high vs tall

Hello. In this post I’ll be looking quickly at the difference between high and tall, two commonly confused adjectives in English. High is used of most things, especially to talk about the distance above the ground, i.e. how far something, or its top, is from the ground: a high shelf| a high mountain| The shelf’s too high, I can’t reach it.

We use tall mostly for people, trees, buildings with many floors, and a few other things which are high and narrow (they are higher than they are wide), especially when you’re thinking of the complete distance from top to bottom: a tall building| a tall tree/column/vase/fridge/bottle| a tall man.

In measurements, we use tall for people, but we often use high for things: Michael’s six feet tall| That tree is about eighty feet high/tall.

Walls are always high, not tall.

alone vs lonely

English, like all languages – though maybe to a greater extent -, is full of words with similar meanings and different usage, which can cause problems for the foreign learner. One of those common vocabulary problems I’ve seen over the years (especially at elementary and pre-intermediate level) is the use of alone and lonely. In this post I’ll be looking quickly at how we can use these words to avoid mistakes.

Alone indicates a person (or thing) is separate, i.e., there’s nobody or nothing else around. Lonely (also lonesome in American English) is about how you feel (usually unhappy) when you are alone. Compare:

Sally’s fine when she’s alone for a day or two.

But after that she starts getting really lonely/lonesome.

Alone is not normally used attributively (before a noun). Lone and solitary can be used instead; lone is literary.

There was a lone/solitary tree by the road.

Hope you found it useful.

Have a lie-in

Hello and welcome back after a longer break. As the weekend’s drawing near, some of you will probably choose to have a lie-in on Saturday or/and Sunday morning. Many of us get up really early in the week (Monday to Friday). So, for most people weekends are a chance to switch off and the best way to start is to have a lie-in, i.e., to stay in bed longer than usual in the morning … if you can. Some of us work Saturdays (or Sundays) as well and it just isn’t possible. For others still it’s their body clock. When you’re used to getting up early in the week, your body may prompt you to do it at the weekend even when you’re not going to work.

Here are two examples : Jenny often has a lie-in on Saturdays. | I’m not working tomorrow, so I can have a bit of a lie-in.

Regardless of whether you’re a late sleeper and love having lie-ins or you wake up early at the weekend because you go to work or you’re simply a morning person and you don’t like getting up late, you can now add this new phrase to your vocabulary and learn it.

In the nick of time

Hello and welcome back… just in the nick of time. Today’s January 30th, the last day of the month and my post arrives late but not too late. Indeed, it gets here at the last possible moment, just before it’s too late. That’s what the phrase in the nick of time means. Sometimes a just is used before it or a very is inserted in the middle to make it more emphatic: just in the nick of time or in the very nick of time. Here are some examples: The doctor arrived in the nick of time. The patient’s life was saved. | I reached the airport in the very nick of time and made my flight. | We got there just in the nick of time. A minute later and she’d have left.

Small words: any

Small words: prepositions, articles, auxiliaries, quantifiers, determiners. They crop up everywhere. We hardly ever make a sentence without using at least one of these. Yet, they don’t add much to an utterance. In fact, some of them mean nothing at all. We call them fillers because we can understand a sentence without them. Take this for example: Jenny is going back to school tomorrow. The words in bold are an auxiliary verb (the verb be which helps us make the Present Continuous) and a preposition, respectively. Leave them out and you’d still understand what that statement means – a girl, Jenny, is returning to school tomorrow. That’s because the other words (Jenny – a proper noun -, go back – a verb -, school – a noun – and tomorrow -an adverb -) carry the main information in that statement. Leave these words out and you wouldn’t understand anything. This means that the words in bold have a purely grammatical function.

One of these small words I’d like to look at today is any. This word is used in various ways in English, but in this post I’d like to focus on the use of any with plural nouns in yes/no questions, i.e. questions you can answer with either yes or no. Here are some examples: Have you got any children? | Are there any apples in that basket? | There aren’t any eggs in the fridge. Please note that in our mother tongue (Romanian) we don’t use a word like that with plural nouns. We simply say: Ai copii? | Sunt mere în coșul acela? | Nu sunt ouă în frigider. For this reason, if we translate from Romanian into English we might say Have you got children?, which just doesn’t sound right in English. The same is true of the other two sentences: Are there apples in that basket?There aren’t eggs in the fridge. All three sentences are wrong because I’ve left out the word any. It’s one of those common mistakes we find in our experience as English teachers, so that’s a thing to avoid from now on.

Next time you speak or write in English, use any with plural nouns in yes/no questions or in negative sentences.

Run somebody down

Hello! In my last post I looked at the phrase feel run-down (be in a poor physical condition, weak or exhausted, like during a cold or some other illness or from too much work). Run-down is an adjective obtained by conversion from the verb run down. Like many other phrasal verbs, this one has more than one meaning. Today I’ll be looking at one of them.

When you run somebody down you disparage them, you criticise them (often in an unfair way), you speak slightlingly of someone, you belittle them. Here are two examples: Don’t run her down! She’s very talented. | Please, stop running me down all the time!

Do any people you know sometimes run you down? Do you do it to others yourself? We usually run people down to make ourselves feel better. It doesn’t really work, of course. We don’t get well by doing that. As St. Ambrose of Milan used to say: No one heals himself by wounding another.

Caught a cold

Hello. A good friend of mine told me that a week ago he had a viral infection (or so it seems) and he thought he’d caught a cold (it would have been the first this autumn). He had a headache, back and limb pain (his arms and legs hurt), chills and he was feeling run-down. This means he was in poor physical condition, weak and exhausted. Most people feel like that in the first two days of a cold or flu. Well, this time the disturbing symptoms were digestive not respiratory (no blocked or runny nose, no cough, no sore throat) but it was all very unpleasant – he said we’d have to take his word for that 🙂

Anyway, things were looking up on the third day and he recovered quickly. Still, with the cold season coming on, viruses will spread and many of us have already had some contact with them, even if in a mild form. So, how does your body react when you catch a cold or come down with the flu? Do you feel run-down? While an uneventful winter (from a medical point of view of course) is very unlikely for most of us, I wish you one with fewer medical problems.

Take care

Early bird or night owl?

Hello. Are you an early bird or a night owl? If you wake up early and that comes easy, if you’re usually at your best in the early hours you’re definitely a morning person or an early bird. Here’s an example: Half past six? No problem! I’m a real early bird.

If you have difficulty waking up early and would hit the snooze button on your alarm clock when it goes off (because it’s time to get up and get ready for work), if you usually stay up and work late, you might be a night owl. Here’s another example: Seven? Can we make it eight or half past eight? You know I’m not at my best first thing in the morning. I’m a night owl.


Hi and welcome to another post in this series. As you probably remember, in the previous nine I’ve been looking at phrases that had to do with clothing and one of the last verbs I wrote about was fit. Today I’m going to stick with this word, but shift away from clothes towards other things. That’s because fit has multiple senses and one of those is install or fix (something) into place. That can be a piece of equipment or a new part onto a machine, so that it is ready to be used. Here are some examples: They fitted smoke alarms to their homes. | Anti-theft devices are fitted to all our cars. | The plumber came to fit the sink this morning. Please note the preposition to, normally used with this meaning of the verb. Learn them together as a single unit and you will sound more natural and accurate when you’re talking and reduce the risk of making mistakes. Now, try to come up with one or two examples of your own to practice the newly-learned phrase. Experience has shown that our own examples will help us remember these phrases more easily.

Bye for now and remember : learning or reviewing two or three phrases a day can really make a difference. And, anyone can find 2-3 minutes on a day.

Match, go with, go together

Hello! It’s been nearly three weeks since my last post. I’m sorry about that. In it I wrote about the difference between fit and suit. Today I’ll be looking at match and go with or go together. They too are commonly confused verbs.

We use match when we want to say that things are nearly the same in some way and look good together: The curtains don’t match the carpet (= they are not the same pattern/colour).

When things look right together in style, colour, etc, they go together or go with each other: The curtains don’t go with the carpet (= they are not the same colour and do not look good together either). Things can go together in other ways too: Fish and white wine go particularly well together.

Try to use these verbs the next time you speak in English, or make some examples of your own. It will help you remember them more easily.