Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Category: To Err is Human

Metre Vs Meter

Meter and metre. Isn’t it the same thing just spelt differently in American and British English? Well, yes and no.

Metre… Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

Yes, meter is the American spelling of metre, a unit of length that equals 100 centimetres.

The fence is about a metre and a half high. (Note the British English spelling!)

In British English, however, a meter is a machine that measures something, be it the amount of gas/water/electricity you’ve used or the amount of money you must pay.

… and meter. Image by analogicus from Pixabay

A few times a year Thames Water sends their engineers round to check water meter readings.

As the taxi was moving slowly through the traffic jam, she looked nervously at the meter wondering if she had enough money to pay for the trip.

This is a Pay and Display car park, but as the parking meter is broken you can park free of charge.

Easy, eh?

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Electric or Electrical?

The adjectives electric and electrical are easy to confuse as they are very close in meaning. Close but not identical. So what’s the difference between them?

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

We use electric to talk about things that need electricity to work, e.g. we say an electric guitar, an electric kettle, an electric car.

We bought a new electric cooker.

Electric is also used in an electric atmosphere (=full of excitement).

The atmosphere in the exam room was electric.

On the other hand, electrical is used to refer to electricity-powered things in general as well as people whose job is to make or repair them.

This supermarket sells not only food but also clothes and small electrical appliances such as kettles, coffee machines and toasters.

We need a certified electrical engineer to rewire the house.

Hopefully, next time you need to choose between electric and electrical, you’ll have no trouble picking the right one.

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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.

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.

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

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Efficient and effective: not to confuse

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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How Bad Punctuation Destroyed a Train Station

Image by Juan Guemez from Pixabay

Bad punctuation can be as destructive as bombs! In his book The Queen’s English and How to use it Bernard C. Lamb tells a story as amusing as it is sad about how one missing comma can have devastating consequences.

Back in 1984 a station in East Lothian, Scotland, was wrongly demolished because a comma was missing from the British Rail planning document. The list of items to preserve should have read: ‘Retain Drem Station, bridge…’ Unfortunately for the station building, the comma after ‘Station’ was missing, the station was pulled down and had to be rebuilt. The bridge survived.

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The Three Foxes by Alan Alexander Milne

Image by Amir Boucenna from Pixabay

Alan Alexander Milne (1882 – 1956) was an English author, known in all corners of the world thanks to his books about a teddy bear called Winnie-the-Pooh. He also wrote poetry. I chose his verse The Three Foxes to share with you today because it reminds me of a curious linguistic anecdote.

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The Mysterious Case of the Word ‘Ghost’

Have you ever questioned the purpose of the silent H in ‘ghost’? It’s absolutely useless, but there’s a great story behind it.

It goes back to William Caxton, an English merchant and diplomat, who lived in the 15th century. While in Germany, he became familiar with Gutenberg’s latest invention – the printing press, – and liked the idea so much that he set up one of his own in Flanders.

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