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Commonly Confused Words: By vs. Bye vs. Buy

What does each word mean? By is a preposition that is used to identify who or what performed an action, the means by which something was achieved, the amount or size of a margin, a deadline or the end of a particular time period, the period in which something happens, or the location in relation to what is beside it. As an adverb it means ‘to go past a certain point’. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is by used in some example sentences: The damage was caused by a tornado. The house was cleaned by my brother. He got full marks on his spelling test by practising every day. Coursework must be submitted by the end of the month. Owls hunt...

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Idioms about Royalty for a Royal Wedding

With the birth of Prince Louis last month, and Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle just a few days away, we decided it was the perfect time to look at idioms about royalty. An idiom is a combination of words that has a figurative meaning separate from the actual definitions of the words used. With an estimated 25,000 idioms, it’s no wonder English is such a difficult language to learn! Here are the royalty-related idioms we managed to come up with – can you think of any others? a cat may look like a king – someone of low status still has rights a horse, a horse, a kingdom for my horse – a quotation from Shakespeare’s Richard III that is sometimes repeated ironically when...

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Commonly Confused Words: Hair vs. Hare

Last week we looked at the difference between the words ‘heir’ and ‘air’. Here are two very similar words that people also often mix up. What does each word mean? Hairs are thin strands that grow from human and animal skin. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is hair used in some example sentences: Goldilocks is famous for her golden hair. Rapunzel is famous for her extremely long hair. Medusa is famous for having snakes instead of hair. Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word hair. A hare is a fast, long-eared mammal similar to but larger than a rabbit. The word is also used as verb to describe running...

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Commonly Confused Words: Heir vs. Air

What does each word mean? An heir is a person who is entitled by law or by the terms of a will to inherit the estate, title, or office of another. The word is pronounced with a silent ‘h’ like ‘air’. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is heir used in an example sentence: Prince Charles is the heir apparent to the British throne. In the Harry Potter series, Tom Riddle is Slytherin’s heir. Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word heir. The word air can refer to a mixture of gases (especially oxygen) required for breathing, the region of free space above the ground, or a distinctive but intangible quality or...

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Spellzone and Shakespeare

Although we don’t know the exact date of William Shakespeare’s birthday, he was baptised on April 26th 1564. Scholars believe he was probably born on April 23rd, and so every year, on this date, people in the United Kingdom celebrate Shakespeare Day. At Spellzone we’re huge fans of William Shakespeare – so much so that we’ve written about him many times over the years. Indeed, the Bard is a difficult subject to avoid because so many English words, idioms, and expressions were made popular by their appearance in his work. Here are some of our favourite articles and resources on William Shakespeare and his plays: Shakespeare in Love Shakespeare is famous for both his romantic comedies and...

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Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Depending on the way you phrase a sentence, a verb can be either active or passive. The active voice is more common in everyday writing, whereas the passive voice is usually used in formal documents such as official reports or research papers. The subject of a sentence is the person or thing the sentence is about. When the verb is active, it means the subject is doing the action that the verb indicates. If the verb is passive, it means the subject is having that the action the verb indicates done to them. The voice you choose to write a sentence in will help emphasise what the most important aspect of the sentence is. Let’s look at some examples of the active voice vs. the passive...

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Idioms about Emotion

Idioms about Emotion a chip on your shoulder - an ingrained resentment or grievance due to a feeling of inferiority and often marked by aggressive behaviour afraid of your own shadow - easily frightened as hard as nails - tough, strong/unfeeling, callous as pleased as punch - delighted, proud at the end of your tether/rope - to have lost all your patience cheesed off - annoyed down in the dumps - unhappy, depressed foaming at the mouth - very angry fool’s paradise - happiness predicated on ignoring potential problems or troubles happy camper - someone who is comfortable and content happy-go-lucky - cheerfully content, unconcerned about the future hopping...

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Confusing Words for the Easter break: Faun vs. Fawn

What does each word mean? Fauns are mythical beings from Roman mythology. They are part man and part goat. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is faun used in an example sentence: In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the main character Lucy befriends a faun called Mr Tumnus. Click here to create a Spellzone vocabulary list using the faun. A fawn is a young deer. The word is used to describe the light grey-brown colour of young deer. If you fawn over someone it means you are trying to gain their favour through excessive flattery or devotion. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is fawn used in...

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Commonly Confused Words: Yolk vs. Yoke

Happy Easter! This week we have a themed post for our Commonly Confused Words series. Make sure you don’t say egg yoke when you mean egg yolk! What does each word mean? The yolk is the yellow spherical part of an egg. It is surrounded by albumen which is white. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is yolk used in some example sentences: Whenever he tried to fry eggs he always ended up accidentally breaking the yolk. I like soft-boiled eggs so I can dip my toast into the runny yolk. Click here to find the Spellzone vocabulary lists related to the word yolk. A yoke is a wooden restraint used to join two draft animals at the neck so they...

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Top Tips for Planning Your Writing

A few weeks ago, we shared five tips to help you improve your writing and one of the pieces of advice we gave was to always begin with a plan. This week we’re delving into the art of planning. Here are our top tips: Look Closely at Your Brief or Question Before you start planning, take a moment to examine your brief or essay question. Copy the brief out by hand and highlight any key words. Pay attention to both the subject you are being asked to write about and how you are being asked to write about it. For example, you may be asked to summarise a subject, to compare one subject to another subject, to evaluate the positive and negative aspects of a subject, etc. It is surprisingly...

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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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