179. Deeper Meanings of “If”


Saying that “if” introduces a condition is not a precise enough description of its meaning


Most people who have studied English grammar know that if is a tricky word. The problem is not just its differing meanings in conditional statements and indirect questions, which mark it out as “multi-use” (see 3. Multi-Use Words). Even if we just concentrate on the conditional use, we find that it has to be distinguished from other “conditional” conjunctions like on condition that, provided that and assuming that, and that it is associated with some quite complicated verb tense rules (see 118. Problems with Conditional “if”).

The actual meaning of conditional if is also troublesome. As with other conjunctions, it is best expressed as a relation between two parts of the same sentence (see 174. Eight Things to Know about Conjunctions). In most coursebooks, not much more is said about this relation than that the if part names “a condition” for the event or state expressed by the other part.

The problem with this is that the word “condition” is vague: it means different things in different sentences – just as words attempting to sum up the meaning of other conjunctions do (see, for example, the discussion of but in 20. Problem Connectors, #3). Even the alternative term “hypothetical cause”, which I use in the above-mentioned post on if, has similar vagueness.

I feel that this problem has to be addressed because proper understanding might assist the learning of the different types of conditional sentence that feature in most standard English courses. It might also help to prevent grammatical errors. I do not know for sure whether all of the different meanings of conditional if are possessed by the equivalent word in all languages, but I would be surprised if they were. And if they are not, errors become likely.

Below are my ideas on subclasses of “conditions” that I believe can be expressed by if in English. A key factor is the likelihood of the condition being met. This is not particularly linked to the tense of conditional verbs.



No conditions are certain to be met – the uncertainty of their occurrence is indeed fundamental: if they were certain to occur they would not be conditions at all and would have to be linked to their outcomes by conjunctions like when or since rather than if. However, some conditions are more certain to be met than others.

The kind of condition that seems the most likely to be met is particularly common in chains of logical reasoning. Consider these:

(a) If x equals 3, y equals 6.

(b) If the accused was elsewhere, she did not commit the crime.

In some contexts, conditions like this are a consequence of preceding logical deduction, and hence are very likely to be true. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that in these circumstances the speaker is certain of their truth and is using if instead of since merely in order to hedge – avoid making a dangerously categorical statement (see 95. Hedging 1 and 61. “Since” versus “Because”). Thus, if here means “if it is true that”, and is easily replaced by assuming or even since.



This kind of condition may be illustrated as follows:

(c) If the liquid turns red, the test will be positive.

(d) If payment is early, a discount will be given.

(e) If the weather was/had been bad, profits fell.

(f) If water is heated to 100C, it boils.

These all contain a condition whose fulfilment cannot be considered particularly likely or unlikely: the underlined events will sometimes happen, sometimes not.

There are a number of interesting observations that can be made. Firstly, notice the variability of the time references. Past, present and future times are all possible. If the if verb is past, the other verb will normally lack would, though this word can be used with the meaning of “used to” (see 118. Problems with Conditional “if”, #6). For advice on choosing between past simple was in (e) and past perfect had been, see 171. Aspects of the Past Perfect Tense.

Secondly, the sentences illustrate a difference between general and specific open conditions. The condition in (c) could be either: perhaps describing the behaviour of the liquid at all times when the procedure in question is performed, perhaps describing it in a single performance at a single time. The condition in (d) too could be referring generally to payment at any time, or specifically to particular payment at a particular time. The condition in (e), on the other hand, is only general: it refers to numerous past events rather than just one. Sentence (f) also has a general condition, referring to all water at all times.

Knowing the generality of an open condition is important for knowing whether if can be replaced by when. The rule is simple enough: replacement is possible with general conditions but not specific ones. Thus, when could replace if in all of the above sentences, but (c) and (d) could then only be understood as generalizations.

This rule might be explained as follows. General conditional sentences refer to multiple occurrences of the condition, while specific-time sentences refer to single ones. With multiple occurrences, when is possible as well as if because the certainty of occurrence that when suggests can still be present alongside the uncertainty of occurrence that if implies: some conditions will be met and some will not. With single occurrences, on the other hand, the certainty of when cannot exist alongside the uncertainty of if: you have to choose one or the other. Thus when in the non-general interpretation of (c) would say that the red colour must appear, while if would say that its appearance was uncertain.

A third observation concerning the above sentences is that in (c) the test will be positive is a deduction – a thought, not an event, resulting from the fulfilment of the condition – just as it is in (a) and (b). Open conditions with this kind of consequence are quite often associated with investigations, especially laboratory tests.

Fourthly, some of the four conditions can begin with provided (that) or similar (providing that, on condition that, as long as) instead of if. This seems particularly true of (d), but possible in (c) too. My grammar books say provided expresses a meaning of if that does not exist in all conditional sentences: the suggestion that no other condition is possible for the mentioned consequence. In other words, it means “if and only if”. However, I think more is often involved than this.

I would suggest that a frequent cause of if meaning “provided” before open conditions is the making of a promise. This is certainly happening in (d), and could be understood in (c) too. Promises involve futures considered to be desirable (see 147. Types of Future Meaning, #2). In sentence (d), the desirable future is a discount; in (c) the possibly desirable one is a red colour. In sentence (e), on the other hand, the outcome profits fell is undesirable, and no promise can be understood (its desirable opposite profits rose would also not be a promise, because of its past nature).

In (f) the outcome it boils is neutral. Here too, provided could replace if, but without suggesting a promise. This is perhaps the main kind of sentence where if just means “if and only if”. Perhaps if is preferred to provided when this meaning does not need to be emphasised.

Finally, it is to be noted that promising is not the only special effect that can achieved by using an open condition with a future outcome. Others include offering, threatening, warning and suggesting. However, none of them seems to allow any synonym of if. A typical warning sentence might be:

(g) The device can overheat if (it is) left running too long.



Conditions can express unlikely futures with were to partnered by would in the main verb, like this:

(h) If aliens were to visit Earth, great changes would occur.

Saying this in the more common future-referring way, with visit…will occur, would make an alien visit sound much more likely (though still not “likely”). A sometimes-found alternative to were to that does not change its meaning is the simple past tense of the verb (visited above).

Conditions labelled “unfulfilled” rather than “unlikely” express events or situations that are untrue or unreal either at the present moment (“Type 2” conditions in many English coursebooks) or in the past (“Type 3”). I do not wish here to repeat the details about them that can be easily found in coursebooks. Consider, though, this modification of sentence (b):

(i) If the accused had been elsewhere, she would not have committed the crime.

Unlike (b), this says the accused was not elsewhere: the condition is untrue and is hence “unfulfilled”.

The point I wish to make here is that the meaning of if in unfulfilled conditions is very hard to specify with more than the words “unfulfilled condition”. If seems not to be replaceable by any synonym; none of those that apply elsewhere – assuming, since, when, provided – is an alternative.


178. How to Write a Heading


Headings in a text have some important physical and grammatical features


Headings introduce subsections of a text. They are thus different from titles and newspaper headlines, which introduce entire texts – and very different from subtitles, the name for on-screen translations of film and TV dialogue. For something about newspaper headlines within these pages, see 158. Abbreviated Sentences.

The value of headings is that they help clarify the organization of long texts. This is useful for professional writers because they often have to deal with long texts like business reports and academic dissertations. One kind of professional text where headings are not normally used, however, is essays: these mostly use “signpost language” instead (see 122. Signpost Words in Multi-Sentence Lists).

Headings are similar in some ways to bullet points (which also are uncommon in essays – see 74. Sentence Lists 3). They tend to have special formatting to enhance their visibility, they often belong to a group (though they do not have to), and these groups are usually introduced with the same kind of language as bullet points. However, there are also some major differences, such as a greater restriction of their linguistic form, and a close association with the text directly after them. This post seeks to provide as full a description as possible of the nature of headings.



Perhaps the most fundamental visual feature of headings is their separation from the text above and below them. Sometimes that is considered enough, but more often the lettering is modified in some way too. Options include one or more of capitalisation, italicisation, bold type, central alignment, underlining and some form of numbering.

Visual modifications of this kind become essential when a text contains subheadings as well as headings. Subheadings –again not to be confused with subtitles – introduce subdivisions of text covered by a heading. If they have the same visual characteristics as the heading that they come under, readers might think they are new headings beginning a new section rather than continuations of an existing one. To distinguish them, they alone might be visually modified, or both they and their heading might have different visual modifications, for example one being in capital letters and the other in bold lower case.

In many cases, a particular heading or subheading will be part of a widely-separated list of headings or subheadings. When this happens, it is vital to ensure that all members of the same list have the same formatting. Notice, for example, how the heading of the next section here resembles the one above, but differs from the subheadings after it.

Numbering only makes sense when a (sub)heading is one of a group, but even then it is not compulsory. If both headings and subheadings have it, the numbers must look different. They might be a mixture of different number types – the possibilities include ordinary numbers (1,2,3…), large Roman numerals (I,II,III…), small Roman numerals (i,ii,iii…), capital letters (A,B,C…), and small letters (a,b,c…). One possibility to avoid, however, is number words written out in full (One, Two, etc.). Alternatively, subheadings might use the same number type that their heading has, but add a full stop and a second number, e.g. 2.3. Or they may combine two different systems, e.g. 2(c).

In most cases, a “number” is separated from the subsequent words by either a full stop or a bracket.



1. Grammatical Form

Headings cannot usually be sentences. Most lack a verb and are just nouns or noun-like phrases. Often a verb meaning can be expressed with an “action” noun, e.g. The Destruction of Forests instead of Forests were destroyed (see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns, #5 and 6). The meaning of BE is usually shown by dropping it and modifying a partner word. For example, the sentence Languages are difficult to learn can become the heading The Difficulty of Learning Languages (note that you cannot just remove are or replace it with a colon).

Headings that do contain a verb are often questions. In formal writing, they will be of the indirect kind (e.g. How Hurricanes are Formed) – again not a complete sentence. For a full description, see 57. Indirect Questions in Formal Writing and 105. Questions with a “to” Verb. In other text types, direct questions are possible, especially in order to sound friendly (see 166. Appropriacy in Professional English).

Another way of having a verb in a heading is by putting it among describing words after the central noun (so-called “postmodification” – see 2. Interrupted Structures). This is usually done with link words like who, which, that, where and why, as in Reasons WHY Children Fail and The Possibility THAT Aliens Exist (see 153. Conjunction Uses of “that”).

The noun-like nature of headings means a decision must be made about the articles a(n), the and “zero”. The rules seem to be mostly the same as in ordinary sentences, though perhaps the is more frequently dropped before plural and uncountable nouns. For example, Reasons for… may well be more common than The Reasons for…. A possible explanation is “hedging” – keeping things vague in the interests of factual accuracy (see 96. Hedging 2). Plural and uncountable nouns with the emphasise that all of a specific group is being referred to, while an absent the leaves it unclear whether every possibility is meant.

The inability of headings to be in sentence form is also shared by titles. However, the two are not exactly the same. Some titles, instead of being noun-like, have a preposition at the start, especially on or concerning. A famous title with the former is Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. This usage is perhaps influenced by the tendency of titles in Latin, a now generally-abandoned language of academic communication in Europe, to use the Latin equivalent de. It is less common in contemporary English, and has a slightly old-fashioned feel.

Another form that titles but not headings sometimes have is that of direct rather than indirect questions. My intuition, though, is that indirect questions are more common even in titles than direct ones.One further observation about headings and titles is that on average headings are probably shorter in length. This is because some of the meaning of headings can often be obtained from what is written before them – something that titles by definition rule out.


2. Lettering

As mentioned above, some headings might be written entirely in capital letters. More often, however, lower case letters are used, along with an occasional capital. One place where a capital is normal is at the very start, just as in ordinary sentences.

However, many other words usually need to begin with a capital too. Most of these will be nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The main kinds of words that do not normally begin with a capital in headings include the articles (a, the) and words like them, prepositions, pronouns (who, which, that, it, they etc.), auxiliary verbs (will, should, must, BE, DO, HAVE etc.), other uses of BE, and conjunctions (especially and, but, or, when and that). In fact, words that are not capitalised tend to be the same ones that are usually left out in notes (see 158. Abbreviated Sentences).


3. Introductory Words

It is usually a good idea to write an introductory sentence before the first of a list of headings. It should be a complete sentence with a full stop at the end, rather than a partial/complete one ending with a colon. In other words, it should resemble the kind of sentence that is common before an ordinary paragraph list (see 122. Signpost Words in Multi-Sentence Lists), not that before bullet points. This is because headings are not bullet points, but are themselves introductory, and in combination with the sentences after them they are very like items in a multi-sentence list.

The wording of a sentence introducing headings will be similar to that of other list-introducing sentences. Mention will be made of the general idea binding all of the headings together – what I have elsewhere called a “list name” – and there will also be an indication that a list is about to follow. In the following, words combining to express a list name are underlined, while those suggesting a subsequent list are in capitals:

(a) Schools are currently experiencing A NUMBER/VARIETY OF problems.

(b) Schools are currently experiencing THE FOLLOWING problems.

(c) The problems of schools today are AS FOLLOWS.

(d) There are VARIOUS problems afflicting schools today.

Some of these imply that the list name has not been mentioned earlier, others that it has. Sentence (a) has the first effect: the existence of the problems to be listed has as much focus as the indication of a subsequent list. This effect is probably a result of at least some of the list name being at the end. One could add as follows there after a comma without changing the focus.

Sentence (b), despite its substantial similarity to (a), has the opposite suggestion, thanks entirely to the words the following. This is thus the kind of sentence that should be used if the reader has already been told about the existence of the problems in question. If a sentence like (a) is used in such a context instead, the writer risks being accused of “bad” repetition (see 24. Good and Bad Repetition).

Sentence (c) also suggests a previous mention of the list name. The linguistic clue this time is the status of the entire list name as a noun phrase at the start (see 37. Subordination).

Sentence (d) could be understood either way. There are could be an assertion of existence, but it could also merely be list-signalling (see 161. Special Uses of “There” Sentences). Perhaps this flexibility explains the frequency of this kind of sentence before a list of headings.

177. How to Guess Meanings in a Text


Meanings of unfamiliar words can often be guessed by using spelling, grammar or logic


Meeting unfamiliar words in listening and reading is normal at all levels of language competence, even in our mother tongue. Beginners in a language obviously struggle with large numbers of words, while at higher levels most people have gaps in their knowledge because reaching the ability to successfully communicate slows down further vocabulary acquisition. Trying to guess the meanings of unknown words is also normal – indeed, it is how we acquire most of the vocabulary of our mother tongue.

Most language teachers and coursebooks encourage word-guessing as a means of promoting vocabulary acquisition. They urge learners to read intensively and extensively, and they often supplement “comprehension” texts with vocabulary-study exercises involving guessing. Very rarely, however, is detailed advice given on exactly what needs to be done to guess word meanings successfully. My own experience as a language teacher suggests that at least some learners need this advice because the guessing is done with variable success.

The desirability of training learners to guess word meanings has for me been confirmed by what becomes apparent when the word-guessing process is closely examined. It turns out to be multi-faceted. In this post I wish to show the truth of that. My ideas are not particularly informed by the mass of academic research in this area, but are mainly based on extensive experience trying to help students who are less familiar with English to hypothesise about word meanings.



It is important first to appreciate that exact meanings of unfamiliar words are rarely able to be guessed – multiple encounters with the words are needed to enable a broad meaning picture to be built up (and to strengthen them in memory). Some meanings, indeed, cannot be guessed at all. If one is lucky, one can ignore these without it greatly diminishing overall understanding of the text – otherwise help must be sought from a dictionary or elsewhere.

Also to be noted is the fact that some unfamiliar words in texts are actually accompanied by an explanation of their meaning, so that guessing is unnecessary. I have known language students who have not realised this and struggled as a result with the word! Here is a typical example:

(a) The walls of the stomach secrete gastric juices, a combination of several enzymes and hydrochloric acid.

The underlined words explain the noun expression gastric juices. This is clear from the comma and immediate use of another noun expression – a common means of explaining words (see 77. Apposition). Admittedly, the structure of NOUN, NOUN and NOUN could also indicate a list of three different things (see 50. Right and Wrong Comma Places), but at least the possibility of equivalence should be considered.



The main kinds of clue that might help word-guessing are spelling, grammar and logic.

1. Spelling Clues

In a few cases, the entirety of a new word may look familiar. One reason why this can happen without the word having previously been encountered in English is the existence of the spelling in another language. Another is the spelling having an alternative English meaning, whether related to the familiar one (see 7. Metaphorical Meanings) or completely different (see 11. Homonyms and Homographs).

Care is always needed with spellings also found in other languages because they so often mean something slightly different there. Ancient, for example, which means “very far in the past” in English, resembles spellings meaning “former” in most of Southern Europe. Safari, meaning “wildlife-viewing vacation” in English, is just a journey in Swahili. The name that is often given to such misleading words is “false friends”.

More often, a familiar spelling is a part of a new word. Not all words have such parts, and if they do the resemblance may just be a coincidence, without any meaning connection. However, a connection will often exist. Take the word respiratory. If you know that respire means “breathe”, then you can guess that this idea is involved. Knowing that -tory usually signals either a noun or adjective (see 172. Multi-Use Suffixes), you may be able to work out which it is here by examining the sentence position of the word in the text. Respiratory is actually an adjective meaning “associated with breathing”.

A need for care with this approach may be illustrated by a mistake I once made in analysing the origins of the word helicopter. Using my knowledge of Ancient Greek, I reasoned that heli- referred to the sun, and -copter meant “beating”, “sun-beating” being a reasonable description of the action of helicopter blades. Later, I realised I should have recognised helico- as “revolving” and -pter as “wing” (see 90. The Greek Impact on English Vocabulary).

Meaningful word parts are divided by linguists into two kinds: roots and affixes. Roots are mostly spellings that also exist as individual words, while affixes only modify the meaning and/or grammatical category of a root. Respir- is thus a root, and -atory is an affix (of the “suffix” – word ending – variety). Some multi-part words mix a root with one or more affixes, while others (known as “compounds”) have two or more roots, with or without affixes, e.g. household and anywhere (see 26. One Word or Two?).

The total number of affixes is much more finite than that of roots, and many individual ones, such as in- and -ness, are found on large numbers of words. This makes it worth learning them for the purpose of recognising them in unfamiliar words. Posts within these pages that aim to assist this are 106. Word-Like Suffixes 172. Multi-Use Suffixes and 146. Some Important Prefix Types.


2. Grammar Clues

Knowing the grammatical class (“part of speech”) of an unfamiliar word can greatly help its meaning to be guessed. One kind of clue is affixes, since many are found only in words of a single grammar class. For example, -ness generally indicates a noun, en- a verb and -ive an adjective. A problem, though, is that many others show different word classes more or less equally: -ing and -s indicate nouns as well as verbs, -ly adjectives as well as adverbs, and un- verbs, nouns or adjectives.

A perhaps more reliable indicator of word class is particular surrounding words. Will, may, can etc. are likely to precede a verb, very usually signals an adjective or adverb, and after a preposition we expect to find a noun. Consider this:

(b) Greek philosophers were not bound in the fetters of orthodoxy.

It is clear here that fetters is a noun: the clues are the preceding preposition in and article the, and the subsequent -s and adjective-like of phrase (see 160. Uses of “of”).


3. Logic Clues

Once the grammatical class of a word is recognised, logic becomes easier to use to discover more. In many cases, the basis of logical deduction is the meaning of the surrounding words. One very helpful kind of such words is lists, since their parts tend to be clearly similar in some way – indeed the similarity is sometimes even stated as a “list name” (see 55. Sentence Lists 2). The new word is then understood to possess this similarity too. For example, in a list of foods we will know that it must be a food. This is not a complete deduction of the meaning, but it is often enough.

Perhaps the commonest kind of clue from surrounding words comes when their meaning can be combined with our own general knowledge. Consider again fetters in (b) above. Its occurrence after bound in suggests that it means something used for binding or restraining people. General knowledge can then indicate that binding normally involves hands or feet, leading to the conclusion that fetters somehow restrain those parts of the body. The similarity of the word to feet, indeed, strongly suggests those parts in particular (though my dictionary makes no such link).

To take another example:

(c) Food travels from the mouth to the stomach via the oesophagus.

It is immediately clear here that the oesophagus is a food-carrier. If we are generally familiar with the human body, we will readily understand a tube-like structure. Even without this familiarity, logic will indicate such a shape.

Another kind of contextual clue is a synonym used nearby not deliberately to explain the word’s meaning but to avoid sounding repetitious – a very common writing practice (see 5. Repetition with Synonyms). In the following, such a clue can assist understanding of vexed:

(d) The problem of God knowing our future has vexed philosophers since at least the third century. In related forms it has bothered philosophers longer than that.

Vexed corresponds here, of course, to bothered. The only problem with this kind of clue is that the reader has to recognise the relatedness of the two words in the first place! The parallel structures of the two above sentences are a help. In the next example, help in understanding scapegoat comes from the fact that it is part of a typical structure for repeating something from the preceding sentence, namely a starting preposition phrase (for a survey of such structures, see 37. Subordination):

(e) Worsening poverty and hunger, loss of agricultural land, migration, shanty towns, pollution, even war have all been blamed on the “population explosion”. AS a general SCAPEGOAT for the world’s troubles, it allows difficult policy questions to be avoided.

The word in the first sentence that corresponds to scapegoat is blamed – a verb instead of noun, but that makes no difference. A scapegoat is actually an object of unjustified blame, but recognising the idea of blame is a good start – later sentences might clarify it further.

Finally, it is sometimes oppositeness of two words rather than equivalence that helps guessing. Consider this:

(e) The defining mark of a species is that its members can breed with other members to produce offspring of the same species. Unions between members of different species, on the other hand, are often sterile.

The indicator of oppositeness here is the connector on the other hand (see 20. Problem Connectors, # 1). It helps the meaning of sterile to be recognised as the opposite of produce offspring: “unable to reproduce”.

176. Ways of Using “Go”


The word GO has a wide range of meanings and grammatical uses



Small, common words like go tend to have a huge variety of meanings and uses. As a result, they become familiar very early on in the learning of English, but their mastery continues to be elusive until a very late stage. These characteristics are easily seen in other Guinlist posts dedicated to words of this kind, such as 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE and 141. Ways of Using MAKE.

One way of quickly discovering the more esoteric uses of go is by checking a dictionary. However, the necessarily brief descriptions that dictionaries give can make understanding and memorisation of the large amounts of information quite difficult. I am hoping that dedicating a whole post to the topic might make those problems a little easier.

I do not propose to cover every single use of go. In keeping with the general aims of this blog I have little to say about the more common and familiar uses, such as the basic meaning, the contrast with COME, and the meaning of going to. Observant readers may have noticed the use here of the spelling go rather than GO. The reason is that the latter refers only to verb usage, whereas go has some interesting noun uses as well.



The following variations seem especially notable.

1. Before Nouns (or Equivalent)

Normally GO is an “intransitive” verb: not usable with a directly-following noun (see 113. Verbs that cannot be Passive). However, this tendency is broken by nouns expressing times and distances – one can quite easily say go 10 minutes or go 5 kilometres. Nevertheless, I would still prefer to call such usage adverb-like, since the nouns can have the preposition for added in front without any meaning change. It is arguable that go is actually being followed by a preposition phrase whose preposition has been left unsaid but “understood”.

Colour nouns are also possible directly after GO, as in go a deep red or go a kind of yellow. These are not objects or adverbials, but complements: they name a state of the subject of the verb, giving go the meaning of “become” or “turn” (see 163. Ways of Naming Properties). For details of complements, see 92. Complement-Showing “As”.

GO can also introduce extended indirect speech, particularly with argument, explanation, narrative or story as its subject, e.g. The story goes that... or As the argument for taxation goes, … . Similar to these is the slang use of GO instead of SAY with direct speech (Then he goes, “…”).


2. Before Adjectives

Complements can be adjectives as well as nouns, and GO with the meaning of “become” allows quite a wide variety. Apart from colours (go red, go blue), its typical adjective complements include hard, solid, soft, bad, dry, cloudy, missing, rusty and sour. Human beings can go free or mad.

Common participles found after GO are begging (=lacking attention), unnoticed, unpunished and unseen. Here, however, GO seems to mean more “continue” than “become”. There is an interesting grammatical contrast between this participle usage and the following:

(a) Sunburned faces showed who had gone unprotected.

There is no complement here. Rather, gone has its standard meaning of “travelled” (with some such understood adverb as there), and unprotected indicates the manner in which this going occurred. It is an example of what I call an “add-on” participle (see 101. Add-On Participles).


3. Before “-ing” Verbs

This use, as in go dancing, is usually covered in mainstream coursebooks, so I will not say much about it here. The meaning of go is usually “go to do”. The verb after it is usually intransitive – not needing a following noun – and must express a non-domestic leisure activity. Other examples are camping, cruising, driving, fishing, hiking, hunting, riding, running, sailing, shopping, sightseeing, skiing, surfing, swimming, touring, travelling, visiting and walking.

An interesting contrast is between has gone -ing and has been -ing. The former says that the -ing action has not yet finished, the latter that it has.

Some of the above examples – hunting, sailing, touring and visiting – are additionally able to have a following noun (i.e. an object), the presence of which allows a choice between -ing and to, e.g. go visiting/to visit RELATIVES. There is a similar choice with some leisure verbs whose object is compulsory, such as PLAY football (or other game) and MEET friends. However, others – such as WATCH a movie/match and HAVE a meal – always need to.

The underlined verbs in the list above can drop -ing after go and be used with for a instead (e.g. go for a swim). Riding allows this too, but the meaning changes: go riding is likely to mean “on horseback”, whereas go for a ride could describe many other kinds of ride, especially in a car. Also confusing is the fact that some activities found after go for a cannot also make a go …-ing phrase, e.g. go for a smoke and go for a holiday.

A common error is to combine for with -ing, e.g.*go for walking. For details, see 165. Confusions of Similar Structures 2, #3).


4. Before Common Adverbs

Very many adverbs are possible after GO. Here I just wish to list some quite common ones: abroad, ahead, (only so) far, forward, further, on holiday, right, short, straight, together, well and wrong.


5. Before “to” + Institution Noun

Some institution nouns, including church, hospital, nursery, prison, school and university, may or may not have the after go to. Without the, we understand a purpose of receiving the institution’s special service. For example, people who go to college must be seeking education – in other words be students – and those who go to hospital must be patients. With the, on the other hand, this purpose is denied, and we must assume some such other purpose as cleaning or delivering goods (see 21. Active Verbs with Non-Active Meanings 1, under “Active Verbs without an Object”).

The above-listed institution nouns are mostly countable, which means that their ability to drop the is surprising (see 110. Nouns without “the” or “a”). There are other institution nouns that cannot drop the, for example the cinema, the mosque and the (doctor’s) surgery.


6. In Two-Word Verbs

Two-word verbs are close combinations of a common verb and either a preposition (forming “prepositional” verbs such as DEPEND ON and COPE WITH), or a preposition-like adverb (forming “phrasal” verbs like TURN ON and BREAK OUT – see 139. Phrasal Verbs). In many cases there is a more formal one-word equivalent (see 108. Formal and Informal Words). GO easily makes both kinds of two-word verb.

Common prepositional verbs include GO AGAINST (= contradict), GO FOR (= attack), GO OVER (= peruse, revise), GO PAST, GO THROUGH (= endure or check from start to finish), GO WITH (= match, accompany) and GO WITHOUT (be deprived of).

Phrasal verbs include GO AHEAD (= proceed), GO ALL OUT (= use maximum effort), GO AWAY, GO BACK, GO IN, GO INTO (= consider deeply), GO OFF (= deteriorate), GO ON (= continue or happen), GO OUT (= depart from home or be extinguished), GO THROUGH (= progress successfully) and GO UNDER (= fail or be submerged).

In addition, there are relatively many “phrasal-prepositional” combinations – three-word verbs containing both a preposition and an adverb. Common ones are GO ALONG WITH (= accept), GO BACK TO, GO IN FOR (= like), GO ON TO (= deal with next), GO OUT OF, GO OVER TO (= switch allegiance to), GO THROUGH WITH (maintain to the end) and GO UP AGAINST (be the opponent of).


7. With Future Meaning (“going to”)

This is another widely-described usage. Of particular interest to this blog is its association with predictions based on visible evidence, like this:

(b) Bubbles in water show that it is going to boil.

For more about predictions, see 147. Types of Future Meaning, #1.

It should be noted, however, that going to is not always like will: it sometimes combines the normal meaning of GO with to meaning “in order to” – purpose-showing, e.g.:

(c) Caesar was going (= travelling) to (= in order to) impose Roman rule.

The phrasal verb GO ALL OUT is especially likely to have this use with a purpose verb.


8. As a Noun

Two common meanings of the noun a go, both quite informal, are “opportunity to play after queueing”, as in finish one’s go, and “attempt”, as in have a go at a problem. However, in the expression on the go (= busy), the meaning is more like that of the verb GO.


9. In Other Common Expressions

GO often partners some particular to phrases, usually of an idiomatic nature. Examples are go to great lengths (= try very hard), go to sleep, go to the people (= call an election), go to rack and ruin and go to the wire (= to the very end).

Other expressions are come and go, give the go-ahead (= allow to start), go into effect (= start operating), go all out (= use maximum effort), go some way towards…, go the distance (= persevere), go the extra mile (=offer more than the norm), go hand in hand (= make natural partners), go around VERBing (= VERB unacceptably), a no-go area and stop-go (= intermittent).

175. Tricky Word Contrasts 6


It can be useful to analyse similar-looking English expressions in order to prevent or stop their confusion


Most users of English have encountered expressions that are easily confused because they resemble each other in spelling and/or meaning. A well-known example – often explained in English language coursebooks – is avoid versus prevent. The problem is that many of these expressions are never highlighted and can remain completely unrecognised, or at least not fully differentiated.

It is expressions of this kind, especially ones that are likely to occur in professional writing, that are the focus of the present post, just as they are of various others with a similar title (see 48. Tricky Word Contrasts 1 for a complete list). Other Guinlist posts about vocabulary confusions include 16. Ways of Distinguishing Similar Words,  44. Troublesome Prepositional Verbs and 94. Essay Instruction Words. For some grammar confusions, see 133/165. Confusions of Similar Structures 1/2, and for some pronunciation ones 144. Words that are Often Heard Wrongly.



1. Youth/Youths/The Youth/Young People

Youth has both countable and uncountable meanings. Countably, a youth means an unidentified youngish person (in their teens or early twenties), while the youth refers to a single identified youngish person. Uncountable youth, on the other hand, means a phase of life contrasting with middle age and old age. These two basic meanings of youth place it in the category considered in depth in the Guinlist post 43. Substance Locations.

Problems arise when there is a need to express the first of the two meanings in a plural form. It is logical to expect youths to be usable for all youngish people, but in fact English uses it only for smaller, specific groups, like this:

(a) A group of youths was spotted near the accident scene.

One way to express the more general plural meaning is with the slightly old-fashioned term the youth. With this meaning it has special grammar: as the subject of a sentence it needs a plural verb, like the police, the clergy and the press (see 12. Singular and Plural Verb Choices). Typical uses might be:

(b) The youth of today deserve less criticism.

(c) More opportunities are needed for the youth to be trained.

Another, more frequent use of youth for the group as a whole is in such phrases as youth club, youth training, youth groups and youth department. Here youth is being used like an adjective (see 38. Nouns Used like Adjectives).

A more common alternative to the youth for talking about all youngish people is young people. It is used without the, just like most other countable plural nouns with general meaning (see 110. Nouns without “the” or “a”). Note that the young (the + general adjective, the topic of 6. Adjectives with no Noun 1) is not an exact equivalent as it includes younger people than youths.


2. Elites/Members of the Elite

Elites is the plural of the noun an elite, which in Standard English means not an elite person (a possibility in some English varieties) but a group of such people. Elites therefore means multiple “groups of privileged people”. It might be used when comparing such groups in different countries, or different types of elite in the same country. For more on Standard English, see the article among these pages entitled Should East African university students try to change the way they speak English?

Members of the elite is the normal means of referring to groups of individuals within a single wider elite. It can also be singular, referring to a single privileged person. Within it, the grammar of the elite is ambiguous. Elite could be the singular group-referring noun mentioned above. It would have the for the same reason that the is used with nouns like government, capital and transport system: there is usually only one of its kind in a country.

Alternatively, elite in the phrase members of the elite could be an adjective, just as it is in expressions like elite schools. In this case, the use of the before it would be the one that is considered in detail in 6. Adjectives with no Noun 1: group-referring and general. The resemblance would be to adjective expressions like the poor and the educated.


3. Advance/Advanced

Advance can be a verb or a noun. As a verb it means either “go forward” or “put forward”. With the first meaning it is usually in the active voice without an object noun (e.g. The tanks advanced); with the second meaning, it can be active with an object (…advanced the tanks) or passive (the tanks were advanced). For more on verbs like this, see 4. Verbs that Don’t Have to be Passive and 143. Problems Using “-self” Words.

There are also metaphorical uses of the object-requiring form, meaning either “suggest” (e.g. Many reasons were advanced) or “pay” (e.g. Please advance $500). For more on this kind of meaning, see 7. Metaphorical Meanings.

As a noun (mostly countable), advance again has different uses. It can mean “early part payment” (e.g. an advance of $500), or “improvement” (e.g. a scientific advance) or “forward movement” (e.g. an advance of 5km). One other common noun meaning is “preceding period”, but this only seems to exist in special phrases like in advance (= “beforehand” – see 164. Fixed Preposition Phrases).

Advanced too has different uses. One is merely as the past tense or passive participle of the verb ADVANCE. The meaning is hence usually “moved/put forward”. When the participle form is describing a noun, it usually follows it, as in the distance advanced, reasons advanced or amounts advanced. For more on such usage, see 52. Participles Placed Just after their Noun. Alternatively, advanced can be an ordinary adjective meaning “technically sophisticated” and used before nouns like mathematics, techniques and weapons.

The main confusion is whether one should say advance or advanced before nouns like notice, payment, preparations and warning, in order to mean “before”. At first sight, advanced might seem logical. However, apart from the fact that its position before a noun is more commonly associated with the “technically sophisticated” meaning, there is also a logical problem: advanced would say that the notice (or similar) had been moved to an earlier time, when the idea of movement is not usually suggested by “before”.

It might seem strange that the noun advance is the correct choice in this situation, given that elsewhere it has the “before” meaning only in a few expressions like in advance, and that it is being used to describe another noun. However, “before” does exist as a possible meaning of advance, and nouns are very possible alternatives to adjectives before another noun (see 38. Nouns Used like Adjectives).


4. Classified as/into

This contrast also features in the Guinlist post 162. The Language of Classification. The verb CLASSIFY allows a class name like vertebrates to be linked with sub-classes like mammals. If you use as, the verb’s subject must be one or more of the subclasses (Mammals are classified as vertebrates), whereas using into needs the class name to be subject (Vertebrates are classified into mammals…).


5. Afraid of Doing/Afraid to Do

Two different situations need consideration here. In one, the feared event is outside the control of the fearing person. Of is then always necessary after afraid:

(d) Plague victims were abandoned because people were afraid of being infected.

(e) Language learners will not speak if they are afraid of making a mistake.

In (d), of being rather than to be is the right choice because the passive verb infected suggests people have no control over it. In (e), although making is an active verb, it probably still has passive-like meaning (see 21. Active Verbs with Non-Active Meanings 1), suggesting a lack of control and hence once again a need for of.

The other situation to consider is when the feared event is controllable – i.e. is one that only happens as a result of conscious choice, such as swimming. Here, both of and to are possible, depending on whether or not the feared event actually happens. Consider this:

(f) Most people were afraid … near sharks.

Writing of swimming here gives no information about whether or not most people actually did swim near sharks. On the other hand, to swim says that most people did not swim near sharks (because they were too afraid). In the following sentence to swim would be the more likely choice:

(g) Rumours of sharks in the area made people afraid to swim.


6. Adverse/averse

These are both adjectives. Adverse means “unfavourable”, averse “not liking”. Normally, it is events or situations that can be described as adverse, common ones being circumstances, comments, conditions, consequences, criticism, effects, events, publicity, reaction and situations.

On the other hand, averse, in expressing a feeling, normally describes living things. It must usually be followed by to and a noun (or noun equivalent, such as an -ing verb) naming what is not liked (see 111. Words with a Typical Preposition). One might, for example, use averse to with smoking or aeroplanes. One would not, however, use it to express opposition: if you oppose smoking, you would be an adversary of it. Quite often, not is used before averse to create a double negative meaning “accepting” (see 9. Double Negatives).

An important grammatical difference between the two adjectives is their position relative to the noun they describe: adverse usually precedes it, averse follows with a link verb in between (e.g. Dogs are not averse to chocolate).

174. Eight Things to Know about Conjunctions


Conjunctions are best understood in terms of multiple characteristics rather than just one


Conjunctions, like prepositions and adverbs, can sometimes be difficult to conceptualise and identify. Although there is much information about them elsewhere within this blog, easily accessible by clicking on “conjunctions” in the CATEGORIES menu on the right of this page, bringing their general characteristics together in one place seems a useful thing to do to make their appreciation even more convenient.

Common conjunctions include after, although, and, as, because, before, but, if, or, provided that, since, than, that, until, when and so. One characteristic that comes to most people’s minds when they think of conjunctions is that they are “link” words. Unfortunately, although this is true, it is so vague as to be almost useless. There are various other features that can be more useful.



1. Need to be in a Multi-Verb Sentence

This property is perhaps the most characteristic one of conjunctions, though some other kinds of word also have it (e.g. relative pronouns, gerunds, participles and infinitive verbs – see 30. When to Write a Full Stop), and one exceptional conjunction use – listing with and or or – often lacks it (see 25. Conjunction Positioning).

Usually, the two verbs necessitated by a conjunction will be separated by a comma (see 50. Right and Wrong Comma Places), and they will both have a subject and a particular tense form. In other words neither will be an infinitive (with to) or a gerund or a participle. In traditional terms, the two verbs must be “finite”.

Once again, though, there appears to be an exception, illustrated by this sentence from the Guinlist post 36. Words Left Out to Avoid Repetition:

(a) Most snakes, UNLESS attacked, will not bite.

The conjunction here is unless and its two verbs are underlined. The one with it appears to be the non-finite “past” participle attacked (passive without BE). However, I do not consider this to be a true exception. It means the same as the finite they are attacked, and can be considered merely an abbreviation of that. Abbreviation like this seems to be possible when the subject of both verbs is the same (most snakes above), and the conjunction verb includes BE.


2. Expression of an Inter-Verb Meaning

Conjunctions do not just enable their partner verb to be in the same sentence as another one; they also show how both verbs are related meaning-wise. For example, in sentence (a), unless shows that snakes being attacked causes an exception to the behaviour expressed by the other verb, the tendency not to bite. In the same way, because and since make their verb a cause of what the other expresses (see 61. “Since” versus “Because”), so (that) makes it a consequence (see 32. Expressing Consequences), and after makes it an earlier event (see 171. Aspects of the Past Perfect Tense).

This kind of meaning relation is also seen in those adverb-like words that many grammarians call (logical) connectors. What is special about conjunctions, however, is that they usually require the two related verbs to be in the same sentence – connectors need separate sentences (see 40. Conjunctions versus Connectors).


3. Grammatical Variation

Conjunctions do not all follow the same grammar rules. The majority, often called “subordinating”, can be used either before both of their accompanying verbs or between them, like this:

(b) ALTHOUGH whales live in the sea, they are mammals.

(c) Whales are mammals(,) ALTHOUGH they live in the sea.

By contrast, a few conjunctions – and, but, for, nor, or, so, than, yet – can only go between the two verbs. For example, but could replace although in (c) but not in (b). Conjunctions of this kind are usually called “coordinating”. They are more likely to have a comma before them than subordinating ones in the same position. Indeed, sometimes they even have a full stop instead of a comma, making them more like connectors than conjunctions. For details, see 25. Conjunction Positioning.

Another difference between the two types of conjunction is that coordinating ones can leave out a subject-repeating pronoun like they in (c) – but live is possible there but not *although live (see 36. Words Left Out to Avoid Repetition).

Grammatical variability is not unique to conjunctions; most other word classes show it. Nouns can be “proper”, “countable” or “uncountable”, verbs can be “transitive” or “intransitive” and adverbs can be verb-linked or sentence-linked.


4. Influence on Sentence Focus

It often happens that some parts of a sentence are not what the sentence is really “about”: they are mentioned only to help the reader to appreciate the main message, or focus. A full description of this tendency can be read in 156. Mentioning What the Reader Knows Already.

The words after a conjunction are often not the focus of their sentence. This particularly happens with subordinating conjunctions at the start of a sentence, as in (b). The focus there is on what whales are, not where they live, which the reader is assumed to know already. For more, see 37. Subordination.


5. Occasional Use with a Second Conjunction

Sometimes two verbs are fitted into the same sentence not with a single conjunction but by means of a conjunction with each. Conjunction pairs that enable this include both…and, either…or, if…then, not only…but also, no sooner…than and just as…so. A fuller list with examples is in the post 64. Double Conjunctions. See also 99. When to Use “whether…or…”.


6. Facilitation of Word-Dropping (Ellipsis)

Two examples of ellipsis accompanying a conjunction have already been given above: the dropping of they are after unless in (a) and of they when but replaces although in (c). Ellipsis does not always involve a conjunction, but it often does (see 36. Words Left Out to Avoid Repetition).

Two particularly common conjunctions that ellipsis accompanies are and and as. Examples involving the former are in the above-mentioned post and also 68. How Computers Get Grammar Wrong 1 and 148. Infinitive Verbs without “to”. Examples involving as are in 53. “As”, “Like” and “Such As”,  104. Naming Data Sources with “As” and 159. Exotic Grammar Structures 2, #1.

A less obvious common partner of ellipsis is than, as in this example, whose droppable words are bracketed:

(d) Children are often keener to play with their parents than (to play with) their friends.

If the verb after than is different from the earlier one (e.g. …to watch TV), ellipsis of to is still possible (see 148. Infinitive Verbs without “to”).


7. Creation of Different Clause Types

Two statements joined by a coordinating conjunction like and are usually considered to be equal, neither a part of the other. Subordinating conjunctions, however, make their partner verb and its associated words a subdivision of the statement centred on the other verb.

Most subordinating conjunctions create adverbials (adverb-like expressions) in the other verb’s statement. This is the case, for example, with although in (b) and (c). Sometimes, however, other kinds of expression are created. Particularly interesting is the conjunction that. Consider this:

(e) Doctors believe THAT exercise is vital.

Once again the two conjoined verbs are underlined. That and its partner words are here the object of the “main” verb believe, not an adverbial (believe needs an object, and no other words are meeting that need). Objects are normally associated with nouns. That can also enable a verb to occupy other noun positions, like subject and complement. For some examples, see 153. Conjunction Uses of “that”.

Other conjunctions able to make noun-like expressions include question words in indirect (not direct) questions, such as how, when, where, whether and why, e.g.:

(f) Many scholars question WHETHER Homer was a real person.

In addition to noun expressions, that and indirect question words sometimes introduce adjective-like ones – adding to the meaning of a preceding noun. Examples are a statement that… and a reason why… .


8. Similarity to Prepositions

Conjunctions resemble prepositions in the way they often add information to a sentence, in the kinds of meaning that they have, and sometimes even in their spellings (see 84. Seven Things to Know about Prepositions, #4). The similar way of adding information is by making it adverb-like, as in these examples:

(g) (CONJUNCTION) The war ended WHEN the government collapsed.

(h) (PREPOSITION) The war ended WITH the collapse of the government.

Both of the underlined phrases add time information about the verb ended – a typical function of adverbs. The main difference is that the conjunction needs a finite verb (collapsed) to do so whereas the preposition expresses the same meaning with an “action” noun (collapse – for more on this use of nouns, see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns, #5).

Many conjunctions seem able to be paired with a preposition of similar meaning in the way shown above. Other examples are although/despite, and/besides, because/because of, if/in the event of, in case/in case of, like/just as and while/during.

The fact that some spellings are able to act as either a conjunction or a preposition seems a particularly strong indication of the closeness of these two kinds of word. The main spellings of this kind are after, as, before, since and until. Compare the following uses of until:

(i) (CONJUNCTION) Uganda WAS a British colony until it ACHIEVED independence in the 1960s.

(j) (PREPOSITION) Uganda WAS a British colony until its independence in the 1960s.

173. “Do Research” or “Make Research”?

It can be difficult to choose the right verb with an “action” noun object


This post is about choosing the right verb in phrases like make a decision and give a definition. In these, the object of the verb is what I call an “action” noun – expressing the same meaning as a similarly-spelt verb (here decide and define) – and the whole combination is an alternative to this verb by itself.

Verbs like make and give are the “partners” of action nouns not in the sense that they always accompany them (action nouns often appear without them – see 131. Uses of “Action” Nouns), but rather because the choice of action noun object tends to determine which one of them should be used. They can also be in the passive form with an action noun subject (a decision was made). However, some may then be replaced by the active verb TAKE PLACE (a search was undertaken = a search took place). For more on TAKE PLACE, see 132. Tricky Word Contrasts 4, #1.

The use of action nouns with a partner verb is an example of the wider phenomenon in English known as “collocation” (see 164. Fixed Preposition Phrases). This particular one does actually feature in a post elsewhere within these pages (39. “Decide” or “Make a Decision”?). However, the focus there is not so much on the partner verbs as on when the whole phrase might be preferable to a single verb.

One problem that partner verbs of action nouns pose for writers who are not very familiar with English is knowing where they can be used, since there seem to be a few action nouns that rarely have them, for example arrival, production and wastage. More of a problem, however, is matching the right verb with the right noun. A common error, for example, is to use make with research instead of do. There is nothing in the central meanings of MAKE and DO that can indicate the right choice – as with many collocations, the correct combination is a matter of custom rather than logic.

The verbs that tend to be used in combinations of this kind are not actually very numerous. However, there are still enough of them to cause confusion. Here are some of the common ones:

ACHIEVE success


CARRY OUT an action

CAUSE surprise

CONDUCT an inquiry

DO research

DRAW a conclusion

DRAW UP a list

EFFECT a change

FEEL regret

FIND a solution

MAKE a decision

GIVE a definition

HAVE a tendency

PAY attention

PERFORM an operation

PROVIDE assistance

PUT an end to

REACH an agreement


TAKE note

UNDERGO treatment

The following sections consider whether there are any guidelines for the choice of a particular verb with a particular object noun, either in the type of meaning that the noun might have or in the meaning of the verb itself.



MAKE is one of the commonest verbs that make the combinations in question. There are various examples of it in the Guinlist post 141. Ways of Using MAKE. One kind of partner noun that is very likely to have MAKE is derived from verbs of saying. Like the verbs, most can or must be followed by that.

Examples are an admission, an agreement, an allegation, an argument, an assertion, a claim, a comment, a comparison (+ between), a complaint, a criticism, a defence (+ of), a demand (+ for), a distinction (+ between), an enquiry (+ about), an implication, an inference, a list (+of), mention (+ of), an observation, a plea, a prediction, a promise, a proposal, a recommendation, (a) reference (+ to), a remark, a request, a speech (+ about), a statement, a suggestion, a survey (+ of), a threat and an utterance.

Alternatives to MAKE include DRAW UP with a list, DRAW with an inference and PUT FORWARD with an argument.

In addition, “thought” nouns commonly have MAKE, Examples are a calculation, an analysis (+ of), an assessment, a connection (+ with/between), a decision, a discovery, an estimate, a judgement, a link (+ with/between), a mistake and a plan.

MAKE is also found with various other action nouns, including an acquisition, a change, a find, a gain, an improvement, a journey, a loss, a move, a movement, progress, a purchase, a recovery, reforms, a repair, a rush (+ for), a sale, a start, a surge and a visit (+ to).



The collocational use of GIVE needs to be distinguished from that where it has its more basic ownership-transfer meaning, as in this example:

(a) Suggestions can be given to the Dean.

This implies more than just suggesting, which would be conveyed by made instead of given. The suggestions are implied to be almost physical: probably expressed in writing and collected together.

Most of the action nouns that typically combine with GIVE also allow the more formal-sounding PROVIDE (exceptions in the lists below are underlined). Many come from verbs of saying, just as many MAKE ones do – a possible source of error. Common examples are one’s acceptance, an account, an answer (to), a commandconsideration (to), a definition, a description, an explanation, an illustration,*an indication, an instruction, an outline, a presentation, proof, a reaction (to), *a response (to), a summary and *a warning.

One difference between speech nouns with GIVE compared to MAKE ones might be grammatical: frequent non-usability with that (exceptions are marked *). Instead, they are likely to be followed by a preposition and another noun. The preposition in most cases will be of, but sometimes to. It is what I have elsewhere called “object-showing” (see 31. Prepositions after “Action” Nouns 1).

Another observation is that many of these nouns express essay-writing activities. For a list of corresponding verbs, see 94. Essay-Instruction Words.

Also notable is that some of the earlier-listed nouns with MAKE allow GIVE too, though with a perhaps slightly different meaning. Take an assessment. Making one is personal and not necessarily verbal. Giving one, however, is interpersonal: it is made public for other people to appreciate. Other nouns with this dual use include an analysis, an argument, a comparison, a list and a summary.

A similar dual use involves nouns listed below under REACH, such as a conclusion. REACH is again personal, suggesting one’s own achievement, while GIVE is interpersonal, indicating sharing.

Apart from the categories listed above, GIVE nouns also include assistance, attention, a boost, a demonstration, help and service. For the use of PAY or TURN with attention instead of GIVE, see 132. Tricky Word Contrasts 4, #3.



1. DO

Nouns requiring this verb seem rather random. They include exercise, damage, practice, a repetition, research and work. With a calculation, a deal and a survey, it seems possible to use DO, MAKE or CARRY OUT.



CARRY OUT and PERFORM seem fairly interchangeable, though the former may be slightly less formal (see 108. Formal & Informal Words). Possible partner nouns are an action, *an analysis, *an assessment, *a calculation, *a check, an examination, an experiment, an interview (not PERFORM), an investigation, a procedure, *(a) reconstruction, registration (not PERFORM), *reforms (not PERFORM), a review, *repairs, research (allows DO not PERFORM), *a search, treatment and *a study.

The underlined words may also accompany CONDUCT, perhaps in order to suggest that the action is more spread out over time. The words marked * additionally allow MAKE. Note how prominent data-gathering verbs are overall.

Some other meaning contrasts also exist. If you make a decision you decide to do something, whereas to carry out one is to make it happen. To make an enquiry is to ask something, but to carry out or conduct one is to gather information over time, in the manner of police or researchers. To carry out an operation is to do something, but to perform one is to administer surgery.



Combination with action nouns is just one of numerous uses of HAVE (see 116. Rarer Uses of HAVE, #7). Unlike with MAKE and GIVE, there is often an implication that the subject noun suffers rather than causes the action – the action is more passive in nature.

One group of partner nouns of HAVE expresses actions involving other people. Examples are a debate (with sb/about sth), a disagreement, a discussion, an encounter (with sb/sth), an influence (on sb/sth) and a meeting (with sb). Other HAVE nouns include a desire, *belief, *a feeling, *hope, a look, *regret, success, a tendency and a yearning. Those marked * can combine with that. Some express emotions – indeed they sometimes have FEEL instead of HAVE (desire, regret, yearning).

Also notable is usage with an argument (with sb/about sth). HAVE gives it its non-academic, everyday meaning of “verbal fight”. The academic meaning of “reasoned case” (see 167. Ways of Arguing 1) needs PUT FORWARD or MAKE.



Action nouns with this verb tend to name outcomes of a lengthy process, which hence resemble destinations. Examples are agreement, an answer, a climax, a compromise, a conclusion, a decision, a diagnosis, an end, an estimate, fulfilment, mastery, an outcome, a proof, retirement, satisfaction, a solution and an understanding.

The underlined words are also usable with GIVE to mean communicating rather than achieving. A decision and an estimate replace REACH with MAKE when the time involved is brief. A conclusion also allows DRAW. Other alternative verbs are ACHIEVE (a compromise, mastery, satisfaction, a solution, success), ATTAIN and FIND (a compromise, satisfaction, a solution, success).



With some action nouns, the meaning of “acquire” is evident, e.g. control, a measurement, note, ownership, possession and receipt. TAKE also accompanies action, aim, care, flight, heed and a risk. With a decision, it can replace MAKE, with a look HAVE.



UNDERGO is a useful verb for giving passive meaning to certain action nouns. For example, undergoing an examination is the passive of conducting one. Other common partner nouns are analysis, change, checks, an investigation, repairs, review, scrutiny, training, transformation, transmission, treatment and trial.

SUFFER seems to be preferred with nouns representing undesirable events, e.g. damage, decline, deprivation, disruption, erosion, a  fall, infection, a loss, oppression, punishment, repression, reduction and restrictions.



These verbs mean roughly the same, and seem mostly usable with action nouns corresponding to “causative” verbs like RAISE (see 97. Verb Form Confusions, #3). Typical partners are change, a cut, a drop, an end, a fall, an increase, a reconciliation, a reduction, removal, renewal, a rise and a surprise.


8. PUT

This is relatively rare with an action noun object. It accompanies an end (to), a stop (to) and emphasis (on). The last of these also allows PLACE and GIVE (+ to).