Category Archives: Vocabulary

Extend your English vocabulary #1

Extend your English vocabulary #1

EYV-fluctuateRegular posts with a new word, the pronuciation and example sentences.


Pronounced: FLUC-tu-ate (click below to listen)


Word type: verb (the noun is fluctuation)

Meaning: To rise and fall irregularly

Example: Exchange rates fluctuate every day, with the US dollar sometimes falling.

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English idioms

English idioms

English idiomsEnglish idioms are used in speech or when writing informally. Many English speakers use idioms – certain phrases or expressions that may be difficult to understand.

English idioms are best used in a more ‘relaxed’ type of speech or communication.

English idioms are expressions that have a meaning of their own, and where understanding all of the individual words doesn’t necessarily mean you will understand an idiom.

For example, the idiom ‘a can of worms’ actually has nothing to do with cans or worms – it means when a decision or action produces considerable subsequent problems, often much more than was expected.

Here are some common English idioms though there are many, many more!

Idioms Description Example
At the drop of a hat Without hesitation, immediately. She would help me at the drop of a hat, she is such a great friend.
Beat around the bush  Avoid the important issue. Please don’t beat around the bush! Just tell me if there is something for me to worry about or not.
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush Having something for certain is better than risking it for more as you may lose both. John won $100 dollars at cards last night. They wanted him to gamble again to win more, but he decided that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush so he kept the money.
Blood, sweat and tears A lot of effort and hard work It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears for him to get to the top of the mountain.
Best of both worlds Have all advantages My job is both well paid and flexible – I have the best of both worlds.
Ball park figure A rough estimate; approximation They haven’t calculated precisely, but they suggested a ball park figure of nearly $2 million.
Catch someone red handed To see or catch somebody in the middle of commiting a crime. He was just climbing through the window with the jewellery in his pocket when the police arrived. He was caught red handed!
Catch 22 A frustrating situation – you cannot do the first thing until the second thing is done, but you cannot do the second thing unless the first is done. I can’t get a job without a driving licence, and I can’t afford a driving licence unless I have a job. It’s a Catch 22 situation.
Cut corners Something is not done properly (to save money) If they hadn’t cut corners, the accident wouldn’t have occurred.
Draw the line Deciding when a person or an action has gone too far. I don’t mind you borrowing the car, but I draw the line at you not returning it all weekend.
Devil’s advocate To present a counter argument. It’s good that he plays devil’s advocate – it makes us think about all possibilities.
Elbow grease Hard work or physical effort The best way to clean the floor is hot soapy water and a lot of elbow grease.
Far cry from  Very different from The reality of the situation is a far cry from what they wanted to achieve.
Give the benefit of the doubt Believe what someone says without proof  I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt – it’s better than not trusting anyone.
Get a kick out of (something) To find something funny or entertaining I really get a kick out of playing computer games.
Have a whale of a time To have a lot of fun.  I had a whale of a time at the party on Saturday!
In the heat of the moment Overwhelmed by present circumstances. She didn’t mean it, she said it in the heat of the moment.
Jump on the bandwagon Join a popular trend or activity. Other companies are jumping on the bandwagon as it is proving to be such a popular idea.
Judge a book by its cover To assume something based on appearance. “See that man over there, with the old t-shirt and torn jeans? He’s actually a millionaire!” “Really? Well, I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover!”
Keep (your) eye on the ball  To stay focussed, give something full attention. His boss advised him that he really needed to keep his eye on the ball if he wanted to succeed.
Let off steam Relieve strong / negative feelings without hurting others. I had to let off steam and tell them what I really thought rather than keep it all to myself.The children ran around in the playground and let off some steam after studying hard all morning.
Last straw Final problem in a series of problems This is the last straw! I need to leave and look for a new job, I’ve had enough.
Make up (your) mind To make a decision She still hasn’t decided what dress to wear – I wish she’d make up her mind!
On the ball  Understand a situation well  The new boss is so on the ball – he’s so efficient.
Once in a blue moon Happens very rarely.  You were so lucky to win that. That happens once in a blue moon!
Over the moon To be very excited or happy He had a new car for his birthday and he’s over the moon with it!
Piece of cake Done easily That exam was a piece of cake! I’m sure I’ve done well.
Pass the buck Not taking responsibility; passing the blame to someone else. Nobody admitted it was their fault – they just passed the buck and told me to contact customer service.
See eye to eye Be in agreement with someone  They have never seen eye to eye and are always disagreeing.
Sit on the fence Does not want to choose or make a decision. You really can’t sit on the fence, we need to know what you really think we should do.
To hear something straight from the horse’s mouth Hear something from someone of authority Don’t listen to office gossip, ask the boss and get the information straight from the horse’s mouth!

Click here to try the English idioms exercises.

misspelled words

Commonly misspelled words in English

Commonly misspelled words in English

commonly_misspelled_words_in_EnglishEnglish spelling can be very difficult, even for native speakers. Many English words cannot be spelt phonetically (phonetically means the way they sound).

For example, phonetically the word enough should be spelt ‘enuff’!

Listed below are some of the most commonly misspelled words in English. If you think you know them, take a spelling test by clicking here.

If there are some words here that you have problems with, have a look at our tips for learning and remembering new vocabulary to help you. And remember, the only way to really improve is practice!

IMPORTANT NOTE: there are differences in spelling between US and UK English. This page (and this site) refers to British (UK English) spelling.

Commonly misspelled words in English

accelerate equipment noticeable
acceptable especially occasion
accidentally exceed occasionally
accommodate excellent official
accomplish exhilarate parallel
accumulate experience parliament
acquire explanation particular
acquit foreign perseverance
amateur grateful personnel
apparent guarantee possession
argument harass precede
atheist height preferable
beginning horrific privilege
believe hypocrisy proceed
business ignorance pronunciation
calendar imitate publicly
camouflage immediate receipt
candidate inadvertent receive
category incidentally recommend
changeable incredible reference
collectible independent referred
column indispensable relevant
commemorate ingenious remembrance
committed inoculate renowned
congratulations irresistible restaurant
conscience knowledge rhyme
conscientious labelled rhythm
conscious leisure ridiculous
consensus library schedule
deceive loose scissors
defendant maintenance separate
defiant millennium separately
definite miniature success
desperate mischievous tomorrow
disappear misspell twelfth
disappoint necessary vicious
embarrassment neighbour weird

Spelling rules in English

Spelling rules in English

spelling_rules_in_EnglishThere are some basic spelling rules in English that can help you spell words correctly.

Three useful spelling rules in English are covered in this lesson. We will also give you some tips on learning words that don’t follow spelling rules in English.

The English language has a very large vocabulary. Words come from a range of different languages so remember that there are ALWAYS exceptions to spelling rules in English!


Spelling rules in English 1

1. Using i before e

The rule: ‘use i before e, except after c

Examples (no c directly before):

believe, chief, niece, piece, thief

Examples (after c):

deceive, receive, ceiling

OR when the word has an “eh” sound

Examples (with ‘aye’ sound)

weigh, freight, neighbour

Remember that there are ALWAYS exceptions to spelling rules in English!

Common exceptions: efficient, weird, height, neither, ancient, caffeine, foreign.

Spelling rules in English 2

2. Spelling words with -ible and –able

Not sure whether to spell a word with ‘-ible’ or ‘-able’? One general spelling rule is that if you take the end of the word away and you are still left with a complete word, you can usually (but not always!) use -able. If not, use -ible.

For example:

  • dependable = depend + able
  • adorable + adore + able
  • possible =poss + ible

Spelling rules in English – more examples of words that end in -able

adaptable; amiable; believable; capable; changeable; comfortable; conceivable; debatable; desirable; disposable; durable; excitable; excusable; fashionable; impressionable; justifiable; knowledgeable; laughable; likeable; lovable; manageable; measurable; noticeable; objectionable; operable; payable; peaceable; pleasurable; preferable; reliable; serviceable; sizeable; suitable; tolerable; transferable.

Remember that there are ALWAYS exceptions to spelling rules in English!

Note the differences, where some words, e.g. knowledgeable ‘keep’ the ‘e’ from the complete word knowledge, but others ‘drop’ the ‘e’, e.g. believable – no ‘e’ from the ‘complete’ word believe.

Spelling rules in English – more examples of words that end in -ible

illegible; responsible; eligible; incredible; reversible; invincible; suggestible; contemptible; feasible; negligible; susceptible; convertible; flexible; ostensible; tangible; gullible; terrible; horrible; plausible.

Remember that there are ALWAYS exceptions to spelling rules in English! Some of the words in the list above do not follow the rules…. You just need to learn them.

Spelling rules in English 3

3. Spelling words with -ance and –ence

The endings -ance and -ence are used to change the verb form of a word into a noun form, or to turn an adjective into a noun.

For example:

  • perform (verb) becomes performance (noun)
  • intelligent (adjective) becomes intelligence (noun)

You will mostly just need to learn which words are spelled in which way; however, there are a couple of spelling rules in English that can help you with spelling words ending in -ance and -ence correctly.

a. If the word is formed from a verb that ends in -y, -ure, -ear or –ate then according to the general rule the ending will usually be  -ance.

For example:

  • comply (verb ending in -y) becomes compliance (noun)
  • endure (verb ending in -ure) becomes endurance (noun)
  • appear (verb ending in -ear) becomes appearance (noun)
  • tolerate (verb ending in -ate) becomes tolerance (noun)

Spelling rules in English – more examples of words to learn that end in -ance

acceptance; allowance; appliance; assistance; attendance; balance; circumstance; clearance; distance; disturbance; dominance; fragrance; grievance; guidance; ignorance; importance; instance; insurance; maintenance; nuisance; relevance; resemblance; substance.

b. If the word is formed from a verb that ends in ere then according to the general rule the ending will usually be  -ence.

For example:

  • adhere (verb ending in -ere) becomes adherence (noun)
  • cohere (verb ending in -ere) becomes coherence (noun)

Remember that there are ALWAYS exceptions to spelling rules in English!

Example of exception: perseverance (from verb persevere)

Spelling rules in English – more examples of words to learn that end in -ence

absence; affluence; audience; coincidence; conference; confidence; consequence; convenience; difference; essence; evidence; existence; experience; influence; innocence; insistence; patience; preference;  presence; recurrence; reference; sentence; sequence; silence.

Tips for learning words that don’t follow spelling rules in English

1. Don’t try to learn too many words at once. Try to learn a few words a day.

2. Keep a vocabulary list. You can group the words that have the same spelling rules together.

3. Some people will have difficulty with certain words no matter how many times they practice. If you have some words that you often seem to have problems remembering how to spell, then create a ‘mnemonic’ (a short sentence that helps you).

For example, which of the these is correct?

  • acomodation
  • accomodation
  • accommodation

The best way to remember is that there is always plenty of room with accommodation, so both the ‘c’ and the ‘m’ are doubled.

Another example is separate (people often misspell this seperate) – just remember that there is a rat in the middle (sep-a-rat-e)


Adjective collocations (B2)


English collocations are two words together that equal one meaning- they almost always combine NOUNS or ADJECTIVES together. Some popular collocations have the feeling/meaning of ‘absolutely’ for the first word.

Adjective collocations exercise 1

In the following exercises these kind of collocations are used. Their function is as an adjective.

Exercise 1: Read the sentences, decide on the correct second word in the collocation (which is the main word) and then check at the end.

1. My brother just sits around the house all day and does nothing. He’s so lazy… he’s bone _____!
a) idle b) dead

click here to see the answer

The correct answer is bone idle (meaning extremely lazy)

2. It’s impossible to see anything in here! It’s pitch _____.
a) dark b) night

click here to see the answer

The correct answer is pitch dark (meaning there is no light)

3. I’m going to buy a used car. I can’t afford a brand _____ one.
a) new b) shiny

click here to see the answer

The correct answer is brand new (meaning it’s completely new)

4. Breakfast is ready, where’s Tom? I’ll check- oh dear, I can’t wake him…he’s fast _____!
a) snoring b) asleep

click here to see the answer

The correct answer is fast asleep (meaning sleeping heavily, not easily woken up)

5. Becky usually looks sleepy at breakfast time, but today she looks wide _____.
a) happy b) awake

click here to see the answer

The correct answer is wide awake (meaning there is she’s completely alert)

Adjective collocations exercise 2

Exercise 2: Put a completed, correct collocation from Exercise 1 into each gap in the following dialogue and then check your answer.

A: “Come on, wake up. You’ll be late for work. You really need aalarm clock – your old one is not loud enough!”.

B: “Leave me alone…I wasand you woke me up! It must be only 6.00am…the room is still”.

A: “Wrong! It’s after 7.00. The room’s dark because it’s raining hard outside. Anyway, you should benow so just go and have breakfast”.

B: “Not now thanks, I’m not hungry, just sleepy…I’m going back to bed for a bit longer”.

A: “Oh my goodness, you really are, aren’t you”?!

Show the answers
ANSWERS: 1. brand new 2. fast asleep 3. pitch dark 4. wide awake 5. bone idle



Going to the movies – vocabulary (A2)

Vocabulary for talking about movies

Here is some language you can use for talking about movies (also called ‘films’ in British English). Also see ‘Going to the movies

Talking about movies in general – positive

  • The acting was amazing!
  • The sets were very impressive (the ‘set’ is the background to the filming)

Talking about movies in general – negative

  • a bit slow-moving (it takes a long time to get to the main part/action)
  • hard to follow in parts (it’s sometimes a bit confusing)
  • a bit of a let-down (quite disappointing)
  • a waste of time (stupid/ridiculous/poorly-made)

Talking about action movies

Genre (type) of movie: ‘Action’ movies

Normally involves: car chases, guns, fighting.

Common examples: Die Hard, Mad Max: Fury Road

Language you can use:

  • full-on (there’s a lot of action)
  • a bit slow-moving (it takes a long time to get to the main part/action)
  • over the top (too much to be believable – a small car accident causing a car to completely explode, for example)


Talking about romantic movies

Genre (type) of movie: ‘Romantic’ movies (also informally called ‘chick flicks’)

Normally involves: people falling in love, first dates – can also include negative events like someone dying or being really sick.

Common examples: Titanic, The Fault in our Stars

Language you can use:

  • a tear-jerker (it’s sad)
  • a chick flick (romantic movies are often watched by females – ‘chick’ in an informal word for females. NOTE: referring to a woman as a ‘chick’ can be considered rude)

Talking about thrillers

Genre (type) of movie: ‘Thrilers’

Normally involves: detectives, murders or intrigues, a more complicated plot than an action movie

Common examples: Se7en, Silence of the Lambs

Language you can use:

  • gripping
  • suspenseful
  • intriguing

Talking about comedies

Genre (type) of movie: ‘Comedies’

Normally involves: misunderstandings, funny events (generally positive overall)

Common examples: Dumb and Dumber Too

Language you can use:

  • hilarious (very funny)

Describing negative emotions

Describing negative emotions

Describing negative emotions (talking about how you or other people feel) is an useful skill in English. However, there is a lot of different vocabulary that needs to be learned.

Read the sentences below and see if you know the words in bold.  Match each word with a definition below.

Describing negative emotionsA. I though it was a fancy dress party so I dressed up as a pirate, but everybody else was wearing jeans and t-shirts. I was so embarrassed!

B. I have been studying English grammar for years but still make simple mistakes. I’m so frustrated.

C. His house has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a swimming pool, and I just live in a one bedroom apartment. I’m so jealous!

D. I went on a two week holiday by myself, but I was much younger than everyone else at the hotel so I didn’t really meet any one. I was quite lonely actually.

E. I was studying late last night and I had to get up at 5am to get to work. I’m exhausted!



Feeling uncomfortable with yourself because of something you did that socially awkward or made you feel foolish in front of others.
Show answer


Feeling of being annoyed because you cannot change or achieve something.
Show answer


Feeling of being unhappy with what you have because you think someone else has something better or that you are being missed out / ignored.
Show answer


Feeling of being alone (in a negative sense). Wanting to be involved in something with other people.
Show answer


Extremely tired, no energy remaining.
Show answer



Now use the five words describing negative emotions to complete the situations.

Match the feeling with THREE situations.

1. Embarrassed
2. Frustrated
3. Jealous
4. Lonely
5. Exhausted

a) Jenny went to a 3 day rock festival. It was really fun but she didn’t sleep much at all during it.
Jenny was
Show answer


b) Kate was rushing to catch a bus but she slipped over. All the people on the bus saw her and started laughing.
Kate was
Show answer


c) Kelly is trying to talk to her boyfriend on the phone but the reception is poor. She can’t hear what he is saying.
Kelly was
Show answer


d) Mark started his new job today as a waiter. He accidentally spilled wine all over a customer.
Mark was
Show answer


e) John and Tom ordered different meals at a restaurant. John’s meal looks bigger and better. Tom wishes he ordered what John ordered.
Tom was
Show answer


f) Mark keeps talking to his wife about a woman he met at work. She sounds great. But she doesn’t like how he keeps talking about her.
Mark’s wife was
Show answer


g) Rick moved abroad. He is having trouble making new friends.
Rick is
Show answer


h) Max just ran a marathon. He is breathing hard and sweating a lot.
Max is 
Show answer


i) Jenny’s housemate moved out to live with her boyfriend. They were not only housemates but best friends. Now she has nobody to talk to when she comes home.
Jenny is 
Show answer


j) Mark is a teacher. His students never do their homework. He doesn’t know what to do.
Mark is
Show answer


k) John’s shorts fell down while he was playing basketball.
John was
Show answer


l) John’s girlfriend recently broke up with him. He feels lost without her. They did everything together.
John is 
Show answer


m) Jack sees his girlfriend talking and laughing with an attractive man at a party.
Jack is 
Show answer


n) Kate hasn’t had a day off work in about a month!
Kate is
Show answer


o) Tom has an important assignment due for university but his computer isn’t working. He can’t fix it.
Tom is 
Show answer

Vocabulary for talking about leisure activities

Vocabulary for talking about leisure activities

Vocabulary for talking about leisure activities

What do you do in your free time? Leisure activities are the things you can do when you have free time, like reading a book or listening to music. Before you try the exercises below, make sure you know these leisure activities:


In this lesson we will look at:

  • verb + gerund (e.g. go swimming)
  • verb + noun (e.g. go to the cinema)

Look at the lists below of a few common leisure activities and then do the exercises.

Verb + gerund

Verb + noun

 go swimming

go to the cinema

go bunjy jumping

play computer games

go kayaking

do yoga

go shopping

play table tennis

do gardening

surf the internet

do  knitting

play cards

do drawing

go for a walk

do juggling

watch television


Choose the correct verb to complete the sentence.

1. I have been to Queenstown many times but I have never    bunjy jumping.

Show answer  been


2. Almost everybody   the internet in their free time.

Show answer  surfs


3. Bill needed some fresh air so he   for a walk.

Show answer  went


4. My grandmother often   some knitting in her free time.

Show answer  does


5. Let’s rent a DVD tonight I’m tired oftelevision.

Show answer watching


6. Jenny has beenyoga for 2 years now, she is very fit.

Show answer doing


7. John was in the middle ofhis juggling act when he fell over.

Show answer doing


8. We haven’tthe gardening for a month, it’s very overgrown.

Show answer done


9. It’s a beautiful day today, let’skayaking.

Show answer go


10. Kevincomputer games all day long at the weekend.

Show answer plays

Phrasal verbs with UP and DOWN

Phrasal verbs with UP and DOWN

There are hundreds, if not thousands of phrasal verbs (verb+preposition) in English that include the prepositions ‘up’ and ‘down’. Try the following two-part exercise to learn ways to include some of these types of phrasal verbs into your next conversation!

Phrasal verbs with UP and DOWNExercise 1: Read each sentence and decide on the correct definition of each phrasal verb.

1. They asked me to join the meeting to take down notes as they were talking so there was a clear record.

to TAKE DOWN (notes, information, a number etc) means:

a) to pull down notes etc. from a wall
b) to write down information on a piece of paper

Show the answer


2. The party was a huge failure – we invited lots of people but only John and Sandra turned up.

to TURN UP means:

a) to appear / arrive
b) to turn around sharply

Show the answer


3. I‘m fed up with learning English. Let’s go out for a while.

to BE FED UP (or GET FED UP) means:

a) to get tired / bored of something
b) to feel something is too difficult

Show the answer


4. I lost my house key, it had been a long day at work and I was tired, but fortunately my friend called and he put me up for the night. I found the key the next day at work!

to PUT (someone) UP means:

a) to make someone feel better
b) to let someone stay with you

Show the answer


5. The best way of increasing your vocabulary is to look up the words you don’t know in a dictionary

to LOOK UP (something) means:

a) to find out information
b) to check how big something is

Show the answer


6. I asked my flatmate to clean his dishes, but he never did and I had friends coming over so I ended up having to do them.

to END UP (doing something) means:

a) to finish doing something
b) to finally need to do something

Show the answer


7. His girlfriend just left him so he’s feeling down at the moment, but I’m sure he’ll get better soon!

to FEEL DOWN means:

a) to slip and fall
b) to feel miserable/unhappy

Show the answer


8. He’s just so lazy! He won’t help around the house – he won’t even pick up the phone even if it’s right next to him!

to PICK UP a phone means:

a) to take/answer a phone call
b) to think about who is calling

Show the answer



Exercise 2: Put where you think the correct phrasal verbs should fit in the following dialogue (some have already been done for you). Try to use the right tense if possible!

Use the correct phrasal verb from the list below to complete the conversation that follows. You may have to change the tense! An example has been done for you.


A: “Hi, how’s things? Have you found any accommodation yet?

B: “Well, yes and no. I got so FED UP with trying to find a flat at a reasonable cost, that I 1. asking a friend to 2. for a few weeks while I keep looking for somewhere.”

A: “Oh, don’t 3.. I’m sure that something will 4..”

B: “Yeah, I hope so. I’m so tired of trying to 5. flats online every night. I’ve 6. so many phone numbers and made a lot of calls, but most people don’t even 7. when I ring them”.

A: “Don’t worry, things will get better – they always do!”

Click here to see the correct answers
  1. ended up (even though he is still staying with the friend, he asked in the past so needs to be past tense form)
  2. put (me) up
  3. feel down
  4. turn up
  5. look up
  6. taken down
  7. pick up

Phrasal verbs with ‘read and write’ exercises

Phrasal verbs with ‘read and write’ exercises

Have you read the information page on phrasal verbs with ‘read and write’? Click here to read it before you try the phrasal verbs with ‘read and write’ exercises.

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phrasal verbs with 'read and write' exercisesComplete the phrasal verbs with ‘read and write’ exercises below by choosing the correct answer (a), (b) or (c) to test your knowledge of phrasal verbs.


I love reading musicians’ autobiographies. It’s so interesting reading  ___________ their lives.

(a) about      (b) into     (c) over


Phrasal verbs with ‘read and write’ exercises

Complete the phrasal verbs with ‘read and write’ exercises below by choosing the correct answer (a), (b) or (c) to test your knowledge of phrasal verbs.

1. I don’t know why you bother with James. He’s so selfish, if I were you I’d just write him  _______ !

(a) down      (b) over      (c) off

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (c)



2. I think I’m too sensitive sometimes. I shouldn’t read so much  _________ other people’s behaviour.

(a) about      (b) into      (c) down

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (b)


3. I have a lot of information to read  ______________ this evening, as I have an important presentation to make in the morning.

(a) down      (b) off      (c) up on

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (c)


4. I can read _________ your report if you like . It can be difficult proof-reading your own work.

(a) about      (b) up on      (c) over

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (c)


5. I need to write _________ the notes I made in class today, then we can go for a coffee.

(a) up     (b) off      (c) over

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (a)


6. Jane wrote ___________ to the radio station and she has won three free tickets for the show!

(a) in      (b) up      (c) down

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (a)


7. Can you write  _____________  everything we need in a shopping list or I’m sure I’ll forget something!

(a) in      (b) off      (c) down

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (c)


8. The government has had to write  ________________ a huge amount of national debt this year because of the world wide recession.

(a) off      (b) down    (c) over

click here to see the answer
Correct answer is (a)