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Commonly Confused Words: Balmy vs. Barmy

What does each word mean? The word balmy is an adjective used to describe mild and pleasant weather. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is balmy used in an example sentence: The weather was unexpectedly balmy. Click here to create a Spellzone vocabulary list using the word balmy. Barmy means mad, crazy, or foolish. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is barmy used in an example sentence: It drives my sister barmy when I leave the television on standby instead of turning it off properly. Click here to create a Spellzone vocabulary list using the word barmy. Where does each word come from? The word...

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Idioms about Birds: Part 2

This week we’re looking at thirty more idioms about birds. Click here to learn the thirty idioms we looked at last week. night owl – someone who stays up late, someone who functions better at night pecking order – the social hierarchy rare bird – an unusual person sitting duck – an easy target, someone who is vulnerable to target spring chicken – a young person swan song – a final work/performance before retirement/death to chicken out – to opt out of doing something due to being frightened to clip someone’s wings – to limit someone’s control/freedom to count your chickens before they’re hatched – to depend on/make plans for something that you have not yet received/that...

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Idioms about Birds: Part 1

a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – it is better to be content with what you have than to risk losing it in the attempt to seek more a little bird(y) told me – told by a secret informant albatross around your neck – something that makes you feel guilty or frustrated, something that prevents success as bald as a coot – completely bald as crazy as a loon – crazy as dead as a dodo – totally dead, extinct as free as a bird – totally free, carefree as mad as a wet hen – angry as scarce as hens’ teeth – non-existent as the crow flies – in a straight line bird brain – an insult meaning stupid birds of a feather flock together – people who have the same...

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Three Tips to Help You Expand Your Vocabulary

Expose yourself to as many new words as possible If you want to expand your vocabulary, it is important to actively expose yourself to unfamiliar words. One way of doing this is by reading as much as possible. As long as you focus on building your vocabulary, you don’t necessarily have to read books. From food packets, to road signs, to Buzzfeed, we each read a huge variety of words as we go about our day to day lives. We also expose ourselves to words by watching television and online videos, by listening to the radio or podcasts, and in conversations. Try to be conscious of the information you are processing. When you come across a new word, see if you can work out its meaning...

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Shakespeare in Love

Many English words, idioms, and expressions were made popular by their appearance in the works of William Shakespeare. Here are four expressions in which Shakespeare comments on the nature of love: 1. If music be the food of love, play on This expression is quoting Duke Orsino from Twelfth Night. Frustrated by his unsuccessful courtship of Countess Olivia, he says: ‘If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die. That strain again! it had a dying fall: O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound, That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more: 'Tis not so sweet now as...

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Five Tips to Help You Improve Your Writing

1) Why are you writing and who are you writing for? Before you start writing, it is important to ask yourself these two questions and adapt your writing style accordingly. This is because the purpose and intended audience of an academic essay is, for example, is very different to that of a blog post. Similarly, the tone and style of a letter of complaint is very different to that of a letter to a friend, and both of these are different to the tone and style of an email or text message. If you are writing for university coursework or for a publication, make sure you are aware of any style guides you should follow. The whereabouts of your audience may also affect how you choose to write...

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Three Popular Idioms and their Origin Stories

One of the reasons English is so difficult to learn is because it is a language full of idioms. An idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from the actual definitions of the words used. There are an estimated 25,000 idioms in the English language. Here on the blog, in one of our regular features, we translate popular idioms into plain English. Today we are going to look at three common English idioms and how and why they came to be associated with their figurative meanings. 1) Bite the Bullet If someone is described as biting the bullet, it means they are finally doing a difficult or unpleasant task they’ve been putting off. One theory behind the origin...

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Commonly Confused Words: Moot vs. Mute

What does each word mean? If something is moot, it is open to argument or debate. Moot can also be used to describe something that is insignificant or irrelevant.Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is moot used in an example sentence: It was a moot point. Click here to create a Spellzone vocabulary list using the word moot. The verb mute describes the act of muffling or silencing a noise. As a noun, mute is used to refer to both someone who is unable to speak and something used to soften the sound of an instrument. As an adjective, the word describes someone who is unable to speak. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of...

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More Janus Words

The month January takes its name from Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions (and so it is appropriate that January is the month that marks the transition into the New Year). Janus is usually depicted with two heads – one looking back into the past, and the other looking forward to the future. Last January we looked at 20 Janus words. A Janus word is a word with contradictory meanings. These words are also known as contronyms and auto antonyms. Here are some more examples of Janus words: Apology: an expression of regret for causing someone trouble, a formal written defence of something I owe you an apology for using your computer without asking first. She wrote an apology...

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Make the Most of Spellzone in 2018

Is your New Year’s resolution to improve your spelling? Here are three tips to help you make the most of your Spellzone subscription: Take the Spellzone Spelling Ability Test Our Spelling Ability Test will help you work out a base spelling level and provide you with a tailored version of the course depending on your results and any gaps in your knowledge - your personal Course Pathway. You will be tested on the spellings of a series of words which will get progressively more difficult. Each word that appears in the test relates to a course unit and the test will finish once you spell a set percentage of words incorrectly. You will then be given a baseline Spellzone Score to help...

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2017 Blog Round Up

Happy New Year! Whether you are a regular user of our English spelling website or someone who’s just signed up, we hope 2018 will be a great year for improving your spelling. Here are some of our favourite blog posts from 2017: We began the year by coming up with seventeen spelling and grammar goals for 2017 – how many did you achieve? As usual we looked at pairs and groups of confusing words and shared tips and tricks to help you tell them apart. This year we looked at: alternate vs. alternative, bated vs. baited, bough vs. bow, complacent vs. complaisant, conscious vs. conscience, curb vs. kerb, e.g. vs. i.e., elicit vs. illicit, everyday vs. every day, flare vs. flair, flaunt vs....

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Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

The Christmas carol We Three Kings tells the story of three kings who followed a star to visit Jesus in a stable just after he was born. Many British school children learn this story at a very young age and can recite the names of the gifts each king gave to Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While gold is still well-known today, what are frankincense and myrrh? Do the three gifts have a special significance? The verses to the carol give us a hint – let’s look at them a little more closely. Gold ‘Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain Gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never, Over us all to reign.’ Gold is a precious metal which has long been valued for its...

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Who are these Christmas Characters?

With Christmas less than a week away, it’s time to celebrate here at Spellzone. Today we’re looking at two famous Christmas songs and some characters who feature in them. Where do these characters come from? Are they based on real people? How long have their stories been around for? You can read our article about Christmas characters from books here. In the meadow we can build a snowman… The Christmas song Winter Wonderland features the following two lines: ‘In the meadow we can build a snowman, and pretend that he is Parson Brown’. The Spellzone dictionary defines the word ‘parson’ as ‘a person authorized to conduct religious worship’. This definition puts the next two lines of...

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Deck the Halls: Bow vs. Bough

What does each word mean? The word bow describes a number of different things: a curved piece of wood with taut strands that is used to play stringed instruments a weapon for shooting arrows the front of a ship a type of knot formed with loops the act of bending the head, body, or knee either in reverence or at the end of a performance the act of yielding to someone else’s wishes. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is this bow used in some example sentences: The violinist had a lucky bow. She was known for her skill with a bow and arrow. The bow of a ship is designed to reduce the resistance of the hull...

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Commonly Confused Words: Alternate vs. Alternative

What does each word mean? Alternate means ‘every other or every second’. As a verb, it describes the act of ‘taking turns’. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word and here for Spellzone vocabulary lists related to it. Here is alternate used in some example sentences: We Skype on alternate weekends. They alternated between driving and giving directions. In American English, alternate is also used to describe something that is presented as ‘another option’. For example: Would it be possible to schedule our meeting at an alternate time? In British English, however, this use of alternate is considered incorrect by many. The word alternative is...

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Winter Idioms

Winter won’t officially come for another month, but here in England the days are getting shorter and the weather colder. We’re turning on the central heating, digging out our scarves and gloves, and sipping hot chocolate. With that in mind, here are twenty five idioms about cold weather to learn while nestled under a cosy blanket! a cold snap – a sudden and brief period of cold weather a snowball’s chance in hell – no chance at all as pure as driven snow – innocent, virtuous, flawless cold comfort – not much of a comfort, an insufficient consolation cold light of day – a time and place from which problems can be objectively considered in cold blood – ruthlessly left out in the...

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Ten Redundant Expressions You Should Stop Using

Last week we looked at redundant expressions and why you should cut them from your writing. Here ten examples: I am absolutely certain that the train is at 3pm. Since ‘certain’ means ‘established beyond doubt or question’, the word ‘absolutely’ is redundant. A better sentence would be: I am certain that the train is at 3pm. They should have given us advanced warning that the road would be closed. A ‘warning’ is usually given ahead of time, so the word ‘advanced’ is unnecessary. Better sentences would be: They should have given us warning that the road would be closed. They should have warned us that the road would be closed. We are not hiring at the...

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How to Improve Your Writing by Avoiding Redundant Expressions

What is a redundant expression? A redundant expression, or tautology, is an expression in which a word or group of words is unnecessary because it repeats something that has already been expressed by another word. For example: This envelope contains important documents inside. While at first it might seem like there is nothing wrong with this sentence, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that the word inside is redundant. This is because the word contains already indicates that the envelope holds documents within it. Why is it important to be aware of redundant expressions when writing? If your writing contains redundant expressions, a reader might think that you do not...

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Commonly Confused Words: Everyday vs. Every Day

Should I use everyday or every day? If you want to describe something that is ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’, use everyday. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is this adjective used in some example sentences: He was responsible for the everyday household chores like vacuuming and washing up while she took care of the garden. Everyone else was dressed up and I stood out in my everyday jeans and jumper. You can buy everyday items like milk and bread at the corner shop. Click here to find Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word everyday. Every day means ‘daily’. Here is every day used in some example sentences: He did the vacuuming and...

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Happy Halloween! Twenty Idioms about Death

It’s said that on All Hallow’s Eve, for just one night, the spirits will rise and roam the earth again. If you’re scared – you’re not alone. The fear of death is so widespread in our culture that the English language is full of ways of referring to death that, in many cases, mean you don’t have to use the word itself. Here are twenty idioms about death: as dead as a dodo – totally dead/extinct as dead as a doornail – obviously dead belly-up – dead beyond the veil – in the unknown state of life after death dropping like flies – dying in large numbers food for worms/worm food – a dead (and buried) person gone to...

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