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Your English Questions of the Month

Average: 2.8 (4 votes)

Every month we ask our newsletter readers to send in their English questions to Tim, our English teacher at EC Brighton. Here are the best questions of the month:

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Star Question of the Month!

Thanks to Mai Nguyen for this question:

I feel confused 'Used to do something' and 'Would do something', when I want to refer the Past Habits.


OK, both are used to describe past habits. However ‘used to’ can describe past states as well, whereas ‘would’ can’t.
So, ‘I used to smoke’ is correct. ‘I would smoke’ is not.
‘I used to smoke a cigar after Sunday school every week’ and ‘I would smoke a cigar after Sunday school each week’ are both correct.
We generally give a bit more information about the frequency of the activity when using ’would’; every day, every week, every summer holiday etc.
All the best

simple / sample

What is the different between 'simple' and 'sample'?
Abdullah Altmimi

'Simple' means that something is easy or basic.
A 'sample' is a small part of anything or one of a number, intended to show the quality, style, or nature of the whole.
The two words are not related.

relative clause

Please give me some explanation about this problam: the sentence it is "Mr.x who is in the theater" is consider a good sentance.is the sentence it is "I who am hungry" also correct? if so, is it acceptable in writing as well as in speaking?
Hocene, Algeria

They are not exactly good 'sentences' as there needs to be a little more to them.
The first one you have given me is the subject of the sentence in the form of a relative clause, it doesn't tell me much, and I have no idea of the context of this.
The structure 'It is I who is hungry' is rather formal/archaic and a bit strange for any one born in the last 2 centuries to say! A more natural expression would be either 'I am hungry' or 'It's me who...'

phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs have become part of both verbal and written communication and at times they leave me numb in getting the complete meaning. Tell me how to overcome this problem and master them completely instead of memorizing them.
Misbah Murshid, Pakistan

No! Not possible, you have to memorize them. Rather than complete mastery (are you insane? LOL), just make sure that the ones you come into contact with and/or wish to use on a regular basis are used correctly. There is no secret formula or set of rules, they are simply words!

if clause

The question in this sentence:
"If she 'were' you, she wouldn't go on such a long journey."
She, he, it: the third person and it is supposed to be "was" instead of "were".
Why do we use "were" instead of "was" in this construction?
Ekaterina, Turkmenistan

This is just a bit of an old fashioned thing.
It is considered more correct to use 'were' after all the subjects in 'if' clauses and other similar expressions. E.g. It's (high) time…, I'd rather…, I wish..., and If only...

are you / have you

What is the difference between: 'Are you finished?'and 'Have you finished?'. May be one sentence is wrong !!
Jacques, France

No difference really.
One is using the past participle as part of the present perfect structure, the other as a participle adjective, but the meaning is pretty much the same.


How can I improve my English prounansiation, if theres no one to speak in English in my friendship?
Miniko Beridze

The best way is to listen to music/news reports (BBC), and watch TV/films in English. In fact, simply expose yourself to as much English as is possible, and imitate what you hear, and if you can, record your voice. This can be a bit scary sometimes :), but it is a very good way of improving pronunciation, a good book with an audio CD should help to. The publisher Penguin do a good one called Test Your Pronunciation, and there are many pronunciation websites to help you. Google 'English Pronunciation' and see what comes up.

-ly adjectives

How come that in my synonyms dictionary, it says a synonym to the word "craven" (adjective) is "cowardly"(also marked as an adjective). I thought, only adverbs had the ending -ly. So do we say "He was a cowardly man" ? Would it be a mistake to say "He was a coward man" ? How do we form a real adverb out of this word, like "He acted very cowardly", does this exist?

Are there more words like this, more adjectives with -ly?

No, there are many adjectives that end in ‘ly’. E.g friendly and silly.
To use them as adverbs you would have to say something like this, ‘He acted in a very friendly/silly/cowardly way.’
You cannot say ‘He was a very coward man,’ because coward is a noun and coward-man is not a conventional compound noun.

while / whilst

What is the difference between 'while' and 'whilst'?
Vaseem Mirza

There is no difference, whilst is a little more old fashioned/formal.


I have noted that today the conditional is hardly ever used. e.g. if I was' instead 'if I were' etc, etc
Is it accepted as grammatically correct?
Am an 'old boy'!!

Rubbish! Conditionals are used constantly.


When I started to learn foreign language, most of people said that It was very important toknow their culture. However I've never found what was the difference each language depending on culture. Could you tell me why people say that?

I am surprised at this!
Perhaps you haven’t opened your eyes and ears properly while you have been travelling. If you were to spend time in all the different places where English is spoken as a mother tongue, you would find noticeable differences in culture, local grammar, vocabulary and accent/intonation.

nor / neither

What is the difference between 'nor' and 'neither' (if any) and how do I use either/neither properly?
Roderik Vrolijk

Both neither and nor have similar uses but can also be used in more specific situations. The same goes for neither and either to a certain extent. A good grammar book would explain this far more succinctly than I could, with much better examples to illustrate this. Or simply by googling either/neither/nor, you will find many good websites offering valid explanations.


Why the verb 'to dare' is sometimes used with the auxiliary 'do'
e.g : 'Don't you dare talk to me like that' and sometimes without the auxiliary 'do' e.g. 'How dare you do this?', 'How dare she?'
Jacques, France

'How dare you!', is simply an interrogative form, question word+ verb+subject But it is just a fixed structure, quite an old fashioned one that that has just stuck as an expression.
'Don't (you) dare speak to me like that', is no different other negative imperative verbs forms. 'Don't start eating yet', 'Don't forget to tell him', 'Don't let him tell you what to do'. Etc....


Sometimes I'm confuse when I wanna say "more fast" or "more faster" but my friends told me I can't say faster
I can just say fast..but here is another question....
should I say "more fast" or "much fast"?

and also I was confuse about the usage of "too less". I used to say "too few" but now I know I should say "too less"
just I want to know why is "too less" instead of "too few"?

Thanks very much for solving my question though it may sound a little silly
Janet Lin

'Fast' is a one syllable adjective. One syllable adjectives usually take -er on the end to make the comparative form i.e. 'safe' becomes 'safer'. The superlative is 'safest'.

'Too few' is correct. We do not say 'too less'. 'Less' is the opposite of 'more' e.g. "My job is less interesting than mine."

English usage

1-How can I differentiate between British english and American English?
2-How can I pronounce well by the right accent?
3-How can I know all the idoms or expressions? Is the only way to know by repeating them all the time?
4-How can I know the slang language of some countries like London or New York.etc..?
5-How can I write an excellent precis and essay by the right structure?
6-when can I use the past perfect and past simple? Is it just by the keywords of past perfect?
Menna Allah Muhamd Ghareb, Egypt

Like anything, all of these will become familiar over time. Don't worry too much about the difference between American and British English, they are both English and the differences between them are very minor. Idioms and slang are fun to learn but perhaps it better to focus on the basic grammar and vocualry first. The past perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past. It is formed using had + past particilpe verb e.g. "She only understood man because she had studied French in school."

indirect object

Words perform different functions in a sentence and these functions are called cases. In English, if a word is the subject of the sentence, it is in the subjective case and it receives the action of the verb. If a word is the direct object, it is in the objective case and is the person or thing that is directly affected by the verb. Is there a specified case named in English for the indirect object and how can you identify it as the indirect object of the verb?
Charlotte Scales

Goodness me, how complicated! I have been teaching English, most successfully I might add, for 8 years and have never heard of the functions of words in a sentence being called cases. In fact when I did my basic training, we were advised to stay well away from complicated, academic, linguistic jargon which might well confuse the student, and only serves to distance the teacher from the student. None of what you talk about is going to help you learn English!(Though you seem to have a highly proficient command of it!) Oh and by the way, I have no idea what case an indirect object is, does it need another name?