Collocations and Verb Phrases

How can you understand collocations and verb phrases in English? Why do you make the bed, but do the dishes? This confuses many English language students. It is very important for learners to understand common collocations and verb phrases. Everyday English is made up of thousands of these, many of which native speakers may not even realize they are using.

For example: Why do English speakers eat fast food, but not quick food? This is common collocation in English. Fast and food are just always used together or collocate.

Are there rules to know when to use certain words together? Not really! That’s the interesting thing about English! Collocations and verb phrases can vary, as well. You may find them to be different in different areas. Think about how in the United States you grab some take out food, but in Britain, it’s take away food.

To properly understand collocations and verb phrases, a learner simply needs to learn them as a whole unit, like a vocabulary word. This can be done by memorization, but as I suggest, learning by listening and then using helps your brain get used to what “sounds right”. By exposure to the use of them in naturally occurring conversation, music, movies, T.V, and even in literature, you can learn them the way a native speaker learns even the trickiest collocations and verb phrases.

Idioms are closely related to collocations and verb phrases. Idioms differ because they are sayings, or made up of a longer phrase of words. Collocations and verb phrases, although occasionally longer, are usually just two words. The individual words may or may not contribute to the actual meaning. In general, collocations and verb phrases are easier to figure out than idioms based on their individual words.

So take a break, and watch the YouTube blog video I’ve made on this subject!

Click here!

Interview with an English Teacher

My friend, Bryan, is an English teacher in China. Currently, he’s teaching elementary school age learners. He’s got quite a bit of teaching experience, and has mastered the ability to make English fun and interesting for his students. Bryan also has learned Mandarin and Cantonese fluently, making his living experience in China especially enjoyable and rich. Bryan is a perfect example of a successful ESL teacher that loves his job and has been able to help many people succeed in learning English, while getting the most out of the local culture.

Watch the YouTube video link to see my interview with Bryan.

Here is a list of Bryan’s tips for learning English. These are not only helpful for students of English, but also ESL teachers and all language learners.

Biggest Obstacles:

  1. Pronunciation. Perfect your pronunciation by watching native speakers. Chinese speakers often have trouble pronouncing the “th” sound. Mimic American English speakers and don’t be shy about sticking your tongue out a little bit.
  2. Grammar. In Chinese, there are tones which English speakers find difficult to master, but English has 16 different time frame tenses. These are complicated, and even native speakers don’t use or understand them all. Don’t worry too much about grammar, just work on being understood.

Mastering Fluency:

  1. Live the language. Bryan relates how he was forced to become fluent in Chinese when his roommate didn’t speak English. It forced him to communicate as best he could, and this made him learn quicker. Don’t worry about being ‘book smart’ when it comes to a language, get out there and use it. Put yourself in situations where you use the language.
  2. Watch videos. Watch videos and TV in English. Don’t just watch them to be entertained, watch them to learn something. Repeat what you are watching, even if you learn just a few sentences. Go ahead and learn things, even if they seem silly. Bryan learned how to ask people if they prefer cats or dogs and then went to China Town in New York and asked every Chinese person he could find his question.
  3. It takes time. Bryan estimates it takes 3 years to become fluent enough to hold a conversation in English for about an hour. This could vary, depending on the person and learning opportunities. The important thing is not to give up, but keep trying and learning. Don’t worry if after years of learning, you still don’t understand everything, that’s normal.

Word Roots, Suffixes and Prefixes

How can a better knowledge of word roots, suffixes and prefixes help you make progress in your English? Well, understanding these helps you understand difficult or long words better. A word root is the basic foundation of a word. It may or may not be a word on its own. Prefixes are added to the front of a word, and suffixes are added to the end of a word. Click to watch the YouTube blog video below to learn more!

Word Roots Video

Want to learn more about these building blocks of words? Check out this website link from Learn that Word. (Click here) for word roots and prefixes and this one also from Learn that Word (Click here) of suffixes. This website is a comprehensive dictionary of all these word pieces. By learning what the word roots, prefixes and suffixes mean in a word, you can more easily break down a difficult word and make sense of it.

Try it: Can you identify the word roots, prefixes and/or suffixes in these words:

  1. Interrupt
  2. Brilliant
  3. Countable
  4. Unbelievable
  5. Prepackaged
  6. Musician
  7. Spectator
  8. Zoology
  9. Sectarianism
  10. Digestion





Interjections and Bears in Yosemite National Park!

Recently, I have been on vacation to see some of the popular places in California. My wife and I went on a two week long road trip to see the Eastern Sierras, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Napa Valley and the Pacific Coast Highway. We kept a blog about our adventures at

While on my trip, I decided to take the opportunity to film a blog video. I had a last minute change of topic, when we encountered a bear family on our hike. I decided that talking about the use of interjections, or exclamatory remarks, would be appropriate. My fellow hikers and I all used various interjections to express our surprise and even fear at seeing the bears. Bears can be dangerous to hikers, especially if a mother bear has cubs. Fortunately we were able to give the bears enough space, and they didn’t mind us sharing the trail with them. Check out my blog video to find out more about using interjections in everyday speech and writing.

Should I Use Good or Well?

Good and well are often mixed up by both native and non-native speakers. Have you ever been corrected when someone asks “How are you?” and you reply “Good!”, and then they say “Don’t you mean well?”  This post will explore the difference between the words and when to properly use each word.

“Hello, how are you?” Good or well?

In short, the difference is that well describes how someone does something, whereas good is a word that describes a noun. Good is an adjective and well is an adverb. For example:  I had a good time last night, everything went well. Both words have a similar meaning of a positive description of something or someone. Since good is an adjective, be sure there is a noun nearby for good to describe. For example, “That is a good dog!” Good also has comparative and superlative forms, better and best.  Well, being an adverb, is used to describe a verb, an adjective, another adverb or a sentence in general. Well also shows degree by being an adverb. There is no comparative or superlative form, since it is an adverb. Understanding that good and well are simply two different types of words makes it easier to understand why they are not interchangeable, yet have similar meanings, especially in informal speech.

It is important for English learners to understand that many people, including many native speakers, incorrectly use good when they mean well.  Although I never encourage bad English habits, the reality is that it happens all the time in everyday speech. “Good” is usually an acceptable answer for “How are you doing?”, even though technically it is grammatically incorrect. It may have something to do with language learning as children, good is a concept and word commonly learned long before well. The habit of using it as a positive descriptor for all situations sticks and sounds more informal and easy to native speakers. That is why people rarely if ever use well when they mean good.

Learn this:  The expression “It’s all good” is slang for everything is fine or ok. It can also mean that someone has a situation under control, and they know what they are doing.

Father:”Did you get your homework done?”

Son: “Nope, but it’s all good, I’ll do it later”

6 Keys to Fluency: 6. Don’t Get Discouraged

This is the final post in my six-part series about achieving fluency in English.  In this video I talk about what naturally happens when you learn a language, you plateau.  This point is when the majority of language-learners give up, because they get discouraged.  Don’t let that happen to you!  Discouragement is like a poison that slowly eats away at your desire to learn.  Keep that desire strong with an incentive and look for progress you are still making, even if it is imperceptible.  (Watch the video to see these words in bold defined.)

Keep learning, and as always, thanks for watching and reading!  I’m working on an exciting new project with Details to come about my new course that helps you get beyond the basics and master the English language. Don’t forget, if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.  I love to hear from students! My students are my incentive for teaching!

6 Keys to Fluency: 5. Don’t Get Hung Up on Grammar

When you get hung up on something, that means you are stuck on it in the sense that you are thinking too much about it or worrying about it.  Getting hung up on grammar means to worrying so much about how you are saying something, that you can’t concentrate, or think about, what you are saying (or what another person is telling you) to have a fluent conversation.  Paying too much attention to being grammatically correct becomes distracting to your brain, and then you cannot focus on the quick back and forth of a conversation in English.

This is not an unusual problem for learners.  I have met many English language learners that score really well on exams and probably know more about English grammar than I do, but have a difficult time keeping a normal conversation going in English.  Instead of approaching the complications of English grammar from an academic standpoint and memorizing the long lists of rules and exceptions to rules, it is better to learn it the way most native speakers learn it, by listening and practical usage.  If you ask a native speaker why he uses grammar in a certain way,  he will probably reply that “it sounds right”.   That’s the way most native speakers figure out the correct answers on grammar exams too! (and the reason why so many native speakers have bad grammar habits)

Of course, some basic grammar rules must be learned, and even memorized.  There is no way around that in any language.  However, beyond the basics, listening to English conversations and learning the way phrases are used by native speakers goes much farther in helping a student become fluent. I personally hate teaching advanced grammar rules to students, mainly because it is boring and complicated both for them and me.  Over the years, I have made an extensive study of the English language and all of its peculiarities, and I still am learning new things about grammar all the time.  So don’t worry too much about having perfect grammar when you are speaking to someone, chances are that no one will even notice if you make a mistake or two.

Thanks for reading my blog.  It is very important to me to meet the needs of learners of all types.  Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment about anything you would like me to talk about in the blog or check out my Facebook page for more cool stuff.  I also have video course available for purchase on  If there are any topics you would like me to host a course on, please let me know!  If I use your suggestion in my next course, I will make the course available to you at no charge.