23 Sep 2016

Vocabulary - to suffice

This verb is of vital importance to give our English a tone of sophistication.

Meaning 1: be enough or adequate.


a quick look should suffice
two examples should suffice to prove the contention


I think a diet rich in fruit and veg should suffice to obtain enough of these nutrients.
The time you have spent in prison suffices as punishment enough.
The medical reports from Clinton’s and Trump’s personal physicians do not suffice.
A real-world example suffices to illustrate why I believe this is of vital importance today.

Notice: instead of saying that something is important, say that it is of vital importance - another tone of sophistication. :)

Meaning 2: meet the needs of; requires an object. 


The town had few amenities but they sufficed the local population.
At first, a stepladder sufficed us, but soon an aluminium extension ladder was required for the higher fruit picking.

Phrases: suffice (it) to say

Used to indicate that one is saying enough to make one's meaning clear while withholding something for reasons of discretion or brevity.
Suffice (it) to say that they were not considered suitable for this project.
Suffice to say, when a bunch of people get together with fast cars, sometimes they want to find out whose is fastest.

Examples from the press:

I’m not certain it suffices for the magnitude of the moment.
New York Times, Sep 5, 2016

Smartphone or inexpensive Bluetooth speakers may suffice in some cases, but there are gadgets that cost a bit more that can make listening much richer.
Seattle Times, Aug 26, 2016

The only thing that will suffice, is to include us in the constitution.
The Guardian, Sep 7, 2016

19 Jun 2015


The word 'best' can be a grammatical nightmare for some learners, especially in some more complex structures. Best acts as an adjective, adverb, noun and verb. Moreover, there are some fixed phrased with 'best' which one has to learn by heart.

Good - Better - Best 

In this sense, the best means to have the highest qualities of something.
As an adjective, it modifies a noun.
She was the best cook in the family.
You are my best friend.
the best film of the year
the best time for planting
He donned his best suit.
In these cases 'best' is modified either by a definite article 'the' or a pronoun.

Adjective (according to a dictionary better)
Well - Better - Best 

In the sense healthy or wiser or more advantageous and hence advisable.
He thought it best not to respond.
Your parents only want what is best for you.
It's best (= it is wise) to get to the supermarket early.

Adverb (according to a dictionary better)
Well - Better - Best

The meanings: in a most excellent way or manner, or from a position of superiority or authority, or it would be sensible.
As an adverb, it modifies a verb and does not need another modifier.
This dress suits me best.
Which evening would suit you best for the party?
The Grand Canyon is best seen at sunset.
He couldn't decide which one he liked best (= preferred).
He played best after a couple of martinis.
father knows best
you'd best stay at home


Best (only singular form) - the people or things with the highest qualities in a group.
Usually takes a definite article THE, and takes a slot of a noun or a noun phrase.
He could beat the best of them.

Another meaning is the supreme effort one can make.
He made his best.


To best - to defeat someone (formal).
He bested his opponent in just two rounds.
The goal was to best the competition.

Some idioms/fixed phrases:

had best UK
used to suggest an action or to show that it is necessary:
You had best tell her (= it would be wise if you told her) that you won't be able to come to her party.
We'd best be going now (= we should go now).

at best
even when considered in the most positive way:
The food was bland at best, and at worst completely inedible.

at its best
at the highest standard that can be achieved:
The documentary was an example of investigative journalism at its best.

be at your best
to be as active or intelligent as you can be:
I'm not at my best in the morning.

best of all
this is the most pleasing thing:
There was wonderful food, good company, and, best of all, a jazz band.

12 Jun 2015

Subjunctive mood

The good new is that the subjunctive forms are gradually replaced by normal forms of verbs. The bad is - it has been used for a very long time and there are many subjunctive verbs in literature. Also, some well-educated people still use it. (and the Americans)

Another good news is that part of the subjunctive mood is well-known as expressing wishes and conditionals.

If I were you, I would do it.

This is a piece of advice and therefore it is expressed in the subjunctive mood. Instead of saying 'I was' - 'I were' is used.

Uses of the subjunctive mood

Conditions that are contrary to the fact
If I were you, I would do it. (Second conditional)
He looks as if he were a policeman. (But he is not)
They look as if they were aliens. (They are not, the verb stays the same.)

Conditions that are hypothetical (Second conditional)
If I were to choose a book, I would take this.
Expressing wishes
I wish I were on the Mood right now.

Expressing commands or demands
She demanded that he leave her house.
She demanded that they leave her house.
They asked that he be the first to sing.

Expressing suggestions
I suggest that he write the better essay.
I suggested that he write the better essay.

Making statements of necessity
It is essential that the worker be in work on time.

Certain fixed expressions
as it were, be that as it may be, far be it from me,
heaven forbid, if need be, so be it, suffice it to say

The subjunctive mood is used after certain verbs: ask, demand, determine, insist, move, order, pray, prefer, recommend, regret, request, require, suggest, and wish.
The subjunctive mood is used after the following adjectives: crucial, essential, important, imperative, and necessary.

In modern English, the subjunctive mood is found only in the subordinate clauses. If conditions and wishes are this part of grammar which most students know well; therefore, I will leave it out. 

In English, there is no difference between the subjunctive and normal, or indicative, form of the verb except for the present tense third person singular and for the verb to be. Hence, a verb in the subjunctive mood is a bare infinitive
The subjunctive for the present tense third person singular drops the -s or -es so that it looks and sounds like the present tense for everything else.The subjunctive mood of the verb to be is be in the present tense and were in the past tense, regardless of what the subject is. 
Another case where present subjunctive forms are distinguished from indicatives is when they are negated: compare I recommend they not enter the competition (subjunctive) with I hope they do not enter the competition (indicative).

Formulaic subjunctive

Certain expressions usually found in the independent clauses, such as: 'God save the Queen', 'Bless you', 'Heaven help us all'. They convey the meaning of 'let' or 'may'.

Mandative subjunctive

It is used for commands and recommendations. The only difference in grammar is in a third person singular in present tense when a verb loses its -s and when is becomes be. 

I insist (that) he leave now.
We asked that it be done yesterday.
It might be desirable that you not publish the story.
I support the recommendation that they not be punished.
I braked in order that the car stay on the road.
That he appear in court is a necessary condition for his being granted bail.

When the main clause is in the past tense, the subordinate clause remains in the subjunctive mood.

He recommends that she see another specialist.
He recommended that she see another specialist. 

They insist that he be heard by another committee.
They insisted that he be heard by another committee.

I wish he were a better cook. / I wish he would be a better cook.
I wished he were a better cook. / I wished he would have been a better cook.

In American English the subjunctive is a stronghold, whereas in British English is often replaced by structures with should.

Some example of so called the jussive clauses (a kind of imperative)
Be sensible.
You be quiet.
Everybody listen.
Let's forget it.
Heaven help us.
It is important that he keep this a secret.

Another use of the present subjunctive is in clauses with the conjunction lest, which generally express a potential adverse event:

I was worried lest she catch me (i.e. "that she might catch me")
I am running faster lest she catch me (i.e. "in order that she not catch me")

The subjunctive mode is used after certain phrases: I wish, I would rather, If only, It's (high) time. After these phrases, we may use the present tense or the past tense. The difference in the meaning (how much feasible is the situation) is expressed by the tense.

I would rather (that) he were here. (impossible to be done)
I would rather (that) he be here. (feasible)

And a short poem by Emily Dickinson (with subjunctions)

They say that 'time assuages,' —
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.

Time is a test of trouble,
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no malady.

11 Jun 2015

Phrasal verbs with let

The most common expressions with let express allowing for something or movements. 
He let me stay. She let a cat in/out.

There some more advanced phrasal verbs, fixed expression and idioms.

Let on
to tell other people about something that you know, especially when it is a secret:
I suspect he knows more than he's letting on.

Let up
If bad weather or an unpleasant situation lets up, it stops or improves:
When the rain lets up we'll go for a walk.
to stop doing something that you have been doing continuously or in a determined way:
Neil spent the entire evening moaning about his job - he just wouldn't let up.
The police insist that they are not letting up on their campaign against drugs.

Let out
When something that people go to, such as school or a show, lets out, it ends and everyone leaves:
When does school let out for the summer?

Let sb off
to not punish someone who has committed a crime or done something wrong, or to not punish them severely:
Instead of a prison sentence they were let off with a fine.
You won't be let off so lightly (= you will be punished more severely)the next time.

Let sth off
to fire a gun, or to make something such as a bomb or fireworks explode:
Don't let off fireworks near the house.

Let sth out
to cause something to come out:
He let the air out of the balloon.
She let out a scream (= she made this noise).
to make a piece of clothing wider by removing the sewing from the sides and sewing closer to the edge of the material:
These trousers are too tight - I'm going to have to let them out.

Let sth down
If you let down a piece of clothing, you make it longer:
My trousers shrank in the wash so I let them down.
If you let down something filled with air, you cause the air to go out of it:
Someone let my tyres down while I was at the gym.

Let sth into sth
to put something into a flat surface so that it does not stick out:
A skylight had been let into the roof.

Let somebody in on something
to tell someone about something that is secret, or to allow someone to become involved in something that only very few people are involved in:
Debbie agreed to let me in on her plans.

let something drop (or fall)
Casually reveal a piece of information:
from the things he let drop I think there was a woman in his life

let someone have it
Attack someone physically or verbally:

I really let him have it for worrying me so much.

Let the chips fall where they may.
Prov. Let something happen regardless of the consequences and no matter what happens. 
I'm going to tell Ellen the truth about her husband, let the chips fall where they may. Kathy decided to risk her money on the investment, and let the chips fall where they may.

Let the cobbler stick to his last.
Prov. Do not advise someone in matters outside your area of expertise. Whenever Ted, who is a lawyer, tried to give Bob suggestions about how to write his novel, Bob would say, "Let the cobbler stick to his last." Bill: I don't think you should put so much oregano in the spaghetti sauce. Nancy: You're a construction worker, not a chef. Let the cobbler stick to his last.

9 Jun 2015

Bums on Seats

On the Tube, I usually read a paper, and today it was Time Out London. The editorial put a smile on my face, so I decided to share it with the other learners of English - in fact only with the first part, but most meaty.

It is artfully written, not many facts but how they are told. Also, it is full of not everyday expressions for pun-loving English readers.

Here it goes:

'Get ready for confused tourists, sticky Boris Bikes and genitalia all over the shop. Yes, the World Naked Bike Ride is back this weekend. More than 1,000 people are expected to huff and puff in the buff (and partial buff) across London on Saturday June 13 as part of an annual series of starkers cycle mounting that takes place around the world. Okay, going for a sweaty, naked ride with a group of like-minded strangers might sound a bit 'keys in the bowl', but an event is actually a legit demo to raise awareness about environmental and road safety issues.' 

  • bums on seats  (British & Australian informal) also fannies in the seats (American informal): if a public performance or a sports event puts bums on seats, many people pay to go and see it. This production needs a big name to put bums on seats. Here it has a double meaning, so we have a pun. 
  • If something is completely disorganised or confused, it is all over the shop.
  • huff and puff
    › to breathe loudly, usually after physical exercise: We were huffing and puffing by the time we'd climbed to the top of the hill.
    › informal disapproving to complain loudly and express disapproval:
    They huffed and puffed about the price but eventually they paid up.
  • in the buff - informal naked (a buff is either a learned person about something or a sporty person. Buff is also a yellowish colour. 
  • starkers - an adjective meaning naked (informal) 
  • 'keys in the bowl' probably refers to a key party
    A couples party where all of the men put their car keys into a bowl or bag and at the end of the party, the women blindly select a set of keys to determine who she goes home with for the rest of the evening for .. something. Must be typical American and bikers do not have keys. Anyway...
  • a legit demo - it is short for a legitimate demonstration - my guess; which is informal and sounds funny even though this time it is a serious thing

1 Jun 2015

Notes on GCSE Question 6

Question 6 (24 marks, 35 min, 400-450 words)

You will be asked to argue/persuade on the topic given. Similarly to the question 5, your first step is to identify: the purpose, the audience and the form. 
You may be asked to write a letter, an article/blog entry or a leaflet. 

Writing to argue
  1. Spend a few minutes to decide on your position. You may completely agree, completely disagree or partially agree. 
  2. Draw a spider diagram to find reasons behind you point of view, including counterpoints.
  3. Decide which points you are going to use, how to group them together and how to order them. 
  4. Write the plan of the essay:
  • Introduction - comment on the topic and give your firm opinion about it.
  • Counter- argument - this will show that you considered the other point of view and dismissed it because your point of view is stronger. 
  • Your point of view - a few points why you agree/disagree.
  • Develop your point of view. Reflect on wider, moral implications of the topic, such as the moral or social issues. 
  • Conclusion. 
You may choose to combine your argument and counter-argument throughout the response but it is a more challenging approach. 

Think about the tone you are going to adopt. Depends on the topic and your point of view your choice of vocabulary, choice of tone should invisibly help you convey your thoughts. You may be: angry, mocking, sarcastic, ironic, serious, light-hearted, reassuring, enthusiastic, disbelieving, cautious etc. Give your feelings to the topic and you will find the right words easier and faster.

Now it is time to prepare the language tools.
  1. Choose the tone of your essay.
  2. Prepare evidence: opinions that sound like facts, facts, statistics and anecdotes - you may invent your own 'facts and statistics' but they need to sound believable. 
  3. Similarly to the question 5 - note down some language features to use, the strong language which help you convince your readers. 
  4. Write an engaging opening sentence and the first paragraph. 
  5. Remember to include discursive markers such as, however, although, similarly, in addition to, next, moreover, therefore, on the other hand, nevertheless etc.
  6. Vary your sentences, use paragraphs correctly and include your choice of the effective vocabulary.
  7. Write the whole piece and have fun!
  8. Proofread it. 

Writing to persuade

The preparation for writing to persuade are very similar to writing to argue, although the emphases focus on different techniques. 

  1. First the tone should be more passionate, emotional and direct.
  2. Usage of imperatives, direct address, questions and rhetorical questions. Sentences with 'you', 'we', 'you have to' belongs to the persuasive language. Here the link to a pdf file with more about it.
  3. Repetition of words and phrases is very useful.
In general, to be convincingly persuasive the author must appeal to one of many audience's needs.

Appeals to:
  • Emotions
  • Fears 
  • Desire to seem intelligent 
  • Need to protect their family
  • Desire to fit in, to be accepted, to be loved
  • Desire to be an individual 
  • Desire to follow a tradition 
  • Desire to be wealthy or save money 
  • Desire to be healthy  
  • Desire to look good 
  • Desire to protect animals and the environment 
  • Pride in our country 

Often other persuasive techniques can also involve an appeal.  

Inclusive and Exclusive Language: Inclusive language such as 'we', 'our', 'us', and exclusive language such as 'them' can persuade by including the reader, or by creating a sense of solidarity or a sense of responsibility. The reader may think that it is written directly for him. Desire to be an individual, and desire to seem intelligent.  Example: 'People like you and me don't want to see this happen.' 

Before you start mocking or criticise any group, flatter the reader, and make sure that he is absolutely on your side. First use carrot and then a stick :)

Rhetorical Questions: Rhetorical questions are questions that do not require and answer and are asked for effect only. They engage the audience and encourage them to consider the issue and accept the author's answer, or imply that the answer is so obvious that anyone who disagrees is foolish. Example: Do we want our children growing up in a world where they are threatened with violence on every street corner? 

Rhetorical questions force the audience to think.
Some question starters… How could you (we) possibly…, Do you really think…, Do you want to be part of…, Could your conscience cope with…, Is it really worth…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


31 May 2015

Notes on GCSE exam - Question 5

Question 5 (16 marks, 25 min, write about 300-350 words in 4-5 paragraphs.)

The question focuses on you ability to: inform, explain and describe. 
You will be given the topic to have to write about, therefore you will have to identify the subject, the purpose, the audience and the form. 

There could be two kinds of combined purposes:
  • to write to describe and inform
  • to write to inform and explain
Let's say that the question 5 is: write a brief article for Real Life magazine, describing a childhood memory and explaining why it is important to you. 

1. Read carefully the question and answer several further questions; write down notes after reading. 
  • Decide what the topic is. 
  • Decide what the purpose is.
  • Target the audience.
  • Choose the way to present your point of view depending on the question.

2. Preparations.
  • Draw a spider diagram with 3-4 childhood memories you can write about. 
  • This is for a magazine, so it will be for the general public.
  • The general public - people at different ages, backgrounds etc, therefore it should be standard English and not too difficult language or jargon.
  • The form is an article.
3. Choose one childhood memory and draw a spider diagram with ideas, feelings or experiences connected with this particular topic.

4. Write down your plan using your spider diagram. 

Plan: Summers with my grandparents
  • Setting up a scene - first paragraph.
  • Pristine place for a city girl away from my troubled parents, wonderful lake surrounded by forests with a clearing for a few caravans
  • Spartan accommodation: an old bus served as a camp kitchen, washing in the lake, washing up using the sand of the lake
  • Activities: First attempts to swim, Fishing with grandpa - morning finding trapped eels, preparing fish; Picking up mushrooms, preparing food, drying mushrooms
  • Explanation why it is important to me. 
5. Create a few similes and metaphors. 

It was like living on the nature and with nature. 
I took to swimming like a duck to the water.  
I felt like a nymph connected to both the nature and a few people around. 
An old bus was our home for a few weeks in the summers of my childhood. He was a friend, warm and intimate, waiting long time for our return. 
The lake and the forest fed us, like good Spirits taking care of our survival.  

6. Senses
Hear, Smell, Touch, Vision, Taste   

Write down a few sentences with two example of senses usage, do not use all senses:
Eyes: Earthen colours
Smell: water, campfire, freshness: The fresh fragrance of the mixture of water and pine trees - this kind of freshness we usually look for in air fresheners at the shops. The scent of damp earth at dawn while picking up mushrooms.
Hear: Birds singing in the morning, discussing at the lunch time and nesting in the trees in the evening. The sudden splash of water indicating frolicking fish nearby. The cry of a bird signalling some kind of danger to its family. 
Touch: Eels like slippery soup which was easy to drop to the water and someone had to fish it out. 

7. Choose three adjectives
pristine, spartan, smooth, 

8. Choose three strong, emotional verbs
frolicking fish, nesting birds, paddling in the shallow water of the lake

9. Note down some emotive language examples
enthralled, enchanted, fascinated
divine nymphs 

10. Create a phrase with alliteration, repetition, maybe juxtaposition etc 
fish frolicking in the fresh water 

11. Rhetorical question 
Surely they were singing for us to wake up and join the joy of another wonderful day?

12.The rule of three
picking up mushrooms, cleaning them to eat or dry for the winter

13. Opening sentence and the first paragraph. 
First, we are running to see the lake. It is still there, the shades of cornflower blue in the middle and emerald at the edges, where the trees use the lake as their mirror. Trees are a little vain and lean towards the water to have a better look, they even elbow each other with their hairy heads. Sometimes the fish, frolicking in the fresh water, sends the ripple, blurring the reflection. The trees whistle and sough and rustle to scare it away. Perching on the boughs, the birds start singing to placate them, and after a while the whole place get quiet. Enchanted, we are slowly changing from the little city girls into the divine nymphs. Free and happy, at last. 

14. Paragraphs.
There should be two-three more paragraphs describing the childhood memory and one more explaining why it is important to me. 
Each paragraph should have a topic sentence summarizing the ideas that follow. Paragraphs should be linked with the transitional words/phrases or the last sentence of the paragraph should serve a transition to the next one. Like the first sentence, the final one should do the same. Use your language tools prepared before and do not forget to vary your sentences and the sentences opener. Do not start all sentence with the subject. 

15. Edit and proofread the essay; every mistake will cost you one mark penalty. 

If the question asks you to inform and explain, you need facts and opinions, statistics and quotes of famous people. The structure of your essay changes: every paragraph should consist of two parts, the first informing and the second explaining why. Otherwise, the whole process stays the same. 

I am afraid that during the exam we will not have time for such a deep process of planning, but knowing how to do it should help. It is advisable to prepare some sample notes on a few topics. Especially on those, you do not like writing. Your notes can be used for different topics. For example, the childhood memory can be used for questions such as: travel, place, school trip, your favourite book or movie, all about the nature, best/worst day, experience and probably much more.