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Your Top English Questions Answered

Average: 3 (12 votes)

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


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Star Question!

Thanks to Kate Kapustina for this question:

Could you tell me if there is any difference between "I've been to London" and "I've been in London". Actually, Is it possible to use the second variant or this form doesn't exist at all.

Yes, there is a difference, in most instances where you want to say you have visited somewhere, you say you have been to that place:
"I've been to London."
"I've been to the cinema."
"I've just been to the toilet."
In these cases you are using been as the other past participle of go, and you have to use to as the preposition.
However, if you are using been as the past participle, and want to indicate a state, or for how long you were somewhere, you can use been in.
All the best,


British vs American English

Dear EC Team
- The English call summer summer ; while the Americans call it fall
- The English write favour,honour; while the Americans favor,honor.
- The English pronounce 'literature'(litcheche); while the Americans (litireitour).
Why are there all these differences, please?
Saidani Miloudui, Morocco

Actually, 'fall' is 'autumn' in British English. The differences exist because English evolves in every country where it is spoken as a native langguage and new forms are created. There are many small differences between British, American, South African, Australian English. It's more important to know the differences rather than why they are different.

was or were

This is English question which aroused my interest in.
The sentence:
"If she were you, she wouldn't go to such a long journey."
Why do we use 'were' after 'she' instead of 'was' as it supposed to be.
Thanks and best regards.
Ekaterina, Turkmenistan.

I answered a question like this a couple of months ago, in fact it tends to come up every few months! It is just considered more correct to use 'were' for the past form of 'be' after all subjects in 'if' clauses in the 2nd conditional. Also other similar hypothetical structures following 'I wish...', 'If only...', 'It's time...', and ' I'd rather...'.
However, it is not incorrect to use was ( I was, he/she/it was) either, just one of those peculiar English things!

present perfect vs past tense

Could I know that what's the differents between present perfect and past tense.
I have gone. - I went.
She written a letter. - She wrote a letter.
And why we say to that tense , present perfect? because it's similar past tense. I hope, I will get good explanation. Thanking you.

The examples you have given me, are not good enough for me to expand on, but I will try a little.
I went= something in the past.
I've gone = I'm not here now.
I written= wrong wrong wrong, should be I've written the person should either have the letter already or very soon.
I wrote= I did this in the past.

The thing to remember is that you can use a past time reference with the past eg, an hour ago, yesterdeay, last week, last month, last year etc. But you cannot use a past time reference with the present perfect.

fity cents

Is "fifty cents" a plural noun or singular noun? For example: "fifty cents ___ how much I owe you".
Should I use "is" or "are" in the blank?
Thank you for helping me.
Thoa, Vietnam

In this particular context, that of an amount of money, we use the singular verb. This is because we are focusing on the singular amount, so 'is' would go in the space.

what vs which

When should I use "what" and when "which"?
Silvia, Italy

As question words, at the beginning of a question, they are often fairly interchangeable. However, if you use which, you are suggesting that there is some kind of given, or at least implied, choice.
I might, for example ask, 'What is your favourite colour?' And you may well answer, 'Blue!'
But if you are planning to redecorate your bedroom, and you have a colour chart in front of you, I may ask, 'Which is your favourite colour?' as I want to know your choice from the selection in front of you.

problem, trouble, issue and difficulty

My question is that I am always confused the words : 'problem , trouble, issue , difficulty ' .
EX: 'Air polution is a big problem that we need to solve.'
'The big trouble is our poluted environment.'
'They are talking about many big issues of the economy in Europe.'
'How to solve many difficulties of environmental polution.'
I use them correctly or wrongly?
Andreone Mariom, Italy

Collocation, collocation, collocation!
It is all about words that go together and sound right. This can be very tricky to the untrained ear, but it is what language is all about.
A problem can be solved.
An issue can be resolved.
Difficulties can be overcome.
The trouble with...is/are..., so 'The trouble with our environment is that it is becoming so polluted.'
'The LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations' is a useful tool, check it out on Amazon isbn: 1899396551

movement vs move

Of the two sentences below which is the correct one and why?
"The bus was in motion" and "The bus was in movement".Here both 'motion' and 'movement' are noun forms of the verb 'move'.
Sanal Kumar

True, but we never say 'in movement'. It is not a natural prepositional phrase or collocation, whereas 'in motion' is. :)

nice vs beautiful

What is the difference between 'nice' and 'beautiful'? When Can I use "nice" and when can I use "beautiful"?
Leidy Johana Reina

Right, nice and beautiful are very different words. Nice means pleasant, and beautiful means very attractive and/or full of beauty.
Eg It was a nice day, my host family are very nice, the garden is very nice.
To be honest, nice is a rather mediocre word and should not really be used too often as it doesn’t add much to any description, especially when there are many, many other more descriptive adjectives to choose from.
On the other hand, beautiful is a great word, and you should use it as often as possible!

just vs only

What is the difference between 'just' and 'only', When can I use 'just' and when can I use 'only'.
Leidy Johana Reina

Sometimes they have the same meaning but most of the time they do not.
For example, 'Don't be afraid, it's just/only a little spider!', the two words mean the same thing; only/just = it doesn't amount to much.
In other uses they do not have the same meaning, and they have different meanings according to their usage, too many to list here. It's all in the collocation. Read more!

play vs play with

I have a question about how to use "play" and "play with"
For example, I know we say "play basketball", "play baseball", "play tennis"....
and "play with a ball", and so on....
but I still have no idea about how to use these two correctly as native speakers do
Are there any specific situations in which these two are used?
Why sometimes we need to use the preposition "with" after play and sometimes we don't need to?
Please help me with this question, many thanks!

Simple, you play a game, but you play with something(s)
eg, You play, tennis, football, cards, hockey etc.
But you play with something(s); you play with a ball, you play with your food, you play with people's minds, with your friend/each other/(...yourself? lol)

job vs work

What is the difference between the words 'job' and 'work'? Is there any rule when one or the other should be used?
Ana Kadovic, Montenegro

Aside from specific collocations, work is an uncountable noun and job is countable. Work can also be used as a verb whereas job is not.

have vs has

We do use 'have' for I, YOU, WE and THEY. And we do use 'HAS' for He, SHE, and IT.
So, how come we say: "She does not have"
Mohammed Ali Said, Tanzania

When we use the auxiliary verb do, (usually present / past simple questions and negatives) it takes the aspect/tense, and the main verb is in the infinitive.

contrast vs compare, differ vs differentiate

I don't see what's difference between contrast & compare, differ & differentiate. Please help me

Compare is the verb you use when you want to shown that things are similar or different."Lets' compare suntans".

Contrast is usually used as a noun, when you want to show the difference between things; "This paiting is amazing, look at the contrast in texture and colour between the sea and the sky."
We often use the expression 'in contrast'; 'This pictures showns people having a good time. In contrast, the people in the other picture look really miserable.'

Things differ, but we can differentiate between things. "The twins differ in character, Ben is quiet shy, but Katie is very outgoing. However, they look remarkably similar and even their own mother has problems differentiating between the two of them."


Please help explain when to use the word "open". For example:
1- The door is open, and the door is opened by him (?)
2- The competition is open to everyone or the competition is opened to everyone (?)
Thanks and best regards,
Tuan, Vietnam

'Open' is used as an adjective and verb. Adjective:'The door is open' and 'The competition is open to everyone'. We do not say 'the competition is opened to everyone.'
Verb: 'The door is opened by him'.

few vs a few

Please, explain what is the difference between 'few' and 'a few'.
Yusuf Erdil

A few suggests not many as in: I have a few minutes to wait before I need to catch the train.
Few suggests that there are not as many as you would like as in: I have few minutes left to eat my sandwich before the train arrives.

as vs like

Dear Tim: I never know when I have to use this words, 'as' and 'like'. I would like to learn a rule or trick easy to use them well.
Teresa, Spain

LOL :) :) :) (sorry all my ribs are broken, and I'm rolling on the floor!) Don't you know ANYTHING about English? There are no rules or tricks! Plus, your question is rather vague, in what specific context do you mean? Like is a verb, noun, adjective or preposition, depending on how you are using it. As has different colloquial uses too. So I don't really know what kind of explanation you want. If you want a full run down of definitions, I suggest you have a nose in a grammar book. If you have a specific question, write in again!


I have seen that 'would' has been used in the following ways. But I'm not sure that there are many than that. If there are many please tell me.
"He would feel better" - What is the meaning of this sentence and why 'would' has been used there? I can't understand that.
"I would like to thank..." - What about this sentence? Is it a polite way of speaking or what?
"Would you please be quiet?" - Is here the same function as above?
"What would you do if you were lost the game?"
Please help me with 'Would'
Venuri, Sri Lanka.

Would has many, many forms and uses. It impossible to give you all its uses and collocations here, but its 3 main uses are:

  • as a polite form
  • as the past of will
  • as part of conditional ('if') structures
  • And to answer your specific questions,
  • 'would like' is a polite/slightly more formal version of 'want'
  • 'would you please...?' is a polite way making a request
  • 'He would feel better...' is just part of a 2nd conditional, the sentence might finish with '...if he had a good night's sleet.' The same goes for the interrogative 'What would you do if you lost the game?' ; a second conditional, referring to a hypothetical reality.
    Do not think of would as one word that needs explaining on its own. Each function has is own definition, and it should ALWAYS be considered within the collocation it appears.