Used to, be used to or get used to?

“I used to play tennis”, “I’m used to playing tennis” or “I’m getting used to playing tennis”? These three phrases look almost the same, but there are some big differences in their meanings. Read on to find out how to use each of them correctly.

Used to

We say “used to” to talk about habits or states in the past.

Here are some examples:

  • I used to get up very early for work.
  • When she was a child, she used to play tennis.
  • The shop used to be busy at the weekends!
  • They used to live in Ireland.

“Used to” is always followed by the base form of the verb (no “ed”, no “ing”). We can also use this form in negative sentences (“didn’t use to”) and questions (“Did you use to …?”). These are the same for all subjects.

  • I didn’t use to travel much.
  • We didn’t use to live in a big house.
  • Did you use to drive to work?
  • Did she use to call you every day?

Be used to

We use “be used to” when we want to say something is normal for us.

Here are some examples:

  • I’m used to multi-tasking.
  • We’re used to solving difficult problems.
  • He’s used to his job.
  • They’re used to public speaking.

“Be used to” is mostly used in the present or past simple and is followed by either a gerund (the -ing form of the verb) or a noun. Here, the verb “be” must be conjugated depending on who the subject is (e.g. I, you, they). You can also make negative sentences and questions as you would normally with the verb “be”:

  • I’m not used to commuting so far.
  • She’s not used to working with this programme.
  • Are you used to getting up so early?
  • Is he used to working from home now?

Get used to

“Get used to” describes the processes of something becoming normal for us. For instance, when I start a new job, it feels very differently, but slowly, over time, all the routines and processes become normal for me; I get used to them. Here are some more examples:

  • I quickly got used to the big city when we moved.
  • We still haven’t got used to being at home so much.
  • He will get used to his new school.
  • They haven’t got used to the new teacher yet.
  • Have you got used to speaking English at work?

As with “be used to”, we must use a gerund or noun after “get used to”. The verb “get” changes depending on the subject and tense. As shown above, it can be used in negative sentences and questions as well. It can be used with a range of tenses.


Can you think of any more examples using these phrases? Or are there other similiar phrases that you mix up? Feel free to share them in the comments below or have a look at these tips on when to use “regarding”, “with regard to” and “according to”.

How to use regarding, with regard to and according to

Complete the sentence: “I am writing to you _________ your last email.” Which word fits best? “Regarding”? “With regard to”? “According to”? These three phrases are all particularly useful in more formal communication and correspondence at work, but they are often mixed up due to their similar meanings and grammatical forms. Here are some tips and examples to help you decide which one to use.

Regarding

In simple terms, “regarding” means “about” or “relating to”. It’s quite a formal word, so you’re more likely to hear it at work than when talking to friends. It is always followed by a noun phrase.

Note that we cannot use the word “to” after it, so the following example is not correct: “I am calling regarding to our meeting.”

Examples:

  • I am writing regarding our appointment next week.
  • I would like to talk to you regarding our order.
  • We had some problems regarding the delivery time.
  • They interviewed the politician regarding her plans.

With regard to

This have a very similar meaning to “regarding” and is also a very formal phrase. Unlike with “regarding”, this phrase must always have a “to”. It is also followed by a noun phrase.

Examples:

  • I am writing with regard to the presentation.
  • He has some questions with regard to our offer.
  • What are your views with regard to the takeover?

According to

This is used to report something that someone else tells you. It is equivalent to laut in German, secondo in Italian, selon in French or según in Spanish. It can sometimes be used to show that we don’t know that something is true; we have just heard it from somebody else.

Examples:

  • According to my friend, the prices are very good.
  • According to the teacher, the test will be easy.
  • According to the website, the shop is open until 8.
  • More people will lose their jobs according to the article.

It can also be used to mean in line rules/a request/guidelines.

Examples:

  • You must pay this fine according to Paragraph 7b.
  • We should write everything in the accident book according to the health and safety guidelines.


Can you think of any more examples using the phrases? Or are there other similiar phrases that you mix up? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

The best online dictionaries for learners

A good dictionary is key when learning languages, and nowadays there are so many online resources for learners. But which ones should you use? Here’s my guide to some useful dictionaries and tools for understanding what a word means as well as how and when to use it.

Bilingual dictionaries

There are some many online bilingual dictionaries available, it’s hard to know where to start. I prefer dict.cc. It nearly always offers more than one translation for a word. It also gives you some idea about the context by showing you if the word is used in IT, economic or informal contexts, for example. Sometimes you can also see word combinations and phrases including the word you have searched for. This all helps you to use new words accurately. The main problem with dict.cc is that it mainly uses European languages.

The Cambridge Dictionary has a slightly different combination of languages, including Japanese, Arabic and Thai. It also offers a number of translations for each words and includes example sentences for each one.

Generally, I advise my learners not to use online translators because they are normally not very accurate. However, if you need to understand or check something quickly, I would recommend DeepL. This seems to be one of the most accurate translators available at the moment.

Monolingual dictionaries

Bilingual dictionaries are good for getting an idea about a new word, but to understand it in more detail and be able to use it accurately, it’s best to check a monolingual dictionary. I normally recommend the learner versions of the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries to my learners because they are a little easier to understand.

These dictionaries have not only information about the different meanings of a word, but also audio clips to show you how to pronounce it and lots of example sentences so you know how to use the word in context. They also show phrases and idioms that include this word.

Thesaurus

A thesaurus which shows you synonyms of a word can be useful in two ways. Firstly, it can be useful to find alternative words when you are writing a text and you don’t want to repeat the same words too much. Secondly, it can be a good way of understanding the meaning of a new word.

My favourite thesaurus is Thesaurus.com. When you type in a word, it shows you lists of synonyms, with the closest synonyms at the top. There can be several lists for the same word if it has different meanings. You have the option to check the definitions of any of the synonyms and also to compare synonyms to see how their meanings are different.

A more visual option

More advanced learners interested in the relationships between words may like Visuwords. When you a type a word into Visuwords, you will see a map of words related to it. The words and the lines joining them are colour-coded depending on the type of words and link between them. You can also check the definition of any of the words in the map.

Word of the Day

Lots of online dictionaries have a word of the day on their website. Every day they post a new word with its definition. Some of these words can be quite advanced, but if you’re interested in learning some unusual vocabulary, you might enjoy this!

Examples includes Collins, Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.


What are your favourite dictionaries? Share them in the comments below.

10 Denglish words

German is full of anglicisms, English words which have been adopted into the German language. These words are sometimes called ‘Denglish’ as they are a mix of German (Deutsch) and English. Many of these words are used in the same way in both languages, but some are used differently and could cause confusion. Here’s a summary of Denglish words that do not have the same meaning in German and English:

1. Home office

This is one is everywhere at the moment! In German it’s possible to say you “have home office”, but in English, the only time we would use “home office” is to describe the room in which you work in at home. The action is most commonly described as “working from home” (WFH), but you might also hear native speakers talk about “home working”, “remote working” or “teleworking”.

2. Handy

This is a classic Denglish word. It seems logical that in Germany a small phone that you can hold in your hand would be called a “handy”, but in fact in English “handy” means something is practical or useful.

In English we just say “phone”, or maybe “mobile phone” (UK) or “cell phone” (US).

3. Beamer

“Beamer” is another word that seems logical, but may leave native speakers of English confused. What German refers to as a “beamer” is called a “projector” in English.

4. Peeling

One of the worst examples of Denglish gone wrong! German uses the word “Peeling” to describe a scrub you use on your skin to remove dead cells and make your skin softer. In English we call this an “exfoliator”; the verb is “exfoliate”. The verb “peel” gives the idea that a whole layer is removed, like when you peel an orange. Not what you want when you buy a skincare product!

5. Oldtimer

In German, an “oldtimer” is a vintage car, but in English an “old-timer” describes a person who has been doing something for a very long time and who is therefore usually good at that thing.

6. Trolley

Whilst German speakers imagine a small suitcase with wheels that you can pull along when they hear the word “trolley”, English speakers will think of the large containers on wheels they use in the supermarket to put their shopping in or at the airport to put big suitcases on. In English, the small cases would just be called a “suitcase” or a “wheelie suitcase”.

7. Controlling

In a business context, you might hear people talking about the “controlling” department in German. In English we would call this “management accounting”, or more generally “accounting” or perhaps even just “finance”.

8. Shooting

It’s quite common for German to take English verbs and add an ‘ing’ to turn them into countable nouns. For example, while German speakers would talk about a “photo shooting”, English speakers say “photo shoot”. This is one to be particularly careful with because in English “a shooting” means someone is shot with a gun.

Other examples include “a casting” and “a voting”.

9. Open air

Whilst German has adopted “Open Air” as a noun to mean any event outside, in English it is still only used as an adjective, e.g. “open-air concert”, “open-air cinema”.

10. Mobbing

In German, “mobbing” has come to mean bullying, to be unkind to someone for a long time. However, in English “mobbing” means a group surrounds someone, either because they are angry and want to attack that person, or possibly because they are a fan of that person and want to get close to them.


For more examples of English/German false friends, take a look at this post.

Can you think of any more Denglish words? Feel free to share them below.

Top 10 mispronounced words

When learning a language, it’s not enough to be able to read and write new words. We also have to be able to pronounce them correctly. Long words can be particularly difficult to say correctly, especially if they are similar – but slightly different – to words in your own language. He’s a list of words that are commonly mispronounced in English and some tips for saying them correctly.

1. purchase

Learners often pronounce this word as “pur-CHASE”, but actually the strong sound is at the beginning: “PUR-chus”. The “a” is a very short, weak sound. There’s more information about this sound here.

2. executive

Lots of learners pronounce this word “ex-e-CUT-ive”, but the strong sound should be on the second syllable: “ex-EC-u-tive”.

3. analysis

The verb “analyse” has a long final syllable and the “y” is pronounced like “eye”, but in the noun, that sound is shorter and the strong sound is earlier in the word: “a-NA-li-sis” (not “a-na-LYSE-is”).

4. comfortable

This is a difficult word to pronounce because we don’t really say what we see. Many learners say “com-for-TAB-el”, but we only pronounce this word with three syllables: “COMFT-a-bel”. The strong sound is also on the first syllable.

5. interesting

This word can cause similar problems. It should be pronounced as three syllables with the strong sound at the beginning: “IN-trest-ing” (not “in-te-REST-ing”.)

6. organisation

This is a very universal word in lots of languages, but the “a” sound is often mispronounced to sound like “can” when it should be a very short “uh” sound. You can read more about this sound here. The word is pronounced like this: “or-gn-eye-ZAY-shun”.

7. half

It looks like simple, but this word can cause difficulties, especially when telling the time. The secret is that the “l” is not pronounced, so we actually say “harf”.

8. display

Whilst this word may be used in other languages to describe the screen of an electronic item, it is sometimes stressed differently in those languages. In English, the strong sound should be at the end, i.e. “disPLAY” (not “DISplay”).

9. make-up

This word is similar. In “MAKE-up” the strong sound should be at the beginning, though some other languages that have adopted this word stress the second syllable.

10. clothes

This is a tricky word because we have to combined a voiced ‘th’ and ‘z’ sound. To do this, practise saying “th” like in “the” and “those” and then add a “z” to the end. We move the tongue back slightly in the mouth to move from the first sound to the second. When you feel confident with this, try adding the “clo” sound to the beginning. There is only one syllable in this word: “clothz” (not “clothe-iz”).


Which English words do you find most difficult to pronounce? Feel free to share in the comments below!

By or until?

Should you promise to finish your homework by next week or until next week? Will you send somebody an email by or until tomorrow? Many learners find these two words confusing, particularly because some languages such as German use the same word for both concepts. Here’s a short explanation of the key differences.

By

“By” describes the time before which something is completed. For example, in the sentence “Please finish your homework by Friday”, the homework can be finished on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, any time before Friday. The important thing is that it is finished before then; exactly when is not relevant.

Examples:

  • I need to finish my project by the end of the week.
  • We must deliver the parcel by this evening.
  • You need to book the tickets by Wednesday to get a discount.
  • Could you send me the information by Saturday?

Until

“Until” describes an action that is in progress and will remain in progress up to a point. For example, “I worked until 5 o’clock yesterday” means the working was an ongoing process that continued until 5 o’clock and only stopped at that time. I could also say, “My friend is on holiday until Friday”. They are on holiday now and will stop being on holiday on Friday.

Examples:

  • I will be in a meeting until 5pm this afternoon.
  • They’re staying in Madrid until Sunday.
  • We will be on the train until midday.
  • The party will last until midnight.

Can you think of any more examples with by and until? Or do you have any more questions about this subject? Share them in the comments below.

How to master conditional sentences

Conditional sentences are part of most English books and courses. There are different types with different names and different rules. The name can sound scary, but there are just a few tips and tricks to use to become a conditional sentences expert. Below, I’ve broken these types of sentences down into categories to make it easier to decide which to use.

Things that are always true

When something is always true, we use the present simple in both halves of the sentence. For example:

  • If I’m tired, I go to bed early.
  • If it’s cold outside, I wear a coat.
  • If he’s bored, he plays on his phone.
  • If we get lost, we ask for directions.

In these sentences, we could also use when instead of if and the meaning is the same. Here are more tips on using if and when.

We can also swap all of these sentences round and the meaning stays the same. For example:

  • I go to bed early if I’m tired.

Things that are possible and likely

When something could really happen in the future, we use the present simple in the if half of the sentence and will (or might or may) in the other half. For example:

  • If it rains tomorrow, I’ll stay at home.
  • If I miss the bus, I’ll walk.
  • I’ll give her the book if I see her.
  • They’ll reserve a table if they see a good restaurant.

We can’t use when in these sentences. In most cases, we can’t use if and will in the same half of the sentence. If and will don’t like each other!

Things that are unreal or unlikely

If something is not realistic or not likely to happen, we use the past simple in the if half of the sentence and would or could in the other half. Here are some examples:

  • If I had a car like that, my friends would be jealous!
  • We would be very angry if they lost the key.
  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a boat.
  • I would change the world if I were President.

Again, it’s not possible to use when in these sentences. We should keep if and would in separate sentence halves.

Were or was?

Very often when we talk about unreal or unlikely sentences, we use were instead of was, e.g.:

  • If I were rich, I would buy this house.
  • If I were you, I would forget about it.
  • We would give him the job if he were qualified.
  • I would go out if the weather were better.

When we speak, we sometimes also use was in these sentences.

How do I know what’s possible or likely?

Sometimes it’s not clear if I’m talking about something realistic or unrealistic. In the sentence I would change the world if I were President, it’s clear that this is an unlikely sentence – for most of us! The only option is to use the past simple and would to show that I don’t think this will happen.

But what about this sentence: If it rains tomorrow, I’ll stay at home? In this example, the speaker thinks it’s possible that it could rain tomorrow. But if they thought this was impossible (maybe they’ve checked the weather forecast), they could say: If it rained tomorrow, I would stay at home.

Things in the past

If we’re talking about an unreal situation past, something that didn’t happen and we’re speculating about the possible consequences, we use the past perfect in the if part of the sentence and would/could have + past participle (third form) in the other half.

  • If you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have known.
  • If they hadn’t been late, we would have finished on time.
  • I would have gone on holiday if my flight hadn’t been cancelled.
  • He would have bought the phone if it hadn’t been so expensive.

Here again we can only use if and not when. None of the actions in these sentences can be changed because everything is in the past.

Things in the past affecting now

It’s also possible to combine different types of if sentences to show the effect of the past on now, e.g.:

  • If I had studied more, I would be better prepared.
  • If you had gone to bed earlier, you wouldn’t be so tired now.
  • They’d be fitter if they had done sport more often.
  • He could go home early if he’d worked harder yesterday.

In the if half of the sentence we use the past perfect; in the other half we use would or could and the base form of the main verb.


Do you have more tips for using these sentences? Or do you have any questions about this topic? I’d love to read them!

How to improve your reading skills

Reading is an excellent way to learn new words, learn how native speakers write and improve your language level. Reading regularly can help develop a ‘feeling’ for English. However, reading is also a skill we can learn and there are some techniques that can make it easier. Here are a few tips I give to my students to help them with reading practice.

  1. Look for clues before you read.

Before you read a text, look for clues about what the writer will say. Look at any pictures with the text. What is the title? Will the writer give information or their opinion? Or is it a story? What do you know about this topic already? What words do you think you will see in the text? Maybe not all our ideas will be correct, but thinking about the topic before you read the text helps us to understand more.

2. Read the text more than once.

If you’re reading a short text or news article, read it more than once. The first time, just read quickly for the main points in the text. Then the second time, you can read more slowly and look at the details in the text.

3. You don’t need to understand every word.

It’s natural to want to understand every word when you read a text in your new language, but this isn’t necessary to understand the text. In our native languages there are words we don’t understand, but we still understand the sentence or text as a whole. It’s also a lot of work to look up every new word in the dictionary. Only look up a new word if it’s repeated a lot or if it’s important for the meaning of part of the text.

4. Use what you know.

If you don’t know a word, use what you know. Does it look like another word you know in English? Or does it look like a word in your own language or in Latin? Does the word have a prefix or suffix (groups of letters at the beginning or end) you know?

Use your knowledge of the topic. What would fit in the sentence? For example, in the sentence ‘At school the —— help the students learn’ I can use my knowledge to guess that the word is teachers.

5. Look at the whole sentence.

If we look at the whole sentence, we can often see what kind of word a new word is. For example, in the sentence ‘At school the —— help the students learn‘ the unknown word is after an article and before a verb, so I can guess that it’s a noun and the subject of a sentence. In the sentence ‘In the evening I —– TV’ there is no other verb in the sentence, so we know this word must be a verb.

6. Look back and ahead.

If we don’t understand a word or part of a sentence, we can often find clues in the sentences before or afterwards. For example, the unknown word in this sentence is not clear: ‘This city is known for its ——-.’ Lots of words could fit this sentence! But if we read the next sentence, we understand the meaning: ‘These small bears look for food in rubbish bins.’

7. Test your ideas.

When we have some ideas what a word could mean, we can test them. Put your idea into the sentence and continue reading. If the idea still fits, it could be correct!

8. Have fun!

My last tip is to choose a text you are interested in. Learning a language should be fun and it’s more motivating to read about topics you want to learn about. Here are some good websites written for people learning English, but there are also so many websites, news sites and blogs out there. There really is something for everyone.


What are your favourite things to read in English? Do you have more tips for improving reading skills?

Four websites to practise reading in English

Reading is a great way to improve your vocabulary, see how structures are used and develop a feeling for a language and how native speakers write. Reading is also very easy to practise online by yourself; there are thousands of texts out there to read!

If you don’t feel confident enough to read news stories and other websites, you could try some texts for people learning English. Ideally, you should be able to understand the main points of a text without a dictionary.

My students often ask what they can read to practise, so I have made a short list of some of the sites I would recommend. (I don’t have any connections with these sites; they’re just my preferences.)

Breaking News English

Levels: beginner – advanced

Text length: short

I often ask my students to read texts from Breaking News English. Every two or three days there is a new story written at a number of different levels. Sometimes they are stories you read in the newspaper; sometimes they are funny or interesting stories from around the world. The great thing about this website is the texts are very short, so it doesn’t take long to read a story. Because each text is available at different levels, you can read the right level for you. For example, if a text at Level 4 is too easy, you can just switch to Level 5. (Level 0 is easiest and Level 6 is most difficult.)

News in Levels

Levels: lower intermediate – advanced

Text length: short – medium

News in Levels also has lots of short news stories. Each story is written at three levels. (Level 1 is the easiest and Level 3 is the most difficult.) The best thing about this site is that they describe the most difficult words at the end of the text, so you don’t need to look in a dictionary. There are also short videos that go with the texts. You can use these as listening practice or to practise pronunciation.

British Council

Levels: beginner – advanced

Text length: medium – long

The British Council has so many great resources for practising English. Their reading section is divided into levels. In each level, you can choose a text that interests you. The texts are about everyday life and general interest topics. What I really like about this site are the exercises for each text. You can do them interactively online, or you can download all the activities and the text as a PDF. You can also check the answers yourself, so it’s like a mini English lesson.

Cambridge English

Levels: beginner – advanced

Text length: short – medium

Cambridge English, who write lots of exams for people learning English, also have some nice reading activities. You can filter the activities by level and how long they last. Most of the activities are on everyday topics. In each activity, you read a text and then do a multiple choice quiz to check what you’ve learnt. It’s a great way to check what you understand.


These are just a few of the many websites out there. I’d love to hear about the websites you use to practise reading! 🙂

Telling the time in English

In the last few posts, I’ve written about using prepositions to talk about times and places, and about dates in English. Something else my students find difficult is telling the time in English. How many ways are there to say each time? When do we use am and pm? When do we say o’clock? Do English speakers use the twenty-four hour clock? Read on for answers to these questions and more.

How many different ways are there to tell the time?

There are at least two ways to say each time: the analogue and the digital time. If you feel unsure about the times, the digital times might be easier to start with. You just say what you see, and you can be sure everyone understands the time you want to say. Here are examples of digital times:

  • 11:00 eleven (am)
  • 11:05 eleven oh five
  • 11:10 eleven ten
  • 11:15 eleven fifteen
  • 11:30 eleven thirty
  • 11:40 eleven forty
  • 11:45 eleven forty-five
  • 11:55 eleven fifty-five

And here are the analogue ones:

  • 11:00 eleven (o’clock) (in the morning)
  • 11:05 five past eleven
  • 11:10 ten past eleven
  • 11:15 quarter past eleven
  • 11:30 half (past) eleven
  • 11:40 twenty to twelve
  • 11:45 quarter to twelve
  • 11:55 five to twelve

When do we use the twenty-four clock?

Generally, we only use the twenty-four hour clock (e.g. 16:00 or 21:30) when we’re talking about travel arrangements like flight or train times, or when we want to be very specific. You can sometimes see it written, particularly on timetables, but we rarely use the twenty-four hour clock when we speak.

When do we use am / pm?

As we don’t often use the twenty-four clock when we speak, we normally go back to one when we reach twelve at midday. To make it clear whether we’re talking about the morning or the evening, we can use am or pm. Am is for 00:00 – 11:59 and pm for 12:00 – 23:59. For example:

I’m meeting a friend at 2pm.

My appointment is at 11am.

Similary, we can also say in the morning or in the afternoon/evening:

I’m meeting a friend at two in the afternoon.

My appointment is at eleven in the morning.

However, if it is already clear from the context whether we’re talking about the morning or evening, there’s no need to say am/pm or in the morning/afternoon/evening. For example:

I’m meeting a friend at two. (It’s not likely that we’re meeting at two in the morning.)

My appointment is at eleven. (I probably don’t have an appointment with the doctor, mechanic, etc. late in the evening.)

When do we say o’clock?

We say o’clock for full hours, for example, three o’clock or ten o’clock. We can’t say o’clock with times like half past, ten to, etc. or with the twenty-four clock. We also can’t use it with am and pm, but we can say it before in the morning/afternoon/evening.

It’s three o’clock.

It’s ten o’clock in the morning.

Its ten past four o’clock.

It’s fifteen o’clock.

It’s nine o’clock am.

Common mistakes when telling the time

  • I start work at 8 o’clock am in the morning.–> We can just choose one from o’clock, am and in the morning, or we leave out all of those words as it’s clear from the context it’s probably the morning.
  • We’re meeting at five hours.–> Unlike in some other languages, English doesn’t use the word hour to tell the time. We can leave out the word hours or replace it with o’clock/pm/in the evening.
  • 09:30 “half (past) ten–> In English, we also use half to say it’s thirty minutes past the hour. For example, 09:30 is half past nine and 14:30 is half past two. Particularly British English speakers often say half nine for 09:30 half two for 14:30.
  • 09:45 quarter for ten –> The minutes on the right side of the clock are past (e.g. ten past, twenty past), and the minutes of the left are to (e.g. twenty to, ten to). For 09:45 we say quarter to ten.
  • The train leaves at ten past fifteen. –> If we we use the twenty-four hour clock, then it’s always in digital form, e.g. fifteen ten.

Do you have any tips for telling the time? Is it very different from the times in your language? I’d love to read your comments below. 🙂