How NOT to pay a compliment in English (back & left-handed compliments)

How NOT to pay a compliment in English (back & left-handed compliments)

In our last video we looked at six different ways to pay someone a compliment and you can see that video here:
In this video we’re looking how NOT to give compliments. We’ll show you examples of things that can go wrong, and suggest ways to avoid them.
For example:

  • Complimenting a woman on her appearance in the workplace could be seen as a sexual advance or even sexual harassment.
    There are gender differences in how we give compliments and we’ll pass on some research.
  • If compliments aren’t sincere, they can be seen as flattery and that can be a problem.
  • And finally, you want to avoid backhanded or left-handed compliments. These are compliments that are half insult and half compliment and nobody likes them. We’ll show you a variety of back and left-handed compliment examples so you can see if you can the spot what’s wrong with them.

Click here to see our video on how to give a compliment.
Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions.

How NOT to pay a compliment in English

Have you had your hair cut?
Yes, I’ve got a new barber. What do you think?
Oh it’s very smart. It’s so much better than it looked before.
Oh great.
Let me see the back. See! I like what he’s done with your bald spot.

Hi I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
Our last video was about compliments and when I posted it, Jay was a bit worried.
Well you didn’t tell everyone what we DON’T say if we’re giving a compliment.
I didn’t want the video to be too long. I’ll put a link here if you haven’t seen it yet. And we’re going to talk about compliments that don’t work now.
So what was your problem?
Well there are compliments that guys can’t give. I might compliment you on your appearance because we’re married, but I’d be very careful about complimenting the appearance of another woman, especially at work.
But I could compliment a female colleague on her appearance – if she looked nice.

Hi everyone.
Hi Geri. Your hair’s looking very pretty today.
Thank you. I just had it cut.
It’s gorgeous. And you have such beautiful brown eyes.

That was creepy.
Yes, men have to be careful. If we compliment a woman on her appearance we could make her uncomfortable.
We could think you’re trying to make a move on us.
Exactly! And it’s sexual harassment if we do it in the workplace in the united States. We could lose our jobs.
So it’s serious.
Yes, don’t do it guys! Not in the US.
There’s a lot of linguistic research on compliments and they’ve found the kinds of compliments that men and women give are often different. Men are more likely to say things like ‘Good job’ or ‘Nice work’. Their compliments are more impersonal.
That sounds right to me.
And women give more compliments to other women than men give to other men.
That makes sense too.
Well women are very nice.
I think another important thing with compliments is that you can’t lie. You have to tell the truth.

Oh officer. Is there a problem?
Yes, you can’t park here.
I’m just going to move it.
You’re too late. You should not have parked here.
Oh officer. Oh my, what beautiful brown eyes you have.
Flattery will get you nowhere.
You know, I’ve got some doughnuts in the car. Perhaps I could give you the doughnuts and you could throw away that ticket?
That’s not flattery. That’s bribery.

Well that didn’t work. I tried flattery but you saw through me.
Yes, flattery is praise that we don’t really mean.
When we flatter someone, we try to persuade them to do something by saying nice things about them.
But flattery isn’t sincere. It’s just a show.
Yes. And what about bribery?
Oh well, that’s when we give someone something to do what we want and it breaks the rules.
So it’s something dishonest
Or illegal.
OK, there’s another thing we have to do right to give a good compliment, and it’s very important.
What’s that?
We have to be totally positive. You can’t mix in any negative things.

Oh nice jacket. Is it new?
Yes, I bought it last week.
I love the way you go your own way instead of following the fashions.
Oh, well.
And it hides your belly well too.

That was not a compliment!
I know. I said something nice because I said you go your own way, so you’re independent.
But you also suggested I’m not fashionable.
Yeah. That’s not nice.
And then you drew attention to my belly!
Yeah. Definitely not nice!
So it was a compliment and an insult at the same time.
We have a term for this. In British English we call it a backhanded compliment. But you have a different name for it in American English.
Yes, we call it a left-handed compliment. It’s when it’s half compliment and half insult.
We had a request to talk about backhanded compliments from a viewer called Nick. Great idea Nick!
Then let’s look at another one.
Yeah. Watch another example and see if you can recognize the compliments and the insults.
Yes, try to spot what’s nice and what’s rude here?

Well, that was an interesting meeting.
Mmm. Where do you get the energy to talk so much?
Oh thanks. Do you think I talked too much?
Oh no, I love listening to your ideas Jay.
Oh good.
Listening to you makes me feel so intelligent.

So I said ‘Where do you get the energy to talk so much?’ That could be a compliment because it means I think you’re energetic.
Yes that’s positive, but you also said I talk so much. Maybe you meant too much.
And then there was another. I said I liked listening to your ideas. That’s positive. But then you said they make you feel intelligent. I was drawing a comparison between your ideas and my ideas
And suggesting yours are more intelligent than mine.
I was being a smart-arse there.
A smart-ass is someone who behaves as if they know everything.
Yes, we say smart-arse in British English.
Smart-ass in American English.
Your arse – or ass- is a slang word for your bottom. If you want to be more polite you could say smart aleck
A smart aleck thinks their very clever and they’re very annoying.
Let’s have another example.

Oh and here’s a picture of me and my brother.
Oh wow. Is that handsome guy you?
You look great. I nearly didn’t recognize you.
Yeah, it doesn’t look like you at all.

So I said two nice things here. ‘You look great’ and I called you handsome.
Yes, but the problem was you also said the guy in the photo didn’t look like me, so that implies that I don’t normally look great or handsome.
Yes. So it’s really important. If you’re paying someone a compliment, you have to stay 100% positive. You can’t add negative stuff.
If someone pays you a left-handed compliment, what should you say?
I’ve no idea. How should you reply?
I don’t know either. But if anyone has any ideas about that, please write and tell us in the comments.
Perhaps you should say nothing.
And then go and find some new friends.
I find responding to normal compliments hard sometimes too.
A lot of people do.
Let’s make another video about that.
OK. Next year perhaps. If you liked this video please share it with a friend.
And don’t forget to subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss our future videos.
Bye everyone.

Click here to see our video on how to give a compliment.
Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions.

6 Easy Ways to Pay Compliments in English

6 Easy Ways to Pay Compliments in English

Learn 6 easy ways to pay compliment in English a make the world a happier place!

We’ll show you lots of compliment examples and talk about which compliments mean most to us. (They have to be genuine and can’t be manipulative!)

We’ll also show you six easy grammar structures for compliments:
look/be + adjective
love/like + noun
Good job/work
nice + noun
What + adjective + noun
good at + noun, good at + gerund

Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn some more everyday English expressions.

6 ways to pay compliments in English

Hello everyone. I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And today we want to help you make the world a happier place.
We’re going to look at compliments and how we tell people what we like about them in English.
The grammar is pretty easy. You can learn the structures you need very fast.
And we’ll show you lots of examples.
So you can find some nice things to say to people you like.
Let’s start with some vocabulary. We can give a compliment or pay a compliment. It means the same thing. Pay and give collocate with the word compliment.
What does collocate mean?
It means we often use the words together. So we often say the verbs ‘pay’ and ‘give’ with the noun ‘compliment’. They’re common collocations.
OK. Let’s get cracking now and see some compliments in action.
Yes, we have a story for you. See how many compliments you can spot.

Oh let me help you.
Oh no, I can do it.
No, no, let me help. Oh this artwork looks great. It’s really beautiful. Did you do this?
Yes. I just need one copy.
Oh I can do that.
Ah. It’s jammed. You have to take the paper out at the back. Oh. It’s stuck. Where are you going? Help, help.
Help, oh, you’ve saved me! Thank you.
You’re welcome
Who are you?
I’m photocopier man.
Oh you’re so brave and so strong. Those are really big muscles!
Well, I don’t know about that.
Oh and you’re so handsome. I love your smile.
Well I’d better get going now. Bye.
Oh. Where did you go? You’ll never guess who was here.
Photocopier man.

You gave photocopier man lots of great compliments there.
Well, he was very cute!
Like me.
Let’s look at the grammar. What structures did we use?

Oh this artwork looks great. It’s really beautiful. Did you do this?

Here’s a very common structure for giving compliments. We use the verb ‘look’ or the verb ‘be’ with an adjective. And we can add emphasis with ‘really’.
We often use the adjectives great, beautiful, pretty, nice and good. They are all very common.
But there are lots more like wonderful, cool, cute, clever. Compliments are about spreading love so be positive.
In the UK we often say brilliant and it means very clever. ‘That’s a brilliant idea.’ ‘You’re brilliant’.
In the US we often say awesome. ‘You’ve done a really awesome job’.
We say awesome in British English now too.
Mmm. We got it from the US.
OK, let’s look at another common structure now.

Oh and you’re so handsome. I love your smile.
Well, I’d better get going now. Bye.

Again it’s simple. Just use the verb ‘like’ or ‘love’ and then say what you like or love. ‘I love your dog.’ ‘I like your hair.’ ‘I love your sense of humour.’
And again you can say ‘really’ to add emphasis. ‘I really love your smile’.
I really like your new glasses.
Thanks. You know there’s another structure that I use a lot. Well it’s a phrase really.
What’s that?
Good job! When someone does something well, I say ‘Good job’. Or ‘Great job’.
So for example, if they hit a golf ball into the hole.
Yes, good job. Or if you park the car in a small space.

We finished on time and on budget.
Well done everyone. Good job!
Yeah, nice work!

Nice is similar to good. We can say ‘Nice work!’ ‘Nice job!’
Or ‘Nice phone!’ ‘Nice computer! Nice – anything really.
And there’s another very simple structure like that. We say ‘what’!

Come in. Come in.
What a lovely apartment!
Thank you.
What a beautiful piano. It’s so pretty.
It’s a pretty colour, isn’t it?

So we just say ‘what’ and then the thing
‘What a lovely apartment!’
‘What a beautiful piano!’
‘What a great team we are!’
‘What a beautiful baby!’
So the grammar is very simple again.
Yes, I think forming compliments is pretty easy. Thinking of nice things to say is more difficult because you want to find things that matter to the other person and they have to be true.
What can we give compliments about?
There are lots of things, aren’t there? We can compliment people on how they look. Their clothes, their hair.
And their possessions. ‘What a great looking car.’ ‘What a nice yard.’
I’d say nice garden in British English. But what do you think are the nicest compliments to give to people?
What do I think?
Well, they’re probably not about appearance. How you look is how you look. And clothes and possessions – they’re just material things. Maybe the nicest compliments are about their achievements, about the things they do.
For example?
Well maybe they give a good presentation and you say ‘You did a really great job. or ‘You’re really good at giving speeches.’
Yeah or if they create something, like some artwork. Or their cooking. We often compliment people on a meal they’ve cooked.

This soup is delicious. Did you make it?
Yes, it’s a family recipe.
I love it!

Another nice compliment is when we can say something positive about someone’s character or personality, like, ‘You’re always so helpful’. Or ‘You’re very thoughtful’.
Or ‘You’re very imaginative’, or patient, or ‘You’re really well organized’.

You did a great job on this event Vicki.
Thank you!
You’re so well organized. It’s been a pleasure working with you.
You too!
But I organized this event!
Yes. I really love working with you too.

I like these compliments because they’re about skills. They’re saying ‘You’re good at your job’.
That’s another useful structure: ‘good at’. You’re really good at giving speeches.
Or you’re really good at English.
Notice what follows ‘good at’. It’s always a noun. If we want to use a verb, we have to add -ing to turn it into a gerund – a noun form of a verb.
So you’re really good at giving, -ing, – giving speeches.
Let’s have one more example.

You know you’re so good at making coffee Jay.
Thank you!
Could you make me another cup?

But that wasn’t really a compliment.
I know. I just wanted more coffee. But it illustrates the most important thing about giving compliments. They have to be true.
That’s right. If you lie, people might think you’re trying to manipulate them.
They might think you’re lying in order to get them to do what you want.
Compliments have to be truthful.
We’re making another video about how not to give compliments, because some compliments don’t work.
So make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
And see you all next week everyone. Bye.

Click here to learn how we might respond to compliments differently in the US and UK.
Click here to learn some more everyday English expressions.

The Zero Conditional in Action – English Grammar

The Zero Conditional in Action – English Grammar

Zero conditionals are a really useful and simple English grammar structure. We often use them to talk about scientific facts, but that’s not their only use.

In this video your see lots of zero conditional examples and learn how you can also use it to talk about habits and routines and even the past.

Zero conditionals have two clauses: the condition and result. We’ll show you how to form them, make negatives, punctuate them and reverse the order. You’ll learn about when and if in zero conditionals and cause effect relationships.

And just to check that all is clear we finish with a zero conditionals quiz.

Click here to see more grammar videos.

Click here to learn about if and in case.

The Zero Conditional in Action – English Grammar

If you breathe in helium, your voice goes funny.

Hello everyone. I’m Vicki.
And I’m Jay and this lesson’s about the zero conditional.
It’s a really useful and really simple structure. You’ll love it.
We often use it to talk about scientific facts.
Let’s see some examples.

If you heat water, it boils.
If ice gets warm, it melts.

So it’s really easy. The sentences have two parts, two clauses. One is the condition, and one is the result. The condition, the result.
We use the present simple in both clauses. It’s if with the present simple, and then the present simple again.
And we can reverse the order of the clauses. These sentences mean the same thing.
But notice the punctuation is different. If the sentence starts with ‘if’, we use a comma. The comma separates the condition and the result. But if ‘if’ comes in the middle of the sentence, the comma isn’t necessary.
That happens in other conditionals too. We can change the order of the two clauses.
Yeah, but you know what we need to look at next .
How to form negatives.
Let’s see.

What’s this ice cream doing here?
Oh, I might have some later.
If you don’t keep it in the freezer, it melts.
I forgot about it.
And the cream?
What about it?
If you put it in the fridge, it doesn’t go off.
Well, I’m going to have some now.

You heard two examples. If you don’t keep it in the freezer, it melts. If you put it in the fridge, it doesn’t go off.
So how do we form the negatives? It’s the present simple tense, so we use don’t and doesn’t.
To go off means to go bad so you can’t drink it.
In American English we’d say spoil. The milk spoiled.
We could say that in British English but it sounds old fashioned to me. We say go off.
Say spoil.
Now there’s something very special about zero conditionals. It’s something that only happens in this kind of conditional.
What’s that?
We can switch the word ‘if’ for ‘when’.

If you breathe in helium, your voice goes funny.
When you breathe in helium your voice goes funny.

So if, when, they’re both correct here and these sentences mean the same thing.
It’s a special feature of this conditional.
In other conditionals ‘if’ and ‘when’ mean different things, but in zero conditionals they mean the same.
It’s because we’re talking about things that always happen.
If you breathe in helium, the result is always the same.
So if you do it, when you do it, it doesn’t matter because the same thing happens every time.
With zero conditionals one thing always leads to another.

I’m back.
Oh. What did you buy?
Chocolate brownies. You’re going to love them
Wow. But if we eat too many brownies, we put on weight.
Oh. Do you want me to eat yours then?
Heck no!

There’s a cause effect relationship here. Brownies cause weight gain.
Yes, brownies are the cause and the effect is we put on weight.
It’s a sad fact of life.
And that’s why we use a zero conditional. We use them with facts and in situations where something always happens.
That means that we can also use them to talk about habits and routines.

I read the newspaper every day and if I see a good investment opportunity, I call my broker and tell her to buy.
I read the newspaper every day too, but I start at the back and read the sports pages.
When you snooze, you lose.

So here I used the zero conditional to describe a habit, a routine of mine.
And did you notice this one? ‘When you snooze you lose.’ It’s an idiom.
To snooze means to have a short light sleep.
‘When you snooze you lose’ means you have to act fast to get what you want. It’s another general truth. A fact of life.
OK, the next thing we need to talk about is the past.
Ah yes. We usually use zero conditionals to talk about the present, but we can also use them to talk about things that were true in the past.

When I went to school in England, we had to wear a uniform.
In my school we could wear whatever we wanted.
Mmm. When we forgot our tie, we were in trouble.
I didn’t wear a tie.
And if our skirt was too short, the teachers sent us home.
And I didn’t wear a skirt either.

So again, these sentences are about general truths, but they’re things that that were always true in the past.
The structure is the same as before, but instead of the present simple, we use the past tense. And again, we can switch ‘if’ for ‘when’, and ‘when’ for ‘if’.
So we’ve looked at the present and the past. Are we finished now?
No, there’s another very important question. How is the zero conditional different from the first conditional?
They are similar. Let’s look at some examples and see if you can work out the difference.

If you don’t put ice cream in the freezer, it melts.

Was I talking generally about ice cream here? Yes. All ice cream melts if it gets warm. So this is a general truth. Now let’s look at a different example?

If you don’t put this ice cream in the freezer, it’ll melt.

Was Vicki talking about ice cream in general here? No. This one’s different. She was talking about a particular carton of ice cream.
We use the zero conditional to talk about what happens in general, and the first conditional to talk about a particular situation.
So the zero conditional is about what always happens, and the first conditional is about what happens in a particular case.
In many situations we might use a zero or first conditional, but there’s a difference in meaning. General – particular.
We’re making another video about the first conditional. So make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
I think we should have a review now. Let’s see what you can remember.
We use zero conditionals to talk about things that are always true. We use them when one action always follows another.
In zero conditionals ‘if’ means the same as ‘when’. We can say ‘if’ or ‘when’ and the meaning doesn’t change.
The word ‘if’ comes at the start or in the middle of a sentence. Just remember to use a comma if you start the sentence with ‘if’.
We use zero conditionals to talk about what’s true in all situations. They’re general truths, We don’t use them if we’re thinking of specific or particular situations.
We can use zero conditionals to talk about routines and habits in the present and the past.
They just have to be things that always happen in the present or always happened in the past.
And that’s it! Now you know how we use zero conditionals in English.
If you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
And see you next week everyone. Bye.

7 things to say when you make a mistake

7 things to say when you make a mistake

What do we say when we make a mistake? Maybe it’s an expletive. (Did you you know the pronunciation of expletive is different in British and American English?) In this video we look at some swear word alternatives like bother, shoot and damn.

You’ll also learn the phrasal verb screw up and the more polite phrasal verb mess up.

We also look at the expressions ‘by mistake‘ meaning by accident and ‘It’s my fault‘, meaning I accept responsibility. And you’ll see examples of the word fault as a countable and uncountable noun.

Click here to learn some rules for when we use make and when we use do.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions

Things to say when you make a mistake

Welcome to the Good Morning show. In today’s program we’re going to be talking to Hillary Clinton. Oh, I’m sorry. That’s the wrong picture. We’ve clearly made a mistake.

Hi everyone, I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
And this lessons about things you can say when you make mistakes.
Where should we start?
Well the first thing we say is often an expletive.
She means expletive.
Expletive. The pronunciation’s different in British and American.
Say expletive.
An expletive is a word that shows you’re angry or upset.


Argh! Oh….
The next thing you’d say is not polite.
Yeah, expletives are generally rude words. I’m sure you know these ones. They’re common curse words.
Be careful though because they are very rude.
Yes, don’t say them to your boss or peoplke you don’t know well.
What are some polite alternatives?
Hmm. I’ve heard some people say ‘oh bother’, but that’s normally if it’s a small thing.

Oh bother, I’ve spilt my tea.

‘Bother’ sounds very British. In the US we might say ‘shoot’.

Oh shoot, I left my wallet at home.

Again, we say this for small mistakes.
Yes, if you want to add some emotion, I think ‘damn’ is a useful word.
Is it rude?
It’s a little rude but it’s better than the curse words if you’re at work or something, and it shows you’re upset.

Oh damn. I forgot to put petrol in the car.
Damn. I just made a mistake.
I just sent everyone the wrong dates for the meeting.

Notice that Jay said ‘I just made a mistake’. We use the verb ‘make’ with mistake.
In some languages it’s do a mistake’, but not in English.
Yes, so don’t make that mistake with mistake! ‘Make’ and ‘mistake’ both start with the letter m. Perhaps that will help you remember.
OK. Now are there other ways to say ‘I’ve made a mistake’?
Yes. We often use phrasal verbs. Let’s see one in action.

Oh no, I’ve screwed up again!
What have you done?
I forgot to press save before I closed the document.
He’s always screwing up like that.

The verb is ‘screw up’. It’s slang and it’s a bit rude.
Again, you probably don’t want to say it to your boss. But there’s another verb you could use instead – mess up.

Can I try it?
OK but be careful. It took me ages to get this far. Don’t mess it up. …
Oh sorry

Mess up means to do something badly.
It’s a phrasal verb again and it’s a little more polite than screw up.
And another phrase you can use is ‘by mistake’.

I drank your coffee by mistake. How much sugar is in that?
5 teaspoons. I like it sweet.

So ‘by mistake’ means ‘by accident’.

Hi. Your pay check has arrived.
Oh good. Hey! Somebody’s already opened this.
Yeah, sorry, I opened it by mistake. You didn’t earn as much as me last month.

So by mistake – by accident.
By mistake means you didn’t intend to do it. Or did you?
Now the word mistake is a noun here, but it can be a verb too. And then it means you think one thing is another.
For example, you have to keep your pills safe because children might mistake them for candy.
Mistake is an irregular verb – mistake, mistook, mistaken.

Oh Mary.
Do we know each other?
Oh sorry, I mistook you for someone else.
No problem.

I mistook you for someone else means I thought you were one person, but you were another.
Yes, it sounds a little formal to me. I think normally I’d say it differently.

Oh Mary.
Do we know each other?
Oh sorry I thought you were someone else.
No problem.

That sounded more natural.
Yes, and there’s another thing we often say when we’ve made a mistake.
Let’s look at how we do that.

Who designed these calendars?
Oh I did. Do you like them?
How many copies did you print?
I don’t know.
I ordered 500. Is there a problem?
Yes. Look at February. There are 30 days.
Oh, that’s a mistake.
I’m so sorry Kathy. It’s my fault. I didn’t notice.
It’s my fault too. I didn’t check it before it went to the printers.
We’re both at fault.
30 days!

Now here’s a very useful phrase. When we say ‘it’s my fault’, we’re saying we’re responsible.
We accept the blame for what went wrong.
We admit we did the wrong thing. And if we don’t want to accept responsibility, we can use the negative.

You need to do this again.
It’s full of spelling mistakes
It’s not my fault. My spell checker doesn’t work
Then use a dictionary.

So ‘it’s not my fault’ means it’s not my responsibility. Don’t blame me.
Fault is an uncountable noun here, so it has no plural form. But the word fault has other meanings where it’s countable.
For example?
Well, people can have faults.

Good luck with your presentation. Are you nervous?
No, I’m going to be fantastic. They’ll love me.
Jay may have some faults, but lack of confidence isn’t one of them.

So here faults is plural and it means the bad or weak parts of someone’s character.
I don’t really have many faults.
Yeah right. And faults can also mean other things that are wrong. Machines can have faults. Faults are things that stop them working correctly.
A fault in the design.
A structural fault.

You need to use the other copier. This one’s not working.
Really? Why not?
They think it’s an electrical fault.
Told you.

OK, I think it’s time to review, don’t you?
Yes, let’s see what you can remember. When we make a mistake, the first thing we say is often an expletive.
Or an expletive.
An expletive is usually a swear word or curse word. But there are some more polite alternatives. For example in the UK we could say ‘Oh bother!’
And in the US we could say ‘Oh shoot!’
Here’s a really useful one: Oh damn!
We usually use the word mistake with the verb make.
And we use phrasal verbs too like ‘I’ve screwed up’.
And we can also say ‘I’ve messed up’.
If we think we’re responsible for a mistake we’ll say ‘It’s my fault’.
And if we think we’re not responsible we’ll say ‘It’s not my fault’.
And that’s it. Now you know what to say when you’ve screwed up and made a mistake.
If you’ve found this video useful, please share it with a friend.
And make sure you subscribe to our channel.
See you next Friday everyone. Bye Bye.

Click here to learn some rules for when we use make and when we use do.
Click here to learn more everyday English expressions

Are Brits or Americans more polite? Let’s see!

Are Brits or Americans more polite? Let’s see!

The US and UK have a rather different style of politeness. You’ll learn about them both in this video.

In American English it’s often important to show warmth and friendliness. That’s true in British English too, but there we sometimes place more emphasis on not intruding or interfering.

It’s not that one style of politeness is better than the other, but it can lead to some funny differences on when we give compliments and how we receive them.

There’s a branch of linguistics called pragmatics which studies the hidden or secret meanings behind the words we choose. It looks at the intentions behind words and, as a result, it has prompted a lot of research and discussion about linguistic politeness.

This video looks at some ways that face issues impact politeness when it comes to compliments.

We haven’t tried to go into the technicalities of positive and negative politeness, but we show some issues in action that we think will be useful for English learners.

If you’ve enjoyed this video, here are two more we’ve made on some pragmatic features of English:
Why it’s hard to understand English speakers:
3 ways to get what you want in English:

British and American compliments – different styles of politeness

Yes, I’ll see you at three thirty then. OK. Cheers!
I just love your accent.

This video was inspired by a great comment we had from a viewer called Toure Malone. Have I said his name right?
I don’t know.
Toure, tell us if we got that wrong.
Here’s what he said.
Americans are notorious for saying “Oh my god I love your accent”. I’m one of them! Does it irritate you? He also said ‘We can’t help it. British accents are divine’
We’d better explain what notorious means.
It’s similar to famous, but it’s when you’re famous for something bad.
Yeah. A notorious criminal.
A notorious computer hacker.
And he says British accents are divine – so wonderful, beautiful.
He’s right.
You think my accent’s divine too?
No, I mean it’s true that Americans often say this to you. Are you irritated by it?
Not now because I’m used to it. I like it now, but at first I felt uncomfortable. It was awkward.
I didn’t know how to respond.
OK. See you soon. Bye.

I just love your accent.
Well everyone speaks like this where I come from.

That’s terrible! It’s like you’re calling him an idiot.
I know. I should be nicer.

OK. See you soon. Cheers.
I just love your accent.
And I just love your… dental work.

That’s terrible too! What’s your problem?
It’s less common to give compliments to strangers in the UK. We have a different way of being polite.
What do you mean?
Well, there are two sides to politeness – two parts. One part is about being inclusive and warm and friendly and agreeable.
Like me.
I’m American and we’re famous for being friendly.
But the other part of politeness is about being leaving people alone.
That’s polite?
Yes, so you don’t interfere. You let them do whatever they want and you don’t disturb them. You don’t intrude.
You don’t want to be intrusive.
Uhuh. Not intruding is polite too.
Well that makes sense.
Both these sides of politeness are important in all cultures, but people give them different weight, different importance, in different parts of the world.
Let me guess. In America being warm and friendly is more important.
Yes. It’s important everywhere, but it’s very important in the US. And in the UK, we think it’s important to stand back and leave people alone a bit more.
We can do that too. But this is about different weightings.
Exactly. If you think about the stereotypes of British people and Americans, it’s sort of connected.

Hi, I’m British and I’m rather reserved. If we meet somewhere like a railway carriage, I probably won’t talk to you. I think it’s polite to leave people alone so they can go about their business without me getting in their way.

Hi! I’m American and I’m super friendly. When we meet for the first time, I’m going to tell you my entire life story in the first five minutes. I’m polite so I won’t hold back. I’m going to share and be open.

Those are stereotypes. They’re not real.
But when you think about the two sides of politeness, you can see where they come from. You know, sometimes my students ask if American friendliness is fake.
So not real?
Yeah, is it fake?
After living here a long time, I don’t think it’s fake either. It’s just the politeness style – it emphasizes friendliness.
Ok, so let’s go back to Toure’s example. When we say ‘I love your accent’, We’re being friendly. What’s wrong with that?
Well it’s also intrusive because it means you’re judging me.
But I said something nice.
Yeah, but what right have you got to judge me?
That’s such a funny way of looking at it.
And there’s another problem. If you say something nice to me, then I might feel that I have to repay you and say something nice back.
Oh, so it sounds like I’m fishing for compliments.
It’s a possibility.
Why can’t you just say thank you?
Ah. If I accept the compliment and then you might think that I’m big headed.
Big headed is a British expression.
It means you think you’re more intelligent or more important than you really are.
You don’t want people to think you’re conceited.
Exactly. You want them to think you’re modest. That’s when you don’t talk about your achievements. Being big headed is bad. Being modest is good.

And that’s it. Thank you everybody.
Wow. I just loved your presentation. It was awesome.
Thank you. Erm… I made some mistakes.
It was really good.
I forgot some things.
I didn’t notice. You were terrific.
Thanks Erm. I really should have practiced more.
But…. but it was interesting.
No, no.
No, really!

Wow, that was awkward. It felt like YOU were fishing for compliments.
I know. I was just trying to be modest and you wouldn’t let me.
Well, you kept criticizing yourself so you forced me to say something nice.
When I first came to the US, I had conversations like that. It was really embarrassing. The Americans were embarrassed. I was embarrassed.
But it’s not a problem now.
Errr. Not so much. I’ve learnt to be careful not to criticize myself.
She’s very modest.
No. It’s not that we’re really more modest in the UK. It’s just more important for us to behave as if we’re modest.
It’s a different style of politeness.
Exactly. And I’m wondering, what politeness is like in YOUR culture. Is it more like the US or the UK?
Write and tell us in the comments. That’ll be very interesting.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
See you all next week everyone.

Tricky words to pronounce in British and American English

Tricky words to pronounce in British and American English

We’re back with some more tricky words to pronounce in English. Hear how some English learners say them and then listen to how Vicki and Jay say them, in British and American English. It’s a fun way to improve pronunciation.

In this video you’ll learn the pronunciation and meaning of these words:


Click here to see more pronunciation videos

Tricky words to pronounce in British and American English

Hi. We’re back with some more words that are difficult to pronounce in British English
And in American English.
Are you ready to try them?
Let’s get going.
Hello everyone! I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American. We want to say thank you to everyone who has suggested words that are hard to pronounce.
You made some great suggestions and we’ve asked some English learners to try saying them for us
Yeah, here’s the first one. Let’s see how they did.


Ha! Oh dear, they’re all wrong.
This word is confusing.

Mishap? Mishap. Mishap? What’s this word?

She got it right the first time. It’s mishap. It’s an s sound, sss. Not sh.
And it means a small accident or mistake.
Yes, a mishap isn’t serious. It’s when something goes wrong, but it’s just a small thing.


He got it right.
Yes, he did well. He didn’t have a mishap with mishap.
Say it with us.


OK, what’s next?
Let’s see.


Oh dear, no no no no.
That was hard.
Yes. It’s a short word and you’ve got to say a lot of sounds very quickly.

Depth.Yeah. Thank you.

They did well.
So what does depth mean?
It’s how deep something is, so the distance from the top of something to its bottom.
The depth of a swimming pool.
The depths of the ocean.


So you’ve got a p sound: p. And then you’ve got to move your tongue forward very quickly for the th sound.
Try saying it with us.


You know, I have hidden depths.
Yes, there are lots of interesting and unknown things about my character. I’m very deep.
Let’s see what’s next.

Oh. Posthumously.
Hmm. Posthumously.
Posthumously. Posthumously.

Oh nearly, but they’ve all got the word stress wrong.

Posthumously? I don’t think I got that one.

So what does it mean?
OK. If something happens after someone’s death, it’s posthumous. Like someone might write a book and then die, and then they publish the book posthumously, so after their death.
Or heroes who died in battle might receive a posthumous medal.
Yes, and the stress is on the first syllable. Say it with us


Can we have a happier word now?
Yes, here’s a nice one.

Choir. Choir?

Oh this is another hard one.


Hey, she got it right!
Yeah. It doesn’t start with ch or sh sound. It starts with a kw.


So what does it mean?
A choir is a group of people who sing together. Like a church choir or a school choir.
Let’s show everyone.
[choir singing]
Wow, we’re good!
Yeah, let’s do that again!
[choir singing]
OK, say the word choir with us.


OK, what’s next?
Let’s see.


Ah, that’s not right!
It should just be one syllable, right?
Yes, and it ends with a t sound… t.
So we write E-D but we say T?
That’s right. It happens in the past tense when verbs end with an unvoiced sound.
We should make another video about that.
It’s on my list. We will.
Good. So subscribe to our channel everyone so you don’t miss it.
And we say the word ‘asked’ a little differently in American and British English.
See if you can hear the difference.


So in British English we say ‘ah’.
And in American English we say ‘a’.
This happens with quite a few words, like bath.
So you can choose. You can say asked or asked.
Say it with our learners.


What’s next?
We’ve got a long word now.

Errr. Ono…Onomatopoeia. I don’t know.
Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia. I don’t know.
Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia.

They nearly got it.
Yes, what does this word mean?
It’s when you use words that sound like their meanings. Like the word hiss sounds like a hiss. SSSss
Or the beep sound your cell phone makes. Beep beep.
Or how buzz sounds like buzzing.

Onomatopoe… Onomatopoeia.

They did a great job!
Yes. It’s all about getting the rhythm right. ONomatoPOEIa.


So how many syllables does it have?
ON-oh-mat-oh-PEE-a – six!
And the main stress is on PEE.
Yes, and there’s a secondary stress on ON. Here’s how we say it.


What’s that trick you use for pronouncing long words?
It’s called backchaining. You start at the back and then work forward. Try it with me.
ma- to-PEE-a.
o- ma- to-PEE-a.
ON-o- ma- to-PEE-a.
Did it help you say it? OK, let’s do one more word.
Another hard one?


Nice tries but the W should be silent.


Now they got it right.


So what’s a sword?
It’s a weapon with a long metal blade and a handle.
There’s a famous saying. The pen is mightier than the sword.
Yes, it means words are more powerful than physical force, because you can change people’s opinions with words.
Yes, and it’s easier to write with a pen than with a sword.
We want to say a big thank you to all the learners who helped us make this video. You were very generous and such fun to work with.
And you were very good sports.
Yes. We should explain what being a good sport means?
If someone is a good sport then they are pleasant and cheerful, even in a difficult situation.
And we gave them some difficult words to say.
If you have any suggestions for more difficult words, write and tell us in the comments.
Maybe we can make another video about them.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
And don’t forget to subscribe to this channel.
Bye everyone!
Click here to see more pronunciation videos

Halloween vs. Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night.

Halloween vs. Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night.

Halloween is a big holiday at this time of year in the US. Folks are carving pumpkins to make jack-o’-lanterns and getting their costumes ready for trick-or-treating.

Halloween is growing in popularity in the UK, but the big event for us is Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes. It’s a celebration of a historical event from 1605, when a plot to assassinate the king was thwarted.

You’ll hear about both celebrations this video and learn about British and American traditions. Our friend Jennifer describes how her family celebrate Halloween in the US and Vicki tells the story of Guy Fawkes.

Have you seen our other video, with scary words for Halloween?

Halloween vs Bonfire Night

Hi, I’m Vicki and I’m British but I live in the US now, and this season of year is what I call autumn, but Americans call fall.
America and the UK both have a have a special celebration at this time of year, but they’re different.
In the US it’s Halloween and in the UK it’s Guy Fawkes night, or Bonfire Night. You’re going to learn about both celebrations in this video and you’ll also learn vocabulary along the way.
To help me, I’m teaming up with my friend Jennifer, from Jennifer ESL. Jennifer’s American and she knows lots about Halloween. And I’ve got lots to tell you about Guy Fawkes, and British history. We’ll also to show you some family photos, and when we’ve finished, you can decide which holiday you think is best.
OK Jennifer. You can go first because Halloween comes first.
That’s right. We celebrate Halloween on October 31st.
Halloween combines different traditions and lots of fun. Halloween is also known as All Hallows’ Eve, and it’s actually been around for centuries in one form or another. Halloween has ancient Celtic roots, so the holiday came from what is now Ireland, the UK, and France.
At this time of the year, when the warm summer ends, and the cold weather sets in, people believed that the line between the living and the dead blurs. That’s how Halloween came into existence.
So the living and the dead get mixed up! Is that why people think of ghosts and zombies and scary creatures at Halloween?
Yeah, when the tradition first started, some people thought that wearing costumes would scare the real ghosts away. Today both children and adults participate in Halloween simply for the fun of dressing up and wearing costumes.
Dressing up is a huge part of Halloween in the US. The costumes can be scary, funny, beautiful… whatever you’d like. Take a look.
Oh that’s your kids! Wonderful!
In the UK, if we dress up, we generally dress as things like Dracula, or Frankenstein or mummies – so costumes that have a spooky theme. But in the US, people dress up as anything they want. It’s part of the tradition of trick-or-treating, isn’t it?
Yes. Trick-or-treating is a community event. It’s a lot of fun to see families all around the neighborhood celebrating in costume and giving out candy. For about two hours, kids go from door to door in costume. They know which houses to go to because families turn on their porch lights to signal that they’re participating in Trick-or-Treating.
The kids ring the doorbell if no one’s already waiting at the door. Each time they say, ‘Trick or treat’, and receive candy. No one plays tricks, by the way. It’s just a custom to say ‘Trick or treat’, like a greeting or a request for candy.
Often the adults giving out candy are dressed up too. Parents who are waiting back near the street remind their children to say thank you for the candy. Parents also hope to get some of that candy later, or at least I do!
Now, sometimes my students ask if Halloween is a religious festival or a celebration of the devil and dark forces, but it’s not. It’s just an excuse to party. I think it’s my favourite American holiday now.
How can you live in the U.S. and not love Halloween? It’s a huge deal for my children and me. We get ready a few weeks in advance because it takes time to prepare our costumes and decorate the house. And don’t get me started about carving the pumpkins! I can go on and on about the time it takes to make jack-o-lanterns.
Jack-o-lanterns. You’d better explain what they are.
That’s what we call the pumpkins after we carve them and place candles inside to light them up at night. Traditionally, we carve a scary or funny faces, but in more recent years, it’s become fashionable to carve different things.
Some people are really good at it. I’m learning, but it’s not easy to cut through the hard shell.
I know. I’m very impressed. They’re really hard to make.
I wonder if people in the UK have as much fun around this time of the year?
Well, when I was growing up, we didn’t pay attention to Halloween. It was no big deal. It’s growing in popularity now but it’s still a small holiday compared to the U S.
In the UK, we like to party a few days later on the fifth of November. That’s when we have Guy Fawkes night, or bonfire night.
This is a celebration of a historical event and it dates back to the year 1605. King James was the King of Great Britain and some people planned to assassinate him – so to kill him.
They got barrels of gunpowder and hid them in the British parliament building and waited for the king to arrive.
So it was a plot. They planned to blow up the building and kill the king.
However, the king’s supporters heard about the plot. They searched the building and discovered a man, called Guy Fawkes, hiding in the basement under the building with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
So the king was saved and the people of London celebrated by lighting bonfires. That’s how the tradition started.
Every November the fifth we have bonfires and lots of fireworks. When I was a child, bonfire night was probably the most exciting night of the year.
Preparations started a week or two before. We’d go to the shop and buy big boxes of fireworks and very importantly, we’d make a guy. A guy is a kind of effigy or model of Guy Fawkes. We’d get some old clothes, stuff them with newspapers and sew them together so they looked like a human body. Then we’d build a bonfire, put the guy on top and set fire to it.
Vicki, are you the little girl on the left?
Yes, that’s me! I think I was about 8 or 9 years old.
The stuffed guy reminds me of a scarecrow. We use scarecrows on farms to scare away the birds. Here in the US, scarecrows have also become common fall decorations. We don’t burn them though!
Looking back, it was quite dangerous because our garden wasn’t very big. Most people these days go to big firework displays instead. They’re a lot safer.
Wow. Talk about strange but oddly fun traditions! Do any of you have the tradition of building a bonfire? What fall holidays do you celebrate? Tell us in the comments.
Yes, and don’t forget to subscribe to both our channels. Happy Halloween everyone! Bye!

This video includes an image of Standard fireworks published by ‘Epic Fireworks’ which can be found at It is available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic (cc BY 2.0) licence.

Click here to see our other Halloween video and learn lots of spooky words.

Words of comfort – expressing condolences in English

Words of comfort – expressing condolences in English

It’s hard to know what to say to comfort people who are grieving. Grief and death aren’t easy topics to talk about in any language.

In this video we share some English phrases that have made us feel a little better as we grieve the death of our dog Carter. Most of the words of comfort we share are appropriate for dogs and humans.

Click here to watch some more videos with useful everyday English

Words of comfort for grief – expressing condolences in English

Hello everyone. I’m Vicki.
And I’m Jay and today we have sad news. Our pet dog Carter has passed away.
We’re both very upset and we’re grieving but we’ve received some very kind messages from our friends.
It’s hard to know what to say when someone dies but our friends’ messages have been very comforting and made us feel a little better.
So we’re going to talk about Carter in this video and share some of the lovely things people have said – words of comfort.
We’ll show you phrases you can use to say you’re sorry when you hear someone has died – dog or human.
I have some tissues ready. Just in case.
We’ll tell you what words made us feel a little better.
Many of you will know Carter because he’s appeared in lots of our videos.
Carter was our very good friend and a wonderful companion who made me laugh all the time.
He was the star in of some videos. Perhaps you’ve seen him having meals.
Carter was a great actor.
I don’t know about great. But he was an enthusiastic actor. He loved being around when we were making videos.
He was a very handsome dog. In one video we made him an international fashion model.
So what did people say when they learnt Carter has gone?
Well, first of all, I noticed that people avoided using the word dead. ‘Dead’ and ‘Died’ could be painful for the people grieving, so instead they use phrases like you just used – Carter has gone.
‘He’s gone’ is a euphemism. A euphemism is an indirect way of talking about something unpleasant and we have lots of euphemisms for death.
They also said ‘passed on’ and also’ passed away’. On Facebook, I wrote, ‘We lost Carter today.’ I didn’t say ‘Carter is dead’. That felt too direct and unpleasant.
But people knew you meant dead?
Because, of course, you could just lose your dog if they run off and don’t come back. (to jay) But people understood ‘We lost him’ meant ‘He died’?
And what did people write in reply.
Well, the most common phrase was ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
Uhuh. So the verb is lose – lose, lost, lost – and the noun form is loss.
And people often added emphasis, so they said ‘I’m very sorry for your loss’ or ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’
We say these things if a person has died too. This might seem strange to some of our viewers because in some parts of the world customs are different.
What do you mean?
Well, in some places, dogs are kept outside the home, and they’re seen as dirty. But in the west they generally live with the family in the home.
I see. Yes, Carter shared our home and he was definitely part of our family. People understood that and they responded with kind words – like we’d say to anyone who was grieving.
What did they say?
Lots of people told us they were thinking of us. So they wrote things like: ‘Thinking of you both and sending lots of love’. And ‘Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.’ Another one was, ‘I can imagine how hard it must be for you two right now.’
They’re very nice things to say. It is a hard time but these phrases tell us they care about us.
Yes. Another useful word is condolences. Several people used this.
Condolences is quite a formal word. It means the sympathy you feel for someone when a person in their family has died.
Our friend Jason used it. He said how sorry he was, but then he said ‘Lola and Oliver send their condolences.’
That’s nice. Lola and Oliver are Jason’s children and they’ve stayed with us so they know Carter too. He was telling us they felt sad as well.
Yes. Although it’s very formal, condolences is a great word for passing on other people’s sympathy. All these phrases helped me feel a little better.
Me too. We really appreciated them. What other things helped?
Hmm. When people shared memories. Some people didn’t know Carter but some did. Hearing their thoughts about him was very touching.
Can you give us some examples?
They said kind things like he was very special and he stole their heart. Our friend Geri wrote ‘Carter always made me smile and want to hug him.’
Geri adored Carter.
She’d play ball with him for hours and make him very excited.
Yeah. We adopted Carter when he was 18 months old, and he wasn’t trained. He used to get too excited and jump up at people.

Heads or tails.
You lose.

Carter was not supposed to be in that shot, but he got too excited.
We took him to a dog training class every week for over a year.
Really they were people training classes because we had to learn how to give him commands correctly.
But Carter was very smart – a very good learner. Do you remember our come and go video?
Come. Good boy. Good boy. Go to your crate. Good boy. Down. Good boy.
What a good dog!
That took more than a year of work at the dog training class! And sometimes it worked too well.

[door bell] Oh. Coming.

Carter ran in because he heard the word ‘coming’.
You didn’t always see Carter in our videos but he was always there when we were making them.
He wanted to be where the action was.
You know, this is a strange video.
Well, because we hope you’ll never need to use the English phrases we’ve been teaching.
Yeah, but probably you will and then we hope you can say kind words. Which words have given you most comfort Jay?
They all have. All of them. But perhaps the kindest words have come from people who knew Carter and shared happy memories. When someone says ‘I remember when…’ or ‘I loved how he would do this or that’, it means a lot.
Give us an example?
Oh, like Kathy.
Kathy is a dear friend who’s helped us make lots of videos.
She said ‘I never saw Carter in any other mood than cheerful and enthusiastic. I loved how he would sneak into our videos, lying on our feet under the desk.’ Carter always snuck under the desk and sat on her feet.
I’d say sneaked, but you’re right. He loved to be to be where the action was. And sometimes he appeared in videos when he shouldn’t. Like with Craig.

You just have to try and keep talking util the examiner stops you.

So what’s the lesson here?
If you can share a happy memory, I think it really helps. It will remind your friends about good times when they’re feeling sad.
Yeah. You know something makes me feel sad?.
I think this could be the first video we’ve ever shot without Carter on the set with us.
Mmm. I think it’s time to stop now. Bye everyone.

Click here to watch some more videos with useful everyday English

Modal verbs: How to use may, might and could to talk about past possibilities

Modal verbs: How to use may, might and could to talk about past possibilities

Learn how to use the past possibility modals may, might and could.

This is the second of two videos on 3 useful modal verbs that we use to talk about possibility and certainty in English. The first video was about how we use them in the present and future and you can see it here.

This video is about how we use may have done, might have done and could have done to talk about past possibilities. You’ll learn how to structure sentences with with have and the past participle.

You’ll also learn how the meaning of the phrases may not have and might not have differ from couldn’t have. And best of all you’ll see lots of examples in action in a spooky story and be invited to put them to use and create more examples of your own.

Click here to learn how we use may, might and could to talk about the present and future.
Click here to see more grammar videos.
Click here to learn how to pronounce can and can’t in British and American English.

Past possibility modals

Oh, sit Carter. Good boy.
Do you think this hotel may be haunted?
Might there be a ghost?
What do you think could happen to us?

Welcome back to our second video on three important modal verbs. In our first video we looked at how we them to talk about possibilities in the present and the future. Here’s the link. In this video we’ll show you how we use them to talk about possibilities in the past.
Before we start, I have two questions for you. First one: do these sentences all mean the same thing? Yes, they do! They all mean we think something is possible.
But is there a little difference? Well, ‘may’ is less frequent than ‘might’ and ‘could’ in conversation. And some people think ‘might’ means something is less possible than ‘could’ and ‘may’. But not everyone. Linguists love to argue about it. But for practical purposes, there is no difference. They mean the same thing.
OK, second question. Listen to me saying the first sentence in two different ways.
It could happen.
It COULD happen.
Is there a difference in meaning now?
Yes, there is. If I stress the word ‘could’ it means I think something is less possible, less certain. It’s the same with the other verbs.
It may happen. It MAY happen.
It might happen. It MIGHT happen.
Did you hear the difference? When we stress the modal verb, it means we think something is less possible, less certain.
Good. So now let’s look at possibilities in the past. Let’s check in with Jay and Carter and see what’s happening.

Hi everyone. Good to see you again. We’re still staying in this old hotel and Carter still doesn’t like it, do you boy? Carter didn’t sleep well last night. I’m not sure what was wrong but he may have eaten something that upset his stomach. And I had another bad dream last night. It was the same nightmare but this time there were two little girls. They looked the same – identical. They could have been twins. They were whispering and they both wanted to kill me. I was on the floor on my back and I couldn’t move. They were holding my arms and pulling me across the floor and laughing. It was horrible.
But here’s what’s strange. When I woke up today I found these bruises on my arms. Look! Where did they come from? I might have banged into something yesterday, but if I did, I don’t remember it. Take care everyone. I’ll talk to you later.

Sometimes things happen and we don’t know why, but we speculate and come up with possible reasons. We heard Jay doing that. He wasn’t sure why some things happened, but he had some ideas.

Carter may have eaten something that upset his stomach.
The girls looked identical. They could have been twins.
I might have banged into something yesterday.

Jay didn’t know why Carter couldn’t sleep but he thought perhaps he ate something that upset his stomach.
He didn’t know if the little girls in his nightmare were twins, but he thought it was possible.
And he also thought it was possible that he banged into something and that’s how he got the bruises. He’s not sure.
When we speculate about past possibilities, we say ‘may have’, ‘could have’ and ‘might have’.
Now, what about negative sentences. Because we can also speculate about things that might NOT have happened. Let’s go back to Jay and see how that works.

Hey everyone. We slept better last night, but I think someone might have broken into our room. Before I went to bed I shut the window. But when I woke up it was unlocked and wide open. I may not have locked it last night, but I know it was shut when I went to bed.
And I turned my computer off too. But when I got up it was on. It couldn’t have turned itself on.
And I think someone moved my water. When I go to sleep I always have a glass of water on a table on the left hand side of my bed. But when I woke up this morning, it was on the right hand side. I guess it’s possible that I might not have put it on the left side but it’s odd because I’m left handed.
And if someone broke in, I don’t understand how they didn’t wake us. Carter’s a very light sleeper. The door was locked and they couldn’t have climbed through the window because it’s too small, and this is the fourth floor. I just don’t get it. Have you got any ideas?

So some strange things happened while Jay was asleep. He shut the window before he went to bed but it was open when he woke up.

I may not have locked the window last night but I know it was shut.

So Jay definitely shut the window, but it’s possible he didn’t lock it.
And another strange thing. His glass of water was on the right hand side of his bed, not the left.

I might not have put my water on the left side, but it’s odd.

Odd means peculiar. Normally he puts his water on the left side, but did he do that last night? He’s not certain. He might have put it on the right. He might not have put it on the left.
So if we say ‘might not have’ and ‘may not have’, it means there’s doubt and uncertainty.
Now, what about couldn’t have? Well that’s different.

They couldn’t have climbed in through the window because it’s too small.

Jay thinks someone broke into his room last night. He doesn’t know how, but he’s sure they didn’t get in through the window. There’s no uncertainty there. Another example.

The computer couldn’t have turned itself on.

He doesn’t know why the computer was on, but he’s certain of one thing. The computer didn’t turn itself on. That would be impossible.
So when you’re talking about the past, use ‘couldn’t have’ to talk about impossible things – things that didn’t happen.
And use ‘might have’ and ‘may have’ to talk about things you’re not certain about – possibilities.
Easy huh? And that’s it. Now you know all the important stuff for talking about possibilities with may could and might. Do you want to try using them? Are you ready to put them to use? Then let’s see what’s going on with Jay.

Hey everyone. Just one more night in this hotel and then we’re going home. We can’t wait to leave. Uh oh. It looks like we’ve got an electrical problem here. The lights keep flickering. Carter are you OK? Who’s that? Who’s there? We’re going to kill you.

Oh my. What do you think might have happened to Jay and Carter? Pick a question and tell us what you think. Try to give as many answers as you can using ‘may’, ‘could’ and ‘might’? and write them in the comments. We’re looking forward to reading them.
If you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend. And don’t forget to subscribe to our channel. Bye everyone!

Click here to learn how we use may, might and could to talk about the present and future.
Click here to see more grammar videos.
Click here to learn how to pronounce can and can’t in British and American English.

Modal verbs: How to use may, might and could to talk about possibilities

Modal verbs: How to use may, might and could to talk about possibilities

May, might and could are really useful English modal verbs. We use them in lots of different ways but an important one how we use them to express uncertainty when we’re not sure.

You can use may might and could with the same simple structure if you’re talking about the present or the future. They mean the same thing and you’ll have no problems.

But do you know how to use them in the negative? That’s where it gets tricky. May not and might not don’t mean the same as could not (or couldn’t). Learn an important difference between may not, might not and couldn’t in this video.

This is an English grammar lesson with a twist. We’ll also tell you a story – a creepy story. Get ready to be scared!

Learn about how to use can and may to talk about permission here.
Learn more about can, could and be able to here.
See more grammar lessons here.

How to use may, might and could to talk about possibilities (1)

Hi. I’m Vicki and welcome to the first of two videos about how to use the verbs ‘may’, ‘might’ and ‘could’ to talk about possibilities. We’re also going to tell you a story. A strange and creepy story. You’ll love it.
There are two main ways we use modal verbs in English. One is when we want to try to control the world and what people do. For example, we can use modal verbs to talk about permission. We’ve made another video about that and I’ll put a link here.
And the other way we use modal verbs is to express our attitude and opinions. So for example, if we want to say we’re not certain, we often use these modal verbs. They’re really useful when we want to talk about possibilities.
So permission – possibility. Modal verbs often have more than one meaning. In today’s lesson you’ll learn how we use these three modal verbs to talk about possibilities.
Let’s see them in action.

Oh. Sit Carter. Good boy.
Hello everyone. Jay here. I’m traveling on business this week. This hotel is very old. It might be two hundred years old. Or three hundred? I don’t know but it’s dark and cold…. and there’s a strange smell in this room. It may be the kitchen downstairs. It could be cabbage. I’m not sure. I didn’t want to stay in this hotel but it’s the only place that would take Carter. Such a good boy. I didn’t want to leave him at home.
Anyway, I’m going to stop now and take Carter for a walk. It’s windy tonight and it could rain soon. I hope not because we might get wet. And then after our walkk, we may just go to bed and have an early night. I’ll speak to you all tomorrow.

Did you hear Jay say ‘may’, ‘might’ and ‘could’? He used them all to talk about possibilities, and they express the idea that we’re not certain. We use them when we don’t know something for sure.

This hotel might be two hundred years old. Or three hundred?
It may be the kitchen downstairs.
It could be cabbage. I’m not sure.

Could, may and might mean the same thing here, it doesn’t matter which word you use. They all indicate you’re not certain.
We can use them to talk about the present, and also to talk about the future. The structure is exactly the same.
So how can we tell if someone’s talking about the present or the future? Well, it doesn’t matter normally. We look at the situation and the context and we know. And if it’s important to be clear we can use adverbs or time expressions.

It could rain soon.
After that, I may just go to bed.

So if you’re not sure if something’s true now, or not sure if it will happen in the future, use may, might or could.
Now what about negative sentences? What if we think something might not be true, or we think things might not happen. Let’s hear some examples and see Jay is getting on.

Hello everyone. Well we’re still here but we might not stay in this hotel for long. Last night was terrible. The window in this room was rattling. It was so noisy we couldn’t sleep.
This morning I got up and I slammed the it shut. But it may not work. I think it might rattle again tonight.
I’ve asked the hotel if we can change our room. They’re going to try but they don’t have many rooms so they might not be able to help.
But the worst thing last night was I had a nightmare. I dreamed there was a young girl at the end of my bed and she wanted to kill me. I couldn’t see her very clearly because it was dark and she was hiding he face. But I knew she was evil and I was terrified. I may not be able to sleep tonight.
Carter doesn’t like this hotel either. He’s behaving very strangely. He keeps staring at the door like someone is outside. But when I open it and look, nobody’s there. It’s really weird. Carter may not sleep tonight either.

Poor Jay, and poor Carter. Let’s look at some of the things Jay said. He used the negative form of may and the negative form of might.

We might not stay in this hotel for long.
I’ve slammed the window shut but it may not work.
The hotel might not be able to help.
I may not be able to sleep tonight.
And Carter may not sleep tonight either.

With modal verbs we use ‘not’ to form the negative. Did Jay use contractions here? No. He didn’t say mayn’t of mightn’t. With may and might, say may not or might not.
OK, now what about could? Well, could is different in several ways. Let’s see what Jay said.

It was so noisy we couldn’t sleep.
I couldn’t see her very clearly because it was dark.

Did Jay use a contraction? Yes, we generally say couldn’t. Could not – couldn’t.
But something else is different here and this is important. The meaning is different to may not and might not. Have a look. Is he talking about present and future possibilities here? NO! He’s talking about that past, and things that didn’t happen. They wanted to sleep but it was impossible. He wanted to see the girl but it was too dark.
So here’s the thing. We use may not and might not to talk about things we’re not sure about, but couldn’t means something different. We use it to talk about things that didn’t happen in the past. We know they didn’t happen so there’s no uncertainty. So if you’re not sure and you’re feeling uncertain, don’t use couldn’t. It’s not the same as ‘may not’ and ‘might not.’
So let’s summarise. When you want to talk about possibilities, use could, may and might. They all mean the same thing and we use them all to talk about things that are possibly true now and things that will possibly happen in the future.
If you think things are possibly NOT true or NOT certain, say ‘might not’ or ‘may not’.
Don’t say ‘could not’ or ‘couldn’t’. We use that to talk about impossible things.
Great. Now you know how to use these modal verbs to talk about the present and the future. But what about the past? Come back next week and we’ll show you how to do that. But before we stop, let’s see how Jay and Carter are getting on?

Well as you can see, I couldn’t change our hotel room so Carter and I are still here. Carter’s not happy. He’s not eating much and he seems nervous. The phone rang everal times last night and he went crazy. I don’t know who called. I couldn’t hear very well because Carter was barking. But it sounded like a young girl’s voice. She didn’t say anything but she was laughing. Or could be she was crying. I’m not sure. Do you think this hotel could be haunted?
What do you think? Might it be haunted?

And what might happen to Jay and Carter next week?
Write and tell us in the comments. Please share this video with your friends, and see you all next week for part two of the story. Bye.

Learn about how to use can and may to talk about permission here.
Learn more about can, could and be able to here.
See more grammar lessons here.