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Vocabulary & Spelling

Vocabulary – the words which make up our language.

This category of articles is all about these words and how we use them and sometimes how they affect the way in which we teach English.

A Word A Day

A Word A Day is a simple daily email which anyone can sign up to which sends out a word and definition each day which is useful to help enrich and enlarge vocabulary.

For TEFL teachers it is ideal; with students it is perhaps better suited to advanced learners.

The email is sent out to over 600,000 people daily and consists of

the word…

Abbreviations in English Writing

An abbreviation (from the Latin, brevis, meaning short.) is a shortened form of a word or phrase used almost exclusively in print. For example:
LOL = laugh out loud
mins = minutes
abbrv = abbreviation
As you can see, abbreviations are often either the full word shortened or the first letter of each word in the phrase (aka acronyms). They can contain letters and numbers, upper and lowercase.
BBI5 =…

Affixes in English

An affix is a morpheme‏‎ that is attached to a root‏‎ (or stem) of a word‎ to form another word.

For example, take the word reason and add two affixes:
un + reason + able
Prefixes and suffixes are common types of affixes.

A prefix is an affix which is placed before a root.
un + kind = unkind
re + act = react
mis +…

Anagrams & TEFL

What are Anagrams?
Anagrams are simply rearrangements of letters from one word‏‎ or phrase to make another word or phrase.

The word itself comes from the Greek, anagrammatismos, ana- (up, again, back, new) + -gram (letter).

For example, the following are a few interesting anagrams.

dirty room

Clint Eastwood
old west action

Madam Curie
radium came

a telephone…

Antonyms or Opposites in English

An Antonym or Opposite is a word which – generally speaking – has the opposite meaning to another word. For example, the following are antonyms:
big ↔ small
fat ↔ thin
tall ↔ short
old ↔ young
male ↔ female
Some words will have more than one antonym depending on context. For example
big ↔ small, tiny, miniature
And the antonym of antonym? That’s synonym which describes a word having the same meaning…

Capital Letters in English

In English‏‎ every sentence starts with a Capital Letter (or Uppercase) and usually ends with a period or full stop.

For example these are all wrong:
* the film has finished.
* where is she?
* in 1492 Columbus sailed off into the sunset.
* an asterisk at the beginning of a sentence shows it is ungrammatical or wrong in some way

These should all begin…

Choosing a Good Dictionary

For both teachers and students a dictionary is one of the most important books (or apps) you can own. This article offers tips for choosing the best possible dictionary for help in the classroom and with preparing lessons.

If you’re buying a dictionary then the best approach is to go into the shop and spend some time comparing the different dictionaries on offer till you find one…

Compound Words in English

A compound word is a word made up from two or more other words joined together. They are often created to describe a new concept or idea and are thus neologisms‏‎.

As a simple example, take the words foot and ball. These were brought together to describe the game: football. Likewise the following are just a few of the many, many compound words in English:
eyesight, airport, overtake, earthworm…

Euphemisms in English

Using a euphemism is a way of hiding something bad, offensive or tasteless behind a good word or phrase.

So, for example, instead of saying that someone died, we say they passed away. Instead of saying that a girl is pregnant we might say the girl is in trouble.
Why Use Euphemisms?
Euphemisms are used essentially to put a good spin on something. Instead of presenting the…

False Friends in TEFL

False Friends are pairs of words‏‎ or phrases‏‎ in two different languages which look and/or sound similar but which have very different meanings. False Friends are sometimes known as False Cognates.

Learners will often assume the corresponding word or phrase in the target language will have the same meaning as the word or phrase in their mother tongue‏‎. This often leads to mistakes.
Examples of False Friends…

Family Tree – vocabulary activity

Family Tree is an ideal and fun activity for students to practice family relations and working within that semantic field.

The basic idea is that you give your students a series of statements about a family such as, “Joe is Mary’s brother” and, “Frank is Julie’s Grandfather” and so on and from these, the students need to construct a family tree. It takes not only knowledge of English…

German Shitstorms are not Vulgar…

An interesting sideline to the eternal debate about taboo words‏‎.

The BBC reports that the English term, shitstorm, considered by many to be vulgar and not a word to be used in public as such, has entered the German‏‎ vocabulary. However, it has entered as a perfectly acceptable term and, for example, was used by Angela Merkel at a recent public meeting and no one batted an eyelid.


Hangman – vocabulary activity

Hangman is a traditional, simple game which is useful as a five minute filler for practicing vocabulary‏‎. Variations of the game and played in many different countries so one advantage is that some students will already know the game in their own language (see below).
Playing the Game
Choose a word that the students need to practice. It should be the right level for the class. The…


Homographs are words which have the same spelling but different meanings. They may or may not have the same pronunciation.

Here the word has the same spelling and pronunciation, but different meanings:
bear – beə (a big animal living in Yellowstone park)
bear – beə (to carry a burden or weight)
But in this case the word has same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings:
bow – bəʊ (used…


Homophones are words that sound the same but with very different meanings.

The words are usually spelt differently or, if they are spelt the same, come from different roots. For example, the words may be spelt the same, such as rose (as in the flower) and rose (as in the past verb form‏‎ of rise), or differently, such as two and too.

Homophones are often used…

I before E except after C

Does the rule, I before E except after C actually work? Here we are using a concordancer to check whether it’s true or not. The results may surprise you. This example demonstrates an approach to using a concordancer in investigating a particular aspect of language. NB The results were exported in text format and edited for clarity. The contexts here are very limited since they are not used in the…

Irregular Adverbs in English Grammar

An adverb modifies a word, phrase, or sentence. It tells us more about them and changes the meaning slightly. Often we say it tells us how something happens:
He paints.
He paints wildly.
In this example wildly is an adverb which tells us how he paints.
Regular Adverbs
In most cases, adverbs‏‎ are formed by adding -ly to an adjective‎:
{adjective} + ly = {adverb}
nice > nicely
expensive > expensively
They are known as…

Jargon in TEFL

Jargon is a specialized language used by people in a certain profession, job or activity. To an outsider it may seem unintelligible, but to a member of that group it is obvious and useful to explain sometimes esoteric points.

Like many other groups, English teachers have their own jargon: participle, false beginner, fce, chalkface, student-centered and so on. These resources are full of jargon and even the…

Lexical Chunks

A Lexical Chunk is a unit of language which is made up of two or more words.

Here are a few examples of lexical chunks:
Good morning.
Nice to see you!
What’s the time?
Other lexical chunks can include phrasal verbs‏‎, idioms, collocation‏‎s and so on.

Lexical chunks are the common coinage of English. They’re the bread and butter, the everyday and the mundane. They’re the…

Minimal Pairs and TEFL

Minimal Pairs are pairs of words‏‎ (and sometimes phrases‏‎) which differ in their sound by just one element.

They are an incredibly useful tool in the TEFL teachers’ bag and if you haven’t started yet, you should learn about them and use them!

Mostly minimal pairs are used as pronunciation practice where the meaning of the word is not really important at all – it’s the…

Mnemonics in TEFL

Mnemonics (pronounced /nəˈmɒniks/ with a silent ‘m’ at the beginning) are short devices (sayings, poems, etc) used to remember longer, more complex ideas or lists (also known as aides memoires or memory aides).

Think of them as poetic versions of string tied around your finger to help remember something!

A good example of a first letter mnemonic is:
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain

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…

Pay > Paid vs Payed

What is the past form of pay?

This often causes problems for students. The verb‏‎ pay means to give money to someone and it is usually an irregular verb.
I pay $15 each month for my internet connection.
Last month I paid $15 for my internet connection.
I have paid $15 every month for the past year.
However, some people will assume that pay is a regular…

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…

Puns in TEFL Teaching

Puns are ambiguous; they are words (or phrases) which sound the same but which have two very different meanings used for humorous effect. (A traditional explanation of a pun is a “play on words” but since this defines everything from puns to Spoonerisms to Malapropsims to Pig Latin it really is too general to use here.)

This example illustrates a pun well:
A boiled egg for breakfast…

Roots and English Words

A root is the very simplest form of a word without any affix‏‎es or changes. It cannot be made any smaller and is sometimes known as the base word.

For example, take the word important. This consists of 3 parts:
im (a prefix) + port (the root) + ant (a suffix])
So the root of the word is simply: port.

Often you will find that the…

Semicolons in English Punctuation

A semicolon sits half way between a period/full stop and a comma. It has little or nothing to do with a colon, however.

It is used instead of a period/full stop when we want to avoid too strong a break between phrases and instead of a comma when we need a stronger break.
Breaking Up Lists
If you have a list of items, normally they are separated…

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…

Spelling in English Writing

Spelling is the order in which letters are put to make up words. Many languages have phonetic spelling, in other words, each letter represents a certain sound, however in English this is not the case. An English letter can have many different sounds. For example, the letter c can be pronounced: /k/ as in cat /s/ as in nice The spelling of an English word depends very much on its linguistic…

Spelling Rules for Adding -ly

To form a regular adverb we simply add -ly to the corresponding adjective‏‎.
slow > slowly
woman > womanly
autonomous > autonomously
However in some cases adding -ly is not a straightforward matter and a few changes are required.
Spelling Rules


With adjectives ending in -ic you need to add al before you add -ly
problematic > problematically
scientific > scientifically
automatic &gt…

Spelling Singular & Plural Nouns in English

This article details the spelling rules for turning singular nouns in plural nouns. Note, for a look at the general principles of singular and plural nouns, see Singular and Plural Nouns‏‎. Most nouns in English are regular. To make them plural we simply add -s to the end: singular plural 1 book 2 books 1 car 4 cars 1 house 8 houses In some cases, however, we need to do more…

Synonyms in English

A Synonym is a word which has almost exactly the same meaning as another word. For example:
student – pupil
old – ancient

Note: Compare this with antonyms‏‎ which are words of opposite meanings.
In English, there are no perfect synonyms. Two words may be very similar and appear identical in meaning, but they will be used in slightly different contexts or have a very subtle difference…

Taboo Words and TEFL

Taboo Words (sometimes known as swearwords, curse words, or profanity) are those words and phrases which some people find shocking or offensive. They can often cause problems for TEFL‏‎ teachers and learners of English‏‎.

In general, the best advice is to avoid both using and teaching taboo words in the classroom. A number of teachers have lost their jobs through using and teaching taboo words and it is…

Teaching English Vocabulary

When Teaching Vocabulary, many teachers still resort to long word lists which the students are expected to translate into their mother tongue, learn and remember.

This approach to teaching vocabulary‏‎ is rather dull and mechanical. It has limited impact and there is very little student involvement.

On the other hand there are better methods.
An Example
Here’s a short text for a intermediate level class. You might well…

The English Alphabet‏‎

The English Alphabet contains 26 letters. These can be divided into vowels and consonants‏‎.

The vowels are: a,e,i,o,u

The consonants are: b,c,d,f,g,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,q,r,s,t,v,w,x,y,z

Every word has at least one vowel sound. When we write them, however, some words do not have one of the vowels above, such as:
fly, hymn, why
Although these words have a vowel sound, they use the consonant letter y instead of a vowel…

The Most Common Words in English

In 1953 the General Service List was published. This was a list of about 2,000 most commonly used words in English. For many years this was used as a basis for materials writing.

This list was useful in learning because anyone who knew all the words on the list would understand about 90% of spoken general English and about 80% of written general English.

However, since…

Twenty Questions – speaking & listening activity

Twenty Questions is a simple game which can be played in class with minimal preparation. It is ideal for practicing both vocabulary (notably semantic fields) as well as making questions.
Collect a group of pictures or photographs with different objects on them. (You can laminate these to make them longer lasting of course.)

The objects you choose should be of the right level and subject…

Using Realia in TEFL Teaching

The word real on which this word is built gives a big clue to what realia is.

In foreign language instruction realia are real-life objects used in the classroom to illustrate and teach vocabulary‏‎ or to help students learn and produce. Realia can consist of almost anything including both objects from a country where the target language‏‎ is spoken as well as objects from the teacher’s home country…

Varieties of English Spelling

There are several major varieties of English‏‎: American, British, Australian and so on.

This article looks at differences in spelling between these. It is a general guide which covers the majority of cases, however remember that there are exceptions which will need to be taught to your TEFL class on an as-needs basis.

On that note, in general it does not matter which variety of English spelling…

Vocabulary Poker – vocabulary activity

Vocabulary Poker is a great game for practicing vocabulary and semantic fields. It’s easy to play and great fun for the students.

Although it can be played by beginners, it’s probably best for intermediate and advanced students.

NB in some countries it may be culturally inappropriate to use a term like “poker” with its gambling connotations. If this is the case simply rename it to Vocabulary…

Vocabulary‏‎ and TEFL

The Vocabulary is the collection of words‏‎ in a language. In English there are estimated to be roughly 1,000,000 words in the language; this is a huge increase on the 50,000 words available in Old English. These words are generally derived from one of several main sources: Germanic (including Old English and Old Norse, back through Proto-Indo-European) for common pronouns‏‎, basic family relationships, common animals‏‎ and verbs‏‎ Latin for more formal…

What is a Lexeme?

LEXEME is the term used in Linguistics‏‎ to refer to a word (a minimal unit of language) with a distinctive meaning (a semantic value) and often a specific cultural concept attached to it.
banana, love, animal, run
These are all lexemes.

Lexemes can be seen as the basic elements of a language.

Importantly, a single lexeme can have different forms which are sometimes quite different.

forms of…

Word Frequency‏‎ in English

Word Frequency is listing words‏‎ according to how popular they are in the language. The method of determining the list is by taking a corpus‏‎ of language and simply counting the words in it and how often each one is used. This usually brings up the following as the most popular: the of and to a However, no list can be definitive. This is because the popularity of words will…

Words in English

A word is a unit of language that has a phonetic value‏‎ (i.e. a sound) and has a meaning. It can also be written down in which case it will have a certain spelling. They are – as you might well imagine – the building blocks in English language learning and teaching English. The collection of words in a language is known as the vocabulary and when collected together they…