+01 424 645 5957
+39 347 378 8169




English Usage

The articles here cover a whole bunch of English Usage issues.

We answer all those kinds of awkward questions your TEFL students ask : why do we say this instead of that?

Which means that each article also includes advice for the TEFL teacher: what you should teach and what just isn’t worth mentioning to your class.

Finally, if you’ve a question about how we use the English language, feel free to contact ICAL TEFL and we’ll answer it here!

Accent, Dialect & Language in English

What is the difference between Accent, Dialect and Language?

This article looks at the differences between the three terms. People often confuse them and there is a certain degree of overlap (even linguists don’t always agree on what the difference is between them) but generally speaking we can talk about:
Accent is all about pronunciation. Two people may use the same grammar, the same syntax and…

Affect vs Effect

Learners of English (and native English speakers too) often confuse these two words: Affect vs Effect. They also confuse forms of these words: Affectively vs Effectively; Affective vs Effective and so on.

Part of the problem is that they are pronounced almost the same: /əˈfekt/ and /ɪˈfekt/. Some English accent‏‎s in fact will produce them exactly in the same way. Since they are often confused, this article…

All About Shall (vs Will)

When we talk about the future, most often we’ll use words like will or be going to:
They will arrive tomorrow afternoon.
I’m going to see the match.
However, there is an alternative: shall.

These days, people often talk about shall as though it’s on its way out and that before long it’ll be consigned to the garbage heap along with other archaic words like foresooth and verily but…

Among vs Amongst‏‎

There is no difference in meaning between among and amongst – these two words can be used interchangeably. However, amongst is less common in everyday use than among and is considered slightly more educated. In spoken American English‏‎ among tends to be used almost exclusively; however in writing amongst can still be found. The n-gram below shows the relative use of these two words over the past 50 years or so. As…

Animals‏‎ in English Grammar

This article looks at how we talk about Animals in English grammar‏‎. The main issue for learners of English are personal pronouns‏‎ and animals. Do we talk about an animal as he, she or it? Personal Pronouns To begin with, when talking about animals we generally use the personal pronouns‏‎ it and they: Where’s the dog? It’s run off again, I think. The birds are flying south for Winter; they are leaving early…

Apostrophes Return to Cambridge

Earlier in the year we reported on how Cambridge city council in the UK had decided not to use apostrophes in street signs and how examiners for Cambridge Assessment (the ones who do all the TEFL exams) had supported this idea.

It was, of course, ridiculous of them to do so.

You see, the idea that an examining board could condone bad English in some situations but mark…

Bad Reporting of the Day: All Commas will Die!

A professor of comparative English at Columbia university said that commas should be abolished. He said we should get rid of them and no one would care. He says we should kill them. Destroy them. Take each one and murder it in cold blood.

And the reaction? Pages of internet newsprint devoted to the story and angry responses from members of the public leading to personal attacks on the…

Country‏ vs Countries vs Countryside

This is the vocabulary which often causes problems with learners: words which look pretty much the same and which most logical people would regard as closely related, but then when you look into it a little more, they’re all over the place! Let’s start with Country and a couple of definitions: country = a nation or sovereign state, e.g. the USA‏‎ or Russia‏‎ country = wide open space without buildings, etc…

Data Is or Data Are?

The Wall Street Journal published a blog post in which it decided to class data as a singular noun‏‎ which, according to the rules of subject-verb agreement‏‎ goes with a singular verb‏‎, much like information. For the WSJ this is good English: the data is collected However, many traditionalists contend that data is in fact the Latin plural of the singular, datum, and therefore we should be saying: the data are…

Descriptive vs Prescriptive Grammars

Grammar‏‎ books can generally be divided into two different types: Descriptive or Prescriptive. This article looks at the difference between them.

Very simply, a descriptive grammar looks at what people actually say in real life and then lays out a series of statements describing what is said. With modern technology helping a lot, huge collections of language examples have been made and analyzed using programs known as concordancers‏‎. These have…

Fewer vs Less‏‎

The debate about using fewer or less when referring to quantity still rages. It is related to the concept of descriptive vs prescriptive grammars.

In terms of historical origin, less has been used continuously in English for hundreds of years to refer to comparative quantity with all nouns whilst the use of fewer is fairly recent and applies to countable nouns‏‎.
Grammatical Difference
The grammatical difference between the two…


In linguistics‏‎, a filler is a sound or word in speaking‏‎ used by someone to show that they haven’t finished speaking yet but are either forming their thoughts into speech or mentally searching for the right word‏.

Common fillers in English are:

um – /um/
er – /ə/

However, we can also use words (and sometimes phrases‏‎) which don’t add any meaning to what we say…

Got vs Gotten‏‎ in English

Got and Gotten are often considered to be synonyms in British English & American English‏‎. However, this is not so and there are a number of differences between their usage. In British English the past participle of the verb‏‎, to get, is got. I have got 3 parking tickets this week! However, in American English there are two past participles: got or gotten. Their use depends on circumstances. Usage: got or…

Make or Do a Presentation?

I was asked this question the other day by a learner of English; quite simply, do we MAKE or DO a presentation?

If you go online there are different stories, but as usual I went along to Google n-grams and checked out what they had to say.

It’s interesting. Prior to 1960 nobody really did anything with presentations. They didn’t often make, do, or give them. But soon…

Non Sequiturs in English

Non Sequitur is a Latin phrase we use in English which means it does not follow.

It is mainly used to describe a statement which has nothing to do with what was said before.

For example, this is logical and sensible.

Socrates was a man.
All men are mortal.
Therefore Socrates was mortal.

However, the last line here is a non sequitur…

On Foot vs By Foot

Oh language! Do we want to go down the route of there being no rules, just a few nebulous suggestions which change over time? Are we like the freethinking parents at sports day who declare that every child wins because they are all special? Or are we on the side of traditionalists who don’t split infinitives‏‎ and who think anyone using a preposition at the end…

Principle vs Principal

At the —– School of English, we believe in the principals of accuracy, hard work and having fun.
I came across this snippet the other day whilst looking at a school website and it frightened me.

If they can’t spell properly, how can they believe in the idea of accuracy?

But it’s an easy mistake to make and you’ll find many people – not just learners but…

Salutations & Valedictions

A salutation is a greeting used in a letter or other text (email, SMS, etc). Salutations can be formal or informal. The most common form of salutation in a letter is Dear followed by the recipient’s given name or titles‏‎.

For each style of salutation there is an accompanying style of complimentary close, known as valediction.
These are common pairings of salutations and valedictions.


Should Of

The following are errors in English:
* I should of known better.
* They could of beaten us.
* He must of left by now.
* an asterisk in front of a sentence denotes an ungrammatical sentence.

In good, grammatical English we say instead:
I should have known better.
They could have beaten us.
He must have left by now.
All these examples use the correct past forms of…

Since… Ago…

Since and Ago are often confused and used wrongly by learners of English in the TEFL class. But there are some simple rules which show how they should be used.
The usage is quite simple: since is followed by a specific time.
since + specific time
I’ve been waiting here since 3 o’clock.
I’ve had this toothache since yesterday morning.
I’ve lived here since 1991.


Slang in TEFL

Slang is the use of informal words‏‎ and expressions to describe something or someone. Slang is vocabulary‏‎ that is meant to be interpreted quickly but not necessarily literally.

Slang changes fast; here are examples of current 2015 slang which, could well be out of date by the time you read this!
You’re mine forever, bae.
Don’t be so basic with your wardrobe.
He keeps on asking me…

Split Infinitives in English Grammar

Split Infinitives are a construction in English‏‎ when the infinitive of a verb‏‎ is cut in half by another word. For example:
Infinitive: to see
Split Infinitive: to barely see
The infinitive is most often split by an adverb‏‎ or adverbial phrase‏‎.
I attempted to carefully remove the plug.
She began to frantically and almost hysterically rip at the packaging.

The first written record of a split infinitive…

They’re vs Their vs There‏‎

These three are often confused by learners of English:


These words are homophones‏‎ (that is, they sound the same) but with very different meanings.

This article looks at the differences between these three and then how to teach them to your class.

they’re = they are
They’re here now.
What color are they?
They’re blue…

Till vs Until vs ‘Til

Till and Until are synonyms‏‎. They are both prepositions of time‏‎ and refer to a period of time leading up to a specific time.
I worked for the bank from 1989 until 1994.
We were happily married till I discovered she was having an affair.
In both these examples we are talking about a period of time which started in the past and carried on until a specific time…

Titles in English

When we address people, we use certain conventions of style called Titles.

These come before a person’s name when we are talking about them (or to them).

They are usually used in formal situations or when we are being polite.
General Titles
These are general titles for men and women which we might use when we talk to someone we do not know well or when…

Units of Measurement in English

Units of Measurement are used to talk about quantity. Common units include:

length: meter, mile, kilometer…
weight: pound, stone, kilogram…
liquid: liter, gallon…

Singular & Plural
Units of measurement usually have a singular and plural form:
I’ve lived here 1 year.
That wall is 3 meters tall.
This tank will hold just 2 liters.
However, if we use the unit of measurement…

Used + Infinitive

The phrase used + infinitive is often confusing for learners of English. This article explains what it is and how we use it. Here are typical uses of the phrase: I used to live in Toronto. I have an idea he used to go out with Nicole Kidman. You can see that the phrase used + infinitive describes a situation in the past which is no longer true; these are habits…

Varieties of English‏‎

Varieties of English are the different kinds of English used around the world. Often these are geographically based. The varieties are more or less similar and while most English speakers can understand each other, there are occasional problems.

The four people in the picture (Whoopi Goldberg, Kylie Minogue, the Queen and Usain Bolt) all speak English as their mother tongue but very differently.
English has been the…

Who or Which or That?

People often confuse Who or Which or That and when they start to talk about when to use them, grammarians and supposedly learned people often talk rubbish.

Take these sentences for example:
The guy who stole your wallet was an actor.
The guy that stole your wallet was an actor.
The wallet that you lost was empty anyway!
The wallet which you lost was empty anyway!
Depending on who…

Who vs Whom in English Grammar

Who vs Whom often comes up and sometimes causes confusion. This article explains the difference between these two.

Who and whom are both pronouns‏‎ and while they mean the same thing (a person or group of people) they are grammatically different.
Subjects vs Objects
The subject of a sentence‏‎ is the “main actor” in the sentence and normally it comes at the beginning of the sentence:
Louisa sang a…

Your vs You’re

Confusing Your and You’re is one of the classic grammar mistakes in English and even native speakers will make this error.

This article explains the difference between them and when to use each one so you don’t get tagged by the pedants of grammar out there!
Firstly a few words on the difference between these two very different words.
your = possessive
Your is a…