Concepts »

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...

Concepts »

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...

Concepts »

Exaggeration

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

When you exaggerate a fact, you state it much more extremely than it actually is. You can exaggerate things like numbers, sizes, lengths of time, emotions, degrees of like or dislike, and many other...

Concepts »

Small Talk

Small talk is polite conversation that people have with people that they are not very close to. It's conversation about topics which aren't too important or too personal. 

When to make small talk:

English speakers make a lot of small talk.

  • People make small talk with neighbors when they see...

Concepts »

Concession

Concession is a conversational technique that people use when trying to persuade someone. Here's an example from a conversation between a car salesman and a customer:

This might be a little more than you wanted to spend, but if you think about the long-term value it's a great deal.

In this...

Concepts »

Adjective

An adjective is a word that describes a noun. It's easy to understand simple adjectives. They're words like "big", "green", "young", and "expensive". Other adjectives are harder to spot.

Simple Adjectives

Adjectives tell something about a noun, like:

  • size
    three small holes
  • color
    a ...

Concepts »

Clause

A clause is basically a sentence that's inside of another sentence. Here's a sentence:

I love mushrooms.

And here is a sentence with a clause:

I told her that I love mushrooms.

Each clause has to have a subject ("I") and a verb ("love").

There are two kinds of clauses: dependent and ...

Answers »

What's the difference between "It's broken" and "It broke"?

Broken glass

A reader asked this question:

I have a question about the usage of "break". What is the difference of "The TV set is broken." and "The TV set broke." I've been unclear on that for a long time.

"The TV set is broken" is a statement about the situation of the TV right now. It doesn't work.

"The...

Answers »

Should I learn to speak with an American or British accent?

flags

People often ask me what variety of English they should learn. Here's my honest answer:

It doesn't matter.

Here's why:

Accents are hard to change.

It's really, really hard to pick up a native-sounding accent if you learn English as an adult. Children pick up accents very...

Answers »

Is there any difference between "it's not working" and "it doesn't work"?

A lot of English learners have trouble knowing when to use a simple verb ("it works") and when to use a progressive verb ("it's working"). For example, one PhraseMix reader asked, "Is there any difference between 'it's not working' and 'it doesn't work'?"

It's not working

If something "is not...