Learn British English with Anastassia

Exciting Adventures in the English Language and Culture

Tag: English vocabulary

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.

Image by GraphicMama-team from Pixabay

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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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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10+ alternatives to ‘clever’

In his book ‘How to Be an Alien’ George Mikes writes,

In England it is bad manners to be clever, to assert something confidently’ as ‘the Englishman is modest’.

I wouldn’t say much has changed in this respect since the book was first published in 1946 – the British code of behaviour still strongly disapproves of any displays of one’s intelligence. In other words, if you’re smart, keep it to yourself.

It should now come as no surprise that the English language (or at least British English) has far fewer words and expressions for ‘intelligent’ than, as we have seen, it does for ‘stupid’. Let’s have a look at them.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

1. Bright is used especially about children and young people (you may have read Evelyn Waugh’s Bright Young Things or seen the film based on the book).

She’s the brightest student in the class and loved by all the teachers.

2. Brilliant means ‘extremely clever’.

Albert Einstein was one of the most brilliant scientists of all time.

However, it can also be used sarcastically to mean the opposite!

(At the airport) You left the tickets at home?! Brilliant! What are we going to do now?

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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.

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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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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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Pyjamas

What do you wear in bed? Do you sleep in your birthday suit (=naked) or do you prefer to have something on like a nightie (informal word for nightdress), a onesie (an all-in-one item of clothing that covers your body, arms and legs) or pyjamas?

Image by Наталья Данильченко from Pixabay

The word pyjamas derives from the Persian paijama. The original paijama are loose, lightweight trousers with draw-string waistbands worn in Asia by both men and women. In the UK, pyjamas are made up of two pieces – a pair of trousers and a top – and are worn in bed.

For British children, there are lots of pet abbreviations, among them ‘jamas’, ‘p-jays’, ‘jimmy jams’ and ‘jimmies’. They differ between families and whatever word you’re brought up with is correct and the other terms are weird.

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