What’s the correct date format for business letters?

correct date format business lettersIn my article on the different formats for dates in UK and US English, there are plenty of rules and variations – some covered very briefly. Across business letters and other correspondence you may find uses that you do not recognise (or did not notice) in that list. For example if someone uses November 22nd, 2016 – a less common form. The question is what is the correct form to use in writing? Continue reading

2 Examples of Troublesome Dictionary Definitions

troublesome dictionary definitionsThe rules given in reference books, and indeed dictionaries, can sometimes be rather misleading, or represent incomplete ideas. As I teach (and study!) advanced language use, I often have to question reference guides, and have recently encountered two examples of this. To show how the dictionary does not always tell the whole truth, here are some additional considerations for this/next and the not only…but also rule. Continue reading

Seasons Greetings and Christmas Language from ELB!

merry christmas seasonal englishChristmas is just around the corner, which leaves it to me to say seasons greetings, Merry Christmas and best wishes for a Happy New Year! I’ve covered some interesting topics for the season on this site in the past, so here’s a breakdown of different ways you can develop your English this holiday – whether you celebrate it or not: Continue reading

What’s the difference between deception and deceit?

difference between deception and deceitHere’s another confusing pair of words. Deceit and deception are both nouns, both loosely used to describe the act of deceiving. The act of deceiving being the act of concealing the truth or otherwise being misleading or false. In many situations the words can be used interchangeably – grammatically speaking it is rare that you will find a sentence where both words do not fit in the same sentence without the same general meaning. However, the sentences may offer different connotations. Continue reading

How do you answer a negative question? (Grammatically speaking)

how to answer a negative questionWith negative questions that require a yes or no, there can sometimes be confusion in the correct way to answer. Grammatically, you may assume that a negative question answered in the affirmative should be a negative statement (i.e. “Doesn’t it look good?” – “Yes it doesn’
t.”). A friend of mine teaching in Vietnam was told that this was given as a rule by one of her fellow teachers, as taught in a reference book. Theoretically this may make sense, but in practice this is NOT how negative questions work. In fact, the answer to a negative question will often be very similar to the answer to a positive question. Here’s why: Continue reading

What’s the difference between complex and complicated?

difference complex complicatedI received a series of questions from a reader with no return email. So if you’re reading this, Carl, I’ll answer your questions in the blog. Starting with this – what is the difference between complex and complicated? A plan, for example, can be both complex and complicated. There is a simple answer and a complicated (or complex!) answer. So let’s start with the simple: complex involves many parts/components, while complicated refers to the level difficulty. What does this mean in practice? Continue reading

Moby Dick Advanced Reading and Prepositions Exercise

moby dick prepositions Below are the (slightly edited) opening paragraphs of the epic, classic novel Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. Published in 1851, this story is studied in schools as one of the Great American Novels, and its opening line, “Call me Ishmael” is one of the most famous in English literature. As a classic, it uses advanced and sometimes archaic language, making it good practice for formal (and difficult!) prose. To give you an extra challenge, this passage has missing prepositions, and it’s up to you to complete the text. Blank spaces show where there should be prepositions, the answers are given below. Continue reading

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Halloween Vocabulary Exercise

halloween vocabulary exerciseIt’s that fun time of year where the English speaking world prepares for Halloween – with scary stories, films and costumes. Which means it’s also the time of year to practice our Halloween vocabulary – words which cover a range of frightening topics, emotions and mythical creatures! Build your vocab with my nasty nouns and abysmal adjectives, then see if you can complete the exercise below.

Mixed Halloween Vocabulary Exercise

Match the following descriptions with the words below.

  1. Something that is not from this world.
  2. The practice of magic or sorcery.
  3. An ugly, giant creature.
  4. A very old person who wants to suck your blood.
  5. Dead people who refuse to stay dead.
  6. A box to bury dead bodies in.
  7. Illumination from the moon.
  8. A characterisation of Death.
  9. A carved pumpkin that we put a candle in.
  10. The worst kind of dream.
  11. The remains of a person without flesh or muscles.
  12. A home where you find ghosts (or worse!).
  13. A magical person with wings.
  14. An enchantment, poems or other words that create magic.
  15. A person who changes into a wolf.
  • a. fairy
  • b. witchcraft
  • c. werewolf
  • d. moonlight
  • e. spell
  • f. zombies
  • g. haunted house
  • h. skeleton
  • i. coffin
  • j. jack’o’lantern
  • k. the grim reaper
  • l. nightmare
  • m. ogre
  • n. supernatural
  • o. vampire

Answers to the Exercise

  1. n – supernatural
  2. b – witchcraft
  3. m – ogre
  4. o – vampire
  5. f – zombies
  6. i – coffin
  7. d – moonlight
  8. k – the grim reaper
  9. j – jack’o’lantern
  10. l – nightmare
  11. h – skeleton
  12. g – haunted house
  13. a – fairy
  14. e – spell
  15. c – werewolf

“How many there are” vs “How many are there” in Reported Speech

how many there areI recently had an email from a reader writing for his fantasy story website that raised an interesting point; the writer had a statement saying someone needed to check “how many guards are there” and was told that “how many guards there are” was the correct form. The writer thought both were correct, so asked what the difference was. It is true, from a neutral perspective both “how many there are” or “how many are there” can be correct, but they have different uses. Here’s why: Continue reading