🇬🇧 Their, there and they’re

Their, there and they're

What are the differences between their, there and they're?

They’re really not very difficult; when you learn about their differences, there shouldn’t be too many problems.

Their is the possessive form of the pronoun they, like the more common possessive forms: my, your, his and her

 “They bought their car on eBay.”

Their is generally plural, but increasingly it is accepted in place of the singular his or her in some situations:

“Someone’s left their book on the table.”

There is an adverb which means “in, at or towards that place,” as in “He is there on holiday.” So, there is really the opposite of here. There is also used as a pronoun introducing a sentence or clause, as in “There is still a chance that we will win.”

They’re is a contraction of the words they and are, as in “They’re looking for a way to master these difficult words!”

Little tips for spelling:

  • There (like “over there”) contains the word hereHere and there go together nicely.
  • Their contains the word An heir is someone who inherits something, so (by coincidence) there is a sense of possession in this word as well.

🇬🇧 Mixed conditionals

Mixed Conditionals

If I had studied a bit harder, I would be more confident about mixed conditionals!

We are very grateful to our students and social media followers for all interactions, especially suggestions for blog topics. This post is in response to a question from one of our Instagram followers: mixed conditionals. In English there are two typesof mixed conditionals:

  1. Present result of a past condition

We use this mixed conditional when we refer to a hypothetical (unreal) past situation and its probable result in the present.


If + past perfect (condition clause) + present conditional (main clause)


  • If I had caught the earlier train, I would be at home by now
  • If she had married David, she would probably be travelling a lot more
  • If she hadn’t lost her ticket, she would be at the concert now

Note: these examples can be swapped around without any change in meaning:

  • I would be at home by now if I had caught the earlier train
  1. Past result of present condition

This mixed conditional is used to explain a hypothetical (unreal) present situation and its most likely past result.


If + simple past (condition clause) + perfect conditional (main clause)


  • If they were interested in birdwatching, this holiday home would be perfect for them
  • If she could ride, her dad would have bought her a horse
  • If I had more money, I could have helped you out

As with the examples in the first section, these phrases can be switched around without any change in meaning:

  • I could have helped you out if I had more money

Also note: if you are able to use these mixed conditionals it is a sign of high-level English use – congratulations! But remember: they are not as common as the more straightforward first-, second- and third conditionals.

🇬🇧 Question Forming

When using a question word:
Use this formula to form questions:


Question word    Auxiliary verb     Subject    Main verb [and then the rest of the sentence…]

Here are some example questions on the topic of holidays, and some model answers which include some common mistakes (corrected for you).

Where did you go on holiday?

I went in to France.

When did you go to Sweden?

I went there the last summer.

How did you get there?

I went there in by plane. = I flew there.                        I got there on foot. = I walked there.

Who did you go with?

I went with my family.

How long did you stay there?

I stayed (for) two weeks.

We decided to stay for an extra week.

What did you do at night?

Yes/No questions: The formula is almost the same:


Question word    Auxiliary verb     Subject    Main verb [and then the rest of the sentence…]

Did you have a good time?

            No, I had a terrible time!

Did it rain in Scotland?

            Yes, it rained every day!

Do your parents still live in Sicily?

             Yes, they have lived there for seventy years.

🇬🇧 The contracted ‘have’.

A third pronunciation.

I have two sisters. Do you have a dog?

The pronunciation of “have” is easy, right?

In a recent post we saw that the verb ‘have’ is pronounced as /hæf/ when it’s used as a modal verb.

“I have to finish this essay today!”

But there is a third way to pronounce “have”. Listen to these sentences.

“If I’d passed my exams, I’d’ve become a doctor.”

“If my parents had stayed in France, I’d’ve gone to a French school.”

These sentences both contain contractions: I’d’ve is how we pronounce “I would have” in natural-speed English. So, “have”can be pronounced /əv/. This pronunciation is very common in conditional sentences, but it’s not the only time you’ll hear it. Here are some more examples.

“Your documents should’ve been delivered yesterday.”

“I would’ve helped you.”

🇬🇧 You can do the can-can, can’t you?

Pronunciation practice

What is this? 

Image of a coke can.

Yes, it’s a can of fizzy drink. Probably quite unhealthy.

It’s a can. /kæn/ 

It must be one of the easiest English words to pronounce. Right?


When we use “can” to mean “able to” the pronunciation changes.

In the following sentence, “can” is an auxiliary verb with weak pronunciation:

My sister can speak three languages.

“Can” is now pronounced /kən/ (the schwa means that the vowel sound disappears almost completely)

and the stressed parts of the sentence are “sis” in sister and “lang-” in “languages”.

This weak form can also be used in questions:

Can I help you with your homework?

Can you play the guitar?


I don’t want to be negative, but…

When we make negative sentences using “can’t” the vowel sound is stronger again:

I can’t do this, it’s too difficult!

You can’t see the sea from here.

Also, there is now equal stress on the “can’t” and the following verb. [Listen to the above sound files again]

Pronunciation of can’t:/kɑːnt/

So, these sentences are easy to form, but not so easy to pronounce perfectly. Look at the examples below and see if you can say them out loud. Then listen…

1. Can you help me in the kitchen, please?

2. I can write better than I can speak.

3. You can do anything if you try!

4. How fast can you run?

Watch a video of this post on our Instagram feed: https://www.instagram.com/p/BizwJpwg5-d/


🇬🇧 Improve your English (reading skills)

English reading skills

Oscar Wilde said: “nothing that is worth knowing can be taught” it can only be learnt.

As an English teacher, I can’t really teach you how to improve your reading skills. Sorry. I can provide you with suggestions on what to read, I can set tasks before and after you read something, I can ask questions about the details…

But the best question is: “Did you enjoy it?”

This is the key!

Why do we read? Two reasons: for information and for pleasure. When English learners start to read for fun, they improve. When they improve, they read even more. It is a happy circle.

So, what to read?

The list is almost infinite, and fairly obvious, but:

*Newspapers – international news, sports, entertainment pages, whichever interests you most

*Magazines – on your particular interest

*Classic English stories (start with children’s books if you like)


*Translations of books from your own language (the familiarity might help)

Information about the town where you now live, or where you plan to go on holiday

*Blogs like this one!

The most important thing is that you enjoy what you read. This should be your main objective, not that you understand every word of every sentence. Even native speakers regularly read words which are not familiar. Do they stop and check the dictionary? Not usually. Not if they are reading the final scene of a detective story and want to know who the murderer was!

Once again, I regret to say that this is one skill that the teacher cannot teach. I can teach you grammar points and vocabulary and assist your pronunciation, but reading: I can guide and encourage, then it becomes your responsibility. Good and bad! With practice you will become faster and more efficient in your reading. A good side effect is that you will certainly do better in exams.

(I deliberately put that sentence last.)

🇬🇧 “Sit down, shut up and read this!” Using phrasal verbs.

Phrasal verbs! The Cambridge Dictionary defines a phrasal verb as a phrase that consists of a verb with a preposition or adverb or both, the meaning of which is different from the meaning of its separate parts. Most native English speakers don’t know they are even using them; most students of English avoid using them where possible, because they think that they are just too difficult.

Well, the good news is that you know a lot already, and have been using them since your first year of learning English.

There are often other ways to express yourself without using phrasal verbs, and when the alternative is similar to a Latinate word it is easier for many learners of English. For example, you can say “to escape” instead of “break out”, and “to investigate” in place of “to look into”.

But… have you tried talking about your morning routine without using “to wake up” and “to get up”? And what do you say to your children when you are waiting to go out and they are taking a long time? “Hurry up!”

So, maybe the best advice is to take things slowly, and learn phrasal verbs one-by-one, in the context of what you are learning.

OK, now the bad news…

Many phrasal verbs are formed by taking a noun and a preposition, and a noun can be formed by simply adding them together, often (but not always) with a hyphen in the middle:

  • To make up:

She wears a lot of make-up.

  • To break up.

It was a very difficult break-up.

  • To break through:

The researchers made an important breakthrough.

But sometimes the noun is formed by putting the preposition before the verb:

  • To cut back.

There have been a lot of cutbacks in the health service.

And other times, a ‘preposition+verb’ noun has no phrasal verb.

Please give me an update when you receive the documents.

(The verb “to date up” does not exist.)

phrasal verbnoun (verb+preposition)noun (preposition+verb)
to break out the breakoutthe outbreak
to take in the intake
to pour down (rain heavily) the downpour
to cut backthe cutback 
to make upthe make-up 
to break upthe break-up 
to break throughthe breakthrough 
to kick offthe kick-off 
 the update

Very often, it is not possible to guess the opposite meaning of a phrasal verb simply by using the opposite preposition.

The opposite of to get up is not to get down!

The opposite of to take off is not to take on.

Both of these phrases exist, but they mean something completely different!

Another thing to remember is that many phrasal verbs have a literal, physical meaning, and an abstract, idiomatic meaning.

If you’re too hot, take your jacket off.

She only started her business last year and it has really taken off!

The prisoners broke out of jail.

War broke out so we had to come home.

A lot of English comedians use these double meanings for comedic effect. Click on this link  (to perfectenglish.pl) and see how many of the jokes you can understand. If you understand them without looking up both meanings of the phrasal verbs, you are at a very advanced stage of English comprehension!

🇬🇧 “Money makes the world go round” and other expressions.

Do you know these two Beatles’ songs?

Money can’t buy me love watch and listen here

Money (That’s what I want) watch and listen here

Can you see a contradiction here?

English people are famous for talking about the weather and NOT talking about money! However, there are a lot of expressions which involve money in some way. How many of these do you know?

Money’s no objectIt is so important to me that I do not care how much it costs!
It costs the earthIt is very expensive
It cost an arm and a legIt was very expensive
That diamond is absolutely pricelessSo expensive that no one could really afford it
Those pearls are just worthless fakesThey are worth no money at all!
It’s as cheap as chipsVery cheap
It’s an absolute bargainIt’s very good value (cheaper than expected)
It’s a complete rip-offIt’s much more expensive than it should be (and the seller knows it!)
He ripped me offSame expression in phrasal verb form

He’s loaded

He’s rolling in it

He’s minted

He’s got money to burn

= He’s very rich
To pour money down the drainTo waste money
Put your money where your mouth is!Don’t just talk about it, let’s see some action!

And my favourite line from one of my favourite films (Some like it hot, with Marilyn Monroe)

“Wow, look at those amazing diamonds. They must be worth their weight in gold!”