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Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Tag: common errors

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?

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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.

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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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How to correctly use the words ‘travel’, ‘journey’ and ‘trip’

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Of these four nouns the one that confuses English learners most is definitely travel.

Travel is used to refer to the activity of travelling in general. In this meaning it’s always uncountable, i.e. takes no article and is always singular.

His job involves a great deal of travel.

Her interests are history, art and travel.

Travel can be plural when it means journeys, especially abroad.

On their travels they met lots of interesting people, many of whom became their lifelong friends.

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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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