🇬🇧 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.”

🇬🇧 2018 World Cup Special

7 football/soccer related idioms in common usage.

2018 World Cup ball and trophy


So the 2018 FIFA World Cup starts today. You might be a big football fan, and have been waiting impatiently for this day for the last three and a half years… or maybe football leaves you cold (you have no interest in it).

Either way, there are plenty of really good English expressions that originally came from football, which have made their way into regular usage. Here are a few good examples:


  1. It’s a game of two halves: a football match can change dramatically over the course of the 90 minutes. When this change happens after the half-time break, TV commentators always use this expression.
  • Well, we played terribly at first, but it’s a game of two halves and I’m delighted that we scored five goals in the last twenty minutes!
  1. We were robbed: an expression that suggests a defeat was unfair, possibly due to a bad decision by the referee.
  • Jimmy was definitely not offside! We were robbed!

You will often hear football people using incorrect grammar: “We was robbed!” Many journalists deliberately use the incorrect form for humorous effect.

  1. To move the goalposts: to change the rules or conditions of a game (or any undertaking) while it is still happening.
  • We were just about to sign the deal when they moved the goalposts and we had to pull out (quit, withdraw).
  1. To be on the ball: someone who shows good initiative, and responds well and quickly to new situations.
  • I don’t think much ofmy new boss. She’s not very on the ball.
  1. To score an own goal: to do something that harms one’s own interests – usually unintentionally.
  • Quitting my job before I’d found another one was a bit of an own goal.

If you’d like to listen to a story of the most bizarre own-goal story in the history of football: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lpymvuZn2c

  1. League of their own: superior to all others in the same category.
  • For the last ten years, Ronaldo and Messi have been in a league of their own.
  1. A game changer: an important innovation; an idea or event that significantly changes the accepted way of doing or thinking about something.
  • The use of high-speed analytics has been a game-changer in the field of digital marketing.

🇬🇧 Language learning phrases

If you are learning English, you will probably talk about which other languages you can speak: are you a beginner, or becoming fluent? Do you know a few words of any exotic languages?

Old wooden letter blocks for printing language






Here are some useful expressions, but which word is missing?

My cousin is bilingual … French and German.                                                [in / at / with]

I am not fluent … Chinese, but I am pretty good … reading it.                        [for / in / at]

I can get … in Russian.                                                                                     [up / to / by]

I went to Turkey last year and I picked … a bit of the language.                      [on / out / up]

I can’t speak a word … Hungarian.                                                                   [of / with / from]

I know enough Swahili to … a basic conversation.                                           [do / have / make]

Finally, here are three phrases to describe someone’s level of language ability. Do they all have the same meaning, or are they different?

I am a native speaker of Korean.

Korean is my mother tongue.

Korean is my first language.

🇬🇧 Royal wedding vocabulary

Not everyone is a royalist of course, but most people agreed it was a lovely wedding on the 22nd of May. What new words can we learn from the BBC article about the day? Let’s look at some of the people involved:

Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
  • Bridesmaid
  • Page boy
  • Well wishers
  • Lip-reader
  • Husband-to-be

Bridesmaid: a woman or girl who is an attendant of a bride

Pageboy: a young boy who attends the bride and groom at a wedding

Six bridesmaids and four pageboys played a major supporting role as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tied the knot. Prince George and Princess Charlotte – Prince Harry’s niece and nephew – were among the children, all aged between two and seven, under the spotlight of the world’s media at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Well-wisher: a person who desires happiness or success for another, or who expresses such a desire.

The first glimpse of the groom suggested that Prince Harry was in typical buoyant spirits, smiling and laughing as he waved to the crowds of well-wishers on his arrival.

Lip-reader: someone who can interpret speech by watching the speaker’s lip and facial movements without hearing the voice. This is especially useful in the deaf community, but also when someone’s voice cannot be heard because they are speaking quietly.

One lip reader says Ms Markle discreetly asked her new husband: “Do we kiss?”

To which the prince quietly replied: “Yeah”.

 Husband-to-be: a man who is going to be married soon; a fiancé.

During the service, the prince couldn’t seem to relax. In contrast, Ms Markle cut a much calmer figure, smiling often and looking into the eyes of her husband-to-be.

🇬🇧 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/


🇬🇧 The sound of ‘er’

Pronunciation practice

Bird eating a worm








Read these sentences out loud to yourself, and then listen to the sound files:

  1.  Earth Day was celebrated all over the world.
  2. I burned my shirt.
  3. The bird returned to the fern and then ate a worm.

All of the words written in bold have the same vowel sound. I know, it’s crazy!

“er” /ɜː/

It is no secret that the way English words are pronounced has only a small connection with how they are spelt, and this is a good example of many different spellings producing the same sound.

Look at the four words below. They all have different vowels, but yes, they are all pronounced in the same way:

bird / bɜ:d/                 burn /bɜ:n/               world /wɜːld/               earth /ɜːθ/

And by the way, /ɜ:/ is also a verbal filler: the sound that English people tend to make when they are unsure of what to say, or when pausing to find a word:

“Where’s the bank?”

Er… I think it’s… er… just up the street on the left.”

So remember: when you come across a new English word, there are three things to learn: the meaning, the spelling and the pronunciation.