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Finding out new meanings #1: the verb to tell

B1 I want this to be the first post of a series that I’ll call “finding out new   meanings”: we’ll look at some common words and learn meanings that students do not immediately relate to these terms.

Today I want to focus on the verb ‘to tell’. In its most common usage, to tell simply means ‘to say something to someone’*. However, today I want to explore other meanings of the verb ‘to tell’.

TELL MEANING ‘TO SEE /UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE’

Have a look at these sentences:

  1. Mary and Lucy look so much alike that I can’t tell who is who.
  2. I’m really bad with languages, I can’t tell the difference between Spanish and Italian.

In both the above examples, ‘tell’ is used to express the inability to see / get the difference between two people / things.

TELL MEANING ‘TO UNDERSTAND or BE SURE’
  1. I can always tell when my boyfriend is lying.
  2. You can tell that she loves him.

In the first sentence, we use ‘tell’ to say that we’re able to understand something. However, bear in mind that you can’t simply replace ‘understand’ with ‘tell’:

  • I can understand English (CORRECT)
  • I can tell English (INCORRECT)
  • I couldn’t understand what he was saying (CORRECT)
  • I couldn’t tell what he was saying (CORRECT)

In the second example, ‘tell’ is used to say that something is clear / obvious: you can clearly see / It is obvious that she loves her.

TELL MEANING ‘TO RECOGNIZE’
  1. I couldn’t tell whether that was my friend Mark or not.

In this case the meaning of ‘tell’ is similar to that of the phrasal verb ‘to make out‘. ‘Make out something’ simply means to struggle to see/hear/understand something: it was dark so I couldn’t make out who he was.

If you wanted to use ‘tell’, the above sentence would change into it was dark so I couldn’t tell who he was.

In all these instances, ‘tell’ is used together with the modal verb ‘can’ to indicate the speaker’s inability to do something.

‘I COULDN’T TELL YOU!’

This is another common expression with the verb can + tell. It’s used when the speaker feels they are not in the position to provide you with some information. Look at this dialogue:

A: Excuse-me, do you know when the work will be finished?
B: I couldn’t tell you!

I hope you’ve found out something new about this word.
Talk soon,
Deb

*Notice that ‘to say’ has to be followed by the preposition ‘to’, this is not the case with ‘to tell’:

  • I told Anna I was going to be late >> to tell someone something;
  • I said I was going to be late >> to say something;
  • I said to Anna that I was going to be late >> to say to someone something;

So it’s not correct English if you say ‘I told to Anna I was going to be late’ or ‘ I told I was going to be late’ or ‘I said Anna etc.

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Looking for Christmas presents: why not buy an English course?

gift_hires-1024x1024It looks like the Christmas frenzy has officially started, with people shoving outside shops on Black Friday to get the best deals and save some money on their Christmas shopping.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right gift for a person. There is a limit to the amount of jumpers, socks, books etc. that you can get your loved ones. That’s why I recently started buying ‘non material gifts’ like theatre tickets, plane tickets to come and visit me (if I can afford them!), newspaper subscriptions (if I know a friend is a regular reader of a certain magazine or paper) … so I thought that buying someone an English course could also be a nice idea!

How many times have you heard friends or family say they wished they could speak English (especially when abroad!) and complaining about it? Well, here you go, your perfect chance to give them that extra push: buy them an English course for Christmas!

Teach Taught Taught offers some special deals for Christmas:

Mini English 1-to-1 online course: 3 lessons (each lesson lasts 60 minutes) at £45;
Standard 1-to-1 online course: 10 lessons (each lesson lasts 60 minutes) at £140* instead of £170;

Teach Taught Taught has also started teaching kids online with great results:

Lessons lasts 45 minutes and a 5-lesson pack is £60 (£12 per lesson)!

Wondering what the benefits of a 1-to-1 online course are?

  1. the lessons can be arranged around your schedule and engagements;
  2. you can attend your lesson wherever you are, whether you’re at home, work or on holiday;
  3. all the notes from your lesson will be saved in a document that you’ll be able to access whenever you want and wherever you are;
  4. video and audio streaming make an online lesson fun and entertaining;
  5. you don’t need to travel to your English school and so save time and money;

Is Christmas shopping driving you nuts? Escape the high street and buy a Teach Taught Taught course today!

Payments can be made by bank transfer or Paypal, a voucher will be issued that you can print out and put in a nice envelope to give to your loved ones.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 🙂

Deb

* The offer applies to courses bought between now and December 25th after which point new courses will return to their normal price.

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Vocabulary: buying a house

buy-a-house-300x225Do you know what it means to be gazumped? If you read this post, you’ll soon find out!

As I am in the stressful process of trying to get on the property ladder (buy a house) in London, I thought I’d share with you some tips and interesting vocabulary. Bear in mind that I am a first-time buyer (never owned a house in my life) and I’m looking for a flat where to live (therefore I’m not interested in any buy to let).

This post might come in handy should you want to buy a property in the UK which, let’s get things straight, is likely to be a long and nerve-racking experience!

Apart from the fact that house prices have rocketed over the past couple of years, another annoying thing is that if you’re looking into buying a flat -as a house would be far too expensive!- most of the properties on the market are leaseholds (which means that after the lease expires, the flat goes back to the landlord). Finding a freehold (which means that you own the house) nowadays is a real stroke of luck! Adding to this, there is the chance that even when you think everything has gone smoothly and you’re about to complete the purchase, some other buyer jumps in and then you’re gazumped!

If you’re not a cash-buyer, you then need to apply for a mortgage (this is a type of loan you take out to buy a property) and choose the lender (bank) who offers you the best deal in terms of interest rates etc. You might want to rely on a broker to help you find the best products.

Obviously, while applying for a mortgage, you’ll need to start arranging viewings with real estate agents to go and see properties. It might be good to ask a couple of questions on the phone before setting on a trip to go and see a house. Here are the ones I suggest:

  • How much is left on the lease? (if it’s less than 80 years, I’d leave it)
  • Is the house in good condition? Does it need any major work?
  • Is it chain free? (if it’s not, typically you’ll need the vendor to find a house to buy before completing the purchase)

It might be good to think carefully about what kind of property you’d like to live in. Some people might not like the idea of living in a block and would rather live in a converted flat which usually belongs to a house (the typical Victorian houses that are so common in London) which used to be a two/three-storey house and was then split into two/three flats. A flat in a block would be called a purpose-built flat as it was originally built as a flat and not as a house. Some blocks might be former social housing* that the council has sold and are now managed by private companies. Some of the oldest council estates in London are quite beautiful brick buildings which reminds us of a past where social welfare still mattered.

Once you’ve found your dream house, you’ll need to make an offer to the vendor. Once they accept and the property is marked as sold, you’ll have to get in touch with a solicitor* who will help you with the conveyance and your lender who will send a surveyor who will make sure the house is really worth what you’re paying.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learnt a lot of useful terms!
Talk soon,
Deb 🙂

*Social housing is aimed at those in need who are struggling with their housing costs.

**What’s the difference between a solicitor and a lawyer? Lawyer is a general term for anyone who give legal advice and so a solicitor is a lawyer.

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Medical English: English for pregnancy

babyonboardAs one of my students has recently found out she’s pregnant – and, consequently, came to me with a lot of vocabulary-related questions- I’ve decided to write a post about it!

I suppose this could fall into Medical English if you like!

I didn’t want to write a mere list of terms and definitions because I believe that, in order to learn new words, you should try to study them in context. In this way, it’s more likely that they’ll stick with you (=you’ll remember them).

First of all, to find out you’re pregnant you have to do a pregnancy test that can easily be bought at a local pharmacy. Next, you want to see your GP (General Practitioner) who is going to refer you to a hospital for your first antenatal appointment. At the appointment you’ll meet your midwife who will take care of you during your pregnancy, have a blood test and hand in your urine sample so that they can check you’re healthy and not lacking any vitamins, for instance.

The first trimester can be quite exhausting for some expectant mothers, a lot of them experience morning sickness and an ongoing metallic taste in their mouth which is quite annoying. If you live in London like I do, this is also a good time to request a ‘baby on board’ badge to wear when taking the tube (you just need to write an email to Transport for London and within a few days you get it delivered by mail!). Indeed you won’t have a bump yet but you want people to be more cautious, especially during rush hour.

During your 12th week, you should get your first scan which is quite exciting as you get to see the baby for the first time and hear their heartbeat! The ultrasound specialist will also be able to tell you your due date (= when you’ll give birth). At this point, you might want to tell your employer about your pregnancy and discuss when going on maternity leave.

Twenty weeks into your pregnancy (by then, apparently, you should have a little bump, make sure you use a cream to avoid stretch marks..), you’ll get your second scan and, should you want to, find out the sex*of your baby.

Depending how far in your pregnancy you are, you might want to go and check the delivery room where you’ll be admitted to once your water breaks and you go into labour . Should you not like it, you can self-refer yourself to another hospital.

To get ready for the delivery, mums and dads-to-be usually go to antenatal classes.

These are some of the questions you might want to ask a pregnant woman:

How far in your pregnancy are you?**

When are you due?

And this is how you answer (should you be the expectant mother):
I’m + number + weeks (pregnant) i.e. I’m 15 weeks pregnant
I’m due on + date / in + month

That’s it for now, I hope you’ve learned some new terms there!
Talk soon,
Deb

*what’s the difference between the words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’? This seems to be a question which often bugs people. To put it in a nutshell, when you talk about biology you should use the word ‘sex’ while when referring to the ‘social aspect’ you should use ‘gender’. So, for instance, if you do Gender Studies at university, you’ll learn about the role of men and women in different cultures, you’ll study politics, feminism etc.

** This is a useful structure to learn, look at this other example:
How far in the book are you? I’ve read 200 pages and I’m loving it!

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Natural English: leave out some words to sound a bit more English

loveToday I’d like to focus on a language feature that is called ‘verb phrase ellipsis’. I think that by incorporating this feature in your everyday English you would sound more like a native and save a few words!

What’s a verb phrase ellipsis?

A: Did you phone Jane?

B: I meant to but then it slipped my mind.

B could have said ‘I meant to phone her but..’, leaving out the bit ‘phone her’ is what we call an ellipsis.

When can we use it?

This particular type of ellipsis which is introduced by ‘to’ can only be used after all those verbs and structures which are followed by to-infinitive. Here are some examples:

  • I mean / meant to.
  • I am / was going to.
  • I am / was about to.
  • I want / wanted to.
  • I would like to.
  • I would love/hate/prefer to.
  • I have / had to.
  • I’m not able to / won’t be able to.

In which situations can we use it?

1. When you’re talking about past intentions which you might want to follow with an excuse (I meant to, I was going to, I was about to, I wanted to):

A: Did you buy milk?

B: I was going to but then I realised I didn’t have money on me.

2. When talking about your preference/opinions in answer to a suggestion/question (I would like to, I would love/hate to):

A: Would you like to come to the cinema?

B: I’d love to!

3. To highlight that you are/were forced to do something (I have / had to):

A: Why did you tell her?

B: We had to!

4. To highlight that you can’t do something:

A: Why don’t you repair the TV?

B: I’m not able to.

Why using it?

Because it’s another way to shorten your sentences and avoid repetition, save your words! And, as usual, it will make you sound more ‘natural’.

Remember: the ellipsis introduced by ‘to’  cannot be used after those modal verbs and all other verbs which usually come before a bare infinitive (infinitive without the ‘to’):

A: Do you want to come to the pub?

B:  I would enjoy to.

In fact, ‘enjoy’ has to be followed by a gerund (ing form).

Hope it makes sense! 🙂
Talk soon,
Deb

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If anything, …

Hi everyone,
I’m sorry for not writing a post 68424in such a long time but I have been quite busy. Anyway, here’s a language point that I hope will interest you!

Have you ever heard someone starting or finishing a sentence with ‘if anything‘ like in the following examples?

1) If anything, he’s skinny.

2) They have too much free time, if anything.

To understand the meaning of ‘if anything’ in the above sentences, some context must be provided. The two examples I have given could be someone’s response to these comments:

1) Do you think he’s fat?  >> If anything, he’s skinny.

2) Are they too busy? >> They have too much free time, if anything.

Can you see the pattern there? We use ‘if anything’ when we want to suggest that something or someone is actually the opposite of what is believed. Therefore, ‘If anything, he’s skinny’ is like saying ‘Actually/on the contrary / Contrary to what you might think, he’s skinny’.

There is another case where ‘if anything’ can be used but with a different meaning. Look at this example:

Well, if anything, the Mayans did teach us one valuable lesson. If you don’t finish something..it’s really not the end of the world.

In the above sentence ‘if anything’ is very similar in meaning to ‘at least’.

When to use it?

1) Every time you want to point out that a situation is actually the contrary of what another person thinks, what  is commonly expected or in contrast to a previous statement:“London is not getting cheaper. If anything, it’s getting more expensive”.

2) Instead of ‘at least’: “Well, if anything, I hope this post hasn’t bored you.

If anything, I hope it aroused your curiosity”.

Talk soon!
Deb 🙂

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Informal English: well as an intensifier

partsofspeechHave you ever come across sentences like ‘that’s well interesting!’ or ‘I am well aware of the consequences’?

You have probably heard similar sentences if you’ve ever lived in the UK. Indeed this particular use of ‘well’ is typically British and not common at all in American English.

WELL AS AN INTENSIFIER

In the above examples ‘well’ is used as an intensifier to mean ‘very‘ (‘that’s very interesting!’) or ‘fully‘ (‘I’m fully aware of the consequences’) with the aim of adding extra emphasis to what is being said.

When used as an intensifier, ‘very’ is followed by an adjective (interesting / aware).

Notice that this use is typical of colloquial and informal English. Don’t use it in formal writing!

a: ‘I’ve missed the bus by one minute and now I have to walk to work!’
b: ‘That’s well annoying!’

WELL AS AN ADVERB

Since we’re at it, it’s important to mention that in its most common use, ‘well’ falls into the category of adverbs like in the sentence ‘she can cook well’. In this instance, well is an adverb in that it describes the way an action (cook) is performed (well).

On a final note, ‘well’ can also be an adjective, that is a descriptive word, like in ‘I don’t feel very well’ or ‘I’m not well’.

So I hope that next time you hear someone using ‘well’ in this way it won’t puzzle you anymore.
I also suggest that you start using well as an intensifier every now and then, it will make you sound more ‘British’ 🙂
Talk soon,
Deb

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Natural English: the use of ‘do’ for emphasis

Image Hi everyone and sorry for not posting anything for almost a month!

I finally have a bit of time to write about a language point that seems to puzzle students quite a lot: the use of the verb ‘do’ for emphasis.

Students mostly know ‘do’ as an auxiliary verb or in expressions like ‘to do the housework’ meaning to perform an action and I’ve already talked about another use of ‘do’ here. But what does it mean when people say “I do like it here!“?

I DO LIKE IT HERE!

The use of do in the above sentence is a way to add extra emphasis to a statement. It’s like saying ‘I really like it here!‘.

Let’s have a look at some features of this particular use of ‘do’:

  1. form: do is followed by a bare infinitive (without ‘to’): I do love London; she does love London.
  2. it can’t be used with negative statements: I do don’t like London.
  3. it can be used to talk about the past (but only to replace a past simple): She did teach me a lot (and I’m talking about my primary school teacher) >> she really taught me a lot; I did enjoy the party! >> I really enjoyed the party
  4. it’s never used with the verb ‘to be’: she does be beautiful.

Here are more examples:

I did tell you!

Meaning: I’m sure I told you!
A sense of reproach can be felt here: maybe you warned the person you’re talking to about the consequences of doing something (and this person didn’t really listen to you!) or you might just want to emphasize that you told this person about something even though they can’t remember it now.

I do remember talking to him

Meaning: I have a very clear memory of talking to him!

I did work a lot this week

Meaning: I worked my arse off this week! 🙂

As you can see from the examples above, ‘do’ is used instead of ‘really’, ‘very’ or ‘I’m sure’.

So I do hope that this use of do won’t puzzle you anymore and I do apologise for not writing anything for so long!
Talk soon,
Deb 🙂

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Natural English: the suffix -ish

lovely-package-the-ish-watch2-ish‘ is definitively my favourite English suffix. I know what you’re thinking: ‘she must be a real grammar geek to have a favourite suffix’. You’re not wrong, I am indeed passionate about grammar 🙂

Anyway, I think that if you start getting into the habit of using ‘ish’ every now and then, your English will sound more natural. Here are some situations where you could use this suffix:

1- ish and numbers

What time shall we meet?

Seven-ish.

Used with numbers, -ish means ‘around‘. So not quite seven but around seven. The same is true when you talk about someone’s age: I think she’s fortyish but I’m not sure.

This is a good one if you don’t want to commit yourself too much and if you show up 20 minutes late, you could always say: ‘I said seven-ish not seven sharp!‘ and if you don’t want to say an exact time you can go for ‘I’ll be home soonish‘.

2- ish and adjectives

What does she look like?

She’s blondish.

Used with adjectives, -ish means ‘fairly’ or ‘slightly’. So she’s not super blond but she still falls into the category of blond. The same happens with colours: What colour is your dress? Bluish.

2- ish and nouns

What’s he like?

He’s childish and boring.

Meaning that he behaves like a child. So if someone has got a girlish face, their face looks like that of a young girl.

Bear in mind that in a formal context the use of the suffix ‘ish’ could sound too colloquial.

Talk soon!
Deb 🙂

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Useful English: how to ask for directions

Fotolia_51071376_XS-300x199Whether you’ve just moved to London or are here only for few days, you’ve probably found yourself lost in the city at least once. And there it comes: your chance to practise your English! So stop checking on Google Maps and be brave, ask a passer-by for directions 🙂

How to do it? Here’s some useful language:

DIRECT QUESTIONS

Let’s start easy:

Excuse-me…
…where is Victoria Station?
…is there a bank nearby?

‘nearby’ means ‘near here’.

…how can I get to Trafalgar Square?

Remember that get is followed by the preposition ‘to’ and not ‘at’: how can I get at to Trafalgar Square?

INDIRECT QUESTIONS

Indirect questions usually sound more ‘polite’:

do you know where the station is?  
When asking indirect questions, remember that you need to invert the subject and the verb only once: do you know where  is the station is?

could you tell me where the station is?  

do you know how I can get to the station?

do you know where I should get off? (useful when you’re on the bus / tube)

do you know whether/if there is an ATM nearby?

do you know the way to the National Gallery?

This structure is also possible: WHERE / HOW+ TO – INFINITIVE:

…can you tell me how to get to the station?

…do you know where to get off

IS IT NEAR/FAR?    HOW FAR IS IT?

or do you know how far it is?

Here are some possible answers to your question:

It’s walking distance.
It’s a five-minute walk.
It’s a good five-minute walk. >> ‘a good’ here means ‘probably a bit more than 5 mins’
It’s a bit of a walk >> meaning: you can walk there but it’s a little far.
It’s pretty / quite far, you might want to take a bus there. >> ‘pretty’ and ‘quite’ here mean ‘not very far but still a bit too far to walk it’ and the expression ‘you might want’ is often used to give advice and it means ‘it would be better/good if’ or ‘you should’, here are more examples:

You might want to phone her before going there.
>> You should phone her before..

You might want to read this to get ready for your interview
>> It would be good if you read this to get..

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE BY …?

Just to make sure that the place you’re trying to reach is not farther than you think, you might want to ask how long it takes to get there:

How long does it take by bus?

It takes 10 minutes by bus. 
Rule: it takes + # minutes/hours/days etc  by + mean of transport (by car/bus/taxi/tube etc)

Notice that the structure ‘to take+someone+ time period+ to get somewhere’ is also possible:

How long does it take you to get to work? It usually takes me 30 minutes.

Hope it helps 🙂
Talk soon,
Deb