In this series, we talk about different cultural traditions in the UK. Many of them may be similar to traditions in your own country. What differences and similarities can you find? In this article, we discuss Valentine’s Day. We have highlighted some of the trickier words. See whether you can guess their meaning from the context of the sentences and compare your answers to the definitions in the glossary below.
In British English, while (hwaɪl) and whilst (hwaɪlst) mean the same thing when they are conjunctions (words that connect two ideas). As conjunctions, they can both mean ‘at the same time’ (e.g. Never do your homework while/whilst you watch TV) or ‘although/whereas’ (e.g. While/whilst it’s good to be out in the sun, we need to protect ourselves with sun cream). American English speakers never use whilst, and British English speakers only use it to be formal. In both British and American English, we can also use while as a verb or noun.
Just (dʒʌs) and only (oʊnli) are adverbs (words that change the meaning of a word or phrase). We can use just and only interchangeably when they mean ‘not more than or a small quantity of something’ – e.g. I just have 2 meals a day or I only have 2 meals a day. However, there are some situations where we have to use one word and not the other. Let’s take a look!
Too (tuː) and also (ɔːlsoʊ) are both adverbs that mean ‘in addition’. The difference is their position in the sentence. Adding extra information – e.g. Jamie bought some milk. He bought some bread too. Or Jamie bought some milk. He also bought some bread. Adding emphasis – e.g. Emma can play the guitar. She can play the piano too. Or Emma can play the guitar. She can also play the piano.
Further (fɜːʳðəʳ) and Farther (fɑːðəʳ) are both adverbs (words that describe actions) and adjectives (words that describe things). They are also the comparative form of far, which means ‘to be at a distance’. As a result, further and farther mean: ‘to a greater distance or degree’ – e.g. The hikers were so tired, they couldn’t walk any farther or James decided that if he had further problems with the car, he would sell it.
Lead (liːd) and led (led) are different forms of the same verb. The base meaning is ‘to control or guide a situation to reach a destination or objective’ – e.g. I lead a yoga group on Wednesdays. Led has the same meaning as lead, but is used to talk about the past – e.g. I led a yoga class last week.
Advice (ædvaɪs) and advise (ædvaɪz) look and sound similar. Advice is a noun (thing or idea) that means ‘an opinion that offers a recommendation, suggestion or information’ – e.g. The teacher’s advice was to study every day’. Advise is a verb (action) that means ‘to tell someone what you think they should do’ – e.g. My friend advised me to take a holiday’.
Inquiry and enquiry sound the same (ɪnkwaɪəri), but have different meanings in British English. Inquiry means ‘official investigation’ – e.g. The government launched an inquiry into corruption. Enquiry means ‘a question about something’ – e.g. The gym received an enquiry about its opening hours. Americans only use inquiry.
Lay and Lie are both verbs (actions). They have similar meanings, but lay means ‘put something on a surface carefully’ – e.g. Chloe lays her clothes on the bed. Lie means ‘move into a horizontal position (independently)’ – e.g. Sarah lies on the sofa after work. Simple rule: Lay (put something down flat) vs. Lie (get into a horizontal position).
Warning! We are not talking about the verb lie that means ‘to tell an untruth’. Here, we are only interested in lie – movement into a horizontal position.
It’s is a short form (contraction) of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. The apostrophe replaces the missing letters. E.g. It’s (it is) cold outside. Its is a possessive pronoun (like ours or hers) for nouns without gender. We never use an apostrophe with a possessive pronoun. E.g. The dog is in its bed. Both words sound the same.
Practice is a noun (a thing) that refers to ‘the time someone regularly spends on an activity because it’s a habit / custom or they want to get better at it’ – e.g. I go to band practice three times a week. Practise is a verb (an action) that means ‘to repeat an activity in order to master it or because it’s part of a routine / custom’ – e.g. I practise with the band three times a week.
Which and that refer to a subject we have already introduced. That provides essential information, specifying what makes the subject unique. Which adds non-essential detail. If we remove this, the sentence still makes sense. E.g. The cat that lives next door loves eating fish, which is a rare treat.
There, their and they’re all sound the same. What’s the difference? There shows location (over there, I’m there for you) or introduces a subject (there are too many cars). Their indicates possession or connection (their house is huge). They’re is the short form of ‘they are’ (they’re always happy).
Effect is a noun that means ‘result, consequence of change’ – e.g. cause and effect. Affect is a verb that means ‘influence, make a difference to’ – e.g. The accident affected her health. We confuse the spellings of these words because their pronunciation and meanings are very close. Simple rule: Effect (End result) vs. Affect (Action).
Modal verbs in English can be confusing! In this guide, we’ll explain what they are, why and how we use them correctly, and give you examples to improve your understanding. Mastering modals like should, would, may and might will help you express yourself clearly in the English. Don’t forget to download the pdf so you can study more at home!