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 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 »


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 »


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.


Answers »

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


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...

Answers »

Excited or exciting, interested or interesting, etc.

English learners often have trouble figuring out whether to use the "-ing" ending or "-ed" ending for adjectives that express emotions. Some examples of these adjectives are:

  • exciting/excited
  • interesting/interested
  • boring/bored
  • amazing/amazed
  • confusing/confused

An easy way to remember

The easy...

Answers »

What's the difference between "college" and "university" in English?

The words "college" and "university" are used differently in different parts of the world, so you should pay attention to how people around you are using these words.

Two-year schools

In Canada, for example, "college" is specifically a two-year school that people go to after high school.

In much...

Answers »

Is "I'm loving it" correct grammar?

A few years ago, McDonalds restaurants started a TV commercial campaign with the slogan:

"I'm lovin' it."


Some people complained that it was bad grammar. Traditionally, "love" has been used as a stative verb. Stative verbs (such as "like", "want", "smell", and "feel") are not used...