Ways to avoid saying VERY!

English, compared to other languages, has a large vocabulary. This is in part due to the fact that the British Isles have been invaded and conquered so many times and therefore has, over the centuries, adopted words from each invading and settling group. It is a melting pot of Norse, Germanic, Latin and Eastern words.

As with every language, the ultimate aim is expression and comprehension. Understanding each other. To be able to find the right words to express that precise feeling, event, need or scene is paramount to survival and success. 

Words can come in a vareity of intensities from mild to extreme. The temptation is always to put VERY in front of a word to increase it’s intensity instead of looking for an existing word that says just that!

There are approximately 500,000 words in a standard English dictionary, about 100,000 of those will be adjectives or descriptive words, so lets use them and look for words to increase the intensity of something without being lazy and resorting to ‘very’!

  • Very Afraid / Terrified
  • Very Angry / Furious
  • Very Bad / Atrocious
  • Very Beautiful / Exquisite
  • Very Big / Immense
  • Very Bright / Dazzling
  • Very Capable / Accomplished
  • Very Clean / Spotless
  • Very Clever / Brilliant
  • Very Cold / Freezing
  • Very Cross / Angry
  • Very Dirty / Squalid
  • Very Dry / Parched
  • Very Fierce / Ferocious
  • Very Good / Superb
  • Very Happy / Ecstatic 
  • Very Hot / Scalding
  • Very Hungry / Ravenous
  • Very Large / Colossal
  • Very Loved / Adored

Now try the next group yourself. Scroll further down to see suggestions once you’ve finished.

  • Very Neat /……….
  • Very Old /…………
  • Very Poor /……….
  • Very Risky /………
  • Very Rude /……….
  • Very Small /………
  • VerySilly /…………
  • Very Thin /………..
  • Very Tired /……….
  • Very Ugly /………..
  • Very Valuable /…..
  • Very Weak /………
  • Very Wet /………..

Now, scroll down 



and here are some suggestions!

  • Very Neat / Immaculate
  • Very Old / Ancient
  • Very Poor / Destitute
  • Very Risky / Perilous
  • Very Rude / Vulgar
  • Very Small / Miniscule
  • Very Silly / Stupid
  • Very Thin / Gaunt
  • Very Tired / Exhausted
  • Very Ugly / Hideous
  • Very Valuable / Precious
  • Very Weak / Feeble
  • Very Wet / Soaked

The French controversy. The Burkini


The beautiful Cannes Bay

Nigella Lawson wearing a Burkini to keep skin protected and model displaying recent design.

Nope, I can’t let this one go, I tried, but I can’t!

I live just outside Cannes in the French Riviera and heard last week, as did everyone else, that the mayor of Cannes had banned the use of the Burkini on all Cannes beaches. As of Thursday (yesterday) 4 other mayors had followed suit.

My instant reaction was to be horrified. Many friends on Facebook have been applauding the decision, I simply felt this was a knee-jerk decision taken by a predominantly male committee who failed to understand the dynamics here.

In the last week I have written and re-written an article about the rise of sexist, demeaning comments and view points on social media, in Trumps campaign and the depressingly slow progress to protect women’s ability to be safe, to be equal in societies worldwide and to be in control of their own destinies. It’s 2016 and some days I feel we haven’t moved at all. News coming in every day of specific and terrifying hardships for women and girls. However, I have now abandoned that article for next week.

Back to the Burkini.

A few weeks ago my son and I slipped away for a quick dip in the sea. It was just before the main holiday rush and we found a spot halfway down Cannes seafront where the beach narrows to just a couple of meters. We could sit against the wall to change then walk into the beautiful, blue, twinkling Mediterranean quite easily. Gentle waves, warm water, turquoise colour. I come from Wales and Cornwall where the Atlantic is cold, dark and moody 364 days a year, I will never take it for granted. So as I changed I noticed a young woman, on her own, swimming up and down in this quiet part of the beach in a Burkini. I noticed for a number of reasons but mainly  1. It looked a VERY enjoyable thing to do and 2. I hadn’t seen a Burkini before! 

I find the practice of covering a woman’s face on religious or any grounds absolutely abhorrent and dehumanising and a practice I can see no justification for in Western Europe or anywhere else for that matter. I feel it prolongs the subjugatation of women and strips them of their identity. But this was entirely different. This was a young woman taking herself to the Mediterranean for a dip in the warm waters. I didn’t and will never know why she was wearing a Burkini on that occasion.

The Burkini was created by an Australian designer, Aheda Zanetti, who created it for women who did not want to expose their bodies on the beach FOR WHATEVER REASON! And that bit is crucial. Having only had my son at a relatively late age, been through emergency c-section, had years of no sleep due my son being ill I simply had no energy left to perfect my body to Cannes standards, bikini time on Cannes beach amongst the young, the beautiful and the Pilates set can be stressful! I would like to have the choice about how much of my body I expose at any given time to the public! No, previously I could never see myself going as far as a Burkini (not so sure now though, and Nigella Lawson did!) but I defend the right of anyone to cover as much as they want to when swimming in the sea. The reasons could be many, scarring, privacy, jellyfish, skin cancer, sun burn, self consciousness. Religion is just one. It is one thing fighting against the forced covering of a woman’s face or excessive veils, these can be replaced with clothes or cultural wear of individual choice but the removal of a Burkini means bare flesh and semi nakedness, this may not be acceptable or comfortable to many women.

So my argument is this  – please don’t confuse the real issues of subjugation of women, which we need to spend all our energy and resourcefulness tackling, with an aspect of possible free choice about how much of our bare flesh we expose to others. I feel this blunt, tactless ban fired only at women will remove freedoms rather than liberate.

And a final thought. After this ban will that lovely young woman we saw swimming be able to take herself to the Mediterranean waters in Cannes for a swim from now on? I don’t know.


Nope…………………………Casual way of saying ‘no’!

As of…………………………From that moment on.

To follow to suit…………..To carry on in the same manner

To applaud something…..To give praise, to whole heartedly agree with something

Knee-jerk…………………..A response to something that is instinctive, quick and not well thought out.

Predominantly…………….Mainly, mostly.

Demeaning…………………Something that humiliates or belittles others.


To slip away………………..To leave unnoticed 

A quick dip ………………..A quick swim

A spot……………………….1. A place, an area. ‘We found that spot a bit crowded’. 2. A round dot.

To take something for granted…………..To get used to something and fail to notice it any more.

Abhorrent………………….Absolutely disgusting, terrible.

To prolong something……To make it last longer

Subjugation……………….Keeping a person or group inferior to everyone else and restricted in their habits.

Crucial……………………….Very important

Resourcefulness…………..The skill needed to find solutions to problems.

Tackling, To tackle something………..To try to solve or fight against a problem or difficulty. ‘He tackled that with great maturity’. 

Blunt…………………………1. Rounded, not sharp. 2. Thoughtless comments that might be true but utterly hurtful to say. 3. A blunt instrument, a tool used for a precise job that is completely wrong, that causes excessive damage in the process.

Tactless……………………..Thoughtless, insensitive.


‘Barking up the wrong tree’

To misunderstand something, to go down the wrong track, to believe something that is false. The phrase gives the image of a dog at the base of a tree barking at something it thinks is up there, but he’s wrong, there’s nothing there!  “If you think I cheated during that exam then you’re barking up the wrong tree!”

‘Can’t see the wood for the trees’

 To be unable to see the way ahead. Unable to distinguish between truth and fiction, unable to see what is obvious, what is right in front of you.  “He’s missing the point, he is so involved he can’t see the wood for the trees”

‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’

Money is hard to come by and isn’t free!  “How much did that cost? Money doesn’t grow on trees you know!”

‘Out on a limb’

‘Limb’ here means the branch of a tree not an arm or a leg! This means being isolated in your idea or opinion, going in a different direction to everyone else.  “I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest we start incorporating late working hours”.


‘At the drop of a hat’

Done immediately, without hesitation. “She has always been helpful and would pop round at the drop of a hat if I needed her”

‘To keep it under your hat’

To be discreet, to keep a piece of information private. “I think my daughter has got her promotion, but keep it under your hat, no one knows yet”.

‘To eat your hat’

To demonstrate surprise at something you thought was impossible. “If that horse wins I’ll eat my hat!”

‘Hold onto your hat!’

Preparation for some amazing news! “Ok, hold onto your hat, you’re not going to believe this!”

‘To take your hat off to somebody’

To demonstrate respect or admiration for something. “I really take my hat off to you, that was not an easy task”.

Collective Nouns!

As a native English speaker I can only imagine the problems collective nouns cause to learners!

Put simply, this is a way of describing a group of something. It dates back to medieval England and France when hunting amongst the nobility was an important pass time. Most collective nouns started with hunting animals and birds and, as the language evolved, spread to just about anything!

‘A wake of buzzards’

‘A charm of finches

‘A nest of mice’

‘A stalk of foresters’


collective noun chart 1

Now, you may be thinking this is ridiculous and just about impossible! If EVERY noun in English has a different collective how can ANYONE learn them all? And you are absolutely right, YOU CAN’T!

Some collectives are well known to English speakers such as ‘A herd of cows’ or ‘bunch of keys’,  but they are often used in games too, particularly with young ones, trying to guess the Collective Noun of an obscure animal! The important thing is not to sound ‘wrong’. So this blog is aimed at trying not to let that happen!


There are no rules set for the English language as there are for French or Spanish. English is a melting pot of languages, often brought by various invading groups. Oxford University Press state what is or has been most used in the language rather than set rules.


 To try to simplify this there are 3 levels in the use of collective nouns.

  1. Use a general name for animals, objects or humans, like ‘group’ or ‘herd’. Not very precise but this may work if the General name is right! Do NOT use the word ‘herd’ for humans unless you are wanting to imply they are acting like animals! ‘Following the herd’ means acting without thinking, just doing what everyone else does.


  1. Use common, well known collective nouns only. There are some collective nouns that everyone knows e.g. ‘A pride of lions’, ‘A Bunch of Flowers’. Learn these well known ones then use general terms for the more obscure or unknown. (This is what most English speakers do!)


  1. Try to accurately find out the Collective name for something. This will only work for written projects or work as you have time to look it up!


As time goes by, an English speaker’s knowledge of collective nouns increases, children love to learn new ones, they appear in puzzles and games frequently. Very VERY few ordinary English speakers will know them all!

So, here are some General words you can use if you don’t have time to think of the right one.



Even these are tricky but:-

GROUP or CROWD can often be used for most humans. Crowd implies a very large group.

HERD can be used for farm animals. Cows.

PACK for wild animals. Dogs, wolves

FLOCK for birds.

There are always exceptions though, and the exception here is that ‘Flock’ is also used for sheep!

Objects are more difficult:

BUNCH tends to imply something you are holding, clumped together. Keys, flowers, grapes even!

PILE is used for…well a pile of something! Bricks, logs.

SET is used when it is an organised group of something, like a set of stickers (a collection). Stickers, stamps, mugs, jugs.


Here is a list of some of the most common in use in ordinary, everyday English

A Herd of Elephants

A Parade of Elephants

A Flock of sheep

A Pride of Lions

A Skein of Geese (flying in formation)

A Gaggle of Geese (on the ground)

A Brood of Chickens

A Pack of Dogs

A School of Fish

A Shoal of Fish (more linked to fishing)

A Pod of Dolphins

A Bouquet of Flowers

A Bunch of Flowers

A Bunch of Grapes

A Flock of Birds

A Pile of Bricks

A Cloud of Dust

A Pair of Shoes

A Pair of Trousers (not actually a pair, just 2 legs!)

A Bunch of Keys

A Group of Boys

A Crowd of Protesters  (larger group)

A Litter of Kittens

A Litter of Puppies

A Pile of Logs

A Set of Jugs

A Set of Mugs

A Handful of Dust

A Murder of Crows

A Nest of Snakes

Collective Nouns Things Table



An example of a primary school worksheet for British Children




This aspect of English is very hard to get right, getting it wrong, however, will sound jarring and foreign. It’s worth the effort to get to know some of more usual ones as it will make your English sound more advanced and mature.

If all knowledge fails you at the last minute (as it does with me sometimes with French) resort to ‘SOME’ (if you can’t count them) or ‘A FEW’ (if they are countable). Sadly it often appears simplistic though or childlike but useful as a last resort and certainly not ‘wrong’!



Nobility = A was of describing the upper classes in medieval times. They usually had a Title e.g. Lord, Lady, Sir, Baron, Earl, Viscount, Duke, Duchess.

Evolved = Changed, improved, developed.

Obscure = Lesser known, hidden, not known, strange, different.

Melting pot = An old-fashioned term for a cooking pot where all ingredients are added together at the same time and cooked slowly.

To Look it Up = A phrasal verb meaning to look for information in a book, library or the internet. ‘I didn’t know the answer so I looked it up on the internet’.

Tricky = Difficult, hard to achieve, not impossible but tricky!

Jarring = Discordant, out of place, doesn’t feel right.

To resort to something =  To do something as the last attempt, having tried all other methods. ‘After trying everything, I eventually resorted to phoning for help’.

Last Resort = The last thing you try!

The Pharmacy


The classic green emblem of la Pharmacie

Nothing inflames my emotions like a french pharmacy.

Nothing divides our nations or makes me rethink my decision to emigrate at all like a french pharmacy! Can you sense the negativity coming?!

I obviously need to qualify this. French Pharmacies are stunning places, a mixture of L’Occitane and good health, aromatherapy and sophisicated remedies, french chic and apparent efficiency. I can’t help but mentally compare these things to my local Lloyd’s Chemist at home, or Boots or SuperDrug. The difference could not be greater, but then neither could the prices. As you set foot in this chic establishment your shoes click clack on the marble or stone tiled floor. The subtle aroma of expensive creams and natural oils waft pleasantly towards you. Rows of Caudaliè, Nuxe, La Roche Posay, Avène and L’Occitane look inviting and sophisticated, the products are arranged by brand with almost no information or visuals (you have to know your products). The lighting is efficient and yet subdued, not of the supermarket. A delightful “Bonjour Madam” greets me from an impeccably groomed assistant. It’s all going so well.


I make my way optimistically to one of the numerous serving stations. There are 2 people currently being served, another 2 infront of me, still fairly optimistic. I’m British, this is not what I would call a queue.

The two in front carry white slips of paper, I should have known.

Let me explain something here, the French, and I love them dearly, are not robust when it comes to matters of health. Hypochondriac in fact. I’m so sorry! We come from a catastrophic mix of Saxon, Viking, Britons, Celts, Angles, Jutes, Scots, Picts, Irish, in fact any seafaring fighting nation in the northern hemsphere you could think of. We have always been, now more than ever, a melting pot and proud of it, a nation of barbarians. We work hard, get things done, have little time for nonsense, are immensly stoic and understate everthing. It’s of no surprise therefore that our attitude to our health is simular. A cold is a ‘sniffle’, flu or even life threatening conditions mean we are ‘poorly’. We go to the chemist to get what we need and leave. We generally know at least roughly before hand what we want. A prescription will usually have one or 2 items on it at most.

Now let’s return to our beautiful French Pharmacy. The two originally being served are still there. One is discussing something with the Pharmasist, the other is giving a white piece of paper to the assistant. The assistant looks at her computer screen and starts typing with immaculate nails. The discssions with the pharmacist go on as does the typing and screen checking. Nothing moves. There are people in the back room, another assistant available and 2 other serving stations. But no one looks and the typing continues. Items are fetched slowly but with grace from another room. No one laughs, no one hurries, no one makes a joke, no one smiles. Women wear tight pencil skirts over tiny figures and a sharp white, pressed coat. This is calm, glamorous and, now, ever so slightly annoying!

By now more are behind me. No one speaks. The lady talking to the pharmacist is now inspecting a number of options in the hosery / leg support range. They are discussing together the benefts of the different materials or accompanying lace. The assistant at the screen is now fetching items from enormous, gliding drawers in the back room (these have to be German design, so silent and efficient.) She reappears with ONE small box of something, re-checks her screen and starts typing again. All of this being referred back to the white piece of paper too. Leg Support Lady is undecided. I can understand her dilema, they all look so simular. The pharmasist smiles demurely and nods encouragement. A second small box of something is being fetched from the giant gliding drawer then tap tap tap on the keyboard.

The beautiful surroundings and gentle smells are now starting to fade. I’m starting to bore holes in the backs of people in front, my breathing is picking up and I’m trying very hard to continue looking calm and in control.

11 little boxes later, yes 11, and our first lady is ready to sign off. Bags are filled, yes bags, with the medication. I would feel sorry normally. How ill does someone have to be to walk out with bags of drugs, except this is NORMAL! Am I shouting now? I’m so sorry. But we’re not finished yet. Now we start with the Carte Vital, the French Social Security card, the prize possession of anyone lucky enough to get one, the card that pays for all this via the enormous tax demands. More screen checking, tap tap tap. Finally Medication Bag Lady leaves. Leg Support Lady is now being helped by screen checking for more options incase the lace was wrong and they’re missing something in stock in Paris or Timbucto. More people come in behind me and I’m now losing the plot. All I came in for was some Doliprane, the French equivalent of paracetamol, NOT SOLD IN SUPERMARKETS so making a pharmacy trip essential. Up steps a young, fit, obviously healthy man who starts decribing his sore throat symptoms, making sad little grating sounds and looking ever more dejected as he is patiently listened to, he’s doing a sterling job in the face of real trauma. They start discussing symptoms, variations and possible remedies, she starts fetching possible boxes to choose from and I can do it no more. If he was my son I’d be giving him a knock round the head and a piece of my mind, something along the lines of: ‘you’re NOT DYING so BUCK UP’. I’m so sorry, I’m shoutng again.

My huffs are frowned upon as I turn and leave, especially by those carrying their white pieces of paper, (prescriptions), waiting to walk out with their wheelbarrow loads of medication curtesy of the French state.


One of the few Pharmacies open at lunchtime, Tournemay, Mougins.

The next day, obviously, I have to try again, in another pharmacy because they might recognise me. I’m running out of pharmacies.

I have to be honest and admit to one wonderful pharmacy in Usson du Poitou in Poitou Charentes. It’s like a guilty confession! Run by a husband and wife team you may still need to wait, but is done wth as much efficiency as possible, a smile, a wink, and an enormous amount of good humour. The giant gliding drawers are there as well as the impeccably groomed staff but there is something more human too. A little flirting with the old ladies, attentive listening but then stopping a customer when it’s becoming a life-story. Sadly this pharmacy is too far for my little box of Doliprane, but I have another trick up my sleeve, lunchtime. Find a pharmacy open at lunchtime and go there, what do the french do at lunchtime, without fail? Yes the pharmacy and their gorgeous assistants will be all yours!


Pronunciation Poem


Here’s the classic pronunciation poem!
Each verse is followed by the audio so you can check how you’re doing.
Added to that, every county has its own unique accent (not covered here) making pronunciation just that little bit harder again, even for the British!
 Have a look below at the map of ‘Shires’, ‘Lands’ and ‘Hams’!
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhymes with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does.
Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough?
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is give it up!