Friday, 8 April 2011

Exam stress....Aaaargh!

Is this how you feel about exams? Take a look at the link below. It's a great diagram. (But what do you think about the preposition 'on'? should be 'in'.)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Smugglers' tunnel uncovered at the end of Collier Road

The people laying the new sewage pipes in Collier Road in winter 2010/11 got a shock when they took the roof off a long underground tunnel. Go to to find out more.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Big thank you to Vince for his advice below on the use of commas with however;

‘However’ – comma or no comma?

‘However,…’ and ‘However…’ have completely different meanings so do not confuse them!

1. Always put a comma immediately after ‘however’ when using it to mean – ‘in spite of this’, ‘on the other hand’ and ‘nevertheless’. 

2. Do not put a comma immediately after ‘however’ when using it to mean – ‘no matter how’.


1. Millions have become unemployed during his period in office. However, many people continue to voice their support for the president.

2. However many people voice their support for the president, it appears his time in political office is over.

Monday, 28 March 2011

new language tip: ADVISE/ ADVICE...LICENSE/ LICENCE...and James Bond.

Today's tip is in answer to an email from Michel:
in British English, licence is a noun and license is a verb. (In American English, the noun is spelt like the verb.)
The 'licence/license' rule also applies to 'advice' (noun) and 'advise' (verb). This is true and in this case it applies to American English as well. Helpfully though, 'advice' and 'advise' are not homophones (words with different spellings that sound the same, like licence/license and there/their).

 advice = /ədˈvaɪs/    and      advise = /ədˈvaɪz/
 advice -- ice                         advise -- prize

"Let me give you some advice, stay clear of Mr. Bond - he has a licence to kill." (nouns)
"I'd advise you to stay clear of Mr. Bond; his employers license killing." (verbs)

With thanks to Vincent Skowronski for the James Bond examples.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

shall and will.... and formally and formerly

Didier has sent in a question about the difference between shall and will.
So here goes:

shall is formally (and was formerly) used in the first person, and will in the second and third.
But of course in spoken English, and often in written too now, ‘ll is commonly used as a contraction of both will and shall
So, formally and formerly: I/we shall go, you/he/she/it/they will go
Even though we now use ‘ll a lot, the old shall/will rule can be heard/seen in questions: Shall I/we go? Will you/he/she/it/they go?  
Shan’t used to be used in first person negatives: I/we shan’t go   but now we usually say I/we won’t go
When being emphatic, we swap them over, as in You shall go to the ball, Cinderella!
will marry Edgar Linton. (imagined utterance by Cathy in Wuthering Heights)

Did you notice the wonderful homophones (words pronounced the same but with different spelling and different meaning) above? FORMALLY  and FORMERLY. 

Friday, 25 March 2011

Data: Countable or uncountable? English for You Hastings' answer is here.

The question I'm going to answer today is from Patrice, who emailed to ask if the word data is countable or uncountable. Here's my answer (which also applies to the word agenda).:

Traditionally, it was countable (because it's a Latin neuter plural), but it is now treated as uncountable. For 'mass noun' below, read 'uncountable noun':
The Oxford English dictionary defines it as follows:In Latin, data is the plural of datum and, historically and in specialized scientific fields , it is also treated as a plural in English, taking a plural verb, as in the data were collected and classified. In modern non-scientific use, however , despite the complaints of traditionalists, it is often not treated as a plural. Instead, it is treated as a mass noun, similar to a word like information, which cannot normally have a plural and which takes a singular verb. Sentences such as data was (as well as data were ) collected over a number of years are now widely accepted in standard English. Technically the singular is datum/agendum, but we feel it sounds increasingly hyper-correct, old-fashioned and pompous to say "the data are".
Dear readers of  please send your comments on my answer (including disagreement with it) to  or
If you are under 18, please use a parent's or school's email address and only give your first name or a nickname. 
One more thing: the above question is for advanced learners. is for all levels and ages. So do send in questions on basic grammar, pronunciation etc too. And let me know if you'd like me to blog simplified versions of The Smugglers' Caves and The Ghostly Girl with language notes.