Tag Archives: Vocabulary

Loose Loser Lost

Here are some commonly-misused words. They look quite similar, but they are not the same.

loose – adjective. The opposite of tight. “My pants are loose because I have lost weight.”

lose – verb. You lose something when you no longer know where it is, or when you can’t use a skill any more. “Don’t lose your lottery ticket! You will need it if you win.” OR “If I don’t practice my English, I will lose my skills.”

loser – noun. The person who loses. Note that it is an insult. “James is the winner, and everyone else is a loser.”

loss – noun. The amount of money that you spent in order to gain a lesser amount; the opposite of profit. “We received $100, but we spent $130. Our loss for this deal is $30.”

lost – adjective. Use this to describe something that you lose. “I can’t find my glasses; they are lost.”

Exemplary Examples

Just a couple of common mistakes from my writing course today:

Example is not spelled exemple

Exemplary is not spelled examplary

Research is non-count. If you want a count noun with a similar meaning, try using “studies” or “tests” instead. “I completed research for the scientist.” OR “I completed three studies for the scientist.”

Have something with – I’ll have a burger with fries, please. Not have something to.

A student told me of a quote in Russian that shows a good attitude to failure: “He who doesn’t take risks doesn’t drink champagne.” I know of a quote from sports that means the same thing: “You miss all of the shots you don’t take.”

These and those: “These” talks about things we have already discussed, or the first of two groups. “Those” talks about the second of two groups.  “These are good, but those are bad.”

Getting Married

This is a common verb – it seems like many people are getting married recently – but the preposition that it takes changes its meaning.

  1.  Robin and Sam got married to each other = Robin and Sam are partners. Two people are now married.
  2. Robin and Sam got married with each other = Robin married someone, and Sam married someone else. Four people are now married. This expression is only useful in situations when many people are married in the same ceremony, perhaps in a special religious celebration.
  3. Robin and Sam got married for money = Robin and Sam may not love each other, but they love money, and they are married. Two people are married.

We can use the expression ‘married to’ to show that something is very important to someone:

  1. Jane is married to her job. She works every day of the week!  = Jane loves her job, and even works on the weekend.
  2. Jack is married to the Canucks. He missed his sister’s funeral because they were playing a game! = Jack loves the Canucks hockey team more than other teams, and sacrifices other activities.

(This is slightly negative; it implies that Jane or Jack should love other things more, or that they love something too much.)

Having Doubts

I hear two common problems with this word.

First of all, the “b” is silent, so don’t pronounce it! It rhymes with “out.”

Secondly, it can be both a verb and a noun. As a verb, it is regular.
Simple present: “I doubt that his story is true.”
Simple past: “She doubted her knowledge.”
Past participle: “They have doubted many things in the past.” 

As a noun, it is non-count. “I have doubts about this.” Think of it like  pants – you would never say “I have a hole in my pant,” would you?

“Teacher, I have a doubt” is a common phrase, which shows an influence from a student’s first language. However, in English, it sounds awkward. Say “Teacher, I am not sure about this.” instead.

Now you have no doubts. Good luck!

Research? or Researches?

I’ve come across this quite a lot recently. Research and knowledge, study and information… are they count or non-count?

Research: non-count. (It’s a noun, verb, and adjective.)

I need to do more research before I can create my giant robot.

Information: non-count.

I don’t have a lot of information. Do you know an expert we could ask?

Knowledge: non-count

James has a lot of knowledge about writing.

Study: count. (Here we’re using it as a noun, but it is also a verb.)

The scientists carried out three studies before they wrote their paper.

Fact: count.

This is a fact: Canada’s really big.

Opinion: count.

My friend and I have two very different opinions about that subject.

Vocabulary you should know

Learning vocabulary can be a challenge. How do you choose what to learn? If you need words for work or school, search for business or academic word lists. (I’ve covered them before.) But what if you want to learn general words, ones you can use in a variety of conversations?

This is a list of the 1000 most common words in English. By learning these words, you will be able to speak and write with many people about many topics.

Perhaps you’d like some definitions? Here’s a link to a similar list that includes meanings.

Here’s a cartoon where a spaceship and some of its technical parts are described using only the 1000 most common words. The cartoon can be seen in its original site here. The artist also drew a cartoon showing numbers, which I quite like.