Posted in Writing advice

Eleven Popular English Idioms And What They Mean

Language changes and evolves year after year and for the non-native speaker it can be hard to keep up with but there are some examples of natural, or idiomatic, English that have endured. Here we take a look at some of the more popular idioms, what they mean and where they’re from.

Raining cats and dogs

If there’s one thing the English like talking about, it’s the weather and this phrase simply means it’s raining hard. This expression can be traced back to the mid-17th century but probably stems from Norse mythology.

Once in a blue moon

This expression means something that doesn’t happen very often and probably refers to a full moon and the number of times it occurs during a calendar month. To see a full moon twice in a month is very rare indeed.

Mad as a hatter

Contrary to popular belief this expression doesn’t come from Alice In Wonderland but instead from France in the 17th century where hat makers were driven insane because of the mercury used in the hat making process.

Barking up the wrong tree

An expression that means to get something wrong. This probably refers to hunting dogs getting the wrong hiding place of their prey.

Bury the hatchet

Like the expression suggests it means a lull in hostilities. Dates back to the United States of America and the war between the Puritans and Native Americans. In the event of a treaty, the Native Americans would bury their weapons as a sign of peace.

Head in the clouds

To be away with the fairies or distracted and not grounded in reality. It is unclear where this expression originates from but is probably self-explanatory.

Know the ropes

Simply means to understand how something works or to be experienced in something. Originating from the early 19th century where knowing the ropes of a sailboat was a useful and often necessary skill.

Caught red-handed

To be found in the act of doing something wrong. This is an old English expression concerned with the killing of animals that didn’t belong to the slaughterer, who would still bear the animal’s blood.

Drive me up the wall

Something that is making you crazy! The timing of this expression is unknown but the meaning relates to climbing a wall in order to escape from something.

Larger than life

Used to describe the character of a person who is outgoing and flamboyant. Originally used to describe British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Extend the olive branch

To make peace with an enemy. This expression stems from the Bible and relates to a dove bringing back an olive branch to Noah to show the flood waters were abating.

Posted in Writing advice

Is English The Hardest Language To Learn?

Language students across the world ask the same question: why is English so hard to learn? The answer is that, for many students, English is hard to learn because it involves memorizing a whole new alphabet, grammatical structure and set of rules.

While English may not be the hardest language to learn, it certainly has its challenges:


This alone can pose a number of issues with differences in pronunciation for seemingly random words, take ‘tough’ and ‘bough’ for example, same ending, completely different sound. No wonder language learners complain that English is hard.


One of the areas in English that requires careful study. From present perfect continuous to dangling modifiers, grasping the subtleties of English grammar makes the difference between an English speaker and a proficient English speaker.


In the English language there are many words that sound the same but have different meanings, for example ‘there’, ‘they’re’ and ‘their’ – three words that sound the same but have different meanings; there a number of these groups in English. In some cases, the words are spelt the same and pronounced differently, as in “he wound the watch up” and “he bandaged the wound”.


Regional accents are another challenge and can make English hard to learn. Different accents change vowels and consonants, sometimes creating different sounding words entirely. For example in the north of England you’ll hear ‘bath’ to rhyme with the ‘a’ as in ‘cat’, however in the south, you’ll hear ‘bath’ with the ‘a’ as in ‘car’. Two completely different sounding words with the same meaning!

International influences

The English language has grown with influences from other languages across the world and many of these words have become common parlance in the language today. For example, did you know Jodhpur and bungalow (a ranch house) are Indian words that have found themselves firmly placed in the heart of the English language? French too has given its influences with words such as depot, critique and so on.


Finally, idioms: a set of English expressions that can be baffling to the learner but which are firmly rooted in English. An example of an idiom includes: once in a blue moon, an expression that means rarely or never.

So how hard is English to learn? While it’s certainly not the hardest language, take Mandarin and how a simple change in tone can completely change meaning, it does have its sticking points. With scores of irregular verbs to learn and tricky pronunciation, it really does require some serious study to get just right. But, like in everything, practice is the key and practice really does make perfect.

Posted in Writing advice

What Are The Most Commonly Confused English Words? Homophones.

There are many confusing things in English language but nothing is as confusing as homophones.

What is a Homophone?

Homophones are the words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have a different meaning. They are fairly common in the English language. Most adult people know the difference but it can be really confusing for a child just learning to read or people learning English.

There are several types of homophones:

  • Homophone – all words that sound alike but have different meanings.
  • Homograph – all words that sound the same and are spelled the same but have different meanings.
  • Homonym – words that are spelled the same but have a different meaning
  • Heterograph – words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings
  • Multinym – words that sound the same but have more than two different meanings and spellings

words different pronunciation spelling meaning

Source: Wikipedia

Common Examples

  • Affect/Effect

  • Affect indicates influence. Effect is a noun, meaning consequence.

  • To/too/two

  • To is a preposition while too means excessive and two is a number.

  • Buy/by/bye

  • Buy means to purchase while by is a preposition used to show direction and bye means goodbye.

  • Weather/whether

  • Weather is a word used to describe the state of the atmosphere while whether is a conjunction which introduces choices.

  • Stationary/stationery

  • Stationary means that something is standing still while stationery means pens, pencils, paper, notebooks and so on.

  • Compliment/complement

  • Compliment means to say something nice to another person while to complement means something that enhances or completes.

  • Brake/break

  • Brake is a part or a motorized vehicle or a bicycle used to stop it while break means a pause.

  • Aloud/allowed

  • Aloud means to say something out loud and allowed means to give permission.

  • Lie/lay

  • To lie means to recline and lay means to place something somewhere. This is also often confused with to lie which means to not tell the truth and lye which is a strong alkaline solution.

  • Bear/bare

  • Bear is an animal but it could also mean supporting or holding. Bare means naked.

  • Their/they’re/there

  • This is one of the most common mistakes in spelling nowadays, especially on social media. Their means that something belongs to them, they’re is short for they are and there indicated the location.

  • Accept/except

  • Accept means to receive something and except means to exclude.

  • Know/no

  • Know means to be aware of something while no is a word opposite to yes.

  • Peace/piece

  • Peace is a state of serenity and piece is a part, an element of something.

  • Whole/hole

  • Whole means complete or entire and hole means the lack of something or something missing.

These have been some of the most commonly confused words in English language. Hopefully, this guide will help clear some of the confusion and assist you in using each word properly.

Posted in Writing advice

5 Important Steps for Editing and Proofreading Your Writing

Editing and proofreading. It may seem like something journalists or teachers practice all day, every day, but the truth is, if you write, whether, on a computer or using a pen and paper, you must carry out these essential tasks. Michael Jordan doesn’t simply net basket after basket when he plays basketball; he must practice and refine his technique over and over again before it’s perfect. That’s exactly what you’ve got to do with your writing.

To give you the best chance at editing and proofreading your written work to perfection, no matter what the subject or context, here are five essential steps you must take. Continue reading “5 Important Steps for Editing and Proofreading Your Writing”

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3 Main Differences between Academic and Business Writing

If you’ve just left school, college or university, you’ll be in for a shock. You may have spent the last few years writing essays, assignments, reports and presentations but once you enter the business world, this all changes. Unknown to many individuals, there’s a range of differences when it comes to academic writing and then writing on behalf of a business. Today, we’ll explore three of the most common. Continue reading “3 Main Differences between Academic and Business Writing”