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

Why “keep doing” is present simple and not continuous

keep doing continuous tenseI’ve been asked about the tense of “keep writing” – and how it relates to the rules and patterns we use for the present continuous form of “to be writing”. Many verbs can be followed by other verbs in an –ing form, such as “keep doing”, “enjoy doing”, “avoid doing” – but they are not the same as the continuous tense “to be doing”, and are actually used in the present simple tense. A verb like “keep” may be particularly confusing, as it suggests a continuing action. So why is “keep doing” not the same as the present continuous? 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

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

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

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

What are Kelp Forests? – Reading Exercise

kelp forestsBelow is a reading exercise that is both informative and challenging. There are mixed mistakes included in this text; find these mistakes to test your understanding of English (while also learning about kelp!). The text, which gives a brief introduction to kelp forests, contains some advanced vocabulary, so some of the more complicated words (highlighted in the text in bold) are explained below. Continue reading

What’s the difference between insure, ensure and assure?

difference between insure, ensure and assureInsure, ensure and assure are easily confused words as they both look and sound similar – and have rather closely connected meanings. They do have distinct differences, however. Consider the following example sentences:

  • We would like to insure our boat for £10,000.
  • I will ensure that the boat is taken care of.
  • I assure you the boat will be taken care of.

So how are these sentences different? Continue reading