“There is a lot of” vs “There are a lot of”

there is are a lot ofDo we say “There is a lot…” or “There are a lot of…”? This question was put to me recently by a student who noted that “lot” is the first noun after a verb. In theory, the verb should be singular with “a lot of”, because it is a singular “lot”. Comparing “There are a lot of apples.” and “There is a lot of apples.”, this sounds incorrect, however. Why? Continue reading

How to use hyphens in English

how to use hyphens

A hyphen is this short punctuation mark: . Not to be confused with longer dashes, which have different uses. Hyphens are used in English for two specific purposes – hard hyphens join words together, while soft hyphens divide words. The uses of hyphens can depend on certain styles, but generally they are used in the patterns laid out below. Continue reading

Recognising verb constructions following “to be”

to be verb formsThe verb “to be” can be used in descriptive clauses or as an auxiliary verb to create certain grammatical structures, such as the continuous tenses and the passive voice. This can lead to confusion when a verb or verb form follows the verb “to be” – how do you recognise which structure is being used? Consider this example: “The museum is supposed to be _______ in the morning.” (open) Opening would form the continuous tense, open would be an adjective form, opened would form a passive sentence. Each of these could be arguably correct – so how do we know the difference? Continue reading

Different Genres of Fiction to Read

different genres of fiction listWhen I’m not writing about the English language, I’m busy writing creative fiction (if you’d like to see my books, check here). Reading fiction is a great way to learn English, if you can find an area that engages and entertains you. And it’s possible to find examples of English writing at all levels in different genres. The starting point, though, is to identify the genres available to you, so you can find something that you personally enjoy. I’ve prepared a vocabulary list to help introduce the different genres of fiction, demonstrated below with examples of popular books in the genre. (Personally, I write in dystopian and contemporary fantasy genres – which are sub-genres of sci-fi and fantasy.) Continue reading

When can we use “not so” instead of “not as” for comparatives

comparatives not as so

A recent question I’ve had is which comparative form is more correct, using so or as: “England is not as hot as France” or “England is not so hot as France”. It’s an interesting point as they are both possible so neither is really more correct – and one of my reference books covers it in one simple point “After not, we can use so … as instead of as … as.” This doesn’t give you much room for discussion! So, do the two forms differ? Continue reading

Bird of prey and other “noun of noun” constructions

bird of prey noun phrasesSubjects formed with multiple nouns connected by of can mean consisting of, or taken from, for example ‘piece of cake’, but can also mean belonging to, or with the purpose of, such as ‘father of the bride’. ‘Bird of prey’ can be confusing, though, because it seems to have the opposite meaning – bird of prey may sound like it belongs to prey, but actually it is a predator. So how do these different examples work? Continue reading

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