs after twelve weeks.

Hello, I am Vaibhav. I am calling from India, and my question is: 'When do we use
'which' and when do we use 'that'? What are the constraints, what are the conditions
under which we use these two words?

Catherine Walter answers:


OK - that's a good question. I'm assuming that you mean in what we call relative
clauses since this is where the confusion usually occurs.

Now, in a relative clause, we can use 'who' or 'whom' for people, and 'which' for
things. So we can say: 'the man who came to dinner', or 'the bridge which crosses
the Ganges up river from here'. So: 'the man who came to dinner', 'the bridge which
crosses the Ganges'.

Now, 'that' is less formal, and it can be used for both people and things in some
relative clauses. So I could say, less formally: 'the man that came to dinner', 'the

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bridge that crosses the Ganges'.

But, 'that' can only be used in what we call identifying relative clauses and those are
clauses where you need the information to understand what you're talking about.
Those were both identifying relative clauses, but if I said: 'Mr Swan, who came to
dinner', I don't need 'who came to dinner' to define Mr Swan, I've already identified
him. So, you can not use 'that' in that sentence, and you can not use 'that' if you are
talking about: 'Waterloo Bridge, which crosses the Thames up river from here'. So,
that's when you use 'which' for identifying relative clauses and for non-identifying
relative clauses, but you can only use 'that' informally for identifying relative clauses.
Is that clear?

Vaibhav responds:
Can we take certain examples for this, like, there is a group of presidents who are
meeting in the conference: 'the president who is from India', 'the president which is
from India', 'the president that is from India' - which one is correct?

Catherine Walter replies:


OK - you can't use 'which' for a president, because a president is a person. You can
use 'who' or 'that'. If there are several presidents and you want to talk about 'the
president that is coming there', instead of 'the president that's not coming there'.
But if by saying 'the president' it's clear that you mean only one person, then you
can not use 'that'. You have to say 'who': 'the president who is coming to the
conference'.

which or that?

I would be very grateful if you could explain how to choose between which and that
in a sentence. This is a great problem for me. Thanks in advance.

That and which can be used interchangeably in most circumstances, Isabelle. That
can even be used as an alternative to who. Let's take a closer look.

who / which / that

Who, which and that are all relative pronouns and are used to introduce relative
clauses. They can be used as the subjects of verbs in relative clauses. As relative
pronouns, who can only refer to people and which can only refer to things. But that
can refer to both people and things. That when it refers to people denotes an
informal style of English. Compare the following:

Who is the woman wearing dark glasses who arrived five minutes ago?

'The Office' is a TV sit-com which / that is not suitable for young children.

Do you know anyone that could help me design web pages? - I know a German web
artist who designed web pages for Lufthansa.

Note that who, which and that replace he, she, it and they and enable us to join
two clauses which would otherwise be separate.

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Who is the woman wearing dark glasses? She arrived five minutes ago.

'The Office' is a British TV sit-com. It is not suitable for young children.

I know a German web artist. He designed web pages for Lufthansa.

Who, which and that can also be used in a similar way as the objects of verbs in
relative clauses in which case they replace him, her, it and them. We can use
whom instead of who as an object relative pronoun in a more formal style of
English. Compare the following:

She's now living with the musician that / who she met at the pop concert.

She's now living with the musician whom she met at the pop concert.

She's now living with the musician. She met him at the pop concert.

Where are the Radiohead CDs which / that your brother borrowed last week?

Where are the Radiohead CDs? Your brother borrowed them last week.

Note that when who, which and that function as object relative pronouns, they are
often left out of the sentence altogether:.

She's now living with the musician she met at the pop concert.

Where are the Radiohead CDs your brother borrowed last week?

that rather than which

After quantifiers like everything, something, all and after the thing… we normally use
that rather than which:

Everything that is in this room once belonged to Elton John.

The thing that amazes me is how wide his interests were.

All that will be left after the auction are a few candlestick holders.

which but not that

Where the relative pronoun refers to the whole of the previous clause, and not just
to the noun that precedes it, that cannot be used. In these instances, we have to
use which:

The explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes ran in seven marathons in five different continents
recently which is amazing for a man of 59 who had a heart attack six months ago.

Here which replaces this:

288
The explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes ran in seven marathons in five different continents
recently. This is amazing for a man of 59 who had a double heart bypass operation
six months ago.

which but not that in non-identifying relative clauses

In non-identifying relative clauses, which usually serve to provide additional, non-


essential information and are separated by commas, which is the relative pronoun
that is normally used. That would be unusual.

Compare the following pairs of identifying and non-identifying relative clauses:

Have you got any pieces for the guitar that are easy to play?

I lent him The Rain in Spain and Japanese Folk Song, which are easy to play.

The last symphony (that) he composed was the ninth symphony.

The ninth symphony, which was composed in the final year of his life, was not
performed until after this death

How do we know whether we should say 'in which', 'at which', 'of which' or 'for
which'?

Karen Adams answers:


Thanks very much for your question Annie, it actually gives us two questions in one.

So let’s look at the first one – the prepositions that you’ve given us are in which, at
which, of which, for which – which one do we choose? Basically, our choice of
preposition is governed by the verb that relates to it. So, for example, if we take the
phrase “in which” - we might say “That’s the film in which I’m interested.” Another
way of saying this is “That’s the film I’m interested in.” It’s the verb “interested” that
tells us we need to use the preposition “in”.

Similarly, with “at which” – “that’s the university at which I studied.” Another way of
saying this is “That’s the university which I studied at.” It’s the verb “study” that tells
us we need to use the preposition “at”.

However, in written English, we try to avoid putting the preposition at the end of the
sentence. We can say “That’s the film I’m interested in.” “That’s the university which
I studied at.” “That’s a song I’ve heard of.” But when were writing formal English, we
try to take that preposition and put it into the middle of the sentence. This is where
we need to use the relative pronoun which – “That’s the university I studied at.”
“That’s the university at which I studied.” “That’s the film I’m interested in.” “That’s
the film in which I’m interested.”

The important thing to remember is this is found in very formal written English and
when we’re speaking we would normally put the preposition at the end of the
sentence. So it’s not really a big problem.

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However, if you want to make your written language very formal then this is where
you need to consider putting the preposition into the middle of the sentence before
the relative pronoun.

I hope that helps you.

when/while/meanwhile

Sellami Yazid from Algeria writes:

What are the differences in use between when and while and when can we use
meanwhile?

when or while

We use both when and while as subordinating conjunctions to introduce


adverbial clauses of time. They mean during the time that and indicate that
something is or was happening when something else occurred:

• The prisoners escaped when / while the prison warders were eating their
lunch.
• When / While the prison warders were eating their lunch, the prisoners
escaped.

Note that we can also use as and whilst in the same way, although they sometimes
sounds more formal or literary

• As the sun went down, I sipped a rum and coke on the balcony.
• I sipped a rum and coke on the balcony whilst the sun went slowly down on
the horizon.

Note that during, which also introduces a longer period of time, is a preposition
which is use with a noun or noun phrase:

• I first met my future wife during my stay in Casablanca.


• I first met my future wife while I was staying in Casablanca.

when not while

We use when, not while, to talk about something that occurs at the same time as a
longer action or event that is described in the main clause:

• I was asleep in my chair when Dora rang to say she wasn't coming home.
• We were playing monopoly when the lights went off.

290
We also use when, not while, to talk about one event that happens immediately
after another and to talk about periods of time in the past.

• When the lights went out, everybody groaned: "Oh no, not another power
cut!"
• When I was a little boy, power cuts were very frequent, but that was just
after the war.

When can also be used instead of whenever, meaning every time that:

• I always visit my mother-in-law when I'm in Manchester.


• I always visit my mother-in-law whenever I'm in Manchester.

while not when

We often prefer while to when to describe the longer action of two events or to
talk about two longer actions that go on simultaneously:

• Dora left a message on the voice mail while I was asleep in the chair.
• While I was writing my Christmas cards, the children were decorating
the tree.
• I cooked the supper while Jenny did the ironing.

Note from the above examples that while a progressive tense is normally used to
describe the longer action associated with a while time clause, simple tenses are also
possible.

Note also that it is often possible to omit subject + be in when- and while-
clauses if the main and subordinate clauses refer to the same subject:

• When (you are) crossing the road, be careful to look right, left and right
again.
• They came across human remains while (they were) excavating the site.

while to contrast ideas

While is not used only used to introduce adverbial clauses of time. In more formal
usage, it is used to link or balance ideas that contrast each other:

• While I am happy for us all to eat at home, I don't want to spend hours
in the kitchen preparing the food.
• While the news from the front has so far been good, there will almost
certainly be days when we must expect heavy casualties.

Note in this usage the while-clause is normally placed as the first of the contrasting
points.

meanwhile = during this time

291
Meanwhile, meaning during this time, is a linking adverb which connects and
contrasts ideas between two sentences. It indicates that one event is going on at the
same time as another:

• Slice and brush the aubergines with oil and bake in the oven till soft.
Meanwhile, melt some butter in a small pan…
• Why don't you prepare the boats ready for the water?Meanwhile, I'll check
to see that we've got enough oars.

a while = a short time

Note that when while functions as a noun, it is nearly always used with an indefinite
article:

• I haven't seen you around for a while. Where have you been?
• Let's just wait a little while longer. He's bound to turn up eventually.

'while' and 'whereas'

Ben Tang, a Chinese student studying in the UK asks:

How can I use the conjunctions: while and whereas?

While to introduce a time clause:

While can be used in a number of different ways. We use it, first and foremost,
when we want to talk about things that happen simultaneously. In this sense, it is
similar to ‘as’ and ‘when’. All of these conjunctions can serve to introduce a longer
background situation which started before the shorter action. Consider the following
and, at the same time, note the use that is made of the past continuous in these
contexts.

• 'I completed the crossword as I was talking on the phone.'


• 'I remembered that I had a letter to post when I was walking past the post
box.'
• 'While I was reading the newspaper, my wife was ironing my shirts.'

As you can see from the above examples, while is particularly useful if we are
discussing long actions and wish to draw attention to the duration of the activities.
Consider the following:

• 'I’ll prepare breakfast while you’re having a shower.'


• 'While I was recovering in hospital, my wife was enjoying a holiday in
Cyprus.'

Note that if the subject is the same in both clauses, a participial construction may be
used, particularly in written English. Compare the following:

292
• 'She completed her first novel while working for the local newspaper.'
• 'She completed her first novel while she was working for the local
newspaper.'

while / whereas to link two ideas that contrast with each other:

Note that while does not always refer to time. It is also used to balance two ideas
that contrast with, but do not contradict, each other. In this sense, it is similar to
whereas. Consider the following:

• 'While I like all types of fish, my girlfriend always chooses meat dishes when
we go out to eat.'
• 'Some married couples argue all time, whereas others never do.'
• 'We would always choose somewhere in the mountains for a holiday, while
our children always want the seaside.'

Note that whilst we would use while or whereas within sentences to contrast two
ideas, across sentences we would need to use ‘however’ or ‘on the other hand’.
Compare the following:

• 'In the UK the hottest month of the year is usually July, whereas in southern
Europe the hottest period is usually in August.'
• 'In the UK the hottest month of the year is usually July. On the other hand,
in southern Europe the hottest period is usually in August.'
• 'Britain secured only one gold medal in Atlanta four years ago, while at
Sydney 2000 we ended up with eleven.'
• 'Britain secured only one gold medal in Atlanta four years ago. At Sydney
2000, however, we ended up with eleven.

'yet' as conjunction and adverb

Viji Palaniappan from India writes:

Yet is similar in meaning to but. But people also say: not yet. This is confusing.

~Did you receive the book?

~Not yet.

The problem is that yet can be used as an adverb as well as a co-ordinating


conjunction. Let’s look at its function as a conjunction first of all.

yet as conjunction

You are right, Viji. Yet is similar in meaning to but. But is a


co-ordinating conjunction used to contrast two statements:

• They can speak Arabic but they can’t read or write it.

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• He tried to book a holiday on Bali, but he didn’t have enough money to pay
for it.

We use yet as the preferred alternative to but when we want to emphasise that
contrast to achieve a stronger effect:

• She can play the piano very well, yet she can’t read music at all.
• The yachtsman had lost all sense of direction, yet he refused to give up in his
attempt to cross the Atlantic.

We sometimes put and in front of yet when it is used in this way or use even so as
an alternative to yet or and yet:

• She can play the piano very well, and yet she can’t read music at all.
• The yachtsman had lost all sense of direction. Even so, he refused to give up
in his attempt to cross the Atlantic.

However and nevertheless are sometimes used as more formal alternatives to


yet:

• He had no chance of winning the race or even of coming in the first six.
However, he kept going and crossed the finishing line ahead of his team
mates.
• He had not slept for three nights. Nevertheless, he insisted on going into
work the following day.

In colloquial spoken English, mind you, but still or still are sometimes used as less
formal alternatives to yet:

• The weather was lousy. It rained every day. Still, we managed to enjoy
ourselves.
• I don’t like the work very much. Mind you, the people I work with are very
nice.
• You can be very annoying at times, but we still love you.

yet as adverb

When yet is used as an adverb, it is used to talk about something over a period of
time, up till now:

• Is lunch ready yet?


• Are the Hunts back from their holiday yet?

It is often used with the negative when you are saying that up to the present time
something has not happened. It is normally used with present and perfect tenses,
though in American English you will sometimes hear it used with the past tense. Still
can sometimes be used as an alternative to yet. When we use still in this way, it is
emphatic. We are saying that we are very surprised that it hasn’t happened.
Compare the following:

• Don’t eat the plums. They’re not ripe yet. / They’re still not ripe.

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• I haven’t been to Wales or Scotland yet, though I’ve visited England many
times.
• I still haven’t been to Wales or Scotland, even though I’ve visited England
many times.
• Did you phone him yet? No, sorry. I forgot.

As we can see from the above examples, yet is normally used with negative
sentences and in questions, but it is sometimes used in affirmative sentences in a
more formal style:

• I have yet to meet the man I wish to marry.


• We have yet to learn whether there will be any survivors from the
earthquake.

'yet' and 'but', 'so' and 'hence', 'for example' and 'for instance'

Nick Leung asks:

What's the difference between

1. yet and but;


2. so and hence;
3. for example and for instance

1. Used as a conjunction, yet is similar in meaning to but, but it has a stronger


effect on the reader or listener. Compare:

• 'The sun was shining and there was no wind, yet it was unusually cold.'
• 'The sun was shining and there was no wind, but it was unusually cold.'

There is perhaps more of a surprise associated with the former statement.

Note that you can put and in front of yet when it comes at the beginning of a
clause, but of course this is not possible with but, so you can say:

• 'The cyclists were tired and hungry, all but exhausted, (and) yet they refused
to give up in their attempt to finish the race.'

2. So as a linking word between two clauses or sentences is similar in meaning to


hence, though hence is much more formal. Compare:

• 'Paul didn't have enough money for the train ticket, so he had to go to the
cashpoint before he could travel.'
• 'It is clear to us now that drug abuse can never be beneficial to the user;
hence we seem to have got it wrong in suggesting that it may sometimes be
acceptable.'

In spoken English, we often begin a sentence with so, thus making a link with what
has been said before:

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• 'We couldn't find the key, so we couldn't open the door.'
• 'So what did you do?'

3. For example and for instance are completely interchangeable, so it is just a


matter of personal preference as to which you decide to use:

• 'There are a number of rules you must abide by. For instance, you may not
use the swimming pool unsupervised.'
• 'You have all made silly mistakes on this trip. John, for example, failed to
secure the boat properly and Adam took the jet ski out when the sea was far
too rough.'

Prefixes and suffixes


-ive, -ous, -ful, -ic, -able, -al, -y, -ible

Anderson Braga Mendes from Brazil asks:

I am an English teacher in Brazil and I am in doubt as regards the use of the suffix -
al. For example, in the sentence: ‘The Electrical Sector plans new measures for next
year’ is it:

• ‘The Electrical Sector’


• or ‘The Electric Sector’?

Is there any rule to solve this sort of problem? Is this kind of mistake common
among native speakers of English?

Adjectival suffixes: -ic and -ical

We use ‘electrical’ to describe systems, industries, components and certain machines


or devices. Consider the following:

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• 'Electrical appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers use a lot of
electricity.'
• 'My new car has electrically-operated windows.'
• 'My house was full of electrical and electronic (note: not ‘electronical’)
equipment.'
• 'The electrical and mechanical engineering industries are doing well at the
present time.'

So in your example, Anderson, it would have to be:

• ‘The Electrical Sector plans new measures for next year’.

We use ‘electric’ to describe things to do with current and voltage, simpler machines
and devices and the atmosphere. Consider the following:

• 'An electric fire in winter and an electric fan in summer were all I needed.'
• 'The electric wiring in this house needs to be renewed.'
• 'The atmosphere was electric when Tina Turner came on stage.

It very much depends upon context as to which one you use.

Economic/economical is similarly difficult. If we are talking about ‘the economic


situation’ or ‘the economic outlook’ of a country, i.e. where we are discussing ‘the
economy’, then the adjectival suffix -ic is preferred:

• 'The economic outlook in this country is now bleaker than at any time in the
last ten years.'

However, if we are talking about making personal economies and saving money, we
tend to use ‘economical’. ‘Economical’ also means using the minimum amount of
time or energy. Study the following:

• 'This car is not very economical. It only does 15 miles to the gallon.'
• 'Storage heaters are extremely economical because they run on night-time
electicity.'
• 'Politicians are invariably economical with the truth.'
• 'We wanted to make the most economical use of our time as we had only
half a day there.'

Other adjectival suffixes are much more clear-cut. If we are discussing science and
technology, there is no choice: the adjectival forms are quite clearly ‘scientific’ and
‘technological’:

• 'Scientific investigation revealed that the dinosaur footprints were from the
Cretaceous period.'
• 'Japan is one of the most technologically advanced nations.'

Although he came from Genoa in Italy,

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Christopher Columbus is often thought of
as a - FAME - Spanish explorer.

To be left by the roadside bleeding to


death is a - HORROR - way to die.

Many people believe that a diet rich in


vitamins is very - HEALTH -.

It was such an - EXPENSE - present


that I was too embarrassed to accept it.

It is no longer - FASHION - to wear high


platform heels.

I am - HOPE - that she will leave


hospital next week.

We went to see an excellent -


photography - exhibition last week.

Everybody was wearing - NATION -


dress at the parade.

Answers

1. famous

2. horrific

3. healthy

4. expensive

5. fashionable

6. hopeful

7. photographic

8. national

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-ise or -ize, hyphens and The Lake Como...

Massimo Vitale from Italy has three questions:

1. Since I prefer British English to American English, I would like to know if it is true
that verbs (and thus their relative substantives) ending with -ize are more used in
the USA, while the British prefer the corresponding ones ending with -ise? In a
bilingual (Italian to English) dictionary I saw that there are really few verbs ending
with -ise, like analyse, advertise, privatise, etc., while I could not find the
corresponding -ise version of most important verbs ending with -ize (realize,
organize, etc.); On the other hand I see them spelt as -ise in many newspapers,
magazines, scientific reviews and even in your answers to previous questions. Please
tell me if I should definitely convert to -ise.

2. Another question is this: what is the rule for hyphenating words, if there is any, in
expressions like, e.g., high-quality performance, least-squares problem, etc., which
you would not hyphenate if they were not used as adjectives ( 'that material is of a
high quality', not 'high-quality'). How would one cope, for example, with an
expression like 'high and low tide-like phenomena' or 'deep seated gravitational slope
deformation phenomena'?

3. The last question concerns the use of articles before geographical names: Why
does one say ;the river Thames' but also 'the Hudson river'? Why not also 'the lake
Como' rather than 'lake Como'? Should one say 'Mount Etna' or 'the Etna Mount'?
Why do the speakers of the BBC say 'the Kosovo conflict' rather than 'Kosovo
conflict' (I am sorry for this last example, but I could not think of anything else at
the moment)?

1. Taking your questions in order, it is generally true, Massimo, that the American
preference for -ize is mirrored in British English by a general preference for -ise, so
it is perhaps useful to standardise on one of these two patterns as far as possible. In
a standard British dictionary - e.g. the Concise Oxford - you will often find that both
options are possible in British English - 'realise' or 'realize', 'organsise' or 'organize' -
whilst for other entries -ize is listed as unmistakably American, e.g. 'analyse' =
British English, 'analyze' = American English.

If you have a preference for British English in this respect, I assume for the sake of
consistency you will retain this preference for other spelling options, e.g.
'programme', not 'program'; 'colour', not 'color'; 'metre', not 'meter'; 'catalogue', not
catalog'; 'traveller', not traveler'. When you are reading American English, it can be
fun to spot the differences.

2.Compound adjectives are usually hyphenated, so we have 'a high-quality


performance', 'a ten-dollar note', a blue-eyed boy'. With multiple compounds, it is
usually the first two adjectives or the most adjective-like that are hyphenated, so we
have 'a deep-seated gravitational slope' to use your example, or 'a high-quality
virtuoso performance'.

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Note also the pattern: 'part- and full-time jobs', 'high- and low-tide phenomena.'
However, if adjectives are placed after the verb, they are usually not hyphenated.
Compare 'an out-of-work actor', 'an up-to-date account' and 'He was out of work',
'She was up to date.'

3. Referring to geographical names or areas, we tend to use the definite article with:

• seas (the Atlantic, the Pacific, the North Sea)


• mountain ranges (the Alps, the Andes)
• island groups (the British Isles, the West Indies)
• areas (the Midlands, the Lake District, the Middle East)
• rivers (the Danube, the Blue Nile, the Thames)
• deserts (the Gobi, the Sahara)
• hotels and pubs (the Red Lion, the Grand Palace)
• cinemas and theatres (the Playhouse, the Majestic)

We generally use no articles with:

• continents (Africa, South America, South East Asia)


• counties and countries (Oklahoma, Bulgaria, Nigeria)
• towns and principal buildings (Ely Cathedral, Oxford University)
• lakes (Lake Como, Lake Windermere, Derwent Water)
• mountains and volcanoes (Everest, Etna, Vesuvius)

Of course, there are always exceptions: The UK, The USA, The UAE, The
Netherlands, The Hague. It is just a matter of learning them!

job title suffixes

Ernesto Rocchetti from Italy writes:

I've got a question for you. Is there any rule which tells us when to use ....er and
when to
use .....ist at the end of a job name? For example:

painter or nutritionist

There are no rules, I'm afraid, although a number of patterns emerge. Unskilled or
semi-skilled job-holders are often denoted with …er, whilst those in scientific or
medical professions are often designated with …ist. But there are many exceptions.

The …er suffix is very common, but so is …or. The …ist ending is also quite common,
but so is …an. We also have …ant (accountant, shop assistant, civil servant,
flight attendant) …man (postman, fireman, dustman, barman, draughtsman,
fisherman), …ess (waitress, hostess, Headmistress) …ee (trainee, employee)
and …ive (representative, machine operative), etc.

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It is really a matter of leaning them and knowing them. Learn them in word families,
as in these examples below.

…er (but not only …er)

• Bob's a well-known local builder who employs two plumbers, three


carpenters, a roofer, four electricians and half a dozen unskilled
labourers.

• If teachers, education officers, child minders and social workers had


worked together, none of these children would have suffered abuse.

• He's a writer - the author of four books about China, but he's also worked
as a translator and interpreter, actor
and journalist.

…or (but not only …or)

• The Managing Director delegated responsibility for the project to the


supervisor, but he was a poor administrator and would never become a
manager.

Note that noun and verb forms relating to common occupations ending in …er and …
or are closely linked: teachers teach, writers write, actors act, supervisors
supervise, directors direct, bus and truck drivers drive their buses and lorries,
sailors sail, etc.

Note also that the …er /…or suffixes are also used for machines and equipment that
do a particular job:

• My kitchen is full of the latest gadgets: dishwasher, gas cooker with five
burners, electric toaster, electric can opener, blender / liquidiser - you
name it, I've got it.

• My son's got all his stuff in his bedroom: DVD player, video recorder,
camcorder, film projector.

…ist (but not only …ist)

• The whole family are musicians: Ed's a percussionist and pianist, Viola's a
flautist and cellist and Barry's a French horn player. Their parents are
both singers.

• He's a doctor - a general practitioner, but he wants to become a specialist


- a gynaecologist and obstetrician.

• His older sister's a chemist / pharmacist, his younger sister's a speech


therapist and his mother works as his receptionist and telephonist.

…an (both …ian and …man)

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• Did you say you were an optician? ~ No, I'm a politician. I'm spokesman
for international affairs and chairman of the refugee committee. My older
brother is the parliamentary librarian. My younger brother's a magician.

In the above example, …man can refer to both men or women. Some people now
argue that using …man is sexist and prefer to use spokesperson or chairperson.
We obviously do not have the same problem with policeman and policewoman,
although if we don't wish to specify the sex of the person, we can use police officer
instead.

suffix (but not only - suffix)

Note that there are a number of jobs and professions which do not have suffixes
such as those outlined above. Here are a few of the most common:

• In the Roman Catholic Church, bishops are senior to priests and in the
Anglican Church rectors normally have wider responsibilities than vicars and
curates.
• She's a nurse on a hospital ward but hopes to be promoted to sister and
matron one day.
• He's pastry chef at the Dorchester now, but started out as a cook in a two-
star hotel.
• His two passions were animals and flying: he never made it as a vet but
became a successful pilot.

'Flammable' or 'inflammable'? Negative prefixes, un-, in-, im-, il-, dis-, etc.

Garnet Teo from Singapore asks:

what is the difference please between flammable and inflammable?

There is no difference in meaning and little or no difference in use.


Chemicals, gases or cloth materials that are flammable / inflammable catch fire
and burn easily. Perhaps, in usage, cloth materials are usually described as
inflammable. So we might say: 'The material from which these car seats are made
is highly inflammable. And conversely, certain gases or chemicals may be thought of
as flammable. So we might say: 'Aircraft fuel is highly flammable'. But there are no
hard and fast patterns.

All this is somewhat strange, because usually when we add a prefix such as in- or
un- or dis- to the beginning of adjectives, adverbs and verbs, we give them the
opposite meaning.

Try this activity. Draw half a dozen columns on a large piece of paper and insert a
prefix heading in each column. Perhaps leave one or two columns empty for new
prefix headings as they occur to you. Your piece of paper should look something like
this:

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un- im- in- il- dis- ir-

Then, over a period of time, write in as many adjectives with a negative meaning
using these prefixes that you can think of.

To help you get started, you might like to test your knowledge against these
opposites. Print out this exercise, fill in the missing words and then check your
answers against the answer key. The first one is done for you.

Opposite of:

happy: We were really unhappy with the way the party was going

1. legal: There is no doubt that cannabis will remain an ______________ drug


for the foreseeable future.
2. possible: It was quite _________________ for us to drive all the way from
Paris to Madrid in one day.
3. successful: He made an ________________ attempt to climb the highest
mountain in the range.
4. responsible: To take the boat out with four children under the age of ten
and with no life jackets on board was quite ________________ of him.
5. appropriate: The dress she was wearing was quite _________________ for
the occasion.
6. polite: It was very ________________ of him to insult his mother in front of
his aunt.
7. religious: They were a completely _________________ family and I never
thought that one day I would marry one of the daughters.
8. honest: As a politician he was __________________ and it was not long
before nobody trusted him.
9. perfect: The goods were ________________ and had to be returned to the
store we bought them from.
10. contented: She was __________________ with her life and decided that
things had to change.

Answers

1. An illegal drug
2. Impossible to drive such a distance in one day
3. An unsuccessful attempt
4. Irresponsible behaviour
5. A dress which was inappropriate for the occasion

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6. Impolite behaviour
7. An irreligious family
8. A dishonest politician
9. Imperfect goods
10. Discontented with her life

N.B. As you complete your table, you will probably find that you end up with many
more adjectives in the un- and in- columns than in any others. Happy hunting!

Noun suffixes

Yee from Hong Kong writes:

I'm not sure how the suffix -ness works. Can we add -ness to all types of words to
make nouns? Thanks for your answer.

-ness (nouns from adjectives)

-ness is one of a number of noun suffixes. It is used to make nouns from


adjectives, although not every adjective can be modified in this way. Here are some
common adjectives whose noun forms are made by adding -ness:

happy sad weak good ready tidy forgetful

Note the spelling change to adjectives that end in -y:

• Everybody deserves happiness in their life. To be happy is a basic human


right.

• There was a lot of sadness in the office when people learned of his illness.

• His readiness to have a personal word with everybody at the funeral was
much appreciated.

• He is such a forgetful person. Such forgetfulness cannot be excused.

• If you want to work for such an organisation, you are expected to maintain a
high standard of tidiness in your appearance.

-ity (nouns from adjectives)

-ity is another noun suffix that is formed from adjectives. Here are some adjectives
whose noun forms are made in this way:

possible probable responsible complex hilarious scarce

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Note the spelling changes that occur in these conversions:

• Everything was possible, but the probability, or even possibility, of Jason


returning home unharmed was remote.

• I was given a great deal of responsibility in my new job.

• It was a complex operation but such complexities are common in cardiac


surgery.

• Her behaviour was hilarious but hilarity is not easily tolerated in a convent
school.

• The scarcity of water was serious, but all natural resources were scarce.

-tion / -sion (nouns from verbs)

-tion, or, less frequently -sion (both pronounced with a 'sh' sound on the initial
letter) are noun suffixes that are used to make nouns from verbs. Here are some
common verbs whose noun forms are made by adding -tion:

admit alter inform decide describe multiply

Note that adjustments that are necessary to the spelling in each case:

• He admitted he had lied and this admission landed him in court.

• The dress will have to be altered and I'm going to have the alteration done
professionally.

• I informed the police that I had seen one of the robbers in Margate and this
information led to the arrest of the gang.

• I decided to give myself up. The decision was easy. My description was in
all the newspapers. And I had been on the run for three weeks.

• Multiplication is the easiest part of arithmetic - much easier than addition,


subtraction or division.

-ment (nouns from verbs and adjectives)

-ment is another suffix that is used to make nouns from verbs and occasionally from
adjectives:

enjoy replace appoint arrange merry

• Enjoyment is the most important thing in life and you simply don't know
how to enjoy yourself.

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• You will need to replace the broken part and unfortunately replacements
cost £350.

• I don't know if I shall be appointed to the job but I have an appointment to


see the manager this morning.

• I had arranged to be there early so that all the arrangements would be in


place by the time Yuan arrived.

• Everyone was quite merry by now. Such merriment had not been seen in
my mother's house for a long time.

-ance / -ence (nouns from adjectives and verbs)

-ance and -ence are suffixes that are used to make nouns from adjectives and
sometimes from verbs:

absent silent independent important admit appear exist

• Her absence was not noticed during the silence of prayer.

• The importance of independence for teenagers should not be


underestimated.

• Admittance to the theatre is not permitted once the show has started.

• His appearance did not permit him to be admitted.

• His existence as a writer was threatened when people stopped buying his
books.

more restrictive noun suffixes (nouns from nouns)

-ship (abstract nouns denoting different kinds of relationships)

relationship friendship partnership membership

• His friendship with Carole slowly turned into a relationship.

• I'm going to go into partnership with SIP and that will automatically give me
membership of the golf club.

-hood (abstract nouns denoting different kinds of 'families')

childhood motherhood neighbourhood priesthood

• Childhood and motherhood/fatherhood are two very important stages in


our lives.

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• The neighbourhood was extremely quiet and the priesthood was attractive
to many in this peaceful environment

'Sugarfree' or 'sugarless'? When to add 'less' and when to add '-free' to


form an adjective

Izida Mladenova from Bulgaria asks:

I find it a great idea to help people with their English via the Internet. So my
question is: What's the difference (if any) between the adjectives ending in -less and
in -free (Is the chewing gum 'sugarless' or 'sugarfree'?)

In your particular example, chewing gum, breakfast cereal, or food in general can
often be described as 'sugarless' or 'sugarfree'. Whenever you form the adjective by
adding the suffix -less or -free, you are describing something as not having or not
affected by the thing mentioned. But I can only think of one other example (although
there must be more) where they can be used quite interchangeably in this way, as
in:

• 'This piece of work was quite error-free. It was an errorless piece of work.'

Normally, usage prescribes one OR the other. In the following examples, only one is
possible. Test your knowledge by using either less or -free in each example. Check
your answers with those below.

1. There are many home people sleeping rough on the streets of London.
2. The whole journey was trouble and we arrived at our destination on time.
3. There were so many duty goods in the airport shop that we just don't know
where to begin.
4. It was a completely meaning exercise and they made no progress in their
work.
5. When there is never any opportunity of being released, prisoners are power
6. The operating theatre was completely germ environment.
7. Some of the runners tired very quickly, but others among them appeared
quite tire
8. It is doubt the case that this prisoner will be extradited.

Answers
homeless people
trouble-free journey
duty-free goods
meaningless exercise
powerless prisoners

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germ-free environment
tireless runners
doubtless the case

Note that the suffix 'less' or '-free' is normally added to nouns to form the adjective.
In the penultimate example, it is added to the verb 'tire' and in the final example,
'doubt' can be viewed as either noun or verb.

What about 'careless' and 'carefree' you might ask. These are both possible. Indeed
they are, but note that they are not alternatives. They are quite different in meaning.
A 'careless person' is someone who does not take very much care over what he is
doing, whereas a 'carefree person' is someone who has no worries.

You will have noticed that the suffix '-free' is usually hyphenated and is a stressed
syllable (unlike 'less'). However, in two of the above examples, 'sugarfree' and
'carefree', there is normally no hyphen, at least in the examples I have seen.

Prepositions & prepositional phrases


time and place phrases with at, in and on

A number of you (Kirill from Russia, Cintia from Brazil and Christine from Austria)
have been asking about accurate use of the prepositions on, at and in with time
and place phrases.

at for time

For clock times we use at, but not usually in the question:

What time are you leaving for Germany? ~ I shall try to leave at three o' clock.

on for time

For days, dates and times like Sunday evening or Saturday morning, we use
on:

I usually do my homework on Sunday evening; on Saturday morning I'm


normally at the gym.

Can we do it on Thursday? ~ No, not on Thursday. I'm in Leeds all day on


Thursday.

My birthday is on 26th December and then Mark arrives on 27thDecember.

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(Note that we write on 27th December, but we say on the 27th of December.)

in for time

For centuries, years, seasons, months, weeks, and for time phrases such as in
the afternoon, or in the evening we use in:

In the 17th Century, 200,000 people were executed in America for practising
witchcraft.

Brazil first won the World Cup in 1958 and then again in 1962, but in 1966 it was
England's turn.

I prefer to take my holidays in the spring and autumn and work in summer when
everybody else is on holiday.

I've got my final exams in May. When in May? In the final week of May.

I work best in the morning. I'll work again in the evening if I have to, but I prefer
to relax in the afternoon.

(But note we say at the weekend, at Christmas, at Easter and at night.)

Note also subtle the difference in meaning between the expressions in time (which
means before a given time) and on time (which means exactly at that time):

The 7.53 is always on time, but yesterday it was late.

I couldn't get there in time for the beginning of Jo's concert and missed the opening
number.

zero prepositon with time phrases

Note that usually no prepositions are used with time phrases beginning with next,
last, this, every, all, any:

What are you doing this afternoon? ~ I'm busy this afternoon, but we could do it
next week, if you like.

I work from home every Thursday. I'm at home all afternoon tomorrow, so any
time would be convenient.

at for place

We use at to specify position at a point:

He failed to stop at the traffic lights and went through the light on red.
I was waiting for at least half an hour at the station, but no train came.
I never seem to have any money at the end of the month. ~ You shouldn't worry

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about that - I never have any at the beginning of the month.

on and in for place:

We use in to specify position inside larger areas such as containers, rooms,


towns, countries, etc and we use on to specify position on a line or continuum.
Compare the following:

I live in Ostrava. ~ Is that in Slovakia? ~ No, it's in the Czech Republic.

Have you seen my yellow T-shirt? ~ Yes, it's in the wardrobe ~ Whereabouts in
the wardrobe? ~ It's on the fourth shelf at the front. ~ Did you find it? ~ Yes, it
was on the bottom shelf at the back.

They have lots of family photographs on the walls on the landing, but no curtains
at any of the windows.

I'll meet you at the theatre. ~ Where exactly? ~ In the foyer at 7.15.

Prepositions 'at', 'on', 'in'

Javier Balsells from Spain asks: Why, when you are on the beach you walk in the
sand? But when you are in the street, you walk on foot? Is there any logical rule to
it?

Poliang Lin in the USA asks:


Do we say we read something in a newspaper, or on a newspaper?

Pilar Velarde in Peru asks:


What are the rules for using to and at? Why is it that you say: I will meet you at the
bank and I will go to the bank?

Weena Kanagpon from Thailand asks:


Which is correct: in the street or on the street? And how about at the village or in
the village?

At, on and in are the main prepositions in English indicating position. And I think
there is some logic for the preference for one of them over the other two in given
situations, Javier.

Generally speaking:

• in is used to specify position inside larger areas;


• on is used to specify position on a line or continuum;
• at is used to specify position in a larger place.

Compare the following:

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• 'They were walking on the beach.'
• 'They were playing in the sand.'
• 'They were lying on the warm sand, reading their books.'

In the first example, we imagine people at a certain point on their walk along the
beach; in the second example a group of children surrounded by sand and having
fun in the sand, and in the third example, older children or adults lying on top of the
sand, so on is most appropriate here.

1. In your example, Javier, of people walking in the sand, one imagines soft sand,
which their feet sometimes disappear into, but if you said on the sand, we would
imagine it as hard sand which their feet do not sink into. Both on and in are
therefore possible alternatives in this example.

As we can see, use of an appropriate preposition sometimes depends on how you


think about it.

2. In your example, Poliang, we read about things in a newspaper. To find what we


are looking for, we usually have to open the newspaper and look inside. Therefore in
is the most appropriate preposition. Compare the following:

• 'I saw it on BBC World, heard about it on the BBC World Service and then
read about it in the Guardian Weekly.'

3. In your example, Pilar, 'I will meet you at the bank' the precise location remains
vague to the reader. It could be anywhere inside or outside the bank, although the
two people who are arranging the meeting obviously know exactly where they are
going to meet and do not need to specify it further. Compare the following:

• 'I bumped into him at the supermarket.' (Precise location unspecified)


• 'I bumped into him at the checkout in the supermarket.' (Precise location
specified)

4. In your example, Weena, it depends upon perspective, really, Weena. Compare


the following:

• 'There were crowds of people on the streets.'


• 'In the street where I live there are speed bumps every fifty yards.'

In the first example, we imagine someone surveying the crowds from a distance and
in the second example the perspective is from inside the street.

Prepositional use for common nouns without articles

Ilham Sarukhanov from Azerbaijan writes:

I'm slightly confused whether to use the preposition at before home or not. I've
read the following sentence recently: I am likely to be late home this evening.

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But as a rule in this situation we use the preposition at before home. Is the above
sentence wrong?

Home / at home

Your sentence is fine, Ilham. Home in your example is behaving like an adverb
expressing direction. We do not need a preposition with home when it is used with
any verb referring to direction:

• I shall be arriving / going / coming / leaving home late this evening.

Note that most verbs expressing direction require the preposition to before the noun,
but not home. Compare the following:

• I made my way to the mosque before sunrise.


• I ran all the way to the theatre so that I wouldn't be late.
• I'm going to walk to work from now on. It's healthier.
• I arrived at the harbour just as the boat was leaving.

Once you arrive home, you are then at home and no more direction is suggested,
so at is then the appropriate preposition to use with home:

• Will you be at home tonight or are you going out? ~ No, I'll be at home. ~
I'll pop round and see you then.

However, even here, at is often omitted, especially in American English.

No article with common nouns

Note that there are a number of common fixed expressions with prepositions
involving everyday time and place nouns where no article is required:

after school / at school / before school / from school /in school to school

after university / at university / to university

in bed / out of bed / to bed

at home / from home / go home / leave home

after work / at work/ before work / from work / to/into work /leave work

from town / in town / out of town/ to/into town

after breakfast* at breakfast* before breakfast* for breakfast* to breakfast*

* OR: lunch, tea, dinner, supper

by bike/car/bus/taxi/tube/train/plane/boat - BUT on foot

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• More and more people work from home these days at least one or two days
per week.

• I'm going into town this afternoon. Do you want me to get you anything?

• I find it difficult to get out of bed, but always exercise for half an hour
before breakfast, have fruit juice and muesli for breakfast and then walk
to work.

• At school I studied biology, geography and English, but at university I'm


going to study psychology.

• It's quicker on foot or by bike. It will take you ages to get there if you go by
car.

However, if you are referring to a specified breakfast, bed, school, piece of work etc,
the definite article will normally be required:

• The bed I slept in last night was most uncomfortable.

• The lunch you prepared this morning was delicious.

• I'll meet you outside the school at eight thirty.

• The work that you did on the Tudors was excellent.

• The car you sold me for £500 is unreliable.

The difference in use between 'because', 'as', 'since' and 'for'

Agnes Leyen asks:

Could you please tell me the difference (in use) between because, as, since and
for. I think it's very confusing.

The present perfect is often used with since and for to denote periods of time up to
the present. (Note that we do not use present perfect with expressions that refer to
a time period that has finished, i.e. 'last week' or 'the day before yesterday'. Here
the simple past is used: 'I went to the cinema three times last week.')

If you use since with the present perfect or present perfect continuous, you are
signalling when something started. If you use for, you are signalling how long
something has been going on. Compare:

• 'She has been living in Holland since the summer of 1992.'


• 'She has been living in Holland for the last nine years.'

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That is one use of since and for.
But since and for can also be used in a similar way to as and because to give the
reason for an action or a situation. However, there are important differences
between them.

Because is used when the reason is the most important part of the sentence or
utterance. The because clause usually comes at the end:

• 'I went to Spain last summer because I wanted the guarantee of sunshine on
every day of my holiday.'

As and since are used when the reason is already well known and is therefore
usually less important. The as or since clause is usually placed at the beginning of
the sentence:

• 'As the performance had already started, we went up to the balcony and
occupied some empty seats there.'
• 'Since John had already eaten, I made do with a sandwich.'

For suggests that the reason is given as an afterthought. It is never placed at the
beginning of the sentence and is more characteristic of written, rather than spoken
English:

• 'I decided to stop the work I was doing - for it was very late and I wanted to
go to bed.'

When to use 'with regard to' and when to use 'regarding'

Gauss from germany asks:

I am completely confused by the following relationship terms. Would you please give
me a precise explanation and some proper examples? Are they the same or similar in
meaning and in use?
1. in relation to / with relation to
2. with regard to / regarding
3. in connection with
4. concerning

They are very similar in meaning and use. The key issue, as you suggest, is to know
when and how to use them.

These expressions are sometimes known as 'discourse markers'. 'Discourse' is the


term used to denote pieces of speech or writing that are longer than a sentence.
They are 'markers' because they help to point out the structure of discourse. They
make clear the connection between what we are going to say and what has come
earlier. They are used to focus attention and to signal what we are going to talk
about.

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Such discourse markers will often be found at the beginning of a sentence. They are
all fairly formal in tone and characteristic of formal or written discourse.

For an example, let us eavesdrop on this business meeting. The personnel manager
of a company is responding to questions from members of staff.

• 'There are two major issues on today's agenda which we should move on to
before lunch. One is the question of non-taxable allowances and the other is
bonus or productivity payments. Now, with regard to/in connection with/
concerning the former, the position of this organisation is quite clear...'

You could also add 'with reference to' as a further alternative and this would
perhaps be most formal of all. This expression is frequently used at the beginning of
business letters:

• 'Dear Ms Irvine,

With reference to your fax of yesterday, I am pleased to inform you that...'

Note that expressions like as far as... is/am/are concerned and as regards link
discourse in a similar way, but these are slightly less formal and more characteristic
of spoken discourse:

• 'There is no doubt that in this country infectious diseases such as tuberculosis


and diphtheria are on the increase, but as far as whooping cough is
concerned / as regards whooping cough, there are clear signs that it is on
the wane.'

The expression As far as I'm/we're concerned,... is also used colloquially to


indicate that you are stating your own position on something:

• 'As far as we were concerned, there was no point in remaining at the site
any longer.'
• 'As far as I'm concerned, you can go to Italy for Christmas. I shall be quite
happy here at home.'

A final note about use of concerning. When placed later in a sentence, it is


sometimes used as an alternative to about or regarding:

• 'He refused to answer any questions concerning his private life.'


• 'There was much discussion in Parliament concerning the admission of
homosexuals to the armed forces.'

A question from Cindy in Taiwan:


Hello, I am Cindy Wang from Taiwan. I searched your archive and did not find a
comparison between prepositions 'under', 'below' and 'beneath'.
Could you kindly explain?

Catherine Walter answers:


Hello Cindy. This is a good question and I'm sure that a lot of people have asked
themselves this question. I can give you a general answer because vocabulary tends

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to be a bit fuzzy around the edges, but here goes.

First of all, to make the difference between 'under' and 'below'. Both of these words
can mean 'in a lower position than', so there's a sense in which they mean the same
thing. But we use them sometimes in different circumstances, for example, if you're
talking about something being covered by something, we use 'under'. So, 'I hid the
key under a rock'. Or, 'officials said there was nothing under President Bush's jacket'.

You use 'below' when you're talking about something that's not physically
immediately under, or not necessarily immediately under. So you say, 'below the
surface of the water'. That might be anywhere below the surface of the water, not
necessarily just touching it. Or, 'twenty miles below the earth's surface', definitely
not immediately under it. And, by extension, we say things like, 'below the poverty
line'.

We also use 'under' when we're talking about 'younger than' or 'less than'. So, 'under
a dozen times', 'under the age of ten'. Whereas we use 'below', if we're visualising a
kind of vertical scale. So, 'below sea level', 'below average', 'an IQ below 80', 'radio
waves below 22 kHz'.

There are a number of fixed expressions, so, for example, a lot of expressions about
what's happening while something else is going on, or because of certain conditions,
or controlled by something or someone. So we say, 'under construction', 'under fire',
'under attack', 'under arrest', 'under these conditions', 'under scrutiny', 'under
pressure', 'under the Ceausescu regime'. All of those form a kind of a family.

So what about 'beneath'? Well, 'beneath' is basically more literal, or formal, and we
use it in many of the same senses. But there are lots of fixed phrases, and so what
you want to do is just read a lot and note when one is used and when the other is
used. I hope those will give you some general guide lines, and that you'll enjoy
keeping learning about these three fascinating words.

prepositions in time expressions

Lydia from China writes:

How can I finish this sentence?

The First World War ended at 11 a.m. ...... the eleventh day ....... the
eleventh month in 1918.

This often quoted sentence reads like this:

• The First World War ended at 11 a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh
month in 1918.

at / around / about / by

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We use at when we are discussing precise times, weekends and public holidays:

• What time does your train get in? ~ It gets in at five twenty five.
• Let's meet at Waterloo Station at the end of platform one at five thirty.
• What are you doing at the weekend?
~ I'm going to see my parents at Easter, but I've got no plans for next
weekend.

We use around or about when we want to indicate approximate times:

• When does his train get in?


~ Around / About ten o' clock usually, but you can never be sure these
days!
• What time should I come? ~ Come about / around eight.

We use by to indicate at or before, not later than. It can also suggest progression
up to a certain time:

• You must be here by / not later than 10.45 if we want to catch the eleven o'
clock train.
• By the time I arrived home, both children were in bed and asleep.

on

We use on when we are discussing particular days and in the expression on


weekdays:

• My daughter's birthday is on 29th February.


• She was born on 29th February 2000, so she won't be one till 29th February
2004!
• My aerobic classes are on Tuesday evenings.
• Peter's tennis lessons are on Thursdays at lunchtime.
• On weekdays I get up at seven, but at weekends I lie in until nine.

Note that we can write dates as 29th February 2002 or 29 February 2002. In
formal letters it is usually the latter. When we are speaking though we usually say:
the 29th of February 2002.

till / until

Both till and until mean up to the time indicated or up to the time when. Note that
they can both be used as conjunctions introducing clauses as well as prepositions
introducing time phrases:

• Can you work today till seven?


~ No, I'm sorry. I have to leave at five.
• Until Tom met Jane, he had always visited his mum at weekends.
• Can you stay over till Monday morning?
~ OK. But I'll have to be gone by six thirty.

in

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We use in when we are discussing parts of the day or longer periods:

• I'm happy to work in the morning, but I always have a snooze in the
afternoon.
• I don't mind working in the evening, but I hate to get up in the night.
• These fox cubs were born in the spring. ~ In April or May? ~ I'm not sure. In
April, I think.
• They'll be ready to leave home and fend for themselves in about three weeks
from now.

during

We can use during when we are discussing something happening between the
beginning and end of an activity:

• In / During summer, I try to have a nap at some point during the


afternoon.
• But I never bother with siestas during autumn, winter or spring.
• Could you please try not to interrupt me during this meeting?
• There's an answer phone message from John. He must have phoned during
lunch.

zero preposition

Note that there are some time expressions, typically involving all, some, any, each,
every, this, that, last, next, where no preposition is needed:

• The last time we met was at Sheila's birthday. Try not to leave it so long
next time.
• Where were you last Tuesday?
~ Sorry, I was out, but I'll be in all this week. Feel free to call any evening.
• How often do you text message your sister?
~ Every day. Sometimes twice a day.

'On', 'in' or 'at' midnight?

This week we have two questions about the use of prepositions to indicate time.

Phoebe Chiang from Taiwan writes:


We use in for longer periods of time. We also say: 'in the morning', 'in the
afternoon' and 'in the night'. Why can't we say: 'in the noon' or 'in the midnight'?

And Marta Fernandez from Spain asks:


When do we use in and when do we use on with dates? We say 'in September', but
can we say 'on September the 29th'?

'at' with time phrases

We use at to specify a particular point in time. Both noon and midnight are very
short periods. When the clock strikes twelve, it will be midnight. We would therefore
say: at midnight or at noon. Consider these further examples:

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• 'We'll meet you in front of the cinema at a quarter to eight.'
• 'I have to get up at six thirty on weekdays.'
• 'I like to spend some time with my family at Christmas and at Easter.'
• 'What are you doing at the weekend?'
• He was born at the end of the 19th Century and died at the end of the 20th.'

Note that although both Christmas and Easter last for a few days, we prefer to think
of them as a particular point in time and therefore use at when referring to them. 'At
the weekend' follows a similar pattern, though Americans would say 'on the
weekend.'

'in' with time phrases

As you rightly say, Phoebe, we use in to specify periods of time, parts of the day,
morning, afternoon, evening, or for longer periods altogether. Consider the following
examples:

• 'My dad prefers to work in the morning. He's too tired to work in the
evening.'
• 'My granny always has a cup of tea at four o' clock in the afternoon.'
• 'I can't take my holiday in the summer, so I'll take it sometime in the
autumn.'
• 'Our first child was born in 1996, so he'll be five years old in June.'

We also use in to describe how much time will pass before something happens or to
talk about how long something took or takes. Consider the following:

• 'Do you mind waiting? I shall be ready in about ten minutes.'


• 'If you order it now, you'll receive it in about two weeks' time.'
• 'I can run one hundred metres in 12.5 seconds!'

on with time phrases

We use on, Marta, to refer to particular days and dates, even repeated ones when
plural forms are used. Consider the following:

• 'Could we meet on Sunday morning?' 'No, not on Sunday. I go to church on


Sundays.'
• 'Why don't we have the meeting sometime in the afternoon on Thursday 5th
April?'
• 'It's my birthday on 22nd April, so I'll ring you on 23rd.'

Note that when we specify dates in writing, we will tend to write them in one of the
following styles:

21 April 2001 (as part of letter heading)


on 29th December I'm leaving for Paris (within the body of the letter)

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However, when we are speaking those dates, we will normally insert the definite
article and the preposition of, as follows: I'm leaving for Paris on the twenty ninth of
December. I'm leaving for Paris on December the twenty ninth.

zero preposition with time phrases

At/in/on are not normally used with time phrases starting with next, last, this,
that, every, some, all. Consider the following:

• 'Last year I made a cake for Jenny's birthday, but this year I'm going to buy
one.'
• 'Are you free this morning? If not, I'll see you next week.'
• 'I'm at home all day tomorrow, so come round (at) any time.'

Finally, note that prepositions are often omitted from time questions starting with
What...? or Which…? Look at the following examples:

• 'What time are you leaving?' 'At eight o' clock.'


• 'Which days are you busy next week?' 'I'm busy on Wednesday and Friday,
but I'm free on Thursday.'

time expressions with 'next', 'last' and 'on'

Anid Galon from the Czech Republic writes:

I have noticed that in the news to determine the day of some event they say:

They will meet Sunday next week or

It happened Friday...

Do I mishear them or it it not possible to use on before the name of the day?

on

We do sometimes omit on in time expressions in informal English, although I think it


is more characteristic of American English than British English. So in your first
example, Anid, both versions are possible. Compare the following:

• They will meet on Sunday next week.


• They will meet Sunday next week.

• Our wedding anniversary is the 22nd of October.


• Our wedding anniversary is on the 22nd of October.

• We’re going to have a game of tennis Wednesday evening.


• We’re going to have a game of tennis on Wednesday evening.

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Note that if we say: I’ll see you next Sunday week rather than I’ll see you
Sunday next week, it is not the following Sunday that is intended, but the one
after that!

For your example of a time expression with the past tense, I think we would
normally use one of the following formulations:

• It happened last Friday.


• It happened on Friday.

'next' and 'last'

Note the pitfalls when using next and last. We rarely use prepositions with time
expressions involving next and last And there is a big difference in meaning and use
between next and the next and last and the last. Compare the following:

• I shall be working for the next week and then I shall be on holiday. ( =
starting now for the next five or seven days)
• I shall do some work next week before I go on holiday. ( = some work, but
not every day)
• I’m going to have driving lessons next year. ( = at some point during the
year)
• For the next twelve months I shall be in Birmingham on a post-graduate
course. ( = all 12 months, starting now)
• The last year has been hell! First the divorce, then I lost my job! ( = all 12
months up till now)
• I got divorced last year and I plan to remarry this year. ( = at some point
during the year)
• I’ve had diarrhea for the last week, doctor. Can you give me something for
it?
• I had diarrhea last week. Couldn’t eat anything for three days.

Note prepositional use and the use of the present perfect and past simple tenses in
the above examples.

'this' or 'next'?

Finally, we sometimes need to clarify which date we are referring to if it is in the


immediate future by using on or this instead of next. Compare the following:

• Let me see. It’s Wednesday now so I’ll give you a ring next Friday.
• ~ Do you mean this coming Friday or the following one?
• ~ No, no, this coming Friday. I’ll ring you this Friday. I’ll phone you on
Friday.

prepositions by and from

Lilia from Bulgaria asks:

When do we use by and when do we use from?

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For example, do we say:

• The decision has been approved by the committee.


OR
• The decision has been approved from the committee.

Thank you in advance for your explanation.

'by' with passive clauses

In passive constructions, as in your example, the agent of the action is always


introduced with the prepostion by, so the first one is correct.

We could turn the passive sentence into an active sentence if we wanted to use from
and say:

• This decision has received approval from the committee.

But for all passive clauses we need to use by when introducing the person or thing
responsible for the action:

• The walker was killed by a falling tree.


• All the roofs on the houses in the village were ripped off by the tornado.
• The visiting speaker was introduced by the club chairman.

The only exception to this is when we are talking about the tools used for the
operation rather than the agent bringing about the action.

When we talk about the tools used for an action we say with rather then by.

Compare the following:

• She was killed with a kitchen knife.


• She was killed by an unknown assassin.
• The palace was built with red bricks from the local brickyard.
• The palace was built by a famous architect.

'by' to express time

By is used to indicate time up to a particular point:

• I want you to be home by eleven o’ clock (= before eleven OR at eleven at


the latest).
• By the time I arrived, everybody had left.
• By the end of the lecture, nearly everyone was asleep.

by or near?

By also means very close to.

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For example:

• Our house is quite close to the sea, but I would really like to live right by the
sea.

'by' in common phrases

By is used in a number of common phrases.

Note the following:

• Are you going to deliver that parcel by hand, or will you send it by post?
• Do you want to pay for this in cash, by cheque or by credit card?
• You can get there by air, by road, by rail or by sea, but however you
travel, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
• I have learnt this piece by heart and don’t need to have the music in front of
me.

Note, however, if we put a determiner in front of the noun, it is no longer a set


phrase and the preposition changes.

Compare the following:

• Why don’t you send it by email? It’s quicker.


• I learnt about it in an email from Richard.
• Did she come by car?
Yes, she did. She turned up in a brand new sports car!

from or since?

The preposition from indicates the starting point of an action. It is often used with
to or till which indicates the finishing time of the action:

• I normally work from nine to five, sometimes from ten till six.
• You can drop by at any time during the afternoon. I shall be here from two
onwards.
• From now on you must wear a suit and a tie whenever you go to the office.

Note that since is used with the present perfect or past perfect tense to indicate the
starting point of the action. With other tenses we normally use from.

Compare the following:

• The office is open from eight o’ clock, but I don’t usually arrive before nine.
• I have been working on the project since the beginning of September and
hope to finish it by the end of October.

'despite', 'in spite of', though', 'although' and 'even though'

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Reza Fahimi from Tehran asks:

I am a beginner in English and want to know about differences between although


and in spite of. Is their meaning equal?

B Polat from Turkey asks:


I would like to ask if you can explain the differences between the words despite, in
spite of and although, though, even though by example.

They are similar in meaning, yes. They all serve to record something that is
surprising or unexpected. But the difference in usage is that although, though and
even though are all conjunctions, whilst in spite of and despite are both
prepositions. So usage requires:

in spite of + noun
although + clause
despite + noun
though + clause
even though + clause

Although and though can be used in the same way. Though is perhaps more
common in informal speech and writing, whereas although can be used in a wide
variety of styles. Compare:

• 'Our new neighbours are quite nice, though their dog is a bit of a nuisance.'
• 'She insisted on keeping her coat on, although it was extremely warm in the
house as the central heating was on.'
• 'Although she was commended for completing the Millennium Dome project
on time and within budget, management felt that it was now time for a new
person with different talents to take over.'

Though is often used with even in order to give emphasis:

• 'I managed to get good results in my exams, even though I went out four
times a week when I was supposed to be revising.'

Whilst despite might be thought more formal than in spite of - it is, after all, one
word rather than three - there is really very little difference in usage between the
two:

• 'Despite the appalling weather, they succeeded in walking to the top of Ben
Nevis.'
• 'They decided to get married in spite of the huge differences in their ages.'

So, to summarise: despite and although: similar meanings, but different syntax
required. Compare:

• 'Although it was raining heavily, we finished the game of football.'


• 'We finished the game of football in spite of the heavy rain.'
• 'Despite his strong Welsh accent, we understood most of what he was
saying.'

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• 'Even though he had a strong Welsh accent, we understood most of what he
was saying.'

One further word. Although, despite and in spite of are normally used as
prepositions, they can also be used in adverbial constructions with -ing, thus:

• 'I managed to pass my exams, despite going out four times a week during the
revision period.'
• 'In spite of feeling terribly sick, I went to work every day that week.'
• 'Despite being severely handicapped, he managed to complete the race.'

marking time: during / for / by / until

Bertille from France writes:

I'd like to know the differences in use between during and for.

Sylwia from Poland writes:

I can't distinguish the uses of until and by when referring to time. Please help me.

during

We use during to talk about something that happens at one point within a period of
time or to talk about an event that continues throughout a whole period of time.
Compare the following:

• I sometimes wake up during the night and then I can't go back to sleep
again.
I cried during the performance. It was such a sad play.
• During the school holiday period in the summer all the campsites are full.
During wars food is often rationed.

When we are referring to a whole period of time, we sometimes use throughout as


an alternative to during for emphasis:

• Sugar and cheese continued to be rationed throughout the post war period.
• These hotels are usually fully booked throughout the summer season.

We sometimes use in as an alternative to during to talk about something that


happens within a particular period of time:

• I sometimes wake up in the night and can't get back to sleep again.
• In my fours years as head of this company I have only taken a holiday once.

If the activity continues for a period of time, we sometimes use over instead of
during to describe the specified period:

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• Over the last few days, weather conditions have been steadily improving and
a rescue now seems possible
• I don't intend to do very much over the summer - just relax!

for

During tells us about the period when something happens. For tells us how long it
continues or lasts:

• I was ill for three days during my holiday and couldn't go out at all.
• I'll pop in and see you for a few minutes at some point during the afternoon.
• I've been working for this company for twenty five years.

Take care not to confuse for with since. Since is also used to measure the duration of
an activity, but it describes the starting point up to a given time and is most often
associated with present perfect and past perfect tenses:

• I've been working for the BBC for a long time - since 1978.
• As you get older, it becomes more and more difficult to make friends.
• We haven't seen much of him since his marriage to Julie last summer.

Note from the above examples that for is used with a wider variety of tenses than
since.

until

We use until or till to indicate that something continues up to a particular point in


time and then stops:

• Don't bother saving me any supper - I shan't be home till late.


• We had to stay in the exam room until the end of the exam. We couldn't
leave early even if we had finished.
• I had no umbrella so waited until the downpour was over before I left the
shop.
• We don't need to be at the stadium until the first race is over so we don't
need to leave home till eleven o' clock.

by

We use by to indicate that something will be achieved before a particular time or at


that particular time at the latest. Note the contrast between by and until in the final
examples below:

• We have to be at the stadium by midday, so we should leave home by eleven


fifteen.
• She had learnt to play the piano by the age of nine. By that age she could
play almost any tune you asked her to.
• She learnt to play the piano until she was nine years old. Then suddenly and
without warning, she quit.

for and during

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Serj from Russia writes:

My question is: I can say:

For a few years my brother worked on the plant.

Why can't I say this?

During the few years my brother worked on the plant?

'for' to express length of time

You are quite right, Serj. We use for as a preposition when we are talking about a
period of time:

• For a few years my brother worked on the plant.


• My brother worked at the factory for a few years.

We don't know exactly when it was and I don't know how old your brother is but it
might have been in the 90s, the 80s or the 70s or even earlier and it lasted for two
or three years.

For can be used to describe a period of time in the past, present or future:

• The English course that I'm attending lasts for three months.
• Then I shall be on holiday in Dublin for five days.
Last year I went to Australia and stayed for six weeks.

However, if you use for with the present perfect or present perfect continuous tense,
it indicates a period of time which started in the past and continues up to the present
time:

• My sister has worked as a vet for fifteen years now - since 1987.
• Those oak trees have been standing in Greenwich Park for centuries - since
the 18th Century, I think.

Note that since is used to indicate the starting point of the action and for measures
the period of time up to the present.

during to express length of time

We also use during as a preposition when we are talking about a period of time, but
the meaning is different. During means (at some point) in the course of. Compare
the following:

• I saw not one duck on the lake during the whole of last summer.
• I don't know when exactly but he must have left during the night.
• I expect he'll phone me at some stage during next week.
• It must have rained here during the last fortnight as the ground is quite
soft and damp.

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Remember the difference by thinking that during tells us when something happens,
for tells us how long it lasts.

During does not work in your original sentence, Serj, because it introduces a
subordinate clause starting with when or that and the sentence is incomplete. There
is no main clause.

• During the few years…


• During the few years (when / that) my brother was working in the factory…

If we add a main clause, the sentence will be complete and grammatically correct.

• During those years (when / that) my brother was working in the factory, I
was studying at university.

Note that we can replace during…when or during…that with the conjunction while:

• My brother was working on a farm while I was studying for my masters


degree.
• While my brother was at home working on the farm, I was away at
university.

'For' and 'to'

Very often I confuse the uses of to and for when I want to express the idea of
purpose. When should I use for and when must I use to?

for + noun or to + infinitive

To talk about the purpose of an action, we use a for + noun construction or a to +


infinitive structure. Compare the following:

We stopped off at the Goose for a drink and then we carried on to embassy for
dinner.

I’m going to Brussels next week for an interview. I hope to work for the UN.

Do you want to have a drink at the Goose before we go on to dine with the
ambassador?

I’ve come to Dublin to attend a seminar and to meet the new members of the
faculty. But now I’m leaving for Rome.

for + -ing

To talk about the purpose of something, we use a for + -ing construction:

- These double-strength paracetamols are good for getting rid of headaches.


- Are they suitable for backache too?

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- What are these two knives used for?
- This one is for cutting bread and that one is just for slicing meat.

What…for?

Note that What…for? can be used in questions to talk about the purpose of both
actions and things:

- You pinched me! What did you do that for?


- I wanted to see if you were awake

- What are these two buttons for?


- The blue one is for gaining access to the main menu and the green one is for
quitting teletext.

giving reasons and explaining behaviour

Note that the same constructions, for + noun and for + -ing, are used with thank,
apologise and be / feel sorry: With be / feel sorry a to + infinitive structure is
also possible. Compare the following:

Thanks for the lift. Thank you for driving me home.

South Western trains would like to apologise for the late arrival of this train and
for the inconvenience this may cause you.

He really should apologise for spitting in his face. That sort of behaviour is
unacceptable, even on a football field.

I’m sorry to have taken so long with this report.


I’m sorry for taking so long with this report.

- I feel sorry for the cleaners.


- I feel sorry for them too. They’ve got the thankless task of cleaning up all this
mess.

Note also the way in which the for + -ing construction is used to explain the reasons
for the following actions:

He was rewarded for handing in the purse.

He was criticised for not coming forward as a witness to the accident.

He was fined heavily for speeding on the motorway.

He was sent to prison for falsifying the accounts.

in order (not) to / so as (not) to + infinitive

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Note that to + infinitive is one of the most common ways of expressing purpose.
When we want to be explicit or sound more formal we can also use in order to or so
as to. This structures are especially common before negative infinitives, in order
not to and so as not to:

To get a better job I decided to take a computer course.


In order to get a better job I decided to take a computer course.

I left home early in order not to be late for the appointment.


I left the house early so as not be late for the job interview.

Lim Chiu Lan from Malaysia asks about prepositional phrases:

Would you be good enough to explain to me what is the difference between these
prepositional phrases: good at and good in?

Which of the following is correct: 1) 'I'm good at English' or 2) 'I'm good in


English' and 1) 'I'm good at football' or 2) 'I'm good in football'?

To be good at and to be good in are often interchangeable, Lim, and there is no


easy rule to follow. In simple statements, like the ones you have quoted, the
standard form appears to be good at as in 'I'm not very good at football'.

However, in this following sentence, to be good in seems more likely than to be


good at, i.e:

• 'He was the best in the class in French, but in mathematics and chemistry he
was not so good.'

This is perhaps because with other expressions or verbs denoting assessment or


ranking, the preposition in would be required, thus:

• 'In pharmacology she obtained/scored/gained/attained the highest marks.'

In front of / before / across

M Peres from Brazil writes:

I would like to know the difference in use between in front of, before and across.

Is it correct to say: he was sitting before me or do we have to say he was sitting


in front of me? If it's incorrect to say: he was sitting in front of me, why do we
say: the criminal was brought before the judge?

Before / in front of (prepositions)

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Before is not normally used to refer to place. We normally use in front of to specify
place the opposite of which is behind. Compare the following:

• Sam was sitting in front of my girlfriends in the cinema but behind my


sister.

• I was waiting patiently in the queue. In front of me there were about two
hundred people and behind me a further three hundred.

Before is normally used as a preposition to indicate time. Its opposite of which is


after:

• Your brother arrived at the church shortly after three, but I distinctly
remember saying to everyone: "You must be in your seats at or before three
o' clock".

• Excuse me, I was here before you. I should therefore be in front of you in
the queue.

However, before is used to refer to place when it indicates position in a list or


when it means in the presence of somebody important:

• K comes before L in the alphabet, but after J.


He had behaved so badly in school that he was brought before the
headmistress.

• I was accused of dangerous driving but rather than pay the fine, I elected to
appear before the local magistrates.

Note that in these last two examples before means facing and not one behind the
other.

Before (conjunction or adverb)

Before is often used as a conjunction linking two clauses or as an adverb of time,


meaning at some time before now.

• Give me a ring to let me know you are on your way before you leave the
house.

• Make sure you get to the church before the bride arrives.

• Before she married Maurice, she went out with Austin for a couple of
years.

• He was certain we had met before, but I was equally sure we hadn't, for I
had never been there before.

• Within two minutes of it starting, I realized that I'd seen this film before.

Across (preposition)

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In American English, across from as in across the road from me or across the
table from me is expressed in British English by the prepositions opposite or
facing:

• She sat facing me across the table. (She sat across the table from me.)

• They live directly opposite us in the green house. (They live across the road
from us in the green house.)

In British English, across means from one side to the other, expressing
movement, or on the other side of an imaginary line, expressing position:

• My older sister lives just across the road, but Jenny, my baby sister, lives
right across the city, 60 minutes by Tube or two hours in the car.

• Rather than walk twenty miles to the nearest bridge, we decided to swim
across the fast-flowing river, unaware of the dangerous currents.

Across or through?

Note the difference in use between across and through. Across suggests flat or
open space, whereas through suggests a space which is closed with things on
all sides:

• Although it was dark, I was not afraid of walking home through the forest.

• The ice was quite thick and he experienced no difficulty in skating right
across the lake.

• We cycled across Bodmin moor and through a number of small villages.

'like' as verb and preposition

Jose Luis Luque studying English in the UK writes:

Could you please tell me the difference between like as a verb and as a preposition?

like

Like as a verb is used mainly to talk about enjoyment, preferences and habits. It is
perhaps not quite as strong in emotional terms as love, or be fond of or be keen
on. Compare the following:

• Do you like cross-country skiing? ~ Yeah, I quite like it now, but I still prefer
downhill.
• When I’m making a cold drink, I always like to put the ice and slices of lemon
in first.
• How did you like the pumpkin soup? ~ Oh, I liked it very much.

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• I’ve got blackcurrant mousse for desert. Do you like blackcurrants? ~ Oh, I
love them.
• He’s a very kind person. I like him very much, but I could never go out with
him.
• I’m a very social person but I don’t like people following me around all the
time.

Note that like is not normally used in the progressive form and cannot normally be
used without an object:

• What do you think of the conversation classes? ~ I like them. (NOT: I’m
liking them.)
• Do you like garage music? ~ Yes, I do. OR: Yes, I like it. (NOT: Yes, I like.)

would like to = want to

Take care not to confuse like with would like to. They have quite different
meanings. Compare the following and note the structural differences when using
them:

• I'd like to / I want to send this parcel by international recorded delivery,


please.
• Are you interested in going to the match on Saturday. ~ Yes, I'd like to. /
Yes, I want to.
• If you'd like to / you want to take your coat off, please do. It's rather hot
in here.
• I would like to visit him in hospital, but my wife doesn't want to. She
doesn't like hospitals.
• I would have liked to have seen John before he left for Canada, but Mary
didn't want to.

Note that when used for requests and suggestions, would like to sometimes sounds
slightly more polite than want to.

like as preposition

Like as a preposition with nouns or pronouns is used to express ideas of similarity or


comparison. Compare the following:

• When she's on stage, she looks a bit like Britney, but she sounds more like
Madonna.
• Like you, I prefer to eat my breakfast in the morning without engaging in
small talk.
• It was only five o' clock, but it seemed like the middle of the night, it was
so dark.
• These plants grow very well in hot countries, like Costa
Rica and Venezuela.
• What's Bournemouth like as a seaside town? ~ It's a little bit like
Brighton. Quite lively!

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When should we use 'made of' and when should we use 'made from'? Do they have
different meanings?

'Made of' / 'Made from'?

Alex Gooch answers:

Hi Pavel, thanks for your question. Actually, a student asked me the same question
in class a couple of weeks ago - and just like you, I was a bit puzzled by this; I
couldn't immediately work out what the rule was. But I talked it over with my
colleagues ? the other teachers in the Teacher's Room - and eventually, we realised
that this rule is really quite simple.

Let's start by looking at some examples - I might say:


"This shirt is made of cotton"
"This house is made of bricks" OR
"The keyboard I use on my computer is made of plastic."

On the other hand, we might say:


"Paper is made from trees."
"Wine is made from grapes." OR
"This cake is made from all natural ingredients."

So, if you think about the first group of examples, you'll notice that there's a
common theme - a common pattern.

The cotton in the shirt is still cotton - it hasn't changed its form and become
something else. In the same way, the bricks in the walls of the house - they're still
bricks. They didn't stop being bricks when the house was made.
And the plastic in my computer keyboard is still plastic.

So we say:
"The shirt is made of cotton."
"The house is made of bricks."
"The keyboard is made of plastic."

On the other hand, the trees in the example where we say:


"The paper is made from trees."
These trees are not trees anymore - they stopped being trees when they became
paper.

And if we say:
"Wine is made from grapes."
The grapes are no longer grapes - they've been changed into a different type of stuff
- a different type of substance - in this case, wine.

And the flour and the eggs and the sugar in the example about the cake; these have
all changed their forms as well when they became cake.

So this is the rule:


If something keeps its form, we use 'made of''
But if the form is changed during the process of making, then we use 'made from'.

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To meet/to meet with

What is the difference between 'I will meet you' and 'I will meet with you'?

Martin Parrott answers:

Yes - well, firstly, well done Mustafa, well done for being really up-to-date, because
of course 'I will meet with you' -- that 'with' there is a recent form, certainly in
British English. It comes from American English, but I think in American English too,
it's a fairly recent form.

I will meet you

There is a difference: I will meet you or I'll meet you, could mean all kinds of things.
It could mean that we're going to have a meeting, and we're going to do some work
together; but it could simply mean that's where we're going to see each other, and
we're going to go and do something else afterwards.

I will meet with you

'I will meet with you' does imply a number of things: it implies that it's quite formal;
it implies that it's very professional reasons and it implies that somehow, we're going
to collaborate on something ...and that it will go on for quite a long time.

Which is the more common expression?

I'll meet you is much more common. Personally, I love these new expression, and I
use 'I'll meet with you' at every opportunity. However conservative people very often
dislike, and disapprove of, these new expressions which come into the language -
and so I tend to be a little bit careful about who I'm talking to when I use
expressions like this. I love it!

Are there any other expressions that mean more or less the same thing? Are
there any more colloquial expressions that people use to meet up with
somebody else, with their friends?

Well, it's not to meet up with their friends, but I think it's relevant. We often say 'I'll
meet you halfway'.

I'll meet you half way

And if you meet somebody halfway, it's got nothing to do with actually meeting, it's
got to do with negotiating. So, you want something, and I want something else -
then we can either fall out and do nothing, or we can both compromise and find a
solution which involves both of us getting some of what we want, and not getting
some of what we want - and in that case, what we talk about is meeting somebody
halfway: 'I'll meet you halfway'.

'Meeting up'/'meet up'

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Of course, we talk about meeting up, and that's a very common expression: in fact
it's what we call a phrasal verb, but you can meet up, or you can meet up with
somebody - that's always for social reasons and it involves getting together, usually
then to do something else, and it may involve not two people, but a large group of
people. So, at the end of an evening of doing something socially, somebody might
say ‘when are we going to meet up again’?

To 'hook up'

If you hook up with somebody you meet them. It's very colloquial. Usually young
professional people use this, people in their twenties, professional people, who lead a
very busy life. They don't have very much time to spend with anyone, and they say
'oh, I'll hook up with you sometime' - meaning getting into contact for a quick
conversation which has some definite purpose. They will then move on and hook up
with somebody else.

To get in touch

We often use the expression 'to get in touch with someone'. Now, that very often
doesn't involve touching, or even seeing. It's very often a letter, or an e-mail, or a
phone call, or a text message - but that has the sense of contacting somebody who
you haven't had contact with for quite some time. Christmas in this part of the world
of course is where we tend to get in touch with people that we don't see regularly
and that just means sending them a card and it's really to let them know that we're
still there - and thinking of them. Martin Parrott answers:

Yes - well, firstly, well done Mustafa, well done for being really up-to-date, because
of course 'I will meet with you' -- that 'with' there is a recent form, certainly in
British English. It comes from American English, but I think in American English too,
it's a fairly recent form.

I will meet you

There is a difference: I will meet you or I'll meet you, could mean all kinds of things.
It could mean that we're going to have a meeting, and we're going to do some work
together; but it could simply mean that's where we're going to see each other, and
we're going to go and do something else afterwards.

I will meet with you

'I will meet with you' does imply a number of things: it implies that it's quite formal;
it implies that it's very professional reasons and it implies that somehow, we're going
to collaborate on something ...and that it will go on for quite a long time.

Which is the more common expression?

I'll meet you is much more common. Personally, I love these new expression, and I
use 'I'll meet with you' at every opportunity. However conservative people very often
dislike, and disapprove of, these new expressions which come into the language -
and so I tend to be a little bit careful about who I'm talking to when I use
expressions like this. I love it!

336
Are there any other expressions that mean more or less the same thing? Are
there any more colloquial expressions that people use to meet up with
somebody else, with their friends?

Well, it's not to meet up with their friends, but I think it's relevant. We often say 'I'll
meet you halfway'.

I'll meet you half way

And if you meet somebody halfway, it's got nothing to do with actually meeting, it's
got to do with negotiating. So, you want something, and I want something else -
then we can either fall out and do nothing, or we can both compromise and find a
solution which involves both of us getting some of what we want, and not getting
some of what we want - and in that case, what we talk about is meeting somebody
halfway: 'I'll meet you halfway'.

'Meeting up'/'meet up'

Of course, we talk about meeting up, and that's a very common expression: in fact
it's what we call a phrasal verb, but you can meet up, or you can meet up with
somebody - that's always for social reasons and it involves getting together, usually
then to do something else, and it may involve not two people, but a large group of
people. So, at the end of an evening of doing something socially, somebody might
say ‘when are we going to meet up again’?

To 'hook up'

If you hook up with somebody you meet them. It's very colloquial. Usually young
professional people use this, people in their twenties, professional people, who lead a
very busy life. They don't have very much time to spend with anyone, and they say
'oh, I'll hook up with you sometime' - meaning getting into contact for a quick
conversation which has some definite purpose. They will then move on and hook up
with somebody else.

To get in touch

We often use the expression 'to get in touch with someone'. Now, that very often
doesn't involve touching, or even seeing. It's very often a letter, or an e-mail, or a
phone call, or a text message - but that has the sense of contacting somebody who
you haven't had contact with for quite some time. Christmas in this part of the world
of course is where we tend to get in touch with people that we don't see regularly
and that just means sending them a card and it's really to let them know that we're
still there - and thinking of them.

on/off

Tamas from Hungary writes:

I have two sentences:

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• vacationers reported seeing sharks just off the coast
• we have two full weeks off from school

I understand these sentences, but I'm not sure how to use the word off in examples
like these. Could you please explain this usage of this word?

off / on as prepositions

Off functions as a preposition of position or movement and is the converse of on. We


speak of getting on a bus and off a bus, taking things off the table and putting
them on the floor. In your first sentence, Tamas, off appears in off the coast to
describe something that is situated near or next to land, but which is not exactly on
the coast. Consider these other similar examples:

• We live just off The Avenue. Drive along The Avenue almost to the end and
then turn off to the right into a little cul-de-sac.
• The Inner and Outer Hebrides are situated off the Western coast of Scotland.

Here are some examples of other common usages of off as a preposition:

• Did she jump off or fall off the cliff or did someone push her off? ~ Nobody
knows!
• I'm off alcohol just now. A big celebration last Sunday. And it's put me off
my food too.
• I think this crab pate has gone off, you know. It doesn't taste fresh any
more.
• Have you heard? There's 20 % off all CDs at the music shop in Elm Street
next Friday.
• You don't have to keep off the grass in this park. You can walk anywhere on
the grass.

In your second sentence, Tamas, off describes time that is taken off work or off
school typically because of illness, tiredness or holiday arrangements. Note that we
do not need to say off from. One preposition, off, is enough here:

• We're getting two extra days off school at the beginning of June for the
Queen's Jubilee.
• I shall have to have a day off soon. I can't keep going like this all the time.
~ Why don't you take the afternoon off today?

expresssions with off

We also speak about people being off-balance, off-colour, off-duty, doing things
on the off-chance and having off days:

• I caught him completely off-balance and he didn't know what to say.


• She'd been off-colour for days, but there was no sign of any real illness
developing.
• Could you just do this for me? ~ Sorry, love, I'm off duty at the moment. ~
When are you on again?

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• I decided to take a detour into Paris on the off-chance that Amelie might be
there.
• Brobbins, the club's leading striker, had an off day and missed three open
goals.

phrasal verbs with off

There are many common phrasal verbs with off, such as put off (= postpone),
knock off (finish work), lay off (dismiss from work, usually temporarily), bring
something off (complete something successfully), polish off (eat something
quickly):

• I've been putting it off for weeks, but it's no good, I shall have to go to the
dentists soon.
• Aren't you going to knock off soon? You've been staring into that computer
screen all day.
• 700 workers will be laid off in the Belfast shipyards following a decline in
orders.
• They had a wonderful time. I didn't think you'd be able to bring it off.
• I thought the Christmas cake would hang around for weeks, but they soon
polished it off.

A question from Cecile Arnould in Belgium:


I want to know the difference between - 'think of' and 'think about'.

Sian Harris answers:


Hi Cecile and thanks for your question - prepositions are a very tricky area! This is
also what's known as a collocation issue...which means we need to look at which
words work best in partnership with 'think of ' and 'think about.'. Basically, 'think of'
usually means 'imagine' whereas 'think about' tends to mean something closer to
'consider', so the differences would arise in certain contexts. For example, if I say
I'm thinking of a tropical beach, please don't interrupt me! I mean I'm imagining it or
daydreaming about it. However, a sentence like 'they're thinking about whether to
agree to the sale,' means they're considering the sale. In these cases, it's just
natural usage patterns that tend to favour one form over another

But when we are talking about people, we often tend to use them both in a similar
way: For example, if my friend had an accident and went to hospital, I might send a
card and some flowers with a message which could either read: 'I'm thinking of you,'
or 'I'm thinking about you', and the meaning wouldn't be significantly different.

I hope that helps Cecile - thanks for your question.

339
Speaking & writing

340
British English vs American English

A question from Brittney in the United States of America:

I am an American college student who is contemplating applying for work in the


United Kingdom after I graduate, and I was wondering how big the language barrier
would be in my prospective move from America to the United Kingdom.

I know there are similarities, but I also know that there are many more differences.
Any tips would be appreciated!

Alex Gooch answers:

Hi Brittney. You're right, there are many well-known differences between British and
American English, but these differences won't cause you any serious problems if you
come and work in Britain.

First, there are a few noticeable GRAMMAR differences between British and American
English: I'll talk about the two most important ones.

First of all, when Americans make sentences using 'just', 'already' or 'yet', they
normally use the past simple tense, while in Britain, we use the present perfect.

So an American, for example, might say:

"I already had lunch."

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"She didn't arrive yet."

And a British person would say:

"I've already had lunch." - That's "I have already had lunch."
Or... "She hasn't arrived yet."

Also, in Britain we often use 'have got' or 'has got' when we talk about possession,
while Americans generally just use 'have' or 'has'.

So, for example, in American English we might say:


"I have a new car."

In British English it's more normal to say:


"I've got a new car."

The meaning's the same, there's just a small grammatical difference that you might
notice.

There are these and a few other very small differences, but to be honest, these
differences almost never make it difficult for us to understand each other.

On the other hand, the differences in VOCABULARY between American English and
British English are stronger than the grammatical differences, but again, these very
rarely cause serious problems.

A lot of the words which are different are informal or slang words...

For example, I think many Americans would be unfamiliar with the British slang word
'naff', which means 'un-cool' or 'poor-quality'.

On the other hand, a Brit (a British person) might be very confused by a sentence
like:

"The café is kitty-corner to the pharmacy."

This means that the café is diagonally opposite to the pharmacy, but we don't have
the word 'kitty-corner' in British English.

Another example would be telling the time...

If we want to describe 2:45 in Britain, we might say:


"Quarter to three", or 3:15 would be "Quarter past three".

On the other hand, in America, these might be:


"Quarter of three" for 2:45, or "Quarter after three" for 3:15.

It's another small difference, but it's one that's not going to cause serious problems -
it's quite easy to get used to.

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There are also some differences in SPELLING which I should mention.

One example of this is the verb 'to practise':


In British English, this is spelt with an 'S', so that's
P-R-A-C-T-I-S-E.
In American English, it's spelt with two 'C's, so in American English it's
P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E.

And there are lots of other examples of slight difference of spelling, but about 99%
of the time, British and American people can understand each other without any
trouble at all. In Britain we watch lots of American films and TV programs, and we
listen to lots of American music, so American English is generally very familiar to us.

This is probably not quite so true for an American coming to Britain. Americans, I
think, don't watch quite so much British TV or British movies.

I should also point out that regional English can be an important thing to think
about. Not everyone in Britain talks like James Bond. There are some regional
accents in Britain which you don't hear so often in the movies, and these might be a
bit more difficult to get used to.

However, I'd like to finish by saying that many, many Americans live and work in
Britain, and they don't have any serious language problems at all. So, Brittney, my
advice to you is: don't worry about the language, you'll be fine!

A question from Diana from the USA:

Can we not... / Can we not go there?

Hi, I would like to know the correct usage of the phrase 'Can we not...'. If I say
'Can we not go there?', that could have two meanings... one would be of disgust,
the other of eagerness. Are both correct ways to use the words? If not, which is the
right way?

Alex Gooch answers:

Hello Diana. You're right, the question 'Can we not go there?' can have two
completely different meanings.

Firstly, it can express eagerness. When we use the question: 'Can we not (do
something)?' we want to do this thing, but we think it might be impossible or not
allowed.

Here's an example: Let's imagine a couple in a travel agency, looking at the


brochures and trying to decide about a holiday. Let's call them 'Mary' and 'David'.

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In this first example, Mary says:
"Can we go abroad this year?"

In this case, she thinks it's probably okay to go abroad, so she uses the simple form
of the question, without 'not'; just "Can we go abroad this year?"

On the other hand, there might be a conversation like this:

David might say,


"We haven't got much money. Let's take a holiday in Britain this year."
And Mary might answer:
"Well, we've been on holiday in Britain for the last five years. Can we not go
abroad this year?"

Here, Mary wants to go abroad, but she thinks this might be impossible or not
allowed because of David's comments. So in this situation, we use the question 'Can
we not (do something)?'

When we say 'Can we not (do something)?' to express eagerness, we can also
say:
'Can't we' - 'Can't we (do something)?'

In fact, 'Can't we (do something)?' is the more common way of expressing this.
So, Mary might say:
"Can't we go abroad this year?"

On the other hand, 'Can we not (do something)?' can also express disgust or not
wanting to do this thing.

Let's think about another example: Mary and David, again, are in the travel agents'
looking at brochures...

David says:
"I'd like to go to Iceland."
Mary replies:
"Iceland sounds very cold. I don't like cold places. Can we not go there?"

Here, Mary doesn't want to go Iceland, because she doesn't like cold places. We
sometimes use 'Can we not (do something)?' to express the fact that we really
don't like this thing, and we don't want to do it.

This use of 'Can we not (do something)?' is very informal - and it's more common
in America, but British people have started to use it too. In this type of situation we
never use the contraction 'can't', as in 'Can't we (do something)?'. It's always
"Can we not..." - "Can we not (do something)?"

So, when someone uses a question like this, how do we know what they mean?
Actually, the sentences all look the same when they're written down, but they're
normally used in spoken English, and when we say them, the stress changes
according to the meaning.

When we want to express eagerness, we stress the word 'can' and the main verb.

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"Can we not go abroad this year?"

On the other hand, when we want to express disgust, or the desire not to do this
thing, we put strong stress on not.
"Can we not go there?"

Incidentally, Diana, the particular example that you chose: 'Can we not go there?'
has come to have a special meaning in English recently...
If we say:
"Can we not go there?"
That can mean: "I don't want to talk about it: let's not talk about this."

Contractions: 'aren't', 'haven't', 'isn't'

Julia Melnikova from Russia asks:

My question is not very serious, but I'd like to know what the contraction ain't
means. I met it in the song of Chris de Burgh, 'Moonlight and roses'. 'Tonight there's
a band, it ain't such a bad one / Play me a song, don't make it a sad one.'

I think it means 'not'. Am I right?

You are right, Julia. 'It ain't' here could be re-written in standard English as 'it isn't'
or 'it's not'.

'Ain't' is non-standard English, but is quite common in dialects and in colloquial forms
of British and American English. So it is important to be able to recognise it, but not
so important to be able to produce it in speech or writing. It is used as the
contracted form of a number of different aspects of the verbs and auxiliary verbs 'to
be' and 'to have', so it is quite useful, as you can see. It is the contracted form of:

'am not', 'are not', 'is not', 'have not' and 'has not'

It is often used with a second negative in the same clause, producing a double
negative, which is ungrammatical, but quite normal in this variety of English:

• 'You ain't goin' nowhere. You're stayin' right here.'


• 'I ain't done it yet. No. I ain't 'ad a minute to meself.' (= myself).
• 'I ain't Superman.'
• 'It ain't right for Joan to tell Jane what to do.'
• 'He still ain't returned that bike. How long's he 'ad it for now?'
• 'You ain't finished your supper, Simon. Ain't you 'ungry, or what?'
• 'It ain't arf 'ot in 'ere.'

The standard negative contractions of these two verbs, which you should be using,
particularly in speech and in informal writing, are as follows. There are quite a few of
them, as you can see. Note that he's not is the standard contracted form for both
'he has not' and 'he is not'. Note also that 'am not' is normally contracted to 'aren't'
only in questions.

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Full form Contraction Example
I am not I'm not I'm not going out this evening. I'm staying in.
Am I not? Aren't I? I'm too old for this sort of thing, aren't I?
We're not very happy with plans for
We are not We're not
tomorrow.
We are not We aren't We aren't going to Tom's party after all.
You are not You aren't But you're going, aren't you?
You're not yet 16. So you're not going
You are not You're not
clubbing.
Those tomatoes - they aren't very red, are
They are not They aren't
they?
They've just phoned to say they're not coming
They are not They're not
to dinner tonight.
He/she is not He/she isn't He/she isn't quite ready to take this exam.
He/she is not He's/she's not He's/she's not very clever, is he/she?
It is not It's not It's not very warm today, is it?
It is not It isn't It isn't going to rain, is it?
It has not It hasn't It hasn't rained for a long time.
It has not It's not It's not been long since I saw you.
He's/she's not been to work today as
He/she has not He's/she's not
he's/she's got a cold.
I have not I haven't I haven't seen you for ages. How are you?
I've not read that newspaper yet, so don't
I have not I've not
throw it away.
You've not finished your supper, Simon.
You have not You've not
Aren't you hungry tonight.
I can see you've played this game before,
You have not You haven't
haven't you?
They've not been to see Brenda's mother at
They have not They've not
all since she's been in hospital.
They've already left, haven't they? The car's
They have not They haven't
not in the drive.

Discourse markers
Please help me out. The expression mind you has been confusing me for some time
in many ways. Please help me to understand this expression.

Discourse markers or linking words like mind you indicate how one piece of
discourse is connected to another piece of discourse. They show the connection
between what has already been written or said and what is going to be written or
said. Some are very informal and characteristic of spoken language. Others are quite
formal and characteristic of written language. There are many of them. The following
represent a tiny fraction of the total.

mind you / still

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Mind you is an example of an informal linking device used in spoken English to point
out that what you are going to say as an afterthought contradicts what has already
been said. Still can be used in a similar way:

Miners in this country work for long hours in very difficult conditions and mostly in
the dark. Mind you, they’re well paid for the work they do.

The divorce was very acrimonious and she didn’t get half of what she was expecting.
Still, she’s been left with a comfortable house to bring the children up in.

by the way / incidentally

By the way and incidentally can also be used to introduce afterthoughts but they
do not contradict what has already been said like mind you or still. But they do
indicate a change in direction of the conversation. Both are used in informal and
semi-formal spoken English. Incidentally is slightly more formal than by the way:

I’m meeting Tom at five o’ clock to discuss the end-of-year balances and then I’m
playing tennis with Greg. Oh, by the way, I shan’t want anything to eat when I get
home.

She should do well. She’s highly intelligent, she has worked hard and done a lot of
revision. Incidentally, her name is misspelt on the examination entry form.

however / nevertheless

Like mind you and still, however and nevertheless are used to introduce a
contrast with what has been said before. However, they are much more
characteristic of written English:

As expected, Britain has again come last in the European athletics championships.
However, we did register one small success by coming third and winning the bronze
in the hop, skip and jump.

He is unlikely ever to get into the first team and I know he is keen to return to his
native country at the earliest opportunity. Nevertheless, he will be expected to fulfil
his contract and remain with us until the end of the summer.

Note from these examples that in an informal medium, mind you and still could
replace however and nevertheless.

you know / like / let's see

You know, like and let’s see are all examples of a special kind of discourse marker
used in conversation and they are known as fillers. They are employed to give the
speaker a second to think about what he wants to say.

Like is very heavily used as a filler at the moment, especially by young adults and
teenagers. For many young people it has become a speech habit. Here are some
examples of use:

That strong wind that caused all the damage to the beach huts. That was back in –
like / let’s see – October?

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I don’t ever throw my rubbish away in the street. I – like / you know – care about
the environment and stuff.

She didn’t get the joke! I’m – like – laughing my head off, but she couldn’t see what
was funny about it.

He phoned me to say it was all over. I said – like – you can’t do that to me.

You’re from Tunbridge Wells. That’s – like / let’s see – south of London?

He was rapping away like Eminem. And I’m – like – wow!

A question from Roberto in Brazil:


I'd like to know about fluency. What can I do to feel better when I'm talking to
other people? Do we have some way to learn it faster? Please help me!

Susan Fearn answers:

So, Roberto wants to know how to become more fluent in English, and this is
something he wants to be able to do 'fast'. I know you're writing this from Brazil
Roberto, but you don't say whether or not you get to meet English speakers much. If
you do, the first rule of becoming more fluent is to listen, not just to native speakers
of English but also to very good users of English as a second language - the kind of
speaker that I guess you'd like to become. If you don't get to meet many speakers of
English, then listen to radio, TV or films in English. Listen to the BBC!

The next step is to notice what it is that speakers of English do, which makes them
sound fluent. The first trick is to probably have confidence; a good user of a
language isn't afraid to speak. Some people are afraid to speak a foreign language
because they think they might make mistakes. Don't worry about that. Your listeners
will usually try hard to understand you - a few grammar errors aren't going to worry
them.

What you do need to worry about, though, is pronunciation, and in particular,


stress. By 'stress', I mean that some parts of a word or sentence are stronger and
louder than others. For example, if I say:

Roberto's from Brazil


the stressed or strong parts are bert and zil.

Roberto's from Brazil

Stress differs from language to language and it's likely that you transfer some of
your Portuguese patterns when you speak English - and this could make you sound
less fluent.

When you learn a new word or expression, learn it with its stress. There are some
rules for word stress in English but they're very complicated with a lot of exceptions!
The easiest thing to do is to learn the stress with the word. Notice how a native
speaker says it or look in a dictionary.

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Here's a little test: Can you spot the stress in these words?

English
BBC
university

Again:

English
BBC
university

And did you get that? It's English with the stress on Eng, BBC with the stress on the
first 'B', and university with the stress on ver.

In a whole sentence or utterance, the stress is usually on the words which carry the
most meaning. That's often the nouns, the main verbs, the adjectives and adverbs.

Listen to this sentence and see if you can spot the stress:

Roberto has been learning English for ten years.


And again:
Roberto has been learning English for ten years.

And the stress is on bert, learn, Eng, ten years.

Roberto has been learning English for ten years.

And if you start listening, for example, to BBC interviews and think of this, you'll
begin to notice the stress and the rhythm of English.

So, how far have we got?


Confidence, not worrying too much, pronunciation, stress? What else?

Well, another good thing that speakers of English do is to have a few tricks up their
sleeves for when they need to give themselves thinking time because they're
searching for what to say next. And they use 'filler sounds' like er, um and so on.

Another thing that English speakers do is make words longer:


well...
so...

And there are a range of other expressions they use too, special expressions like
So what I'm saying is?
Do you see what I mean?
You know?
So, listen and notice what some of these expressions are that people use to win
extra time.

Another thing that it's useful to know how to do is how to bring other speakers into
your conversation so that you keep them interested - and this often done by asking
questions.

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What do you think?
What do you reckon?
How do you feel about this?
and so on...

So, to become a fluent speaker, you'll need to put into practice all these kind of
things. And there's the key: practise, practise, practise.

*If you do have English-speaking friends, meet up with them as much as possible.
*Try and put yourself in a position where you're the only one who doesn't have first
language or very fluent English.
*Find a language exchange partner - someone who wants to practise your language
in return. One of my students was a speaker of Chinese who was learning English;
he found an English person who was learning Chinese and they did half an hour of
each language.

If you can't do any of that, you'll have to agree with another learner of English that
you're going to have - say - an hour a day speaking just English. And if that's not
possible, use English with yourself, inside your head. Think in English. It does work!
It's what I do with French. I've got no one in my house who speaks French, and so to
practise, I talk to the cat - in French. Bonjour chat! My daughter thinks it's very, very
funny!

gonna, gotta, wanna and dunno

Daniel Haieck from San Luis in Argentina writes:

I would like to know please under what circumstances we should use wanna and
gonna, and what exactly they mean. Thank you.

wanna / gonna

Wanna and gonna are frequently used in speech in informal colloquial English,
particularly American English, instead of want to and going to. You will also see
them used in writing in quotes of direct speech to show the conversational
pronunciation of want to and going to.

Gonna to express the going to form of the future is used with first second and third
person singular and plural. Note that in the interrogative, are is omitted in second
person singular and first and second person plural

• What we gonna do now? (= What are we going to do now?)


• Don't know about you two. I'm gonna put my feet up and take a break.
• We're gonna carry on and try and get there before dark.

• What's he gonna wear on his wedding day?


~ I dunno. But he's gonna look real smart.

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Wanna can be used with all persons singular and plural, except third person
singular. This is because wanna scans with I want to, you want to, we want to,
they want to, but not with he/she wants to where the final s is too intrusive:

• What you wanna do now? (Instead of: What do you want to do now?)
• I wanna go home. My mum and dad are waiting for me and they wanna go
out.

• You'll never give up gambling. I'm sure of that. ~ You wanna bet?
(which means: Do you want to place a bet on that?)

a wannabee

This term derives originally from the US, but is now used extensively in British
English. A wannabee (literally a want-to-be) is someone who is trying to copy
somebody else. Usually the person they are trying to copy is somebody famous.

• Scores of Britney Spears wannabees raided the shops where she had bought
her latest outfit.

gotta

Gotta is used in a similar way to gonna and wanna, in this case to show the
conversational pronunciation of have got to, or as informal alternatives to have to
or must. It is not so much used in the interrogative:

• Don't go out there tonight. It's really dangerous.


• ~ A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do

• I gotta / I've gotta phone home right now. My mum'll be worried.


• You gotta / You've gotta get changed right away. The match starts in five
minutes.

dunno

Dunno, meaning I don't know is characteristic of very informal speech in British


English. Note that the word stress in this expression is on the second syllable,
whereas with gonna, gotta and wanna it is on the first syllable.

• Are you going to college when you leave school? ~ Dunno!


• Will you quit your job if they re-locate to Manchester?
~ I dunno.

When to use these expressions

You don't ever need to use these forms actively yourself, Daniel, as a language
learner. They may sound too informal if you do, although if other native speakers of
English around you are using them, there is probably no reason why you shouldn't
use them too, as you 'grow into them.' It is, of course, important to recognise and
understand them.

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Gotta, wanna and gonna in the history of popular music

Gotta, wanna and gonna have been used regularly in the titles and lyrics or
popular songs since the 1950s or even earlier.

Greetings and farewells

What is the difference between these two sentences: ‘How are you?’ and ‘How do
you do?’

Formal greetings

How do you do? is very formal and is not used very much, especially by younger
people, these days. It may be used on first meeting and accompanied by a formal
handshake when both partners issue the same greeting. The reply to How do you
do? is How do you do? Then it would be a matter of getting straight down to the
business in hand, e.g. ‘I see that your company has been performing very well in
South East Asia...'

The more usual exchange between two people meeting with a handshake on a fairly
formal basis for the first time would be: Pleased to meet you. Or: Nice to meet
you.

Informal greetings

The most common way of greeting someone both at an informal level and more
formally would be: Hello! How are you? to which the standard reply is: Very well,
thank you. or: Fine, thank you. (Note that the question is not usually meant or
interpreted as a searching enquiry after the person’s health.) After we have given
this reply, we often repeat: (And) how are you? or: (And) what about you? The
response is still the same: Fine, thanks.

At the most informal level, among friends and particularly among young people, the
most common greeting would probably be: Hi! to which the response is: Hi! This
might then be followed by one of the following: How are things?, How’s things?,
How’s it going?, (Are) you OK? to which the answer is probably: Yeah, fine! or
with typical British understatement: Yeah, not so bad!

Formal farewells

At a formal level, and again accompanied by a handshake, the most common


farewell would probably be: (It was) nice to meet you or Nice to have met you.
If a follow-up meeting has been arranged, this might be accompanied by: I’ll see
you in three weeks. Bye, now.

Informal farewells

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At a more informal level too, on first meeting, it would be quite normal to say: Nice
to have met you. Bye/Goodbye.

Among friends, farewell might be taken (by a combination of) some of the following:

• 'Bye.'
• 'Bye-bye.'
• 'See you.'
• 'See you later./tomorrow./on Saturday./etc'
• 'Take care.

Group discussions

I will have to face interview and group discussions in order to get recruited
into a company, can you please tell me how to speak effectively in a group
discussion.

Hi Mayur,
Thanks for your question! Lots of people feel nervous about participating in
group discussions, but there are a few simple techniques that can make you
an effective participant.

Here are my top tips for participating in a group discussion:

1. Prepare
If you know what the topic of the discussion will be, there is a lot you can do
to prepare in advance. You can read round the topic to make sure you are
aware of the main issues and arguments, and spend some time deciding
what your own position is. If you can find any English-language audio or TV
materials about the topic, make sure you watch it! You can also do some
vocabulary research around the topic so that you can talk about it
confidently. Make a list of the nouns, verbs and adjectives that you think will
be useful and practise their pronunciation. A lot of online dictionaries
have pronunciation help.

2. Listen
An effective discussion is one in which people listen to each other. Listening
is a very important discussion skill: make sure you listen and respond to

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what other people have to say. A good discussion is one in which people
share and talk about different opinions and viewpoints. It's not a
competition!

3. Don't dominate
Many people make the mistake of thinking that in order to be effective in a
discussion, they have to speak a lot. In fact, this isn't the case. In
discussions, quality is more important than quantity: in other words, what
you say is often much more important than how much you say. If you give
other people a chance to say what they think, and then respond with a polite,
intelligent comment which you are able to back up, you will gain the respect
of your colleagues.

4. Back up your points


If you make a point in a discussion, you may be asked to explain or support
it. You can do this in a number of ways: by providing facts or statistics to
support your idea; by quoting expert opinion; by referring to your own
experience or simply by explaining why you said what you said. But make
sure you are prepared to support what you say, and try to avoid making
'empty' points.

5. Learn some useful phrases


There are lots of useful phrases that you can use in discussions. Here are just
a few of them:
o Agreeing: You're absolutely right about that.
o Disagreeing: I'm sorry, I don't see it that way at all.
o Interrupting: Sorry, do you mind if I say something here?
o Dealing with interruptions: Could I just finish what I'm saying?
o Asking for an explanation: Would you mind telling us what exactly you
mean by that?
o Asking for more information: Would you mind saying a little bit more
about that?
o Adding more information: Another point I'd like to make is... There are
many more phrases you can learn and use to help you feel more confident in
discussions. Find out more here

6. Be polite
The words argue and discuss in English have different meanings. People may
get angry and behave rudely or shout or get aggressive in an argument. In a
discussion, especially one with colleagues, it's important to stay calm and be
polite, even if you feel strongly about the topic under discussion. Using words
like please, thank you, I'd like to... May I...? Would you mind...? Could
you...? Make you sound polite and respectful.

7. Take / make notes


It's a good idea to have a pen and paper handy. You can jot down any useful
or important words or ideas that might come in handy later in the discussion
- or afterwards.

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8. Speak clearly
Most people are happy to forgive a few grammar mistakes when they are
talking to a foreigner. However, they have much less patience when they
can't understand someone because they are talking far too quickly, or much
too slowly, or when they have poor pronunciation. So, practise your
pronunciation and speak clearly and confidently. If you need time to collect
your thoughts, you could say something like Hmmm... just let me have a
minute to think about this. Or you could say Could you just repeat that
please? to get a bit more time to think.

9. Relax!
Remember Mayur, a discussion is not a competition: it's an opportunity to
share ideas in a positive environment. If you are relaxed, you will be more
likely to feel confident and enjoy the discussion - and the best way to make
sure you are relaxed in a discussion is to prepare for it! Preparing for a
discussion can make the discussion a lot easier. You'll be able to spend less
time trying to think of vocabulary and ideas, and more time listening to
others and participating in the discussion. Speak slowly and clearly, don't
worry too much about little grammar mistakes, and remember to listen and
respond to other people. Thanks again for your question Mayur, and good
luck in your job search!

'Friendly/informal terms of address'


Tri from France writes:

Could you please explain the friendly/informal terms of addressing people usually
used in British English as well as in American English? I've found the following: love,
hen (in Scotland?), duck (?), hon or honey (in American English?). Are there any
other terms in regional dialects of English?

Mark Shea answers:

Hi Tri,

Thanks for sending in such a fun question! Friendly and informal ways of addressing
people is an area where English vocabulary is very rich.

Many different local or national varieties of English have their own terms of address.
There are also different terms of address depending on the relationship between the
speaker and the other person. This would give us a very long list - here are a few of
my favourites:

The one that I personally use most is "mate". I use it for friends and family and
mostly for men, although women might call each other mate as well.

I frequently start sentences with 'mate', or tag it onto the end of a sentence.

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"Mate, what are you up to tonight?" or
"See you later, mate."
The meaning is 'friend', and it's particularly common in London and in Australian
English.

'Geezer is another London term, though far less common.

In a very informal context, you might also hear 'love' used - a greengrocer might
say to a customer:

"That'll be two pounds please, love."

Men wouldn't normally use this with other men though. It's often used between
boyfriends and girlfriends - who might also call each other 'babe'.

In the north of England, particularly in Newcastle, 'pet' is an affectionate term of


address.

"Alright, pet" -

is just a way of saying 'hello' to virtually anybody, known or unknown - although


men wouldn't usually call each other 'pet'.

In London, men might address male strangers as 'governor' or 'gov' for short,
'squire' or 'mush' - which rhymes with 'push' and comes from the old Romany word
for 'man'.

All over Britain, and even more in the United States, adults might address children as
'kid', or 'kiddo'. In Britain, boys might also be called 'lad', 'laddy', 'young fella
m'lad', 'sonny Jim', etc. But they can sound very condescending if you don't know
each other really well.

La' is a common abbreviation in Liverpool in the north-west of England, where it


might be used for almost any young male.

'Laddy' and 'lassie' are used in Scotland for young men and young women
respectively.

'Boyo' is the Welsh version, and can be used for adults too.

Rather confusingly, some terms that sound very friendly might not be...
'Pal' means friend, but a sentence which begins
"Listen pal..." - could well be a warning or a threat.
"Sunshine" is another term that can be used between men, and isn't always as
friendly as it sounds.

The United States, and rap music in particular, has always been a very rich source of
slang, which gradually crosses the Atlantic in American film and music. From this, we
get brother, bro', bruv, brud, beau or boo, blood, dog etc.

An important point to make about all of these terms, just like all slang, is that by
using them you are claiming membership of a particular group or club. It sounds

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strange when older people try to use slang that teenagers use for example - they
just don't fit in.

As a non-native speaker of English, people might not expect you to use slang, and so
they'll be surprised when you do and may mishear or misunderstand what you are
saying. You need to be very confident that you're using this vocabulary in an
appropriate context to use it well - perhaps amongst friends. It's always fun to learn
slang, but it's really easy to get it wrong.

Job interviews

I will have to face interview and group discussions in order to get recruited
into a company, can you please tell me how to behave in an interview.

Hi Mayur,
Thanks for your question! Many people feel nervous about interviews, but
there are a lot of things you can do to help yourself. Here are some of my
favourite tips for successful interviews.

1. Prepare for the interview.

Do some research about the company so that you can talk knowledgeably
about it. Try to predict what questions you will be asked, and prepare your
answers. To help you do this, look at the job advertisement and job
description/person specification if you have them, as well as your CV and
covering letter. Some general questions you might be asked are:

• Why do you want to work for this company?


• How would you describe yourself?
• What special skills and talents can you bring to this position?
• How would your manager describe you?
• What did you learn in your last job?
• Give an example of a work problem that you have been able to solve.
• What are your strengths and weaknesses?
• What is your long-term career plan?

Make sure you can answer these questions! Practise pronunciation of difficult
words and if you know the name(s) of the person/people who will be
interviewing you, make sure you can pronounce them properly.

2. Try to make a good first impression.

Wear clean, well-fitting clothes which are appropriate for the job and
company you have applied to. Smile, make eye contact and give a firm
handshake. Sit fairly upright in your chair and sit still. Speak clearly and

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confidently. The interviewer will probably start by asking you some general
questions to make you feel relaxed. Don't worry about being nervous - it’s
normal - but don’t let you nerves stop you from giving full answers to
questions.

3. Give full answers to questions.

The interviewer is asking you questions because s/he wants to know more
about you, so don't mumble or give one-word answers. Don’t memorise
answers and repeat them word for word. This sounds mechanical and boring,
and you’ll get stuck if you are asked a question which you haven’t prepared
for. You will give a much better impression if you speak naturally. Make sure
you answer the question that was asked, and try to give specific answers
with examples. For example, if the interviewer asks you what you learnt in
your last job, you could say: In my role as assistant manager, I improved
my organisational skills as I was responsible for organising the work
schedules of 10 full-time and 5 part-time staff. But don’t give so much
detailed information that you become boring!

4. Tell the truth.

Don't panic if the interviewer asks you to talk about problems you have had.
S/he isn't trying to make you look bad. You should briefly describe the pr o
blem and then explain how you tried to solve it. You should also say
something about how successful the solution was, for example: ‘The
workload on my degree course was very high in the first term, and I found
myself falling behind. I solved the problem by making a study timetable so
that I didn't spend too much time working on each essay. I also booked a
couple of one-to-one sessions with my sociology teacher, who was able to
guide my research, which saved me a lot of time. Don't lie or exaggerate.
You must ALWAYS tell the truth, remembering to try to show yourself in a
positive light. A part time job stacking shelves in your local supermarket isn't
‘just only a part-time job' and it may not be ‘a fantastic opportunity' but it is
‘a chance to meet people, experience a retail environment and earn some
money to support my studies' .

5. Prepare your English.

Before the interview, you can practise your interview technique by getting a
friend to role-play the interview with you. Make a note of any difficulties you
have with your English so that you can research and practise them before the
interview. During the actual interview, don't be afraid to ask the interviewer
to repeat something if you didn't understand it. If you want to check your
understanding, repeat the question in your own words: ‘So you're asking
me….' ‘You mean you want to know…' This will also give you some time to
think of your answer. Don't pretend you understand something if you don't.
Speak clearly and confidently, not too quickly and don't worry if you make a
few mistakes.

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6. Ask questions.

Make a list of things you want to know about the job and take it with you to
the interview. When it is your turn to ask questions, have a quick look at it
and ask any that haven't been answered already. Some topics you might like
to ask about include:

• Promotion prospects
• Opportunities for travel
• Pension or healthcare scheme
• Training opportunities
• Cost and availability of accommodation in the area

Use polite question forms like I was wondering... Could you tell me a little bit
about...? I'd like to know something about... At the end of the interview,
remember to thank the interviewer for seeing you.

Well I do hope these tips are helpful Mayur. Thanks again for your question,
and good luck in your job search!

A question from one of our regular listeners, Shazad Enam.

Shazad wants to know how to improve pronunciation and fluency. Is there any way
of doing that easily?

Martin Parrott answers:


Easily, I don’t know. I don’t think there are easy ways to learn languages – I don’t
think people who promise sudden ‘quick fix’ methods are to be believed. We learn
slowly, and we learn by working hard.

As far as pronunciation is concerned, the most important thing is listening! I think,


often we try and pronounce things correctly before we can really hear what the
differences are. How do we check out whether we’re doing that?

Record ourselves

I think we need to record ourselves and we need to record what it is we’re repeating
and listening to. So, the most useful thing perhaps is to listen to the radio with a
tape recorder, to record a little bit of the radio, and then to say it ourselves, and to
compare how we’ve said it, with the way it was said on the radio, in the language
we’re learning.

It’s a slow process. We need to spend a lot of time rehearsing. I remember when I
was learning, for instance, for hours and hours as I was walking or cycling, or
whatever – I was trying to produce those sounds, difficult sounds that I was
learning.

The more we do that, the more we pick up when we hear them. And of course the
other thing about pronunciation is, as we improve our pronunciation, that also
improves our comprehension. As we learn to make these distinction between similar

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sounds, we start hearing them – and that makes understanding easier.

Spelling is a problem

One of the biggest problems in English is that the spelling gets in the way because
there are so many ways of spelling the same sound. Also because letters may be
written and not pronounced and because letters may be written and pronounced in a
very unexpected way. When we learn to read, that can interfere with our
pronunciation, and can cause problems in itself.

Is there a difference between pronunciation and fluency?

They’re quite different. Pronunciation is getting the sounds right, and of course it’s
also getting the intonation and the rhythm right – it’s not just individual sounds, it’s
pushing them all together.

Fluency perhaps overlaps there a little bit. Fluency is saying things easily. Being
fluent is more a question of being confident in the vocabulary, and how to put the
words together in the grammar – being confident in that - …and just being confident
in your ability to express yourself and having a go.

It’s those psychological factors much more than whether you can get your tongue
around the individual sounds. In fact people whose pronunciation is poor, but who
speak fluently and put it together and get it out reasonably quickly, are usually
easier to understand than people who’re taking a lot of trouble over their
pronunciation and therefore are slowing themselves down, and speaking one word at
a time.

Standard English / Non-standard English

One piece of advice

When you’re speaking, don’t think about the individual sounds and getting those
right. Think about groups of words, and think about meaningful groups of words, and
getting those out as quickly and as smoothly as you can.

A question from Roberto Leiro in Spain:


I would like to know why sometimes is used 'she don't care' and not 'she doesn't
care', as in The Beatles song "Ticket to Ride". Many thanks.

And a similar question from Kian Edalat who's an Iranian living in Malaysia:
Hello - A question! What is the difference between: 'I don't want nobody but you'
and 'I want nobody but you'?

Susan Fearn answers:

Right, well, there are two questions today, but they're both on the same theme.
Roberto Leiro in Spain comments: "I'd like to know why sometimes we use she
don't care and not she doesn't care, and he gives an example from The Beatles
song "Ticket to Ride": '...and she don't care.' And an Iranian listener currently living

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in Malaysia asks: "What is the difference between: I don't want nobody but you
and I want nobody but you?"

Perhaps the starting point for looking at these questions is way back before many of
you were born; back then in 1972, the American linguist William Labov did what
became a very famous study into so-called 'standard' and 'non-standard' forms of
English.

Standard English is what is seen as, well, I suppose you could say the 'educated
norm'. It's the language of formal written English - you know, of newspapers, letters,
reports and so on. It's also, to some extent, spoken, by what I guess could be
described as an 'educated elite'.

Anyway, non-standard English is pretty much everything else - the accents, the
dialects, the vocabulary that vary according to where you live, or what social group
you're in. And Labov argued that non-standard forms were just as expressive and
wonderful as standard - they had their own rules and were in no way inferior.

Back to those questions:


She don't care and I don't want nobody but you are both what you could call
'non-standard' forms. They're not the sort of things you'd read written in a
newspaper or written in an essay. They're conversational forms used by some groups
of people in the United States.

It was the pop group The Beatles who sang "Ticket to Ride" in the early 1960's and
that's the song Roberto mentions, but they weren't American. They were from
Liverpool, in North West England, near where I come from. But when they were
writing that song, in the early 1960's, life in England probably wasn't much fun and
life in the United States - the kind of things you saw in the movies, in the Hollywood
movies - always seemed a bit more glamorous.

This was the country of Elvis Presley, for example, who was big at that time, and
Elvis and friends often used 'non-standard' forms in their songs:
'She don't'... 'I ain't'... 'I wanna'.

And the Beatles, along with quite a few other British musicians at that time and since
then as well, must have thought that this was pretty cool - so in some of their early
songs at least, they copied this American style even though they were actually
British, this form of non-standard American English.

Now, 'I don't want nobody', which is the other form that's mentioned in the
question... In so-called 'standard English' this would be:
'I want nobody' OR 'I don't want anybody'.

'I don't want nobody' is what we call a 'double negative'. It's a non-standard
form that's found in several types of both British and American English. And the
linguist we mentioned, Labov, did a detailed study of its use in parts of New York, for
example. And, it's something you may hear in American songs or American movies.

A question from Fatimah in Egypt:

My question is: how to be a good translator to your language?

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Tips for translators

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

OK, thank you for your question, Fatimah, about being a good translator. I've done a
little bit of translating, from Indonesian into English, so my suggestions are based on
my limited experience. And I hope they're useful!

I'll try and answer the question: What do you need to know before starting to
translate a document?

The target language is the language you are translating into, so first, you need to
know what variety of the target language is required. In your case, I know you're
translating between English and Arabic. So, if you're translating into English, is it
British English or American English? And if you're translating into Arabic, is it
Lebanese, Egyptian or Standard Arabic? And so on.

Next, you need to know about your audience:


Are you translating for a general or a specialist audience, for example, doctors?
How will the translation be used? Perhaps it will be used for legal purposes, maybe in
court? And the answers to these questions will help you decide how much attention
to detail is needed.

Does the style of the translation or the vocabulary need to be similar to what the
clients have received before? For example, should the style be formal or informal? If
you write for publication, do you need to use an academic, legal, medical or even
conversational style? The answers to these questions about style could affect your
choice of vocabulary, as well as the structure and layout of the text.

For example, in terms of vocabulary:


If you're translating an academic article about the results of a scientific experiment,
you may need to decide whether the results have been proven or not. And this will
affect whether your vocabulary should be confident, vague or 'hedged' with words
like 'may' and 'might', 'perhaps' and 'possibly'.

And in terms of structure and layout of the text:


For example, are there sections that should be in italics or bold?

And now onto more practical matters:


When and how should the translation be delivered? Maybe a printed copy by post,
fax or courier is needed, or even a digital copy as an e-mail attachment, or by
Skype, or uploaded to a webpage?

And finally, the most important part, the money:


Will you be paid according to the number of words you translate or the number of
words you deliver in your translation? Sometimes you can be paid according to how
many hours you spend on the work. But remember to check whether you'll be paid
an extra fee for an urgent job or for other difficulties that you have to deal with, for
example, a complex layout or a handwritten text that's really difficult to read.

And don't forget to ask when you'll be paid and will you be paid by cheque, by bank
transfer, PayPal, cash or in another way. And last, but not least, if the job is

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cancelled, especially after you've started work on it, will there be any compensation
for the translator - a sort of 'cancellation fee'?

So, to sum up:


What language and what variety of language, for example, British or American
English, will be used in your translation?
Who are your audience and how much information do they need from your
translation?
How should your document look? So, vocabulary, style and layout.
How and when should you deliver the document?
And how and when will you be paid?
And finally, what happens if the job is cancelled?

Perhaps you could use these suggestions to check or to draw up a contract with the
person who needs the translation. I hope you enjoy your Translation Studies course,
Fatimah, and your future work as a translator!

A question from Calla Tang from Hong Kong:

What is 'objective tone'? Could you give me some examples?

Objective tone

Alex Gooch answers:

When we're discussing English, or any language, we can talk about subjective tone
and objective tone.

If a text is written in a subjective tone, it will tell us something about the writer,
and particularly about how he or she feels.

On the other hand, objective tone refers to an impersonal style of writing, which
gives us information about something but doesn't include information about the
writer.

So, a sentence like this:

"The film lasted for one hour and forty-five minutes."

...is objective, because it just tells us a fact.

However, a sentence like:

"I enjoyed the film very much."

...is subjective, because it tells us about the writer and about his or her feelings.

Objective tone is particularly important in academic writing, especially for scientific

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subjects.

If you were writing a scientific report, a sentence such as:

"I performed an experiment."

...would be too subjective, because it includes 'I'.

In order to avoid personal words like 'I', objective writing often uses the passive
voice.
If we put this example into the passive, it would say:

"The experiment was performed."

This makes a much more objective sentence and therefore a much more scientific or
in some ways, academic sentence, because it doesn't tell us about the writer - it just
tells us about the experiment.

However, it's important to remember that in certain subjects, at least at British


universities, personal opinions are acceptable. If you go to a British university, the
most important advice I can give you is: look at the style guides. Your academic
department will produce a style guide which tells you about this and the other ways
in which your writing must be laid out. This is a very important thing to know about.

I'll finish with saying a few words about vocabulary. We have to be very careful here.
Think about a sentence like this:

"The film was terrible."

This sentence doesn't use 'I', or 'me' or any similar words, so it might look objective.
In fact it's subjective, because it tells us about the writer's feelings. It isn't a fact
that the film was terrible, it's a feeling or an emotional reaction, and so a sentence
like this would not be acceptable in objective writing.

If you want to write in the objective tone, you must avoid words like 'I', 'me' and
'my', but you must also avoid evaluative words - words which express your
personal feelings or emotions, like 'terrible', 'wonderful', etc.

The examples that I've given are all adjectives - but there are also some nouns that
we have to be careful with. A good example here is the word 'terrorist'. If we use
the word 'terrorist' to describe someone, this includes a personal subjective
judgement about this person's actions - and therefore this is clearly a subjective
word.

A question from Irena in Latvia:


could you tell me, what is the main difference between "slang" and "jargon" and
could you point out some examples that are used in BBC news. Thank you very
much!

Amos Paran answers:


This is an interesting question because it's not really about English, is it - it's about

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language in general. I'll take as my starting point the observation that we don't
speak the same all the time; we all have at our command different verbal
repertoires. I don't speak to my partner at home in the same way in which I speak to
head of department at work; and when I go into the classroom and teach, I speak in
yet a different way. We change our speech according to who we are speaking to,
where, under what circumstances, and so on.

Slang is actually quite difficult to define. It's a very colloquial variety of language; we
use it in highly informal situations, in speech, and with people very much from a
similar social background to us. Some experts describe it as 'below the level of
neutral style'. Some slang words stay in the language for a long time - for example,
the word 'chap' or 'chum', but many slang words disappear and new ones come into
the language, either new words being invented, or old words taking on a totally new
meaning - for example, on the way to the studio I saw the words 'wicked meal' in an
advertisement - where the word 'wicked' means very good, excellent.

It is important also to know that slang is very often characteristic of specific social
groups - if I used the word 'wicked' in the sense of 'really good' it would be
ridiculous, because this is the slang of young people, much much younger than me.
So you're not going to hear a lot of slang on the news - unless someone is being
interviewed and they use it in their speech.

Jargon, on the other hand, is the variety of language that belongs to a specific
profession or activity. For example, linguists use special language to describe the
way language works - words such as prefix, suffix, tense, - or the words I used just
now - verbal repertoires, a language variety. Now to me, all this may seem normal
technical language, but to an outsider this may seem jargon. So jargon is the word
we use that refers to the language of a specific group as seen by an outsider.

One really important aspect of both slang and jargon is that they identify you as a
member of a group. This is, indeed, one of the most important functions of slang - so
I would advise against using slang unless you are absolutely sure that it's
appropriate for you to use it. Jargon, too, identifies you - by using jargon I can
identify myself as a linguist - but I do hope I haven't used too much jargon in this
answer!

'would' in conversation

'would' in requests

Would is often used in polite requests, sometimes as an alternative to could or


can:

• Would you / Could you hold my umbrella while I put my coat on?
• Would you / Could you post this letter for me this afternoon when you are at
the post office?
• Would you / Can you turn the music down, please? I’m trying to write an
essay.

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Note that would you mind is followed by -ing, rather than the bare infinitive:

• Would you mind picking Jenny up from school for me today? I may be late
getting back.
• It’s so dark out here. Would you mind holding the torch for me while I
change the wheel?

'would' in offers

would like, would prefer and would rather

Would you like…? is often used when making offers, as the more polite alternative
to 'Do you want…?':

• Would you like coffee, or would you prefer tea? ~ I’d love some tea – Earl
Grey would be lovely, if you have it.
• Would you rather eat now or later after the film? ~ I’d rather eat now. I’m
starving!
• I can see you’re struggling. Would you like me to help you with that?

'would' meaning refusal

Would is sometimes used in this way with the negative:

• I advised her not to go out late at night on her own, but she wouldn’t listen.
(= refused to listen)
• I wanted him to take over my examining work on Saturday, but he wouldn’t.
(= he refused)

'would' meaning intention

Would is used as a conditional auxiliary with verbs that refer to intentions, often
combining with if-clauses:

• I would help you with your homework if I could, but I can’t. I just don’t
understand maths.
• If I knew where Sarah was, I’d tell you. But I’ve no idea where she is.
• I would never sunbathe near a nudist beach, would you? ~ No, I wouldn’t.
I wouldn’t ever sunbathe topless either.

'would' in correspondence requests

Would be grateful is often useful when making written requests and it can also be
used in conversation:

• I would be grateful if you could / would send me further information and an


application form in relation to the job advertised on page 6 of your publication
– reference DS 112.
• Would you like me to pop an application form in the post to you? ~ Yes,
please. I’d be most grateful.

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business English: correspondence

Shahid Ullah from Bangladesh writes:

I am working as a senior officer in a garments factory which is 100% exports


oriented.

So that the business runs smoothly, can you please help and advise me how to write
official letters easily?

There a number of fairly standard conventions when framing a business letter that it
is important to observe.

Your business address

Your business address will normally be printed on your official stationery at the top
of the page, perhaps with a logo. If not, insert it at the top, centrally or to the right:
name of business, then street number and street, then town and district. There is no
need to use commas after each of these categories and do not put your own name
with the address.

Where should I put telephone and fax numbers and my email address?

There are two possibilities: either beneath your business address after a space or
below at the bottom of the page.

Where should I put the date?

There are three possibilities: directly under your business address, telephone and fax
numbers and email address after a space OR above the name and address of the
person you are writing to OR beneath the name and address of the person you are
writing to.

In English there are various ways of writing the date. The preferred mode in business
correspondence is 30 November 2001.

The addressee details

Next come the addressee details. Put the name, designation and address of the
person you are writing to on the left-hand side of the page.

Beginning and ending the letter

We can now begin the letter but leave as much space as possible so that the body of
the letter sits tidily in the middle part of the page.

If you know the person you are writing to very well or are on friendly terms, begin
simply with the first name, Dear Mary or Dear Henry.

367
If you don't know the person you are writing to so well, but know of him as a named
individual, start with title and surname: Dear Mr Potter or Dear Dr Baker or Dear
Miss Taylor or Dear Mrs Cook or Dear Ms Barber. If you are not sure which of
the last three titles is appropriate in any particular case, it is probably best to stick to
Ms.

Finish this type of letter with Yours sincerely. It is not necessary to insert a comma
after beginnings or endings. If you know the person you are writing to well, it may
be appropriate to insert a closing formula, such as With very best wishes, before
the ending itself.

Sign the letter with your first name, if you are on first-name terms, or with your full
name, if it needs to be a little more formal, but without any title. Your full
typewritten name and designation (on separate lines) should appear beneath your
handwritten signature.

If you do not know the name of the person you are writing to, begin with Dear Sir
or Dear Sir or Madam or Dear Madam and end your letter with Yours faithfully,
followed by your full name and designation.

Five tips for writing good business letters

• Think carefully about exactly what you need to say before you write.
• Give your letter a heading so that the person you are writing to can see at a
glance what it is about.
• Use short sentences and short words that everyone can understand.
• Decide on order of importance and put each idea into a separate paragraph.
Make sure it is concise: delete anything that is irrelevant or can be omitted.
• Check your letter after you have written it. Will your reader understand
exactly what you mean and will it create the right impression? Get the person
in your organisation with the best English to read it through for any spelling
or grammar or layout errors.

Here is a sample letter that someone working in sales promotion might need to
write. The organisation is fictitious but the message is real. In the body of the letter,
useful phrases appear in bold typeface:

Supersoft Hygiene Ltd


The Technology Park
All Products Road
Boxham Surrey
BH11 4TY

Telephone: 0178 55 66 777 Fax: 0178 55 22 333


Direct Dial: 0178 55 98 678 Email: info@softhy.co.uk

Ms Felicity White
Promotions Manager
Softskins The Chemist
The High Street

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Bexford Kent
BX44 0JB

30 September 2001

Dear Ms White

Catalogue and Price List

As requested, please find enclosed our catalogue and price list for your
attention.

All of our promotions which are new this year are highlighted NEW in the top left
hand corner for each item. They can all be viewed in greater detail on our
website www.softhy.co.uk on the new promotions webpage. As an introductory
offer, they are all available to you until the end of this calendar year at an additional
discount of 5% from list price.

Should you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact


me. Should I be unavailable, my personal assistant, Ms Violet Rose, will be very
pleased to help you.

We look forward to receiving your order in the near future.

Yours sincerely

(space for signature)

James Smellsnice
Sales Manager.

Enclosures: 2002 Catalogue, Price List & Order Forms.

Spelling errors, typos, mangled sentences and clichés

Muhamed Maiwada from Abuja in Nigeria writes:

I was browsing the internet when I came across ten tips for better emails. For the
tenth tip it says: use a spell check and thesaurus, avoid typos and mangled
sentences and avoid clichés too.

What is meant by avoid typos, mangled sentences and clichés?

Typos and spelling errors

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Typos are misspelt words which arise as a result of careless typing or word-
processing, usually because your attention is focused on the keyboard, rather than
on the screen. When you look at the screen you might then find that you have typed
chck instead of check or theses instead of these. A good way of banishing typos to
the past is to learn to touch-type with the keyboard covered up and your eyes
permanently on the screen.

Typos as well as genuine spelling errors should all be revealed by the spell-checker
on your computer so it should be easy to spot misspelt words. If you are not sure of
a spelling, you should be able to try out several versions as you type until the correct
one appears and the underlining disappears.

The following text contains twelve commonly misspelt words in English. See if you
can find them all. It is re-printed with the errors corrected after the mangled
sentences section.

• In developping countrys nowdays proffesional people have little opertunity to


develop their carriers without help from people in goverment. This is
completely unacceptible and I personaly belive such practise should not be
allowd.

Mangled sentences

If a physical object is mangled, it is crushed or twisted with such force that its
original or true shape cannot be recognised. A mangled sentence is one that cannot
be understood because the information is not arranged coherently or logically. The
moral of this is always think clearly about what you need you say, plan your writing
and think in terms of paragraphs. Do not make sentences too long, try to use
language that you are certain of and make sure that sentences follows on from each
other with good use of connectors..

Read the two texts below. In the first one, the sentences are mangled and the text is
difficult to understand. In the second one I have attempted to straighten them out so
that the information flows smoothly and effortlessly for the reader.

• Nowadays travelling abroad is increasing and most of them for the reason to
find jobs and work there for a period. By travelling people around the world,
the people become more closer. They transferred their knowledge and skills
to the new society that people going there develop faster than the rest part of
the world. People in the UK we see a mixed society and it helps for that
country who need that knowledge and skills.

Nowadays travelling abroad is increasing. Many people travel abroad to try to


find jobs and work abroad for a limited period of time. By travelling around
the world, people become closer to each to other. They can also transfer their
knowledge and skills to the new society they are working in and develop
faster than they would in less developed parts of the world. In the UK we see
a multicultural society and one that benefits from the knowledge and skills
that people from abroad bring to it.

Misspellings corrected:

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• In developing countries nowadays, professional people have little
opportunity to develop their careers without help from people in government.
This is completely unacceptable and I personally believe such practice should
not be allowed.

Note that the letters where errors occurred are printed in bold.

Clichés

A cliché is an overworked phrase which has been used so much that it is no


longer very effective or informative. Clichés are tired from overuse, although they
may still be useful and serve the purpose of providing padding or filling gaps in
conversation.

At the end of the day is a cliché which is often used by sports' commentators in
England, meaning: this is what happens after we have considered all relevant
facts.

• At the end of the day, England must win their next two matches if they
want to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Here are two more, with standard English versions given underneath:

• I think I can honestly say that I have left no stone unturned to discover
the truth.
I can assure you that I have made every effort to discover the truth.

Note that clichés are often overworked idioms.

Writing emails: openings and endings

Daniela from Italy writes:

Could you please give me some tips about netiquette, i.e. which are the correct
forms of address for emails and how do you close them? Thanks.

Netiquette

There is no standard format as far as I know for netiquette - etiquette for the net.
Netiquette is a new word. Etiquette is a system of social rules or polite bahaviour
relating to a particular group of people - in this case all the people who use the web
for emails.

snail mail

For letters, whose progress can be as slow as that of a snail when they are
entrusted to the postal system, there are clearly defined conventions for opening and
closing:

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For formal letters when the name or sex of the recipient is not known:
OPENING: Dear Sir(s), Dear Madam or Dear Sir or Madam
CLOSING: Yours faithfully (In American English, sometimes: Yours truly,)

For the more formal style of letter when their name is known but you do not know
them very well:
OPENING: Dear Mr Jenkins, Dear Ms Hopkins (or, if you know their marital status
and know that they prefer to be addressed as Mrs or Miss: Dear Miss Hopwell,
Dear Mrs Jenkinson)
CLOSING: Yours sincerely (In American English, sometimes: Sincerely Yours,
Sincerely,

For informal letters to business contacts that you know well:


OPENING: Dear Tony, Dear Estelle
CLOSING: With best wishes or With kind regards followed by Yours sincerely
or, sometimes, in public service Yours ever

For letters to friends or close family members:


OPENING: Dear Maggy, Dear Freddie
CLOSING: Yours, Your, Love, Lots of Love (Hugs and Kisses)

Emails

However, there are no standard formulas for starting or finishing emails. Only one
thing is clear. Emails are invariably of an informal nature, so informal language tends
to be the norm.

starting emails

• Hi, Roger, Hello Roger, Dear Roger

These seem to represent an informal norm, as far as there is one.

• Roger, Dear Mr Woodham

These formats are used more in business correspondence. Note that using the given
name alone, as above, is reminiscent of business memos among colleagues within
the same organisation.

But I have also received emails with a wide variety of other opening formulas over
the last twelve months. I list them all below from most formal to least formal:

• Dear Professor Woodham (this is incorrect as I am not a university


professor),

• Dear Roger Woodham (note that this formula is also used in letters
sometimes),

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• Hello Roger Woodham, Hi Roger Woodham, Good morning Roger, Hey Roger,
Hey you guys (this one to me and my colleagues)

ending emails

• Best wishes, Regards, Best regards, Good wishes.

These seem to represent the informal norm, followed by the given name
(David/Dave/etc) of the sender.

Occasionally, Yours sincerely is combined with Best wishes or stands alone before
the given name of the sender, as in a semi-formal letter. Very occasionally, I have
received emails ending, e.g. Yours sincerely and then on the next line the given
name plus family name, David Green, but this is an exception.

Sometimes, a pre-closing formula is used instead of or in addition to the standard


closure, e.g.

• Let me know if you need more information,


Dave

• Look forward to hearing from you.


Best wishes,
Dave

The text itself

There is also a trend, particularly in informal emails, to dispense with capitalisation,


punctuation and to use shortened forms and shortened words as in text-messaging.
This is a slightly extreme example, but you might one day get an email looking
something like this:

• Hey babe

b4 u leave b'ham pls spk 2 NG & tell her we'll b @ r hse in sth ldn till nxt
weds. Ta v much. C u soon. Luv ND

Translated into more standard English (the opening here is slightly old-fashioned),
this would read:

• Dearest

Before you leave Birmingham, please speak to Angie and tell her we'll be at
our house in South London until next Wednesday. Thanks very much.

See you soon.


Love,
Andy

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