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Five Tips for Using Commas

Do you find commas confusing? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Commas have a variety of functions yet many people are uncertain of how to use them. The main purpose of a comma is to clarify meaning by grouping together specific parts of the sentence. Each group within the sentence is separated by a comma which marks a slight break. Let’s look at five instances when you need to use a comma in more detail: Use commas as part of a list When you’re writing a list, the most common way to differentiate between each item by using a comma between them. For example: My favourite foods are jacket potatoes, quiche, spaghetti and fish and chips. Learn more about how to use commas...

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American English vs British English: Six Key Spelling Differences

July 4th marks Independence Day in America. You can read more about why this day is celebrated here. The internet means choosing whether to use American spelling or English spelling no longer just depends on what country you live in. More and more people work with colleagues from all over the world and different institutes, organisations, and publications have different style guides. This means it is likely that you will have to change between American and British spelling every now and then. While there are some one-offs that are best to learn as you go along (read more about these in Unit 36 of Spellzone), here are six general spelling rules to help you learn the key differences between...

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Twenty Idioms for the Start of Summer

Last week marked summer solstice – the longest day of the year. The word 'solstice' has been used in English since the mid-13th century. It comes from the Latin ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘sistere’ meaning ‘stand still’. To celebrate the end of spring and the beginning of summer, here are twenty idioms about the warm weather seasons: a place in the sun – a position of advantage a touch of the sun – slight sunstroke come rain or shine – whatever the weather/situation everything under the sun – everything on earth happy is the bride the sun shines on – old proverb saying that if the sun shines on your wedding day, you will have good luck high season – the most popular time to visit...

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Commonly Confused Words: Father vs. Farther vs. Further

Happy Father’s Day! Make sure you spell ‘father’ correctly on your card this year. What does father mean? Father is the word used to describe a male parent. In Christianity, God is also sometimes referred to as the Father (usually as the first person in the Holy Trinity) and in some churches (particularly within Roman Catholicism), Father is a term of address for priests. As a verb, the word refers to a man creating a child. Click here for the full Spellzone dictionary definition of the word. Here is father used in some example sentences: My father’s favourite colour is yellow. The boy didn’t know his father. ‘In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,’ the vicar...

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How to use Idioms to Express Yourself More Interestingly

If you’re one of our regular readers you’ll be familiar with articles about idioms, but every now and then we like to share a recap for our new subscribers. Here are Spellzone we believe that one of the reasons English is such a difficult language to learn is because it’s full of idioms and every few weeks we take a list of popular idioms and translate them for our second-language English speakers. An idiom is an expression which has a figurative meaning rather than a literal one. For example, when someone says ‘needle in a haystack’ they probably aren’t actually talking about a needle and a haystack, but about something that is as difficult to find as a needle in a haystack would be. ...

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Twenty Idioms about Insects

a hive of activity – a place/situation where everyone is busy a flea in (someone’s) ear – an unwelcome idea or answer ants in your pants/antsy – agitated or restless due to nervousness or excitement as busy as a bee – very busy as gaudy as a butterfly – very gaudy as mad as a hornet – very angry as snug as a bug (in a rug) – very comfortable/cosy bee’s knees – an excellent person or thing, of the highest quality birds and the bees – a euphemism for the basic facts about reproduction as told to a child bug-eyed – with bulging eyes dropping like flies – dying or collapsing in large numbers, giving up on or pulling out of an endeavour fly in the ointment – a small...

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Five Tips for Exam Day Success

Whether you’re embarking upon end-of-years exams, A-levels, or university finals, here are five top tips to make sure your exam day goes as smoothly as possible: Prepare everything you need the evening before The evening before your exam, pack your bag for the following day. This will make sure you are less rushed in the morning. Start with everything you will need for the exam itself (or exams if you have more than one). Check whether are any rules about ink colour or writing in pencil. Pack extra pens and pencils, ink, and a sharpener and eraser. Will your exam require you to bring any specialist equipment? For a Maths exam, you may need a compass, protractor, or calculator....

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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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