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Cliché

A cliché (pronounced "clee-shay") is an expression or idea that has been used over and over again. It was once clever, but now it's been used so many times that now it doesn't seem interesting or intelligent any more.

Clichés are easy for people to understand because they're so...

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How should I use titles like "Mr." and "Mrs."?

Titles are the words that go in front of someone's name. In American English, the most common salutations are "Mr.", "Ms.", "Mrs.", and "Miss". There are a few others as well like "Dr." Here's an explanation of each of the common titles:

  • "Mr." (pronounced "mister") is used when you're addressing...

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Non sequitur

A non sequitur is when you say something that's not related to the topic of conversation. For example, if you're having a conversation with a friend about work and then she suddenly says:

I love cheese.

That's a non sequitur.

People usually try to avoid non sequiturs in conversation, but as an...

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Past perspective ("had done", "was doing", "was going to do", etc.)

One interesting feature of English is the way that we talk about the past. In English, we have a past, present and future. But our past also has its OWN past, present and future! You can imagine it like this:

past perspective visualization

When English speakers talk about a past time, we switch our perspective back to the...

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Perfect Aspect

In the mind of an English speaker, there's a difference between talking about something that happened in the past and talking about something that has happened. The difference is whether there's an effect on the speaker right now:

perfect aspect visualization

Here's how English speakers imagine the simple past tense:

simple past tense: I ate.

It's...

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Formal English

Formal English is a way of speaking that you usually use when you don't know the people listening to you very well. You also tend to use it more with people who are higher status and who you want to impress. English learners are usually taught formal English in school, and native English speakers...

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Storytelling

Telling stories is one of the most basic forms of communication. Most stories follow a common format in English:

  1. Setup: You describe the place, time, and what was happening.
  2. Event: You talk about an interesting thing that happened.
  3. Punchline: You describe the most important and interesting...

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Casual speech

(To listen to this post being read out loud, click here.) - Thanks to RhinoSpike!

Casual speech is a way of talking that you use with people that you are close to and trust. There are different words, phrases, and ways of speaking that you can use with your friends, your family members, and with...

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Stress

When people speak English, they don't say every word and every part of each word with the same speed, pitch, and loudness. English has patterns of stress, which means saying some sounds louder and stronger. There are two kinds of stress: stress within words and stress within sentences.

Stress...

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Understatement

Understatement is when you express an idea with a much lower degree of importance, emphasis, or emotion than it really should be given. For example, if a man is extremely good-looking, you can describe it like this:

He's so handsome!

What a hottie!

Or you can use understatement:

He's not a...