Learn British English with Anastassia

Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Category: Grammar Rules!

Enquiry Vs Inquiry

If you look up the word enquiry in the online Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, you’ll see no definition but the following remark especially British English another spelling of inquiry‘. To find out what ‘enquiry’ means, you need to click on ‘inquiry’ in bold type.

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This is another curious case. Both enquiry and inquiry can mean question, inquest or investigation and be used interchangeably. However, in the UK there’s a slowly growing tendency to use inquiry to refer to the official process to find out about something,

e.g. The villagers are demanding a public inquiry into the fire that destroyed the local school.

whereas the use of enquiry is becoming preferable to mean a question as in

I’d like to make an enquiry about your language courses.

One day enquiry and inquiry are likely to start living their separate lives, but until then you can use whichever you prefer (inquiry is more widely accepted in American English).

Now you know!

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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.

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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.

Want to speak English like a native? Then consider taking online lessons with me!

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How to count the uncountable

For starters, what is an uncountable noun? It’s a noun that cannot be made plural and cannot be used with a or an.

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Problems often arise when an English learner comes across a noun that is countable in his or her native language, but is uncountable in English. Here are some of such words:

  • advice
  • homework
  • luggage
  • furniture
  • information
  • knowledge
  • research
  • accommodation (as a place to stay; in this meaning it’s often used as a plural noun in American English)
  • evidence

What to do if you need to talk about a particular amount of something that is expressed with an uncountable or a mass noun? You can do so by using quantity expressions before them, e.g.

Let me give you a piece of advice.

Let me give you an advice.

How many items of furniture have been lost in the fire?

How many furnitures have been lost in the fire?

The police found a vital piece of evidence.

The police found a vital evidence.

This brochure provides quite a few useful bits of information about the local area.

This brochure provides a few useful informations about the local area.

She used a blade of grass as a bookmark.

She used a grass as a bookmark.

What shape is a grain of sand, I wonder?

What shape is a sand, I wonder?

Now you know!

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Media or Mediums?

The noun medium is of Latin origin and has been part of the English language since the 1580s.

If you look it up in a dictionary, you’ll see that it has two plural forms – media, which is in line with other Latin borrowings such as, for example, datum – data and bacterium – bacteria, and mediums.

Languages are mediums (=means) of interaction and communication.

You certainly know that we refer to all the people and organisations providing information and news for the public, i.e. newspapers, radio, TV, etc., as the mass media and never the mass mediums.

The mass media is often referred to as the Fourth Estate.

Notice that the (mass) media is now often used as an uncountable noun with a singular verb, though Bernard C. Lamb, President of the Queen’s English Society, argues that is ‘wrong, wrong, wrong!’ He also insists mediums should only be used for people who claim to be able to communicate with the dead.

After his father died, he spent a small fortune on mediums trying to find out if his late parent was happy in the afterlife.

So if you want to speak impeccable English, you’d better listen to Mr Lamb. Besides, I think it’s the easiest way to remember when to use media and when mediums.

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Programme Vs Program

The word programme has several meanings.

The one you’re certainly familiar with is something you watch on TV or listen to on the radio as in What’s your favourite TV programme?

It can mean plan or a series of actions as in

The ambitious reform programme developed by a group of independent politicians got no support from the government.

and 

What’s the programme for tomorrow?

Another meaning is a leaflet that gives information about a play, concert etc.

She collects theatre programmes.

By contrast, program is a set of instructions given to a computer, i.e. All word processing programs these days have built-in grammar- and spelling-checkers.

There’s no such distinction in American English where one spelling program covers all of the above mentioned meanings.

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How to Agree and Disagree

In English, agreeing and disagreeing with negative statements and questions is a bit confusing, if not counterintuitive.

Don’t you like apples? No, I don’t.

Here you express agreement with no – you agree that you don’t like apples.

– It’s not cold.

Yes, it is.

And here you contradict the speaker with yes – unlike them, you think it is cold.

The rule is to choose yes or no depending on your answer (yes if it’s positive and no if it’s negative) and not what it communicates (agreement or disagreement).

Didn’t you see the sign? No, I didn’t. (agreement but the answer is negative (I didn’t), therefore we use no)

You can’t afford this car. (Yes,) I can. (contradiction but the reply is positive (I can), therefore yes is used)

Hope you’ll never have trouble with this language point again. Did you just say “I won’t”? Great! And if you think you will, well maybe you should re-read this post.

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-ed and -ing adjectives

In English, there are quite a few pairs of adjectives one of which ends in -ed and the other in -ing, for example, excited/exciting, bored /boring, inspired/inspiring. The adjectives in each pair are very different in meaning, and yet, as they look so similar, English learners often find them confusing. If you too find it difficult to use them correctly, then read on.

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Efficient Vs Effective

Efficient and effective share the first three letters but shouldn’t be confused as their meanings are very different.

Efficient means ‘working well, without wasting time, money or energy’.

My new car is more fuel efficient than the old one was and saves me about £50 every week.

Laura’s the most efficient PA (personal assistant) I’ve ever had: my business life is perfectly organised with every little thing running smoothly.

Effective, on the other hand, means ‘successful, having the right effect or solving the problem’.

These painkillers aren’t cheap but they’re extremely effective – your headache will be gone in seconds.

A string of pearls would look very effective with that dress.

Now you know!

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Is it all right if it’s alright?

You must have come across both variants, probably wondering which one is more preferable. Well, the quick answer to this question is all right.

The tea was all right.

Unlike much older mergers such as altogether and already that are fully acceptable, using alright, especially in formal writing, is still highly likely to make your readers think that your English is far from perfect.

So play it safe and use all right.

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