begin – start

1. There is not usually any difference between begin and start

  • I started/began teaching when I was twenty- two
  • If John doesn’t come soon,, let’s start/began without him

We prefer start when we talk about an activity that happens regularly, with “stops and starts”

  • It’s starting to rain.
  • What time do you start teaching tomorrow morning.

We prefer begin when we talk about long, slow activities, and when we are using a more formal styles

  • Very slowly, I began to realize that there was something wrong
  • We will begin the meeting with a message from the President

2. Start (not begin) is used to mean:

a. Start a jorney

  • I think we ought to start at six, while the roads are empty

b. start working (for machines)

  • The car won’t start

c. make (machines) start

  • How do you start the washing machine?

Get – Go – Turn – Become

Get is a very common verb in English, but it is not always appropriate for talking about changes. Note also alternatives to get which can improve your style.

Go, not get

Go is used for changes in people’s personality, appearance and physical abilities: People go mad/bald/grey/blind/deaf.

Go is often used for sudden, usually negative, changes: He was very embarrassed and his face went red. Suddenly the sky went very dark and it started to rain.

Go can also be used for slower colour changes:

The pages of the book had gone yellow over the years.

Turn, not get

Turn often collocates with colours: The sky turned gold as the sun set.

When the tomatoes turn red, the farmers pick them and sell them.

The news gave his mother such a shock that her hair turned white overnight.

Get and become

Get and become can often be used with the same collocations, but become is more formal

and is therefore more appropriate in essays:

She gave up smoking when she became pregnant.

I would like to become involved in raising money for charity.

The same is true for collocations with adjectives such as angry, bored, excited, depressed,

upset, impatient, violent-.

He became depressed after his wife’s death.

Become, not get, is used with the following: extinct, (un)popular, homeless, famous. Our local baker’s has become famous for its apple tarts.

Alternatives to get and become

She fell ill and was taken to hospital.

Everyone fell silent when they heard the shocking news.

As my father grew older, he spent less time working.

The noise grew louder and soon we realised it was a plane approaching.

Overusing and misusing get

Here are some sentences from students’ essays where get is wrongly used.

sentences with get more appropriate alternatives
1 was able to get new friends. 1 was able to make new friends.
A year ago he got a heart attack. A year ago he had/suffered a heart attack.
If 1 get a child of my own one day … If 1 have a child of my own one day …
1 was getting crazy. 1 was going crazy.
In June, 1 got a baby, James. In June, 1 had a baby, James.

By, until; By the time

By (+ a time) = not later than:

  • I sent the letter to them today, so they should receive it by Monday.
    (= on or before Monday, not later than Monday)
  • We’d better hurry. We have to be home by 5 o’clock.
    (= at or before 5 o’clock, not later than 5 o’clock)
  • Where’s Sarah? She should be here by now.
    (= now or before now – so she should have already arrived)

We use until (or till) to say how long a situation continues:

  • ‘Shall we go now?’   ‘No, let’s wait until (or till) it stops raining.
  • I couldn’t get up this morning.
    I stayed in bed until half past ten./ I didn’t get up until half past ten.

Compare until and by:

Something continues until a time in the future:

  • David will be away until Monday, (so he’ll be back on Monday)
  • I’ll be working until 11.30. (so I’ll stop working at 11.30)

Something happens by a time in the future:

  • David will be back by Monday.
    (so he’ll be back not later than Monday)
  • I’ll have finished my work by 11.30.
    (= I’ll finish my work not later than 11.30.)

You can say ‘by the time something happens’.

  • It’s too late to go to the bank now. By the time we get there, it will be closed.
    (= the bank will close between now and the time we get there)
  • (from a postcard) Our holiday ends tomorrow. So by the time you receive this postcard. I’ll be back home.
    (= I will arrive home between tomorrow and the time you receive this postcard)
  • Hurry up! By the time we get to the cinema, the film will already have started.

You can say ‘by the time something happened’ (for the past):

  • Karen’s car broke down on the way to the party last night. By the time she arrived, most of the other guests had left.
    (= it took her a long time to get to the party and most of the guests left during this timei
  • I had a lot of work to do yesterday evening. I was very tired by the time I finished.
    (= it took me a long time to do the work, and I became more and more tired during this time)
  • We went to the cinema last night. It took us a long time to find somewhere to park the car. By the time we got to the cinema, the film had already started.

Also by then or by that time:

  • Karen finally arrived at the party at midnight, but by then (or by that time), most of the guests had left.

List B

bath or bathe? Use these exemplar sentences as a guide:
Ihavea BATH every morning (= I have
a wash in the bath).
I BATH thebabyeveryday(=washina
I have had a new BATH fitted.
We BATHE every day (= swim).
BATHE the wound with disinfectant
(= cleanse).
We have a BATHE whenever we can
(= a swim).
beach or beech? Use these exemplar sentences as a guide:
Budleigh Salterton has a stony BEACH.
BEECH trees shed their leaves in autumn.
berth or birth? Use these exemplar sentences as a guide:
We have a spare BERTH on our boat.
We are proud to announce the BIRTH of
between you and I Incorrect. Write: between you and me.
biannual or biennial? BIANNUAL means twice a year (not -n-).
BIENNIAL means every two years (a
biennial festival) or lasting for two years
(horticultural, etc). (not -ual)
blond or blonde? BLOND is used to describe men’s hair.
BLOND is used to describe women’s hair
A BLONDE is a woman.
board or bored? A BOARD is a piece of wood, also a
committee or similar group of people.
To BOARD means to get on (train, etc.
and also to pay for living in someone’s
house and having food provided.
BORED means uninterested.
boarder or border? A BOARDER is a person who pays to live
in someone’s house.
A BORDER is the edge or boundary of
born or borne? Use these exemplar sentences as a guide:
Dickens was BORN in Portsmouth.
She has BORNE five children.
He has BORNE a heavy burden of guilt all
his life.
borrow or lend? May I BORROW your pen? (= use your
pen temporarily)
Please LEND me your pen. (= pass it to
me and allow me to use it)
bought or brought? BOUGHT is the past tense of to buy.
She BOUGHT eggs, bacon and bread.
BROUGHT is the past tense of to bring
They BROUGHT their books home.
breath or breathe? BREATH is the noun, and rhymes with
He called for help with his dying
BREATHE is the verb and rhymes with
BREATHE deeply and fill those lungs!
broach or brooch? You BROACH adifficulttopicor
BROACH abottle.
You wear a BROOCH.

big, large, great and tall- high

1.We use big mostly in an informal style.

  • We’ve got a big new house.
  • Get your big feet off my flowers.
  • That’s a really big improvement.
  • You’re making a big mistake.

In a more formal style, we prefer large or great.

Large is used with concrete nouns (the names of things you can see, touch, etc).

Great is used with abstract nouns (the names of ideas etc).

  • It was a large house situated near the river.
  • I’m afraid my daughter has rather large feet
  • Her work showed a great improvement last year.

With uncountable nouns, only great is possible.

  • There was great confusion about the dates. (NOT . . . big confusion . . .)
  • I felt great excitement as the meeting came nearer.

2. Tall is used to talk about vertical height (from top to bottom). It is mostly used for people; sometimes for buildings and trees. 

  • ‘How tall are you?’ ‘One metre ninety-one.’

3.We also use great to mean ‘famous’ or ‘important’.

  • Do you think Napoleon was really a great man?
  • Newton was probably the greatest scientist who ever lived.

4.We sometimes use great to mean ‘wonderful’ (very informal).

  • I’ve had a great idea!
  • How’s the new job?’ ‘Great.’
  • It’s a great car.

5. Note that large is a ‘false friend’ for people who speak some European languages. It does not mean the same as wide.

  • The river is a hundred metres wide. (NOT . . . metres large)

6. tall and high

a We use tall for things which are this shape:

We can talk about tall people, trees, and sometimes buildings.

  • How tall are you9 (NOT How high are you?)
  • There are some beautiful tall trees at the end of our garden.

We do not use tall for things which are this shape, We use high.

  • Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe (NOT . . . the tallest mountain.)
  • It’s a very high room. (NOT . . . tall room.)

b We use high to say how far something is above the ground.

  • A child standing on a chair may be higher than his father, but not taller.

c Parts of the body are long, not tall.

  • She’s got beautiful long legs. (NOT tall legs.)