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?


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 🙂


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:


Let’s start easy:

…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 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


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..


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,


Learning new words methodically

With some of my students I’ve recently started to work on broadening their vocabulary. I’ve tried to come up with something that would help them remember new words and how to use them. In my experience, most of the students tend to write down lists of words and try to learn them by heart. I wanted to provide them with a more methodical way of expanding their vocabulary.

This is what I came up with:


Click on the picture to see it bigger

At the end of each lesson (not necessarily focused on vocabulary), I ask my student what new words they’ve learnt. I then take a few pieces of paper (I’ve always keep them at hand) like the one in the picture and ask the student to write down each new word on a separate slip. I then ask them to think about the following aspects of each new word:

  1. Part of speech: is the word a noun / adjective / verb etc?
  2. Pronunciation: how do you pronounce it? Can you spot any pronunciation rules we’ve talked about?
  3. Register: is it formal or informal English?
  4. Opposites / synonyms: can you think of its opposite / a synonym?
  5. Collocations: what words usually follow / come before this word?
  6. Structure (especially if the word is a verb): is it transitive or intransitive? what preposition usually follows?
  7. Example: can you think of an example sentence containing this word?

The student writes all this information for each new word on the corresponding slip of paper (so make sure your pieces are not too small!). I then suggest that whenever they have some time to kill (for example, when waiting for the bus, when commuting to work etc) they should take out their set of cards and revise them.

Potentially, you could even make the student write derivatives on the back.

When the students has started using these words in their everyday life and feel quite comfortable using them, they can chuck them away and start learning new ones!

What do you think? Could this work for you?
Talk soon 🙂



Confusing words: hard and hardly

tumblr_ls8iqtkbqK1qc9ailo1_500The words ‘hard’ and ‘hardly’ get often mixed up. Some students think that  ‘hardly’ is the adverb for the adjective ‘hard’ but that’s not the case.

The adverb for the adjective ‘hard’ is simply ‘hard’. Have a look at these examples:

The exam was very hard. (adjective: hard=difficult)
I worked very hard to pass my exams. (adverb: to work hard= to put a lot of effort)


When used with words like ‘anything’, ‘anyone’ etc  ‘hardly’ means ‘almost nothing‘, ‘almost no one‘:
He hardly said anything at the meeting >> he almost said nothing at the meeting
Hardly anyone talked to me at the party >> almost no one talked to me

Notice that ‘anything’ and ‘anyone’ are used in the above examples because ‘hardly’ is a negative word and English doesn’t allow double negatives:

He hardly said nothing anything at the meeting

Generally speaking ‘hardly’ makes a sentence (almost) negative:
She hardly speaks French >> She almost speaks no French (or She speaks very very little French)
I can hardly understand British people when they speak >> I almost don’t understand them (or I understand very very little)

Notice the adverb position: ‘hardly’ comes before the main verb (speak) but after modals (can).


‘Hardly ever’ is used when talking about the frequency of an action and it means ‘almost never‘:

I hardly ever go the gym = I almost never go to the gym (or I very rarely go to the gym)
I hardly ever see him nowadays = I almost never see him nowadays (or I very rarely see him)

So pay attention when talking about how hard you’ve worked as you might end up saying quite the opposite:

I’ve worked really hard= I’ve really put a lot of effort / I’ve worked a lot
I’ve hardly worked= I’ve put almost no effort / I’ve worked very little

Notice the adverb position: hardly goes just after the auxiliary ‘have’.

Hope this post has shed some light on the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘hardly’!
Talk soon,


Pronunciation: what’s the difference between want and won’t?

BizarroEyeChartPronunciation is one of the tricky aspects of learning English. There are few rules and lots of exceptions, this is way listening to podcasts and watching movies/series is so important. The more you’re exposed to the language, the easier it’ll be to learn the right pronunciation.

Today I’d like to point out the differences between words that sometimes students perceive as having the same pronunciation. This often happens with ‘minimal pairs‘: words that differ in their pronunciation only for one sound, like ‘want’ and ‘won’t’.
Other times it’s the spelling of a word that misleads the reader into pronouncing it as a different word, some students have a hard time distinguishing between ‘heart’ and ‘earth’ (and what about ‘hurt’?!).

Also, people in the UK pronounce some words differently from people in the U.S. One of the striking features of British pronunciation is that the ‘r’ is often silent. For instance, to say ‘nurse’ an American would say nɜːrs while a British would drop the ‘r’ and say nɜːs. 

In London it gets even ‘worse’ as some people tend to drop even the ‘t’. For instance, ‘a bottle of water’ becomes ‘ˈbɒʔl əv ˈwɔːʔə’ >> Click here to listen to a Londoner saying this sentence but don’t panic! Remember that you can always remind these Brits that you’re not from here and it’d be nice if they could make an effort to pronounce words properly 🙂

This symbol ‘ʔ’ is called ‘glottal stop‘ and replaces the ‘t’ in the sentence above. If you are passionate about languages you can read more about the ‘glottal stop’ here.

If you’re not familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet that I use in this post, the British Council website has very useful chart that you can find here. The phonetic transcriptions that you find below refer to BrE and not AmE (that’s why the ‘r’ is not there!).

Below you find a list of the most common words students find confusing. Try to read them aloud and then check your pronunciation by clicking here and listen to a Londoner saying these words.


/wɒnt/          /wəʊnt/


/kɔːs/                 /kɔːz/


/wɜːk/              /wɔːk/


/wɜːd/             /wɜːld/


/ləʊ/           /lɔː/

HAIR & HER (and EAR!)

/h/          /hə/          /ɪə/


/ɜːθ/      /hɑːt/     / hɜːt/

BAG & BEG (and BUG!)

/bæɡ/      /beg/      /bʌɡ/


/tiːθ/    /θf/

SHIT & SHEET  – this one is a classic 🙂

ɪt/        /ʃɪ:t/

Hope you’ve found this post useful,

/tɔːk   su:n/ ! 🙂



Confusing adverbs/adjectives: do I smell bad or badly?


The right answer is bad, meaning that your smell is not good (and so go and have a shower please! 🙂 )

If you said ‘you smell badly’ you would be saying that the person you’re talking to doesn’t know how to or can’t smell properly.

The same way you’d say ‘you look good in that dress!’ and not ‘you look well in that dress’. Like in the sentence above ‘you smell bad’, also in this case the focus is NOT on HOW we perform the action (‘to look’ and ‘to smell’) .

This is why you say:

I feel bad for not coming to your wedding (= here I’m not discussing whether I’m good or bad at feeling stuff, I’m just saying that as a result of feeling something I’m sad)
He looked sad last time I saw him (=he seemed sad)

The adverb ‘badly’ says something about how you carry out an action. For instance, you’d be correct in saying ‘John behaves badly at school’ because you’re talking about the way John is carrying out an action (‘to behave’).

So this is why you say:

He looked at me sadly(=he looked at me in a sad way)

HOWEVER, you could say ‘I smell badly’ if you meant that you’re not good at smelling things maybe because of a cold.

I hope I’ve explained it well enough.
Talk soon,


The 10 Most Common Mistakes Made by ESL Students

imagesAfter teaching English as a foreign language for a bit, I’ve come to know what the most common mistakes are (at least for Italian and Spanish speakers). Here’s my selection of the ten most recurring ones:

#1 to ask to someone (to do something / something)

I asked to him to call you.
I’ll ask to James that question.

Notice that the same mistake seems to be frequent when using ‘tell’: I told to him to go away.

#2 ‘me too’ instead of ‘me neither’

A: I don’t like peas.
B: Me too neither

If the sentence you want to agree with is negative, you have to use ‘neither’. You could also say ‘I don’t either’ or “Neither do I’. Use ‘Me too’ (or ‘I do too’ or ‘So do I’) when agreeing with a positive statement.

#3 ‘since‘ instead of ‘for’

I’ve lived here since for five months.

Use ‘for’ with a period of time and since with a point in time: I’ve lived here since 2012.

#4 wrong auxiliary in short answers

A: Have you got a pen?
B: Yes, I do have.

When using a short answer, you have to use the same auxiliary you find in the question.

#5 ‘both‘ instead of ‘either’

A: Would you like a coffee or a cup of tea?
B: I’ll have both.either

Unless you want a coffee AND also a cup of tea, the right option here is ‘either’, meaning that you have no preference.

#6 improper use of the future tense in time clauses

I’ll do it as soon as Ill come back home

Time clauses are introduced by “as soon as”, “when”, “before”, “after” etc and you don’t use the future in such clauses to describe future activities.

#7 to be married with to someone 

Angelina Jolie is married with to Brad Pitt.

However, she married him in July.

Prepositions are always very difficult to get your head around. Other common mistakes: It depends from on him; I’m going at to the mountains at Christmas etc

#8 uncountable nouns treated as countable

The news are is on.
Can I ask you some informations?
I have to find a work (or I have to find a job)

Uncountable nouns should be followed by a singular verb and don’t have the plural.

#9 use of the present simple instead of the present perfect

I live ‘ve lived here for two years.
I know ‘ve known him since 2008.

When talking about an activity or state that started in the past and has continued up until now, remember to use the present perfect.

#10 use of cardinal number for dates

I’m leaving on May one (the) first

Another common mistake concerns the use of the word “like” in questions, I wrote a blog post about it that you can find here.

I hope you’ll find this post useful. Did you spot any of your mistakes? 🙂


in or at the restaurant?

hungry-angry-unhappy-man-waiting-for-dinner-poor-service-bad-review-restaurant-pen-ink-drawingSo the other day this student of mine asked me “should I say in or at the restaurant?”
Well, both options are correct but they mean slightly different things.

First of all, let’s put things into context: imagine that you were supposed to meet a friend for lunch and he or she phoned and asked you “where are you?”

option 1: you answer “I’m in the restaurant”

What you mean is that you’re inside the restaurant (maybe sitting at a table sipping some red wine). If you go for this option, you emphasize the physical space where you are.

option 2: you say “I’m at the restaurant”

This case is less clear in the sense that you could be either inside or around the restaurant. So you could be sitting at a table or you could be waiting for your friend outside, in front of the restaurant.

The following example should help you understand why sometimes speakers choose one option over the other.

Situation 1: “I’m at the supermarket”

Your girlfriend is waiting for you at home, she phones you and says “Where the hell are you? I’m starving!”
In this case the most appropriate answer would be “I’m at the supermarket” because what you mean is that you’re doing the shopping. You don’t want to emphasize exactly where you are as it’s not relevant in this situation. You want to stress what you’re doing. You could have said “I’m doing the shopping” and it would have been a sensible answer.

Situation 2:  “I’m in the supermarket”

Now, you were supposed to meet up with your girlfriend in front of the supermarket and do the shopping together (since you both hate doing it). She’s running late and she calls you up and says “Where are you? I’m 10 minutes late”. In this situation, if you were inside the supermarket and you wanted to make it clear to her so that she won’t look for you outside, you would probably say “I’m in the supermarket” (and maybe you would also add “because I was freezing my ass off waiting for you outside” :).

Hope it makes sense!


‘get’ and its thousands meanings

doubtful-situation Let’s be honest, the verb ‘get’ can be a real pain in the arse for students. I bet people use  this word at least 30 times a day (or more!) in the English speaking world. “Get” has many  different meanings and today I’m going to take you through the most common ones.

Get to mean RECEIVE
 i.e. I got an email from Paul this morning.  (RECEIVED)

Get to mean BUY
 i.e. I got my boyfriend a jumper for his birthday.  (BOUGHT) >> note the structure of this  sentence: to get + somebody + something

Get to mean FETCH
 i.e. Can you get me that bag please? (FETCH) >> note the structure again: to get  somebody something

Get to mean ARRIVE
i.e. I got home very late last night . (ARRIVED)

Get to mean UNDERSTAND
i.e. I don’t get why people rush all the time in London (UNDERSTAND)

Get to mean BECOME
i.e. He got very sad when he heard the news (BECAME)

Get to mean BRING
i.e. What can I get you guys? (BRING)  often said by a waiter/waitress who wants to get your orders

Get to mean ACCOMPLISH
i.e. I don’t know how he got to be this company’s CEO.

and these are just a few examples!


A six-year-old boy or a six-years old boy?

thoughtful-monkeyThere is no doubt that the word year is a noun* in English. However, because   of compound adjectives (the English, they love to compound! see also compound nouns), a lot of nouns can be made into adjectives**.

     What are compound adjectives?

Compound adjectives are usually made up by more than one word grouped together using a hyphen. i.e. James is a well-known lawyer.

Let’s have a look at a particular kind of compound adjectives, those made by a number followed by other words. i.e. My sister has a three-year-old daughter.

If you’re reading this post with due careyou’ll notice that I’ve written a three-year-old daughter and not a three-years old daughter. Yep! three-year-old is a compound adjective and in English (unlike in languages like Italian or Spanish) adjectives can’t be made plural. Moreover, you need to put a hyphen both between three and year and year and old (think of three-year-old as a single word)

That being said, if I wanted to slightly change the above sentence into My sister’s daughter is three years old. As you’ve already guessed, I would have to add an ‘s’.

More examples of this type of compound adjectives: a fifteen-hour flight, a two million-dollar house, a two hundred-kilometre ride, a five-minute phone call, a four-door car.

In conclusion, the right answer is a six-year-old boy or you could even get rid of boy and be left with a six-year-old (which is actually a compound noun).

I hope this question won’t bug you anymore 🙂

*Nouns are words used to identify people, places, things, and ideas. i.e. A famous singer

** Adjectives are words that refer to the qualities of people, things, or ideas, or which group them into classes. Most adjectives can be used with a noun and, in English, usually come immediately before it in the sentence. i.e A big city.

Reference: http://oxforddictionaries.com/