English for parenting: transitive and intransitive verbs

verbs-1Today’s post focuses on the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs when talking about newborns and parenting. To help you remember their meanings, I’m going to include some possible collocations. It’s a good habit when learning new words to always write down a few collocations, in this way your vocabulary will broaden quickly and soon you’ll find yourself using these new terms when speaking or writing.


A verb is transitive when it’s followed by an object. For example, “to raise” is transitive and indeed in the context of parenting a common collocation is “to raise children“. In this instance, the word children is the object.  “To raise” is not an intransitive verb because “someone can’t raise” but “he or she can raise something”: you can raise your hand / taxes / money / an issue etc.

In the following text I have bolded some transitive verbs related to parenting (together with some common collocations):

Babies cry to let you know that they need something: you might need to change their nappy, and so wipe their bottom etc, or you might need to feed them (they often suck their fingers when they’re hungry), they might just want you to cuddle them (= to hold them in your arms, maybe while singing a lullaby) or maybe you haven’t winded them properly. To settle your baby, especially if you notice that they are rubbing their eyes,  you might try swaddling him or her (=to wrap them very tightly in a blanket) and gently rock them in your arms until they fall asleep. Sometimes they cry just because they’re either too hot or cold, in which case you’ll need to undress them or add another layer.


And now let’s turn to intransitive verbs such as “to grow up“. Intransitive verbs are not followed by any object. Indeed we say that “someone grows up” but you can’t say that “someone grows up someone else”. Here are a few examples that should help you understand the difference between to raise and to grow up:

I grew up in London.
She lost her parents when she was two, so her grandparents raised her.
He was raised in France.
He grew up to be an important writer.

Now let’s have a look at some intransitive verbs about parenting and newborns:
When a baby fusses, fidgets or cries a lot, it might be a sign that he’s hungry. After your baby feeds, he should settle / calm down.
It’s not uncommon for babies to doze off during a feed.
You should always try to make your baby burp after a feed.
Babies tend to wriggle a lot when you change them.

Can you now guess why some of the above verbs are green? Yes, precisely because they can be either transitive or intransitive depending on their usage. Use a dictionary to check whether a verb is transitive, intransitive or both to make sure you’re using them correctly.

Hope this helps! 🙂
Talk soon,


English for parenting: newborns and baby stuff

This post is a sequel to Medical English: English for pregnancy and it’s going to be full of vocabulary related to newborns and parenting. So if you’ve just become a parent, like me, I hope you’ll find it useful and, by the way, congratulations!


Towards the end of the pregnancy, a woman goes through a period called ‘nesting‘ when she starts buying some nursery furniture: a moses basket for when the baby is really small, a cot for later on, a cot top changer for changing his or her nappies and a baby bath where to wash her little one.


In terms of clothing, a newborn will need a few bodysuits, or vests, babygrows (British English) or onesises (American English) which are the all-in-ones with legs, some hats and mittens.0610-newborn-photographer


To take your little one out, you’ll need a pram for when they’re small and need to lie down, a car seat for later on or whenever you want to take them in the car and eventually a pushchair (also called buggy). You can buy these three pieces together and it’s called travel system.

When your baby can hold his or her head up, you might consider getting a baby carrier or sling.

When going out, you’ll also need to take with you a changing bag where you’ll keep some nappies, some baby wipes and a travel changing mat.


Nursing bras and pads are essential for breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding can be painful at the beginning as it’s not always easy to latch on the baby. If you decide to bottlefeed instead of breastfeeding, you’ll also need a pump to pump out your milk, a few feeding bottles and a bottle steriliser. Unless you opt for the formula (in this case you buy the milk). In any case, it’s always handy when feeding your baby to have a muslin square within easy reach for when you’ll need to wind him or her(=to get him or her to burp) or a newborn bib.

Sorry the baby is crying and I need to go 🙂
Talk soon,


Formal written English (useful for CAE)

formal-vs-informal-attireIn today’s post I want to teach you how to switch from informal to formal English when writing.  This should prove especially useful for those of you who are sitting the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) soon as you might be asked to write a formal letter or proposal in the exam.


                            Informal English                                                       Formal English

  1. room
  2. after (i.e. chat)
  3. chat
  4. worried
  5. need
  6. help / to help
  7. problems
  8. money
  9. good
  10. happy
  11. to fix a meeting
  12. to ask more information
  13. more
  14. very
  15. but
  16. if*
  17. tell
  18. about
  19. so
  20. put something off**
  21. get in touch with someone**
  22. want
  23. I can’t wait to
  24. I’m sorry to tell you
  25. give more info
  26. It would be great if you
  27. I’m sorry for
  1. accommodation
  2. following
  3. conversation
  4. concerned
  5. require
  6. assistance / to assist
  7. inconvenience
  8. funding
  9. convenient
  10. delighted / glad
  11. to arrange a meeting
  12. to enquire (the noun is enquiry)
  13. further
  14. rather
  15. although
  16. unless*
  17. inform
  18. regarding / concerning
  19. therefore
  20. postpone
  21. contact someone
  22. wish
  23. I am looking forward to
  24. I regret to inform you
  25. provide you with further information
  26. I would appreciate / be grateful if you
  27. I would like to apologise for /Please accept my apologies

* To replace ‘if’ with ‘unless’, the clause with ‘unless’ needs to be negative if the ‘if-clause’ is positive and the other way around:

If he doesn’t pay today, I’ll go to the police >> Unless he pays today, I will go to the police.

**If you can, avoid using phrasal verbs in formal writing as they always sound rather informal.

Grammar structures

                        Informal                                                                              Formal

  1. I’d (contractions)
  2. If you need more information
  3. If you offered me the job (active form)
  4. It will be great if you (1st conditional)
  1. I would (do not use contraction in formal writing)
  2. Should you need further information (inversion***)
  3. If I was offered the job (passive form)
  4. I would appreciate if you (2nd conditional)

Let’s focus on a language structure that might cause problems to students: the inversion.
As you see in sentence 2, with an inversion the subject (you) comes after the modal verb (should) and it is followed by a bare infinitive (need). Have a look at this other example:
If you want to get in touch, drop us an email (inf). >> Should you want to contact us, please send us an email (form).


Now have a look at these sentences and try to change them to make them sound more formal:

  1. Thanks for asking, I’d be very happy to give you more information about our project.
  2. I’m sorry for calling off our meeting at the very last minute.
  3. After our chat  earlier on the phone, it would be great if you …
  4. If you don’t give me more details, I won’t be able to help you.
  5. I can’t wait to see you to talk more about this.
  6. The receptionist gave us another room.
  7. Just let us know if tomorrow is not a good time for you to come around.
  8. I’m sorry to tell you that your project won’t get any money this year.
  9. If you want to meet, I’m free tomorrow.
  10. I’m getting in touch with you because I’d like to get more info about your English course,

Now check your work! Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. Thank you for your enquiry, I would be delighted to provide you with further information regarding our project.
  2. Please accept my apologies for postponing our meeting at such short notice.
  3. Following our recent phone conversation, I would appreciate if you could…
  4. Unless you provide me with further information, I won’t be able to assist you.
  5. I am looking forward to meeting you to discuss this further.
  6. We were provided with different accommodation.
  7. Should tomorrow not be a convenient time for you to visit us, do not hesitate to let us know.
  8. I regret to inform you that your project will not receive any funding this year.
  9. Should you wish to arrange a meeting, I’m available tomorrow.
  10. I’m writing to you to enquire about your English course.

I hope you’ve learnt something new in this post and good luck if you’re preparing for CAE!
Talk soon 🙂


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’.


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.

  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.

  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.


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,

*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.


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.


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,

*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!


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,


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 🙂


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.


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!’


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,


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!“?


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 🙂