When easy is difficult

Animals that are used to perform are easy to get tired.

If we reduce this to its most basic grammar, we get:

  • Animals are easy.

Obviously that’s not what the writer intended. Maybe we should look at some examples!

  • My answer was pretty easy to understand.
    My answer was easy.
  • The daily instructions are very easy to follow.
    = The daily instructions are easy.
  • The game is really pretty easy to play.
    = The game is easy.

Now contrast the previous examples with the following.

  • Generally it is easier for men to handle horses.
    = Handling horses is easy (NOT men are easy!)
  • It is easy for smartphone users to use QR codes.
    = Using QR codes is easy (NOT smartphone users are easy!)
  • It is easy for people to misunderstand religious language and ritual.
    = Misunderstanding is easy (NOT people are easy!)

It is easy for us to correct our opening example if we begin “It is easy for.!”

  • It is easy for animals that are used to perform to get tired.
    [it is easy/difficult for + noun + to + v1]

This structure is shown in several previous posts – here, and in the song Lemon Squeezy. Check them out!

An alternative improvement would be to use an adverb:

  • Animals that are used to perform get tired easily.

..and for a higher IELTS score, avoid ‘get’ by using the verb form of ‘tired’:

  • Animals that are used to perform tire easily.

Animal rights

If you’re studying in Australia you should make an effort to see the amazing Circus OZ – an animal-free circus!

Commoners turn from opera to Oprah!

Common people watch television every night for six hours.

I don’t think the writer intended to be so negative, or worse – insulting! Let’s explore the meaning of common, first of all by looking inside an opera house.

Opera house

Seating inside a typical opera house

Some seats in opera houses have always been more expensive than others. The cheapest seats are in ‘The Stalls’ or in ‘The Gods’, because in these areas the view of the stage is limited. Wealthier people can afford to pay for a private ‘box’, and they get a better view. The best view, meanwhile, is from the ‘Royal Box’. Continue reading

College colleagues

I’m very busy during the week, but at weekends I go out with my colleges.

Indonesian flag This was something I overheard someone say, although I sometimes see the same error in writing. Mostly it’s a pronunciation problem that influences written form.

There’s a world of difference between colleges and colleagues:

  • colleges (3 syllables: /kɒlɪdʒɪz/) – educational institutions
  • colleagues (2 syllables: /kɒliːgz/) – the people we work with

Colleges or colleagues?

A student out for a walk with his colleges(!)

Whoever you are, and wherever you are, you’re extremely unlikely to go out with your colleges! What you mean is:

  • I’m very busy during the week, but at weekends I go out with my colleagues.

But even here there’s a problem. English native speakers are unlikely to refer to the people they study with as colleagues. If the context is education, then a native speaker is more likely to use the following:

  • I go out with my classmates.
  • I go out with people from my class.
  • I go out with fellow students.

If you go out with colleagues, you are going out with the people you work with, and not the people you study with! If you are hanging out with college colleagues then you are probably a teacher or professor hanging out with fellow teachers or professors!

My couple or my partner?

There is an excellent cinema in my hometown. I go there almost every weekend with my couple.

Indonesian flag This is an Indonesian student translating pasangan, which can be translated as either couple (or pair) or partner, depending on the context.

If the context is two people who are romantically attached, then these two people – together – form a couple. But be careful! It’s only when they are together that they are a couple. We cannot refer to one of them separately as a couple.

Take, for example Brangelina. All of the following are true:

  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie used to be a couple.
  • Brad was Angelina’s partner.
  • Angelina was Brad’s partner.
  • Angelina Jolie often appeared in films alongside her partner, Brad Pitt.

Notice also that in this context – couple meaning two people romantically attached – the word ‘couple’ behaves like a noun rather than a quantifier. But whether it is a noun or a quantifier, we are extremely unlikely to see a possessive before couple (‘my couple’). In fact there is only one situation I can think of when a quantifier behaves like a noun that can be ‘possessed’:

  • This weekend I’m taking my two to the beach.

In this case two means ‘children’. But again, this is very rare.

Returning to ‘couple’, if you’re talking about one member of a couple, use partner!

As much uncountable as possible!

These days gadgets do not consume power as much as they used to.

This should read:

  • These days gadgets do not consume as much power as they used to.

Actually there are three grammar issues we need to consider here:

  1. as..as with verbs
  2. as..as with uncountable and plural count nouns
  3. as..as with singular count nouns

Before we examine these separately, here is a text to illustrate all three:

Life is so unfair. My friend can eat and drink as much as he likes and not get fat. He eats as many Big Macs as I eat. He drinks as much beer as I drink. However, he does not have as large a stomach as I have!

1. as..as with verbs

You have seen phrases like as much as, as far as, as long as, as fast as, etc. These phrases are used when far, long, fast behave as adverbs:

  • He can eat and drink as much as he likes. (‘much’ affects the meaning of the verbs ‘eat’ and ‘drink’)
  • I drinks as much as he likes. (‘much’ affects the meaning of the verb ‘drink’)
  • etc.

2. as..as with uncountable and plural count nouns

When far, long, fast, etc. behave as adjectives, then you need to change the word order:

  • He eats as many Big Macs as I eat. (‘many’ affects the meaning of the noun ‘Big Macs’)
  • He drinks as much beer as I drink. (‘much’ affects the meaning of the noun ‘beer’)
  • etc.

Notice that when you’re focusing on nouns, your only options are much (for uncountable nouns) and many (for plural countable nouns)!

Indonesian flag Indonesians need to be careful here because in Bahasa Indonesia the uncountable noun is positioned before ‘as much as’, for example “Kalau anjing anda keracunan, kasih dia air kelapa sebanyak mungkin!”

3. as..as with singular count nouns

This can be difficult to translate into English if your first language does not have countable and uncountable nouns.

  • He does not have as large a stomach as I have. 
  • I have joined a fitness centre and soon I will have as small a stomach as he has.

Notice the singular countable noun always has the article ‘a‘! Notice also that you are no longer restricted to many and much. Any adjective can be used!

Indonesian flag Again, Indonesians need to be careful because in Bahasa Indonesia the singular count noun is positioned before ‘as much as‘, for example “Nanti kalau saya punya uang saya mau bikin rumah sebesar mungkin!”

Despite ‘spite’

Despite of its lucrative potential, tourism causes many new social problems.

This error is easy to understand. Students see examples of in spite of, which contains spite, and they generalise the same structure to make despite of, perhaps because it also contains spite, has the same number of syllables, and even has the same syllable stress. However, as we all know, English is not always so predictable!

The two closest corrections are:

  • In spite of its lucrative potential, tourism causes many new social problems.
    – In spite of + noun + comma + independent clause
  • Despite its lucrative potential, tourism causes many new social problems.
    – Despite (without of!) + noun + comma + independent clause

We could therefore write:

  • Despite containing ‘spite’, ‘despite’ is not followed by ‘of’!

Some alternatives to ‘some’

Unemployment has increased in recent years for some reasons.

Indonesian flag In this post, Indonesian students of English will discover more appropriate ways to say ‘beberapa’ or berbagai’ in IELTS and in general academic writing.

First of all ‘for some reasons’ appears odd because there is a very similar lexical phrasefor some reason (reason without ‘s’) – meaning that there may be a reason but it is presently unknown. Clearly this is not what the writer intended in the opening example!

Secondly, there is a slightly different lexical phrase that is often used in this situation – for several reasons – meaning ‘there are several possible reasons’. Surely this is what the writer meant to communicate? Reasons are known and the writer is going to share them with us.

What better way to illustrate the alternatives than to see them in a text?

The workforce at DJ Computers has become smaller in recent years for several reasons. First of all the company has been forced to make staff redundant following financial recession. Certain staff will not lose their jobs because their work is essential to the company. Various other staff, however, are less essential, and management will consider a number of different criteria when deciding who will stay and who will go.

So there you have it:

  • several (collocates strongly with ‘reasons’, extremely common inside the lexical phrase ‘for several reasons‘ – examples)
  • certain (for people or things that are somehow ‘unique’ – examples)
  • various (collocates strongly with ‘other’ + plural count noun – examples)
  • a number of (plus plural count noun – examples)

Use these alternatives flexibly in your IELTS writing and you will improve your score for LR (Lexical Resource) and possibly also for TA/TR (Task Achievement/Task Response). If you’re not sure what is meant by LR, TA and TR, take a look at the IELTS public band descriptors for Speaking and Writing. Links to these can be found here.

By the way you might also notice that ‘staff’ is used here as an uncountable noun, which it is, most of the time. I talk about ‘staff’ in more detail in a previous post.


A lexical phrase is a phrase in which words always appear in the same form and the same sequence. They include words that collocate strongly with each other, and are therefore good to use in IELTS speaking and writing. Lexical phrases are also often idiomatic.

return to text

Some of us

For your entertainment! A song featuring the amazing Moya (L) and Dita (R). For those of us who are still not sure about some / some of, most / most of, etc!

Some of us work
Most of us play
All of us pray for success one day

None of us read
Some of us write
Some of us dance ’til the morning light

Some students like to stay out all night
Most teachers tell them that isn’t right
All study time their eyes are shut tight
How will they ever succeed?

Some of us smoke
Some of us drink
Few of us know how to write with ink

Some of us seek
Some of us find
None of us want to be left behind

Some students like to stay out all night
Most teachers tell them that isn’t right
All study time their eyes are shut tight
How will they ever succeed?

Reading’s boring; We end up snoring;
So many pages; But zero drawings
We only study; When there’s a test to take; Big mistake!

Some students like to stay out all night
Most teachers tell them that isn’t right
All study time their eyes are shut tight
So ineffectual; Unintellectual;
How will they ever succeed?

Enjoy!

Success failure effort belief – Part 2

Spoiler alert! If you want to test your ability to use these words, try the gap fill challenge first!

In my previous post I challenged you to complete a text using the words success, failure, effort, and belief. In this post I give the completed text plus some advice about common collocations used in the text.

1. If you tried the challenge, read the text and check your answers.

Bill is a successful olympic runner. He has won several gold medals and has achieved success in many other competitions. Ever since he was a child, he has always been a success. Last year he successfully broke several world records. What does he think are the factors influencing his success? Clean living, plenty of training, and of course the desire to succeed!

Budi is unsuccessful as a runner. He fails every time he enters a race. Ever since he began running he has been a failure. As a child he failed. As a teenager he failed, and now as a middle age man he continues to fail. He believes his constant failure to win may be related to his fondness for nightclubs and the fact that he eats nothing but bakso.

It seems that in order to succeed, a runner needs to make an effort to maintain the correct lifestyle and to maintain a belief in winning. It is only when we believe we will win that we can avoid failure and achieve success.

2. Notice the underlined collocations!

  • achieve success (without ‘a’)
  • be a success (with ‘a’)
  • be a failure (with ‘a’)
  • make an effort to + V1
  • failure to win (failure uncountable)
  • a belief in + n

I searched in my favourite online collocation dictionary OZDIC and found some other collocations for success, failure, effort, and belief. Try searching for other forms of these words and look at different collocates.

3. Talk about it! (IELTS Speaking Part 2)

With a friend, share successful and less successful experiences. Talk about how much effort you made in order to achieve a goal.  Are you ‘a success’? How do you know?

4. Write about it! (IELTS Writing Task 2)

  • What are the factors that cause success or failure?
  • Does failure mean that the desire to succeed wasn’t strong enough?
  • What are some different ways to measure success and failure? What is the best way? Why?

Post your writing in the comments box below and I will give feedback.