the difference between words: it and this/that


One of the most difficult things to understand for my students is knowing when to use “it” and when to use “that” (or sometimes “this”). I have to admit that I found it difficult to explain this but I think I’ve managed to come up with a few rules about the usage of these pronouns.

First of all, it’s important to note that the pronouns “this” and “that” are stronger in nature than “it”. They are generally used to emphasize something. However, it is important to note that something is usually only emphasized once in a space of one or two sentences. We use “this” or “that” to emphasize it first and after that we use “it”. For example:

A: What is this?

B: It‘s a toy for children.

I don’t know what this is used for. Do you think it‘s used in the kitchen?

A: Is that a cat?

B: No, I think it‘s a rabbit.

I can’t understand why you did that. It was a really stupid thing to do.

We also use “that” to make reference to something a person has just said in the previous sentence or statement. This can be someone else the speaker is talking to, or it can be the speaker himself or herself. For example:

A: We should paint our house yellow.

B: I don’t think that is such a good idea.

I think it would be a good idea for you to eat more vegetables. That will help you lose weight.

We can sometimes use “this” instead of “that” when it’s the same person speaking, but this will make the explanation seem more intimate. It is often used when doing some kind of presentation or demonstration. For example:

You should cut up the onions very finely. This will allow them to cook more quickly.

It’s important to note that it makes a difference if the original noun is an object or an idea. If it’s an object, we often use “it” as the pronoun. However, if the original noun is an idea or something non-tangible, we often use “that” or “this” as the pronoun. For example:

Peter thinks we should get a bigger sign. He says it will help us increase sales.

Peter thinks we should move to a new location downtown. He says that will help us increase sales.

In the first sentence, the pronoun “it” refers to a physical object, the sign; however, in the second sentence the pronoun “that” refers to an idea, the plan to move to a new location.

I hope today’s blog entry helps people understand this complex feature of English a little better.



the difference between words: at and in


Today’s entry is a seemingly simple one, but it’s something that confuses the majority of my students. It is the difference in usage between the prepositions “at” and “in”.

There are several ways to use prepositions, but for the purposes of this blog entry, I’m going to focus on using them to talk about places.

When we are talking about places, we use “at” to talk about a location such as a school, store, hospital, etc. These locations exist within a wider, spread out area. We use “in” to talk about that wider area. For example:

Right now, I’m at a hospital in Brentwood.

When you called I was shopping at the department store.

A: Where do you live?

B: I live in Shinjuku in Tokyo.

We use “at” for ‘hospital’ and ‘department store’ because they are small locations, we use “in” for ‘Brentwood’, ‘Shinjuku’ and ‘Tokyo’ because they are wider areas. It doesn’t matter how big the wider area is; we always use “in” for these situations. Therefore, we could say “in New York”, “in the United States”, “in North America”, and “in the world”. However, if we talk about planets, such as Earth, Mars, or Jupiter, we use “on”.

It’s important to note that it is possible to say “in” for a location such as a school, store, hospital, etc. In these cases, we are talking about being physically inside the building. Therefore, if person A and person B are at a hospital and person A is inside the building and person B is outside the building, we can say that person A is “in the hospital” and “at the hospital”, but person B is only “at the hospital”. We CANNOT say person B is “in the hospital” because they are not inside the physical building.

the difference between words: lie and lay


Hello again. I’m back after a long break, and I have a complicated but important entry for you today. This one is about two verbs that have long confused even native English speakers: lie and lay.

The chief difference between these two verbs is about whether it’s about a person or a thing. If we’re talking about a person (or an animal) putting their own body on something, we use “lie”, and if we’re talking about a person setting a thing on a certain surface, we use “lay”. For example:

I want to lie down on my bed and take a nap.

The cat often tries to lie on my computer while I’m trying to work.

Please lay the package on the table.

I will lay my textbook next to my bed so I can study it easily.

As you can see from these example, the verb “lie” is intransitive, which means that it doesn’t have an object. The verb “lay”, on the other hand, is transitive, so it always has an object. Please note that we often use the word “down” after “lie”, as in my first example.

When we use these verbs in the past tense, it becomes a little confusing. This is because the past tense form of “lie” is “lay”, and the past tense form of “lay” is “laid”. For example:

I lay down on my bed and took a nap.

The cat lay on my computer while I was trying to work.

I laid the package on the table yesterday.

I laid my textbook next to my bed so I could study it easily.

It’s also important to note the -ing form of these verbs. For “lie” it is “lying”, and for “lay” it is “laying”. For example:

I was lying down on my bed when you called me.

The cat is lying on my computer now.

A: What are you doing?

B: I’m laying the package on the table.

The most important thing to remember about these verbs is that the past tense of the verb “lie” (“lay”) is the same as the present tense verb “lay”.

Also please note the past participle forms in red:

lie – lay – lain

lay – laid – laid

idiom: par for the course


This is my first blog entry for a while and this time I’d like to teach you another idiom: par for the course. We use this when we want to talk about something happening that we think is usual or typical for a certain situation. In other words, we expect this thing to happen in the situation because it’s happened many times before. Let me give you some examples using this idiom.

At my company, Bill got promoted instead of Mary. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course at my company; the women almost never get promoted.

Don’t expect Nancy to come to the party on time. Being late is par for the course with her.

Working until late at night is par for the course at my office.

Please note that we always put some form of the verb “be” in front of this idiom.

This expression comes from the sport of golf. In golf, “par” is the typical number of strokes it takes to complete one hole or one game. Therefore, the word “course” in this expression is referring to a golf course.

However, the meaning of “par for the course” has been expanded from referring to the typical number of strokes in a game of golf to mean a typical thing to be expected in a situation.

idiom: to put something on the back burner


Today I’d like to write about the idiom, to put something “on the back burner”. We use this expression when we want to talk about postponing doing something. The postponement happens usually because we feel the activity is less important than other things we have to do, and therefore it can be delayed. The activity can also be delayed because we feel it’s not possible to do it at the moment. Here are some example sentences using this idiom.

This new project is really important, so I have to put my current project on the back burner for a little while.

My boss wants me to put my research for the ABC project on the back burner because he wants to focus on the XYZ project.

I don’t have much money, so I’m going to put buying a car on the back burner for now.

This expression is often used in business situations, but not always. We sometimes use it to talk about personal plans, such as in my third example.

This expression comes from the idea of cooking something on a stove. In many western countries we have four elements, or burners, on our stoves. The ones closest to us when we’re cooking are the front burners and the ones farthest away are the back burners. If we’re cooking something that is more important we usually use the front burners but if something is less important, or will take longer to cook, it’s often put on the back burner of the stove.



the difference between words: study and learn


Sometimes my students get confused about when to use “study” and when to use “learn”. Therefore, I would like to write about that in today’s blog entry.

Both words are used to convey the idea of trying to intake information in order to become more knowledgeable or intelligent. When we put them in order, however, we have to place “study” first, and then “learn” after that. Therefore, when we “study” we are reading, watching or listening to something in order to keep it in our memories. If we do this successfully, we can say that we “learned” it. Let me give you some example sentences using these words.

I have to study fifty new words for my final exam in Spanish. I hope I can learn all of them.

I studied really hard in my history class, but I couldn’t learn all of the information.

I learned a lot in my economics class because I studied every day.

As I said before, learning is successful studying. Therefore, just because you study something doesn’t mean you will learn it. But if you never study at all, then you will never learn.

In addition, it’s possible for us to learn something and then over a period of time, forget it. I’m sure all of us have had this experience when we think about our high school or university days.

We can also “learn” something in ways that don’t involve studying. All of us learn things just from living our lives and making mistakes. Some people don’t learn from their mistakes, but I hope that most of us do.

adjectives: plausible / implausible


For today’s blog entry, I’d like to go over the adjectives “plausible” and “implausible”. We use them when we want to talk about something which a person says that likely to be believed or not believed. We can also use them when we are trying to figure out if something is true or not. Finally, they can be used to talk about the believability of a story in a novel, movie, or TV show. Let me give you some example sentences using them.

I was late for work because I overslept, but I can’t tell my boss that. I have to think of a plausible excuse for being late.

I can’t tell my boss that I was mugged on my way to work. This is a safe city, so that would be totally implausible.

Some people don’t think it’s plausible that a meteor hitting the earth could cause the dinosaurs to die, but I think it’s totally plausible.

Some people think it’s implausible that a meteor hitting the earth could cause the dinosaurs to die, but I don’t agree.

I like action movies even though most of the time the stories are not plausible at all.

I like action movies even though most of the time the stories are completely implausible.

The word “plausible” is used positively, and the word “implausible” is used negatively, so they are the opposite of each other. However, we can also say “not plausible”, as in my fifth example sentence. The only difference between “not plausible” and “implausible” is that “implausible” is slightly more formal than the other one.

Please note that we don’t usually use words like “very” or “really” to emphasize these adjectives. Instead, it’s more common to use words such as “totally” and “completely” in order to emphasize them.

grammatical expression: little did (I) know


For today, I want to go over the expression “little did I know”. We can also change the word “I” to other words such as “he”, “she”, “we”, etc. We use this when we want to talk about a person who doesn’t know an important piece of information about a situation, but they find out about it after it’s too late. Here are some ways to use it in sentences.

I bought my house last year. Little did I know that the real estate market would drop so much. I wish I had waited.

We invested money in ABC Company. Little did we know they would go bankrupt. I wish we had invested in another company.

My sister really regrets marrying her husband. Little did she know when she married him that he would cheat on her all the time. She’s filing for divorce now.

My brother and his wife recently moved to a city on the coast. Little did they know there would be so many mosquitoes there in the summer. I hope they’re ok.

With this expression, the information that the person didn’t know about is always negative. The idea is that if they had known that information before, they would have made a different choice. Therefore, this is a way to express regret for a bad choice in the past.

We use “would” + verb to explain the negative situation after “little did (I) know”.

Please note that we can use the word “that” to link “little did (I) know” to the next sentence, but this is optional. If we omit it, the sentence still makes sense.

the difference between words: affect and effect


This is my first blog entry for 2016. I hope everyone had a very happy new year! Today I want to write about the difference between the two words “affect” and “effect”. They’re quite similar, especially in spelling, and even native English speakers can get confused between them sometimes. The main difference between them, apart from the spelling, is that “affect” is a verb, and “effect” is a noun.

We use the verb “affect” when we want to talk about something or something that makes a change or reaction in a certain person, place, or thing. We use the noun “effect” to talk about the change or reaction itself. Let me give you some examples.

The bad weather we’ve been having recently is really affecting our business. Our sales have gone down.

The bad weather we’ve been having recently is really having a bad effect on our business. Our sales have gone down.

The color of the walls tends to affect my mood. If the walls are green or blue, I feel more relaxed.

The color of the walls tends to have an effect on my mood. If the walls are green or blue, I feel more relaxed.

As my examples show, both of these words can be used to indicate negative or positive reactions.

Please note that we use the verb “have” with “effect” and it is followed by the preposition “on”.  We can also place an adjective in front of the word “effect”. The adjectives most commonly used are “good” and “bad”. This is the case of my second example sentence. In the case of my last example, we could also say:

Blue or green walls tend  to have a good effect on my mood.

I hope that is clear to everyone. Have a great 2016 and I’ll write another blog entry next month.




idiom: to talk someone’s ear off


For my final blog entry of 2015, I’d like to write about the idiom “talk someone’s ear off”. We use it when we want to talk about a person who is talking a lot to another person. Let me give you some ways to use it in sentences.

Don’t sit with Betty at the party. She’ll talk your ear off all night.

Peter is a very talkative person. He can talk anyone’s ear off.

I asked my teacher a simple question about my assignment, and he talked my ear off for the next hour.

My mother has changed a lot. When she was younger, she used to talk my father’s ear off, but now she’s extremely quiet. I wonder why she changed.

We usually use this expression in grammatically positive sentences.

This expression is a bit negative in tone. The feeling is that the person is talking too much, and the other person doesn’t like it so much. However, please note that it’s not extremely negative; just a little bit.

Please note that we don’t put an “s” at the end of “ear” if there is just one person who is being talked to. However, if there is more than one person who is listening, we add an “s”. For example: “The professor talked the ears off the students in his class.”

We can use this in casual business situations, but it’s not usually used in formal situations.

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