Friday, December 30, 2011

House or home? Types of dwellings

The difference between these two nouns is not always clear.
A house is a type of building where someone lives. It is intended to be used by just one family and it may have more than one floor.
Home is the place where someone lives and feels that they belong to. Your home can be a house, an apartment or a farm, but if you live there, that’s your home.
However, you can also find the term home with the meaning of “building” when you think of it as a property that can be bought or sold. They are building a lot of new homes next to the railway station.
You can also use the term home when you mean your town or country. After living abroad for many years, I long to go back home to Spain.
Image credit
A dwelling is any place (house, flat, …) where a person lives. It refers to the actual building. The development will consist of 60 dwellings and a number of offices and commercial premises.
Abode is a formal word to say dwelling. Welcome to my humble abode.

Homework and housework are also different. The former means the school tasks that you have to do at home, while the latter means the work that you do to take care of your home, such as cleaning, washing, etc. Please, note that both these words are uncountable. The children were doing their homework on the dining table while their parents were doing the housework.

Other related words are:

  • Homesick: you feel homesick when you are away from home and really miss your family and friends. Exchange students usually feel homesick.
  • Homeless: people are homeless if they don’t have a home.
  • House-proud: someone is house-proud if they spend a lot of time making the house look clean and attractive.  Her husband does the cleaning, washing and shopping. He’s very house-proud.


  • At home. If you feel at home with something, you feel quite comfortable with it. He feels at home with his new job.
  • To set up home is to start to live in a house. After living for several years in new York, he has decided to set up home in Toronto.
  • If drinks are on the house you do not have to pay for them, as they are provided free by the owner of the bar. Let’s go to that new pub, the first drink is on the house tonight.
  • If two people get on / along like a house on fire, they become friends very quickly.
  • If you work from home, you do not work in an office. Today, more and more people are working from home thanks to the internet.

Note that the preposition to is not used before home. I’m going home. When there is no idea of movement, at is used in British English, while Americans don’t use any preposition at all.
He usually stays at home at the weekend. <British>
He usually stays home on the weekend. <American>

In the following presentation you can see different types of dwelling, especially those that you can find in Great Britain.

Now you can do the following crossword to check what you have learnt.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa Claus: a universal symbol of Christmas

The idea of Christmas is intimately connected to the image of a chubby old man dressed in red and wearing black boots and belt and a white beard. This man, called Santa Claus, St Nick, or just Santa, is the personification of Christmas. It seems that you can’t have one without the other. But in fact, while Christmas has been celebrated for many centuries, Santa Claus, as he is known today, is only about 200 years old.
Image  credit
Before Santa was “born”, people in England believed in a man called Father Christmas who used to dress in green and go from home to home, feasting with families, but he did not use to bring gifts to children and he certainly would not go down a chimney!

The origin of Santa Claus can be found in the Greek bishop St Nicholas of Myra (Turkey), who was a very generous man that used to help people in need. His cult has spread in Europe from the 4th century to our days, and he was made patron saint of Amsterdam. It was precisely the Dutch immigrants in New York (formerly known as New Amsterdam) who brought to America the belief in a gift-bringer called Sinterklaas.
Image credit
The American writer Washington Irving wrote about him in “A History of New York”, written under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbrocker. He described Sinterklaas as an old man in dark robes that arrived on a flying horse to give presents to children. But it was in the famous poem “A visit from St Nicholas”, written by Clement Clark Moore when we first see Santa going down chimneys and travelling in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Moore even gave names to the reindeer! This famous poem is traditionally told to children on Christmas Eve.
You can hear it in this nice video:

Inspired by Moore’s story, the illustrator Thomas Nast drew many cartoons depicting Santa as we know him today, and he added some new ideas such as his workshop in the North Pole, his helpers, the elves, and the lists of good and bad children.
Image credit
But it was undoubtedly the Coca-Cola advertisements in the 30´s that contributed to the image of a human-sized Santa (rather than an elf) that we have today, when the three personages have merged and mingled to form one single character.
Image credit
Call him Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, people all over the world will always think of a chubby, cheerful old man dressed in red and wearing a white beard that goes down chimneys to give presents to children, and flies away in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Is Santa Claus one of the symbols of globalisation?

This is a nice quizz about Santa, by the BBC.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wear, dress or put on?

Some students get confused with these three verbs. Dress and put on are quite similar, but the former is intransitive and the latter always takes an object.
Dress is an intransitive verb, that is, it doesn’t have an object:
She always dresses in dark colours.
Put on is always used with a direct object: You put clothes on: She put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt.
Note that you cannot use put on in the first example, nor dress in the second one.
*She always puts on in dark colours.
*She dressed a pair of...
On the other hand, wear is a transitive verb. You wear clothes, shoes, jewelry... on your body, but before that, you had to put those clothes, shoes or jewelry on you.

Please, note that you carry an umbrella, a stick or a bag.

Have a look at this presentation for further explanations.
Wear, put on and dress
View more presentations from Inma Dominguez.
Other verbs related to clothes are:
  • Take off is the opposite of put on.
  • Try on. You try clothes on to see if they look good on you.
  • Fit. If something fits you it’s just the right size for you.
  • Suit. If something suits you, it looks good on you or rather it makes you look nice.
Try this jacket on, I think blue suits you. Oh, no, take it off, it doesn’t fit you: it’s too small!

  • Don is the same as put on but just more formal.  Lorenz donned a kaffiyeh, an Arab headdress of folded cloth that's held on by a cord.

  • If you wear your heart on your sleeve, you make your feelings or opinions obvious to other people. You have to play it cool with a girl like her; you mustn’t wear your heart on your sleeve.
  • To be dressed to the nines means to wear very fashionable or expensive clothes. He was dressed to the nines in a black Dolce & Gabbana suit.
  • If someone is dressed to kill, he or she is wearing strikingly attractive clothing. She  was dressed to kill in a low top, short skirt and leather boots.
Now you can check what you have learnt by doing this test:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two years old!

It was November 2009 when I started writing this blog. At the beginning it was just an assignment for a course on Web 2.0 I was doing, but it soon caught on me, and I kept writing about grammar points my students find difficult to understand, or cultural topics, because learning a language is not just a matter of grammar or vocabulary, but also of the habits and culture of the people that speak it.

I don’t write as often as I would like, which is not due to a lack of topics but to the lack of time, as my job and my family take up most of my time. Anyway, I always try to write at least once a month: I find it disappointing when the blogs I follow don’t get renewed in months. But what keeps a blog alive and kicking is not the person who writes it but the people who read it. So, a big thank you to all my readers! This wonderful cake is for you!
Birthday cake
Image in:

Here is a slide show with the “cartoons of the week” for the last twelve months. Most of them have been taken from Time, and others are from I hope you like them!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Between or among?

Between, betwixt, among, amongst, amid, amidst are all prepositions and their meanings are  quite similar, that’s why students of English are often confused about their use.
Between and among are the most widely used, as the others are more formal (amid) or even archaic, that is, they are no longer used by speakers, and can only be found in written or literary texts. That's the case of betwixt, which is the same as between.
Between two legs.
 Image in:

We say that something is between two things if the things are on either side of it: I was sitting between my mother and my father. (Note that the root of this word, “tw”, is related to number two). Between is also used when there are more than two things but each one is clearly distinct from the others: Luxemburg lies between Belgium, France and Germany.

However, we say that something is among (or amongst) a group of things when these things cannot be told apart, that is, a collection of things we do not see separately: 
They used to live in a little hut among the trees. 
She grabbed the title among a total of 20 competitors. 
I saw him walking among the crowd.

If something is among a group of similar things, it is one of these things. In this case, it means “included in”: Among the collection of pictures there is one by Picasso.
Poppies among lavender.
 Image in:
Amid or amidst is very formal and is mainly used with ideas and abstract nouns:
The politician finished his speech amid tremendous applause.
The law was approved amid a great deal of controversy.
It can also mean “surrounded by”: The house was in a beautiful position amid vineyards.
Vineyard in Greece by Spiro Anaxos.
 Image in:
To be sandwiched between... is to be so close to two people or things that there is not enough space to move. My poor little car was sandwiched between a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes.
To read between the lines is to discover a meaning in something that is not openly stated: He is not going to say what he really feels, but you can read between the lines and guess that he isn’t happy with the situation.
Between you and me, or between ourselves are used to mean that something is or should be kept a secret. Now between ourselves, for this is strictly confidential, I'm quite alarmed at the prospect.
If you are between the devil and the deep blue sea, you must choose between two unpleasant situations. We seemed to be between the devil and the deep blue sea: it didn’t matter which way we went.
To come between two people is to disrupt their relationship. You have a nice example in Sade’s song “Nothing can come between us”.

Now you can check what you have learned by doing this exercise:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

7 billion people

You must have heard in the news that the world population has reached 7 billion people these days. They even show images of a baby that, according to the United Nations, is supposed to be the 7 billionth person in the world. I wonder how they can be so sure of that, as it is estimated that 5 babies are born in the planet every second! Anyway, I suppose it is just symbolic.

Several questions arise: Can the world feed so many people? Are there enough resources for everybody? Will the population continue growing at the same rate?... Nobody knows for sure, but by observing the data we have today, experts can speculate about what the future will bring.

In this video by National Geographic you will learn some facts about the global population.

One fact that is easily predictable is that the regions where the population will grow faster are Africa and Asia, as this picture by Lauren Manning shows.
World population growth, by Lauren Manning

But what strikes me most is the fact that it’s only been during the last 200 years that the population has grown exponentially, while before then it used to grow slowly. This exceptional growth can be put down to the Industrial Revolution, which brought about the possibility of increasing the resources enormously as well as improving the sanitation and medical advances. This point is explained in this video by NPR.

In the following video we can hear an explanation about where and why the population is growing so rapidly. But before watching it, you can learn the meaning of some of the terms used in it. Then check what you have understood by answering the questions.

  • Billion. In USA and, since 1974, in Great Britain as well, a billion is a thousand millions (1,000,000,000), whereas in other countries such as Spain it means a million millions (1,000,000,000,000). So, be careful, don’t be misled!
  • Exponential means very fast, increasing rapidly.
  • Fertility rate or birthrate is a number that shows how many babies are born in a particular place at a particular time.
  • Developing countries are those countries that have few industries, and many poor people live in them.
  • Developed countries are those rich, highly industrialised countries.
  • A milestone is an important event in life or in history.
  • If something has doubled it is now twice as big.
  • If something has tripled it is now three times as big.
  • Growth: an increase in the number or size of something. A noun derived from the verb "grow".
  • Pregnancy is the condition of a woman who is going to have a baby.
  • Family planning is the use of birth control methods to determine the number of children a family will have.
  • Aging population is a population that is growing old.
  • Crowded means full of people.
  • To manage resources is to control the use of the raw materials that a country produces.
  • A household is the people that live together in a house.
  • A major issue is an important topic or subject.

A tip of the hat to Richard Byrne for inspiring this blogpost.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Have or have got?

Compare these two sentences:
  1. “I have a new car”.
  2. “I have got a new car”
Do they have the same meaning?

Yes, they do. Both have and have got can be used to express possession, but have got is considered to be more colloquial than have, and in more informal contexts, speakers even tend to drop have:
I’ve got a problem (informal)
I got a problem (very informal)
The only difference between them comes when we use negative or interrogative forms, because in sentence 2  have is an auxiliary verb, whereas in 1 it needs the auxiliary do in order to form interrogative or negative sentences:
  1. “Do you have a new car?” “I don’t have a new car”.
  2. “Have you got a new car?” “I haven’t got a new car”.
To see all the forms, have a look at this presentation:

In formal English, have can be used as an auxiliary in questions and negative sentences, but this form is not so much used as the other two.
Have you any brothers or sisters? instead of Do you have any brothers or sisters?

In the past tense, the got-forms are less common:
She had a headache last night. (Not *She had got a headache...).

Have got is not used in the infinitive, gerund or participle forms, have is used instead:
It’s nice to have a coat on when it’s cold. (Not: *It’s nice to have got...).

Have got is not used either in sentences with adverbs of frequency (always, usually, often...):
I’ve got a headache. But I usually have a headache at night. (Not *I’ve usually got a headache...).

Have to and have got to followed by an infinitive are used to express obligation. They are semi-modal verbs and similar in meaning to must, although not quite the same.
I have to go
I’ve got to go
I got to go
All these sentences mean the same, the only difference is that the second is less formal than the first and the last one is the least formal of all.
In informal English and also in songs we can hear gotta instead of got to. This new form is similar to other contractions that are now very common in English, such as gonna (going to) or wanna (want to). We can hear some of these in this song by The Black Eyed Peas: “I’ve got a feeling”.

Apart from the meanings of possession and obligation, have can also be found in collocations such as have a bath, have tea, have lunch, have dinner, have a test, etc., but that will be dealt with in another post.

Fill in the gaps with the correct form of have or have got

Negative and interrogative

Choose the best option

Correct the following sentences

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