Lessons

Learning English? Look at these ideas from our teachers to help you improve your English skills!

Vocabulary

‘Beside’ means ‘next to’

I sit beside John in English class.

Alba English School is beside Sainsbury’s supermarket.

 

‘Besides’ means ‘in addition to’

Besides a sister, he has two brothers in the city.

Besides English, I also speak French and Spanish.

 

It also means ‘except’

No one was at the party besides me and Anna.

Besides me, no one in my family likes skiing.

 

And it can mean ‘moreover’

We need to meet Sarah this weekend. Besides, I promised her 2 weeks ago that I would see her soon.

That restaurant is too expensive. Besides, we have lots of food at home to eat! 

Kitchen/ˈkɪʧɪn/ (noun) = a room where food is kept, prepared, and cooked and where the dishes are washed.

 

Chicken/ˈʧɪkɪn/(noun) = a type of bird kept on a farm for its eggs or its meat, or the meat of this bird that can be cooked and eaten.

What is the difference between ‘lay’, ‘lie’, ‘laid’ and ‘lain’? Which are present and which are past?

 

The problem is that these are not from one verb, but two verbs.

 

The first verb is ‘lay’, and the principle parts are ‘lay, laid, laid’. This is a transitive verb, so it must ALWAYS have a direct object. The meaning is ‘put something down gently’:

She laid her mother’s letter on the table.

I’m so tired – I can’t wait to lay my head on the pillow.

Have you laid the children’s clothes on the bed for them?

 

The second verb is ‘lie’, and the principle parts are ‘lie, lay, lain’ – notice the PAST of this verb is the same form as the PRESENT of the first verb! This is an intransitive verb, so it NEVER has a direct object. The meaning is ‘be/become horizontal’:

There were two letters lying on the table.

I’m so tired – I can’t wait to lie down.

It looks like someone has lain in this bed.

 

Two verbs: ‘lay, laid, laid’ + direct object; ‘lie, lay, lain’ with no direct object.

Ramble means:

To talk for a long time without saying anything new or interesting.

e.g. My mum rambled on for ages about something pointless!

A female waiter is called a ‘waitress’.

A female manager is a manageress.

A female actor is called an actress. 

What’s the difference between an adjective that ends in –ed and one that ends in –ing?

Adjectives that end in –ing are used to describe characteristics, things and situations.

Adjectives that end in –ed are used to describe how people feel.

Look at these examples:

This film is boring / I am bored.

The party was exciting / I’m excited about my holiday.

The most common question to ask what job a person does is:

What do you do?

 

Other possible expressions include:

What is your job?

What job do you do?

What line of work are you in?

What’s the difference between effect and affect?

Look at these examples;

‘The earthquake affected thousands of people’ / ‘Your opinion will not affect my decision’

‘The long-term effects of smoking are well known’ / ‘I can feel the effects of too many late nights’

Affect is a verb and its main meaning is ‘to influence or make a difference to’ while effect is a noun and means a result or an influence. 

What’s the correct use of good and well?

Good is an adjective but well is an adverb and answers the question how. We also use well as an adjective to talk about someone’s health.

Look at these examples;

‘You did a good job’ (good describes the noun job)

‘You did the job well (well describes how you did the job)

‘I don’t feel very well’ (well is an adjective and describes the health of the person)

Do we always say ‘listen to’?

If there is an object, YES. We always say ‘listen TO something’.

I listen to pop music but I don’t listen to Justin Bieber.

If there is no object (i.e. when it is an imperative), you don’t need ‘to’.

Listen! Can you hear the rain?

The Scottish word for ‘umbrella’ is ‘brolly’.

It rains a lot in Scotland, so it is common to hear this word, for example:

Do you have a brolly I can borrow?

Where can I buy a brolly?

I forgot to bring my brolly.

When do we use the phrasal verbs ‘take off’ & ‘take up’

Take off is used for something leaving the ground, like an aeroplane.

The plane is going to take off.

Take off is also used to describe removing something, like clothes.

Please take off your hat in class.

Take up means start something new, like an activity.

I am going to take up the piano.

Take up also means to shorten an item of clothing.

I am going to take up this skirt because it is too long.

What’s the difference between ‘whole’ & ‘hole’?

Whole means all of something

I ate the whole cake, not just one piece.

Hole means an empty space in or through an object

My jumper has got a hole in it.

They are pronounced the same!

Q: Which is correct:  ‘At the end’ or ‘In the end’?

A: Both, but with different meanings.

 

We use ‘At the end’ to describe place or time:

Walk down this street and turn left at the end. / It was a long film – I was very hungry at the end!

The opposite of ‘At the end’ is ‘At the beginning/start’.

At the beginning of the tour we’ll see the castle, and at the end we’ll have ice cream.

 

‘In the end’ is used for a change of mind or change of expectation:

I wanted to get a burger, but in the end I had to get a pizza. / In the end, everything went well. (I expected it to go badly)

The opposite of ‘In the end’ is ‘At first’.

At first they were enemies, but they became best friends in the end.

There is a difference between the verbs leave and forget.

 

If you accidentally didn’t bring/take something (e.g. your homework), you can use the verb forget:

I’ve forgotten my homework.

I forgot my homework yesterday.

 

But if you want to say where your homework is you must use the verb leave:

I’ve left my homework at home.

I left my homework on the bus.

 

It’s incorrect to say ‘I’ve forgotten my homework on the bus

Do you know when to say ‘hear’ and ‘listen’?

 

Hear means to be aware of sounds with your ears, so you don't have to make an effort to just hear something.

She heard a noise outside.

 

Listen means to pay attention to somebody/something that you can hear, so you have to make an effort to hear something properly.

She listened to the noise and realised it was only a cat.

He listened to a really interesting programme on the radio.

 

And don’t forget the ‘to’!

He listened to the radio

What is the difference between ‘see’, ‘look at’ and ‘watch’?

All of these verbs describe how we use our eyes, but in different ways.

 

‘See’ – an image comes to your eyes

We use ‘see’  when we mean ‘the image is in my eyes’ – this can be deliberate or not deliberate:

Did you see that bird? It was huge! / I can’t see Michael – there are too many people.

 

‘Look at’ – give attention

We use ‘look at’ when we give something our attention (e.g. try to see):

Ok class, look at the picture on p13 – what is it? / I looked at the menu but I couldn’t see any vegetarian food.

 

‘Watch’ – give attention to something moving

We use ‘watch’ when something has our attention and is moving, or expected to move:

I like to watch TV in the evening. (Compare: ‘look at a picture’) / Watch the tree – I think there’s a monkey in it.

Which is correct – ‘I have 25 years’ / ‘I am 25 years old’ / ‘I am 25’?

 

In English we don’t use the verb ‘to have’ to say how old you are we use the verb ‘to be’.

So ‘I have 25 years’ is incorrect.

But I am 25 years old and I am 25 are both correct.

However, it's more usual to just say I’m 25.

Have you ever wondered how to express basic time periods in a month?

Here are a few useful phrases to help you to specify the week:

 

The week before last, I met some friends at a great Thai restaurant. (2 weeks ago)

Last week I went to the cinema. (One week ago)

This week I am working very hard. (The week you’re in)

Next week, I’m going to London for a business trip. (In one week)

The week after next, I’m planning on going to a concert in Glasgow. (In 2 weeks)

Grammar

Another’ is used with a singular, countable noun.

Other’ is used with a plural countable noun or an uncountable noun.

For example:

I need to buy another bottle of wine for the party.

I need to buy some other things for the party.

Could I have another cup of coffee, please?

I love travelling to other countries.

Been vs Gone/Come

‘Been’ can be the past participle of ‘go’ or ‘come’.

What’s the difference between these pairs of sentences:

Ana has gone to Germany. (Ana is in Germany now).

Pablo has come to visit me in Scotland. (Pablo is in Scotland now).

Ana has been to Germany. (Ana went to Germany but she is back at home now).

Pablo has been to visit me in Scotland. (Pablo came to visit me in Scotland but he is back in his country now).

‘Been’ is used for completed visits.

The First and Second Conditionals can both be used to describe the future:

What is the difference?

1. The first conditional describes something that is possible, and could really happen.

2. The second conditional describes something that is possible, but will almost certainly not happen.

 

How do we know when to use them?

Often there only difference between the first and the second conditional is the speaker’s opinion.

 

For example, here in Scotland we often say ‘If it rains tomorrow, I will take my umbrella’, because there is always a real possibility of rain.

In Australia, people say ‘If it rained tomorrow, I would take my umbrella’ because it will very probably not rain. (Do Australians even have umbrellas?!)

 

Of course, rain is possible even in Australia – but not very probable. When we’re talking about the future, everything is possible! (In English grammar at least) Very optimistic…

‘Had’ and ‘would’ both become ‘d in informal speech and writing – is it possible to know which one it is?

 

If you look at the words ‘I’d’, ‘you’d’, ‘we’d’ etc. alone, it is not possible to know if they mean ‘had’ or ‘would’.

But if you look at the NEXT word it becomes clear and unambiguous.

 

If the next word is the infinitive (without ‘to’), ‘d means ‘would’:

I’d be happier if it wasn’t raining. (= ’I would be’)

I didn’t know she’d be there. (= ‘she would be’)

 

This is also true for the verb ‘would like’:

Do you think they’d like to come?  (= ‘they would like’)

 

If the next word is the past participle (3rd part of the verb), ‘d means ‘had’:

We’d been together for three years before we got married. (= ‘we had been’)

He didn’t come to the cinema because he’d seen the film twice already.(= ‘he had seen’)

 

Remember it is also possible to use ‘had had’:

We’d had so much breakfast that we didn’t want any lunch. (= ‘we had had’)

 

‘d + infinitive = ‘would’

‘d + past participle = ‘had’

Can every noun be made plural simply by adding ‘-s’?

 

Most nouns can, but not every noun. Regular nouns become plural with ‘-s’, but irregular nouns have different plurals.

 

Some words follow a different pattern:

y --> ies (sky – skies; fly – flies)

F --> VES (life – lives; half – halves)

US --> I (cactus – cacti; stimulus – stimuli)

IS --> ES (crisis – crises; thesis – theses)

IX --> ICES (appendix – appendices)

UM/ON --> A (curriculum – curricula; criterion – criteria)

A --> AE (formula – formulae; antenna – antennae)

 

Some words have completely irregular plurals:

man --> men

woman --> women

child --> children

person --> people

foot --> feet

tooth --> teeth

mouse --> mice

penny --> pence

 

And some words are exactly the same form in plural as in singular:

fish --> fish

sheep --> sheep

deer --> deer

series --> series

 

Use 'for' with a period of time to express the duration or 'how long' something has happened e.g.:

for three weeks

for many years

 

Use 'while' + a verb form e.g.:

while I was watching TV

while I lived in New York

 

Use 'during' with a noun to express 'when' something happens e.g.:

during class

during my vacation

during the discussion

What prepositions do we use to talk about transport?

The most common prepositions for transport are ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘by’.

 

‘On’ is used for public transport, where we share the vehicle with other passengers:

I waved to my friend on the bus.

Sorry, I can’t call you – I’m on a plane!

There was a restaurant on our train.

There were many famous people on the Titanic.

 

‘In’ is used for private transport, where you don’t share the vehicle (this includes taxis):

Dogs are not welcome in my car.

A maximum of five people can sit in a taxi.

The farmer spent all day in the tractor.

(we can sometimes also use ‘in’with public transport – when we are emphasising the space, not the journey: It was much warmer in the bus)

 

‘By’ is used after a verb (or a noun like journey, voyage) to describe the mode of travel. ‘By’ can be used with nouns of vehicle (car, bus, plane etc.) of nouns of medium (road, sea, air etc.):

We went there by train, but we returned by bus.

I love travelling by sea – it’s so romantic!

 

‘In’ for public transport, ‘on’for private transport, ‘by’ to describe a verb.

What’s the difference between ‘for’ and ‘since’?

 

We use for + a period of time

e.g. ‘for two hours’, ‘for 5 minutes’, ‘for 6 years’, ‘for a week’, ‘for a long time’, ‘for ages’.

I exercise for two hours every day

I’ve known my best friend for 20 years

 

We use since + a point in time (in the past) until now

e.g. ‘since yesterday’, ‘since last week’, ‘since I was a child’, ‘since 1992’, ‘since this morning’, ‘since breakfast’.

I haven’t eaten since breakfast.

I’ve been a teacher since 2005.

 

You can use ‘for’ with different tenses when talking about time, but you can only use ‘since’ in a perfect tense, like the present perfect.

Is the word ‘people’ singular or plural?

Simple answer:

‘People’ is the plural version of ‘Person’ and takes a plural verb. (just like ‘child/children’ and ‘man/men’)

Four people were dancing – two men and two women. / The people in Barcelona are very friendly.

 

Complicated answer (for advanced learners only):

‘People’ is the plural version of ‘Person’ 99% of the time. The alternative plural ‘Persons’ exists but is only used in technical language:

Maximum 12 persons (in a lift/elevator).

There is another noun, singular ‘People’ and plural ‘Peoples’, which means nation/tribe. This emphasises the uniqueness or differences of their culture compared to others:

The peoples of Papua New Guinea have many different customs and speak many different languages.

Functions

The British love politeness. You can make yourself sound more polite by using softening expressions such as ‘quite’ or ‘maybe’.

She’s quite hard to understand, isn’t she?

Maybe I’ll go home now.

Whether at work, with friends, or even in class, you might find that you need to interrupt someone.

The following are useful expressions, in order from most to least polite, that you can use if you need to interrupt another speaker.

Whether you are like Edith Piaf and Robbie Williams and regret nothing or cannot go a day without looking back and thinking of what might have been, it is useful to know how to express regrets in English.

So, if someone says 'I wish I hadn't bought that car', it means that they regret their purchase. Similarly, if they say 'I wish I had bought that car', they regret the fact that they didn't purchase the car.

More Ideas

A great way to improve your vocabulary is by reading, reading and reading! You should try to read something different every day (newspapers, blogs, books, magazines). If possible put a circle around items of vocabulary that are related. If, for example you are reading a newspaper article about EasyJet, circle every word that is related to aeroplanes and flight.

Pronunciation

How do native speakers create the 'flowing' sound of natural English?

One important part of the sound of English is in linking words together. You can do this by remembering that when one word finishes with a consonant sound and the next begins with a vowel sound, then the two words will 'link' together, with the final consonant sound of the first word behaving like a 'bridge'.

For example:

Brad Pitt and George Clooney can act well. This sentence will sound more like: Brad Pi tand George Clooney ca nact well.

This also happens in most phrasal verbs: take off sounds like /teɪ kɒf/ and build up sounds like /bɪl dʌp/. Try listening out for this feature when native speakers are talking, and you'll be surprised how often it appears! It is not the only thing we do to create fast speech, but it is one of the easiest to learn.

The correct pronunciation of plural /s/ in some words.

If the last consonant sound is a sibilant sound i.e. it has a hissing (sssss) or buzzing (zzzz) sound or the sound your teacher makes when they want you to be quiet (shhh) it is pronounced as an /iz/ sound and the word has two syllables.

For example,

Trees, gloves and tables. (These words don’t have a sibilant sound so don’t have an extra syllable)

BUT

Churches (shhh)

kisses (ssss)

and prizes (zzzz)

These words have sibilant sounds and so have an extra syllable at the end.

The verbs ‘have’, ‘use’ and ‘suppose’ have two separate lives: they exist both as main verbs and as (semi-)modal verbs.

As modal verbs, they are always followed by a ‘to’ infinitive, so we usually learn them as ‘have to’ (obligation), ‘used to’ (past habit) and ‘be supposed to’ (expectation).

These modal verbs have different meanings from the main verbs, and are considered separate. To avoid confusion, they are also pronounced differently:

 

‘have’ (main verb) - /hæv/

‘have to’ (modal) - /hæf tə/

 

‘has’ (main verb) - /hæz/

‘has to’ (modal) - /hæs tə/

 

‘used’ (main verb) - /juːzd/

‘used to’ (modal) - /juːst tə/

 

‘supposed’ (main verb) - /səpəʊzd/

‘be supposed to’ (modal) - /biː səpəʊst tə/

 

This pronunciation change has a regular pattern: the voiced consonants in the main verbs (/v/, /z/, /zd/) become the equivalent unvoiced consonants in the modal verbs, so /v/ -> /f/, /z/ -> /s/, /zd/ -> /st/.

 

Examples:

I have two cats. /hæv/

I have to do my homework. /hæf/

 

She has a yellow car. /hæz/

He has to work late on Tuesdays. /hæs/

 

The robber used a credit card to open the door. /juːzd/

My dad used to have lots of hair, but now he’s bald. /juːst/

 

I supposed they were the culprits. /səpəʊzd/

You’re not supposed to climb there! /səpəʊst/

How do you pronounce ‘th’?

In most languages, you keep your tongue inside your mouth. For this sound the end of your tongue must be outside your teeth (don’t worry, it’s not rude!).

Four steps to success:

  1. With your finger, make a line from the end of your nose to your chin (like the ‘shhhh…’ sign).
  2. Touch your finger with the end of your tongue (I hope your finger’s clean!).
  3. Push your tongue against your top teeth.
  4. Blow air over your tongue and through your teeth.

There are actually two pronunciations of ‘th’, but the only difference is if you use your voice or not (to check, touch your neck – is it vibrating?):

Think – symbol /θ/ no vibrations in your neck

Them – symbol /ð/ – vibrations in your neck