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!

Why Doesn’t English Use Gender?

Many languages assign a gender to nouns. For example in Spanish, the house translates to la casa. The article la indicates that the noun, casa, is female. The gender usually has nothing to do with the meaning of the word. It often just relates to the morphology or phonology of the word. Since many Indo-European languages follow the same pattern, such as French, Latin, Russian, German and Italian, it seems reasonable to think that English would have gender assigned to nouns as well, but of course it does not.

While we may think of gender related pronouns, he, she, his or her, these are actually rarely used with inanimate nouns. The only really common examples I can think of are when referring to a ship or a nation. For example,  She has a beautiful set of sails. Gender assignment may occasionally be used poetically in literature, as well, but it is not found in the general use of English.  My YouTube video explains why. It is actually a very logical reason that has a lot to do with Vikings.


What is the Difference Between a Linguist, Grammarian and Lexicographer?

Some students of language have wondered about the difference in the language professionals, namely a linguistic, grammarian and lexicographer. I would like to take a moment and explain the difference in the video blog below. It is really quite simple, although it must be noted that many language professionals may fall into more than one category.

Video Link

Personally, I am not a grammarian at all. I really hate grammar with all its complicated rules. Like most native speakers, I don’t rely on grammar rules, just experience of what ‘sounds right’. I often have to look up grammar information to answer student questions or provide explanations of why a grammar point is what it is. It’s clear that I’m not a grammarian. While I enjoy dictionaries and English word etymologies, I don’t think of myself as so much of a lexicographer. What I find most interesting is the study of linguistics, not just English but language in general. I love learning about language, how the brain processes it and how people learn and use it. I use this information to help my students learn in a better way. Look for information about all the disciplines of language study on my blog and in my videos.


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





Aaron’s Three Interesting Facts about English

Editors Note: Sorry for the delay in publishing new information. Here at Aaron’s English we’ve been working on updating our video format to make it more fun and interesting. After all, that’s what we are all about, real-world fun and interesting English learning. In addition, Aaron is expanding his own skills with college courses on the subject of linguistics . 

I thought I would share with you my favorite three things about the English language. While it may be easy to guess that I love talking about English, I really do believe there is so much value in learning English and expanding your fluency in it. So here are my favorite fun facts about English (Don’t forget to watch the YouTube video link too):

1. Although English is categorized as a Germanic language, the language that we tend to borrow the least from is German. We borrow much more from other languages. Some have the mistaken idea that German is somehow the parent language or root of English. However, English and German both developed and evolved independently from one another from one common language.

2. English is probably the most important language of practical use to learn. I know many people will be quick to point out that Chinese is spoken by more people than any other language. They’d be correct in saying that but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to go out and start learning Chinese (unless you’re planning on moving to a Chinese speaking country). The simple fact of the matter is that English is a global language. Most scientific papers are published in English, almost half of the business deals done in Europe are done in English, it’s the official language of air traffic controllers, and there are currently over a billion people currently learning English. It’s the official language of 4 countries, 64 sovereign states, and 27 non-sovereign entities. (See the illustration below) That’s certainly some incentive to learn English! Which by the way, there are more English-language-learners than there are actual native English speakers.

Countries in which English is the first language of the majority of the population. (shown in dark blue); other countries present possess substantial English knowledge dating back to the British Empire (shown in light blue) Source: Wikipedia “English Speaking World”

3.  English is one of the only languages that has a thesaurus. Japanese makes use of one as well, but this is a rare exception. The reason English needs a thesaurus is that English borrows so much from other languages that it necessitates a thesaurus. English borrows from Anglo-Saxon, Norse, Latin, French, Greek, etc. so we’ve adopted and adapted these to English. Interestingly, when using a thesaurus you’ll, more often than not, find words with different shades of meaning. Some are more technical, archaic, slangy, scholarly, or literary. It’s important that you use the word most commonly used to the audience you’re writing for or talking to.

Video link:   YouTube Aaron’s English Page

Q & A about Gerunds

Have you ever been confused by a gerund? Don’t be! Gerunds are a simple English grammar concept. Let’s answer some questions about gerunds.

What is a gerund?

A gerund is formed from a verb but acts as a noun. A gerund always ends in –ing. Running, walking, driving. Gerunds are actions.

What is the difference between a gerund and a noun?

Although gerunds act as nouns, they are not people, places or things. Gerunds are actions. They name activities, behaviors, or states of mind and being.

What is the difference between a gerund and a present participle?

The –ing form of a verb can be used either as a gerund or a present participle. A present participle is the form of a verb that is used in continuous tenses, I’m thinking; alone in nonfinite clauses, thinking about it, I’m not sure what to do; as a noun, that’s good thinking; or as an adjective, running water. This can be tricky, and in most cases, unless you are studying for a grammar exam, it isn’t really important to know the difference. Native English speakers don’t usually know (or care) whether they are using a gerund or a present participle, they just know the –ing form of the word sounds right.

What is the difference between a gerund and an infinitive?

Infinitives are “to” plus a verb. to run, to walk, to drive.

Both gerunds and infinitives can be subjects in a sentence or be the object of a verb. Running is enjoyable. To run is enjoyable. I like walking. I like to walk.  However a gerund can be the object of a preposition, while an infinitive cannot. He is enjoying running in the park.

When should I use a gerund, and when do I use an infinitive?

Use a gerund in sentences about concrete (or real) actions, and ones that happened and are over. I like running. Running is a real and concrete action. We went walking in the park. Walking is an action, it happened and is now over. While infinitives are sometimes used as objects of a preposition, most speakers generally prefer to use gerunds. She bought new shoes for running on the track.

Infinitives are better suited for describing actions that are abstract, unreal, or will occur in the future. I asked him to walk with me. “to walk” is an action planned in the future. I told him to refuse to come. “to refuse” is an abstract action. While an infinitive can appear at the beginning of a sentence as the subject, it is more common for speakers to use an infinitive as a subject complement instead. His favorite activity is to walk in the park.

The best way to learn to use gerunds is by listening to how they are used by native English speakers. Pay attention to when speakers and writers use the –ing form of verbs.

How Do You Know How the Letter ‘C’ Should be Pronounced?

My last post was about that tricky vowel ‘Y’. This topic leads to the question about the consonant ‘C’. Sometimes ‘C’ is pronounced as a ‘K’ and sometimes as an ‘S’. Do you know why? Do you know how to tell the pronunciation of the ‘C’ when reading an unfamiliar word? Watch my latest video to find out the answer! You will also find out why the word ‘circle’ is pronounced the way it is.

In the video I talked about assibilation. This is a linguist term that has to do with the way a sound can change. It means the sound is changed to sibilant sound. A sibilant sound is made with air flowing over the tongue and across the edge of the teeth, like the hissing sound of the letter ‘s’.  ‘C’ when it is pronounced as an ‘s’ is a good example of this process. You don’t have to understand the complicated terminology or components of linguistics to understand the concepts! You can improve your pronunciation and reading skills simply by learning to recognize a few linguistic basics, like how the vowel sound can affect a letter like ‘C’.