Previously Asked Questions

We have compiled a list of the most useful and commonly asked questions that have already been sent to us. Just click on any of the questions below to discover its answer.


Both your sentences are correct. They both refer to an imaginary future event (someone helping another person if it is possible). The difference between them is how probable the speaker thinks it is that he or she will be able to help.

In sentence 1, the speaker thinks he or she will probably be able to help, or the speaker is feeling optimistic. This is why we use this type of sentence in advertising, for example "If you use our new toothpaste your teeth will be whiter than white!"
In sentence 2, there is more than one possible meaning or use. The speaker might think he or she will probably not be able to help, or is feeling pessimistic. Alternatively, we might use it when we are apologising for not being able to help. For example, "I'd help you if I could, but I'm very bad at maths - I would get them all wrong!" or "I would help you if I could, but I have a new boss who is very strict - I might lose my job!"

Some grammar books call sentence 1 an example of 'the first conditional' and sentence 2 an example of 'the second conditional'.

Well, you can say it, but I am sure it is not true! There is a group of adjectives that have 2 forms; one ending -ed and one ending -ing (eg bored / boring, excited / exciting, thrilled / thrilling, etc). The form that ends -ing creates or causes the feeling; it is the active form. The form that ends -ed   receives or has the feeling; it is the passive form.

So, in your example, the TV programme causes a feeling - it is boring (or it is not exciting). You receive the feeling from watching it, so you are bored (or you are not excited).

If you say that you are boring, you mean that you cause other people to feel bored - so when your friends are with you they feel bored. I am sure that is not true!

It is correct and natural. In this case, 'seriously' is an informal alternative to 'very' - another example could be, "He's a seriously good athlete". 'Run out' (of something) is a phrasal verb. In this context, it has the meaning 'not have something that you usually have'. Other examples, "Could you go to the shop for me? We've run out of milk". "The printer has run out of paper".

Pamper - (this verb generally has a positive connotation) If you pamper someone, you make sure they have everything they need to feel comfortable and content. For example, if one of your parents or a friend has been having a stressful time you might pamper them by making them dinner and a cup of tea and renting their favourite film to watch. You can also pamper yourself. For example, you might book some time in a health spa.

Spoiled - (this adjective or verb generally has a negative connotation) This has a number of meanings and uses. In the context of looking after people, it can be used to describe a particular way that some parents raise their children, and conveys the idea that we disapprove of it. If a parent spoils a child, they give them everything they want and do not generally say 'no' to them, with the result that the child behaves badly and is rude. 'Spoiled' is the adjective form. E.g. "What a spoiled child! Throwing a book at her mother and stamping her foot just because there were no biscuits left!" In some informal contexts, 'spoil' can be used with a positive connotation; for example when you do something nice for someone or for yourself. E.g. "I know they are expensive, but those shoes look great on you - I think you should buy them. Spoil yourself; you only live once!"

Mollycoddling - (this verb generally has a negative connotation. The adjective form is mollycoddled) If a parent mollycoddles a child, they treat them too kindly and try to protect them from all danger, with the result that the child can become timid and unadventurous. E.g. He was mollycoddled as a young child, and then bullied by the other boys at school when he was a teenager.

You are right about the two that are correct and the one that isn't. In these sentences 'very' is being used as a gradable adjective. However, the choice of which words can go with it (e.g. quite, really, ever so, pretty) and those that can't (e.g. very) is explained by collocation.

Collocation means that some words go together just because native speakers generally use them together, and some words aren't used because native speakers generally don't use them together. In a similar way, my daughter, who is interested in fashion, tells me that I shouldn't wear socks with sandals. When I ask her why, she just says, "Because people don't!"

This isn't as satisfying as a normal 'grammar rule' because it doesn't help us use other, similar words naturally, but it is a very important concept in using a language like a native speaker. It is one of the reasons why spending time in a country where the language is spoken is so useful. Collocation dictionaries are available, too.

When people start to learn English, they are often told that we use ‘some’ with positive sentences (1 and 2) and we use ‘any’ with negative sentences (3 and 4). This is simple and helpful. However, when we learn more English, we discover that 3 is also correct in some situations! There are many different types of apple; some are sweet, some are soft, some are crunchy, and some a sharp and used in cooking. If you dislike all of them, then you can say “I don’t like any apples.” If you like sweet, soft apples, but dislike crunchy, sharp apples, then you can say “I like some apples.”

A floating voter is a person who doesn’t always vote for the same political party; they have not yet decided who to vote for. The phrase is common when discussing politics because all the different political parties want these ‘floating voters’ to decide to vote for them, so try to persuade them. Because of this, journalists also spend quite a lot of time discussing them.

You have my sympathy! Some phrasal verbs are separable (eg write down, look up (in a dictionary etc), switch off). This means that we can put the direct object of the verb between the main verb and the particle, or after the particle: She looked up the word in a dictionary. She looked the word up in a dictionary. However, if we replace the direct object with a pronoun (he, she, it, them etc) the pronoun must go in the middle, as you correctly say in your question. There isn’t really a good explanation of ‘why’ we do this - it is just because that is the way that native speakers use the language. As you probably know, some phrasal verb are inseparable, so the direct object has to go after the particle; E.g. ‘look after’ Look after this phone; it was expensive! Look after it, it was expensive! Because of this, when you learn a new phrasal verb, you should also learn whether it is separable or not!

As nouns, both words refer to a small amount of a liquid, although ‘drip’ suggests that the small amount of liquid has fallen. For example, “A drip of water landed on his head so he looked up and discovered a small hole in the roof.” “Would you like some milk in your tea?” “Yes please - just a drop!” As verbs, ‘drip’ refers to the action of a small amount of liquid falling, but ‘drop’ refers to the action of anything falling. For example; The water was dripping on his head. He dropped the piece of wood on his foot. For more information, you might like to study all the meanings and uses of the two words in a free online dictionary such as The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English , or Cambridge Dictionaries Online . They also give the pronunciation of the words.

The answer to this question could continue for many pages, but I will try to give a short answer! The past perfect is used when we want to make it clear that one event in the past happened before another event in the past. It is made of the auxiliary verb ‘had’ plus the past participle of the main verb. For example: Someone had opened the letter before it arrived at his house. Sometimes, other words in the sentence make it clear that one event in the past happened before another event in the past. In these cases, we do not have to use past perfect, although we can if we want to. For example, ‘before’ in the example sentence above makes it clear which event happened first, so we can also say; Someone opened the letter before it arrived at his house. (Past Simple). However, sometimes it is very useful: When I arrived at his house at 6 o’clock, John left for work. (This tells us that John left his house at the same time, or a little after, you arrived.) When I arrived at his house at 6 o’clock, John had left for work. (This tells us that John left his house before you arrived.)

This idiom means “It’s raining very heavily”. We have many phrases to talk about rain in English, probably because it rains a lot here! Etymologists (people who study the origin of words) are not sure how this idiom originated. There are examples of the phrase being used in the 17th and 18th Century. It might have come from an old word for a waterfall, or from Norse mythology, or from heavy rain washing dead animals down the streets. However, I should tell you that this idiom is not commonly used by English people nowadays. Although it is an interesting phrase, and still understood, people have mostly stopped using it because it has become a cliché.

Sentence 3 is correct. It means that you should listen carefully to what is being said and concentrate on it. We often use the word ‘pay’ with ‘attention’. This is an example of collocation; native speakers typically use certain words with each other, such as ‘pay’ and ‘attention’, so it is a good idea to learn words in context so that you can see what other words often go with them. It is possible to say, “ You should attend class” (without ‘in’) but it has a different meaning - it means that you should go to class.

I think the website you were using was testing American English. In American English, they use ‘gotten’ as the past participle of ‘get’ (get, got, gotten, getting) when ‘get’ means ‘acquire’. So, if you are learning, or want to use, American English then the website is correct. However, in standard British English, we don’t use ‘gotten’ as the past participle, we use ‘got’ (get, got, got, getting). So, in British English, your answer is correct!

Sorry! I cannot correct people’s writing. This is because I need to have a conversation with you about what you want to say, and check that you understand why something is right or wrong. This is something that I could do in a class at Churchill House, but something that is difficult to do by email. Also, I cannot know whether the writing other people send me is for them to study, or is for a test with another teacher. However, please ask me simpler questions such as “Is ‘I lives in London’ correct?”. Then I can answer; ‘I lives in London’ is not correct. We use ‘lives’ with the 3rd person form (he, she, it). With the 1st person form (I) we use ‘live’, without the ‘s’ - I live in London.

It seems strange, doesn't it? Because the battery is inside the mobile phone, it would be logical to think we’d use ‘in’. However, English is not a logical language. Sorry about that! We use some prepositions in unusual ways - for example, when travelling, we say that we are ‘in’ a car, but ‘on’ a bus. So, all I can tell you is that it is natural in British English to say ‘on’ with ‘mobile’ or ‘phone’ etc. Another example; I’ve cracked the screen on my phone. However, I think it might be more common to say “My mobile’s battery is flat” or, as my children frequently say, “I didn’t get your text - my phone needs charging.”