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Your English Questions

Average: 3.2 (13 votes)

Every month we ask our newsletter readers to send their English-language questions to EC Brighton's teacher, Tim. Here are the best questions of the month.

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Unless / If not

Question:Can we use "Unless" statement instead of "If" conditional statement everytime in our daily conversation?
Aniket Sengupta, India

Answer: No! They do not mean the same thing. Unless is like if not.
E.G.
"We will have a picnic unless it rains."
"We will have a picnic if it doesn't rain". Both these sentences have similar meanings
All the best,
Tim

Ought to / Must

Question: Could You explain it to Me the correct use of the two auxiliary verbs 'ought to', and 'must' . In what circumstance should we use the first expression and in which situation should we use the second one.
Ferenc

Answer:Right, what you have to remember is that most of the modal verbs have different uses and meanings according to what area of language they are referring to. For example, permission, obligation, speculation, possibility, ability, advice, prohibition etc. However, in general, must is used when there is a very strong obligation to do something.
For example,
You must have a licence to drive a car.
I must call my Mother this evening.
You mustn't drink alcohol and drive a car.
Sometimes we use must when we believe that something is so. For example, when you see someone who looks like your friend, but you know is not this person you might say, 'That must be his brother!'
Or, if someone tells you some bad news they have experienced you could say, 'That must have been terrible.'
Ought to is used in exactly the same way as should. For example, 'You should/ought to wear rubber boots in the rain.
If you want the best strawberries, you ought to/should pick them yourself from a farm!
All the best,
Tim

Been / Gone

Question:What is the difference between been and gone?
Sam, Austria

Answer: Both of these are past participles. Been is the past participle of be and gone is the past participle of go.
Been is often used when describing completed journeys (you went somewhere and have come back):"I've been to Brighton twice."
Gone means that you have made a trip but have not returned yet: "He's gone to Brighton. He'll be back here next week."
All the best,
Tim

It's / Its

Question: Should we ever use it's without an apostrophe: its
Javier, Spain

Answer: It's and its are two different words that share the same pronunciation. It's is the short form of 'it is', e.g. "It's raining" - It is raining.
Its is a possessive pronoun which means 'belonging to', e.g."My company has increased its profits".
All the best,
Tim

The / An

Question: I can't understand the difference between "Let's find the answer" and "let's find an answer". Please help.
Aanjya, Indonesia

Answer: 'An answer' shows us that there is more than one correct answer to the question; we need to find one of them possible correct answers.
'The answer' shows us that there is only one possible correct answer and we must find it.
All the best,
Tim

Firstable?

Question:When should I use firstable and firstly?
Dominic, France

Answer: Don't ever use firstbale because it isn't a word! A quick internet search shows this a fairly common mistake made by English comments. It seems that learners here the phrase 'first of all' as 'firstable'.

'Firstly is an adverb which refers to the first thing on a list. We can use "In the first place" and "to begin with" as well.
"Firstly I don't have time to go and secondly I don't have enough money."
All the best,
Tim

Link: More questions from English learners