🇬🇧 T for two

How many ways are there to pronounce the letter t?

If you learn words one at a time, the pronunciation is easy – but can be very different from natural speed English.

Let’s look at this sentence:

It takes more than twenty minutes to get across London by train.

Depending on the speaker’s accent there are at least three ways of pronouncing the letter /t/.

  1. For many people, Londoners and Americans for example, the second /t/ of twenty disappears.
  2. The /t/ in train becomes more like a /ʧ/ as in church.
  3. Before a vowel, the /t/ at the end of a word can sound more like a /d/ (…to get across…)
  4. Also, when a word ends in /t/ and the next one starts with /t/ the two sounds join together to make a new one. (This is called twinning, or gemination.) It’s like there is a short pause as you are saying the sound.

It takes an hour

I’ve got two brothers

Is this the hot tap?

The same principle is true for other consonants:

Lamp post

Red door

Slapstick comedy

Listen carefully for these sounds as you hear native speakers talking English, and try to copy what you hear.

🇬🇧 Phrasal verb practice

Which phrasal verb fits best – and do you have to change the form?

Choose from the following:

come round            go off            knock out            make up            pass on            run away (run off)          run over             take off            turn out            work out

1. I’ve … … a joke. Do you want to hear it?

2. He was … … in a rugby match. He was unconscious for a few seconds but then he … …

3. The plane … … from Heathrow on time, but there was a delay at Delhi airport.

4. The thief grabbed my bag and then … …

5. It was cloudy earlier, but it has … … nice!

6. Luckily, the bomb … … when the station was empty, so no was hurt.

7. Did you forget to … … my message yesterday?

8. I’m still shaking – I almost … … a dog this morning on the way to work.

9. My daughter has a maths problem that she just can’t … …

🇬🇧 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.

🇬🇧 World Cup Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs pop up everywhere! This post is a way of saying goodbye to England’s footballers, until it all kicks off again in a few weeks…

[How many phrasal verbs can you spot? And how many of them do you understand without having to look up in a dictionary?]

England have been knocked out of the world cup. They didn’t give up but they fell short at the semi-final stage. Some people were very worked up about this; someone I saw in the town centre even threw up after the match – but that could have been for other reasons.

So now we can carry on with our normal lives, and some of us need to work off the weight we have put on. Now, instead of sitting on the sofa watching TV and drinking beer, maybe we can take up a new sport…

Never give up - frog and heron illustration

Remember: most phrasal verbs have a more formal equivalent which is usually a Latinate word, and many have two meanings – one literal and one abstract. These are the phrasal verbs that appeared above:

phrasal verb


meaning/example sentence

second meaning?

pop up


Appear or occur suddenly


kick off


the first action of a football match

“The match kicks off at 7pm”

to start, more generally

look up


(of a word) to search for

(of a situation) to improve

“Things are really looking up”

knock out

(very often used in the passive voice)


to remove a player or team from a tournament by beating them

to make someone unconscious

“The boxer knocked out his opponent”

give up


to stop trying

to stop doing something

fall short


to not have the ability to achieve the success that was expected


throw up



carry on


We carried on singing, even when the players had left the pitch


work off

get rid of

To lose something by work or effort


take up


to start something new, usually a new hobby


🇬🇧 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.”

🇬🇧 Where does English come from?

Have you ever wondered why there are at least two completely different words for almost everything in English? Well, one simple answer is that English has developed from two different directions:

Girl reading dictionaryIn the fifth century A.D. the Angles and the Saxons came over to these islands from northern Europe bringing their language with them. They pushed the native Celtic-speaking people to the far north and west of the land, which explains why Irish, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh exist as separate languages.

So, for 500 years we spoke English. Let’s call it Old English.

1066 was a good year for William of Normandy. His nickname changed from William the Bastard to William the Conqueror, which indicates how successful he was.

Although Normandy was separate from France at that time, William and his entourage spoke French, and for several generations all the kings and queens of England spoke the language of their conquering forefather. In fact, the first King to speak English fluently was Henry III (1216-1272), but it was still not his first language. Henry IV (crowned in 1399) was the first King of England to speak English as a mother tongue. For the next few centuries the royals spoke English, until the German-speaking Hanoverians came to the throne in 1714.

But the main point is the language. When William arrived in 1066 there were not many language schools to help the common people learn French. So, the common people…

…used their hands, working in the fields, eating cow and pig to stay alive.

And the noble ruling class did not…

…undertake anything manually, but preferred to reside in castles, consuming beef and veal and pork in order to survive

Can you see what’s happening here? It was not just people’s lives that were different but the very words that came to describe them. Even now, a thousand years later, the French (Latinate) word is always the higher register alternative.

Sentiment sounds rather more elegant than feeling. Fragrance much better than smell.

A prior arrangement sounds more formal than something I planned before.

Shall I stop there or carry on? Or should I say “finish or continue”?

And so on. There are hundreds of examples. (A century is a classier way of saying a hundred years!)

This is just a brief introduction to where English has come from, and why we have so many more words, and more varied spelling patterns, than many languages that have evolved from one just direct source.

🇬🇧 Prefixes, suffixes and infixes

Inspired by Germany losing to South Korea in the World Cup:

Prefixes, suffixes and infixes

You are probably familiar with prefixes and suffixes in English.

Prefixes are letters which are added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning. Prefixes often create the antonym (opposite) to the original word, or form an intensifier of it:

probable > improbable

aware > unaware

load > unload

A suffix is a letter or a group of letters attached to the end of a word which, in contrast to a prefix, changes the class of the word, but which does not usually alter the meaning. For example:

hope > hopeful

retire > retirement

create > creation

glory > glorify

So, prefixes come at the beginning of the root word and suffixes at the end. There is a third category: infixes. This is when an extra word comes in the middle of the original word. In some languages (Turkish, I believe) this is a common linguistic feature, but it is rare in English. In fact it is only ever used for comic or vulgar effect, often when watching football:

Unbelievable! > unbeflippinglievable!

Absolutely > absobloominglutely!

Referee! > referflamingree!

There are stronger words that can be inserted here, but Samesky prefers the milder versions!

I wonder if there is an equivalent in the German language, or Korean!


Pronunciation: /æ/ and /ʌ/

Pronunciation practice: Angry or Hungry

When Argentina lost three-nil to Croatia last night, former footballer Pablo Zabaleta spoke to the BBC and said:

‘Everyone is so angry!’

Zabaleta speaks excellent English, but the presenter double-checked what he had said:


“Yes, angry.”

It is very common for learners of English to confuse words like this, that contain the sounds/æ/ (as in cap) and /ʌ/ (as in cup).

Angry – hungry

Ankle – uncle

Track – truck

If Mr Zabaleta had said that his team were hungry, that would have been a positive thing, because in sport, if you are hungry, it means you try your best to win. Unfortunately, he was angry because they were not hungry.

Oh yes, and my uncle injured his ankle yesterday. He was driving his truck around a race track