Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Month: May 2020

Very or absolutely? Expressing degree with adjectives

Why is it OK to say This house is very big but not This house is very enormous?

Well, there are two types of adjectives – gradable and non-gradable.

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Gradable adjectives refer to qualities that have different degrees. For example, big, cold, tasty, tall, boring and pretty are all gradable adjectives because something can be a bit / rather / slightly / extremely big etc.

Non-gradable adjectives describe qualities of extreme or absolute nature. As enormous already means ‘very big’, why would you use another very to emphasise it?

Now, with gradable adjectives we use grading adverbs such as a bit, slightly, hugely, extremely and very.

I’m a bit tired.

This film is hugely popular.

It’s extremely cold in Antarctica.

She’s very angry.

With non-gradable adjectives we use non-grading adverbs such as absolutely, completely, perfectly, simply, almost and mainly.

I’m completely exhausted.

His plan is simply unthinkable.

It’s absolutely freezing today!

She was absolutely furious.

Now, there’s one particular phrase which is perfectly grammatical but annoys me a lot when I hear people say it. It’s very beautiful. The problem here is, I guess, a simultaneous use of two extremely overused words. With so many synonyms and near-synonyms available, it’s really easy to add variety to your speech. Please pick and choose!

It’s absolutely/truly/simply/incredibly/stunningly/unbelievably beautiful.

It’s nice/pretty/attractive/lovely/gorgeous/stunning/charming.

Hope you’ve found this post useful.

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Ad lib: two tiny words with a lot of meaning

Ad lib is one of my favourite borrowings, as it says in just two tiny words what English needs a whole sentence to express.

Ad lib (also ad-lib) derives from the Latin ad libitum, meaning ‘to (one’s) pleasure, as much as one likes’, and was originally used to indicate the points within a piece of sheet music or theatrical script where performers could exercise unrestrained freedom of self-expression.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Now we use this phrase as a synonym of the verb improvise, that is to mean ‘to speak or perform in public without preparation’.

I had to ad-lib as I’d forgotten my lines.

He ad-libbed his way through the entire speech.

Ad lib can also act as

  • an adjective: Ann had always been much better at writing than speaking, so when asked to give an ad-lib speech she was completely paralysed with fear.
  • an adverb: He spoke ad lib.
  • and a noun: I’m sorry to say this but your ad-libs sounded anything but spontaneous.
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15 ways to say someone is stupid

Unfortunately, every now and then we all have to deal with people, things and situations that lack thought and/or judgment. To describe them in English, you’d probably use the words silly and stupid.

Staying focused will help you avoid making silly mistakes in the test.

He soon realised that spending all his savings on a new car was a stupid idea.

There’s nothing wrong with these two adjectives but the wonder of English is that more often than not it has loads of alternative ways of expressing the same idea, and lack of intelligence is no exception.

Image by Prawny from Pixabay

Let’s start with some nouns (please note they’re all informal). We’ve got quite a few for silly/stupid people – take your pick!

1. silly billy

used – often quite affectionately – when someone’s done something stupid

You silly billy! Why didn’t you ask me before you tried to reinstall Windows?! You’ve lost everything!

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Colour Idioms: Black

This is the final part of the mini-series on colour idioms and in today’s post we’ll be looking at idiomatic expressions with the adjective BLACK.

Image by Alexas Fotos from Pixabay

Let’s get started with the black sheep. When used idiomatically, this expression means a person who is an embarrassment or shame to their family or any other social group they belong to.

Coming from a family of high-achievers (someone who is very successful in their work), Emily, who dropped out of university and has been unable to get a decent job, is considered the black sheep.

Unsurprisingly, idioms with black, a colour traditionally associated with the dark side of life, mainly refer to rather unpleasant things. Here’s another example of this. When you do something wrong and people notice and remember it you get a black mark.

He got a black mark when his dissertation was found to contain plagiarisms.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

A black eye is what you end up with when someone hits you in the eye (ouch!).

Danny had a fight with his younger brother. He won and his sibling got a black eye.

And to finish on a positive note, a rare exception to the above mentioned rule – the new black. This expression is used to refer to things (and colours of course!) that have suddenly become fashionable or popular. Note that other words can be used instead of black in this idiom.

Pink is the new black – all fashion designers have made a generous use of it in their recent collections.

They say that for generation Z food is the new sex.

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