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

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

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

How to use suffixes to create nouns from adjectives and verbs

create nouns from adjectives and verbsMany words in English can be adapted to be used for different grammatical functions. We often use prefixes and suffixes (extra parts of the word added at the beginning or the end) to change the meaning of a word for a variety of purposes. Adjectives and verbs can be turned into nouns, for example happy becomes the feeling of happiness, run becomes the doer of the verb, runner. There are many different ways to do this that sometimes have individual quirks – but there are also some general rules to help know how to create nouns from other words. The following is a list of the most common suffix changes to form nouns: Continue reading

Nasty nouns for Halloween

atmosphere adverbsAs the end of October approaches, and all things creepy are upon us, it’s time to brush up on some more Halloween vocabulary. Having set the scene with our abysmal adjectives for Halloween, now it’s time to meet the cast of objects and creatures that populate the monstrous side of the English language. The following list gives descriptions of specific nouns that you might find over the course of this horrible holiday. Continue reading

Transitive and intransitive verbs: verbs and objects

intransitive transitive verbsVerbs, doing words, tell us what the subject is doing. This usually takes the form of an action, though it can also be a state or an event. Actions show things happening:

  • The man ran.

States show what condition the subject is in (which can also demonstrate an event):

  • The woman was sad.
  • The festival is today.

All of these examples only give us information about the subject, but verbs can also be linked to objects – the things which the verb is done to or for. This gives us two different categories for verbs – transitive (which need an object) or intransitive (which do not need an object) verbs. Continue reading

Adjective word order: sentence placement and lists

adjective word order

Adjectives describe nouns, and are usually placed either before a noun (as part of the noun phrase) or after a noun, pronoun or verb. The rules for this placement are quite simple, but when we use more than one adjective the word order is important, to sound more natural and to make the meaning clear. (Note this article is an earlier of version available more fully in Word Order in English Sentences.)


Placing an adjective before or after the noun

Adjectives are placed directly before a  noun to add detail to the noun. In a noun phrase, with additional words (such as determiners and adverbs), the adjective should be the last word before the noun. When they are removed from the sentence, the sentence should still make sense: Continue reading

Why we say “make a change to it” but “change it”

change make a change

Using make with a noun creates a more complex sentence than cases where it is possible to use the noun as a verb. For example:

  • I want you to make a change to this picture.
  • I want you change this picture.

In these sentences, change is used as a noun and a verb. When used as a noun, with the verb to make, it requires additional words – a and to, to fit into the sentence. When we use change as a verb, it relates to the object of the sentence directly. Here’s why: Continue reading