50 Shades of Air

“Air hasn’t got any shades”, you’d say. Of course not, but only by chance, while I was looking up words and idioms  related to the word AIR for my FCE class, I found that my favourite online dictionary http://www.cambridge.org  had exactly 50 entries, related to this word together  with examples and even a translation into Spanish, which will make most of our students more than happy.

Here’s the first and most general definition:

The mixture of gases we breathe; the atmosphere

You might have noticed , if you are a music lover, that song writers are quite often inspired by nothing, that is to say, by air :

What seems to blend very well is LOVE and AIR. Here are two music videos but if you are interested you might want to explore the countless variations on the topic and let us know which one is your personal favourite.

Air keeps inspiring young artists as well ( I guess this one will be happy to find he’s been linked to aanyone’s blog, have you heard of him? );


not to mention poets;



So  if you’d like to find out which the remaining 49 shades of air are, here is the link to the dictionary entry that triggered this post. Mind you , there might be another post coming up inspired by nothing, as spring  and love are in the air!




Nouns formed from phrasal verbs

I remember once, it must have been 10 years ago, a student in his fifties claimed that he had learned English without ever using a phrasal verb. I told him that was impossible and that he must have learned them without being aware of it.

Now, ten years later, I doubt whether I was right or there might have been a twisted methodology at that time that just avoided phrasal verbs by all means.Let’s face it, many phrasal verbs have their more formal latin based equivalents such as: to put off= to postpone or to set up= to arrange so it  just might be possible to reach a certain basic level of English without phrasal verbs, without ever mentioning when you get up or wake up, for example.

Most Spanish-speaking students find phrasal verbs simply devastating. They are made to learn them by heart at school, which in most cases results in frustration and confusion.They end up always questioning if they have got them right. Generally speaking, this happens at all levels and  with all age groups.

To make things worse, finding out nouns can be made out of phrasal verbs just throws them off-balance thinking that English vocabulary is definitely impossible to master.

Unfortunately, there are many compound nouns formed with a verb+preposition combination. Some examples:

Here is an update on the news.

At the outbreak of war, I was just three years old.

The health service is suffering from budget cutbacks.

The town has a  bypass, which keeps traffic out of the center.

Furthermore, some of these nouns operate as phrasal verbs and some don’t.

Rioting broke out in the middle of the night.

Funds allocated to research have been severely cut back.

There is no verb to date up and to bypass is used literally:

We passed by the park on the way to the station.

Here are some examples with te verb break.

A new and successful development is a breakthrough.

You break through something such as a barrier ,you succeed in forcing your way through.

In  the  same song a break up is mentioned:

You break up with your partner or you talk about the end of a marriage as a break-up, e.g

All marriage break-ups are traumatic.

Some people have nervous breakdowns  and machines break down i.e stop working.

So, how should you learn these nouns? The first and most important thing is that you notice a phrasal verb is  being used and then you might want to look it up in your dictionary and check if there is a noun formed from it.  Of course, you should always copy the example together with the definition.

If all this seems like to much work,just go to the BBC learning English sight.There you will find a “Words in the News “section, which often marks out many phrasal verbs and nouns formed from them, as well offering a range of exercises to  help you to expand your  vocabulary. Here’s a link:


 Have fun!