Tag Archives: English vocabulary

We’re all just mere mortals

Mere and Merely are not extremely common but when these words come up, people have a hard time understanding what they mean. In general, you can replace them with “only”.

They can be put to good use in academic writing!


Something small or insignificant; Nothing more than what is mentioned (only)
The mere idea made me shudder.
It was a mere formality.
With the merest suggestion of corruption, the entire project will be shut down.


nothing more or less (only)
He’s merely a secretary.
I was merely suggesting that…
This merely aggravates the problem.
This procedure is merely a matter of form.
It was merely a coincidence; there was no causal relationship.
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Top 10 English mistakes among Dutch speakers and how to correct them

Dear Dutch compatriots,english utrecht

Maybe this year you resolved to improve your English on a professional level. In order to get you started on the right foot, please find below 10 small changes that you can make today that will greatly improve your fluency.

10. I live in Utrecht for two years.

Dutch tenses are used differently than English ones, even if they look similar. Beware! Whenever you have “for 3 months” or “since December” use the form “I have lived” and not “I live”

✔I have lived in Utrecht for two years and I’ve worked here for three months now.

9.  Maybe I do it soon.

English uses the future tense more than Dutch does. Start pronouncing the ‘ll and your English will noticeably improve: I’ll, you’ll, he’ll, she’ll, it’ll, we’ll, they’ll. Read more about when to use will in English.

✔Maybe I’ll do it soon. Don’t worry, I’ll get it done before the end of the week.

8. Yes. No.

You know this: English is less direct and more polite than Dutch. Answering with just one word sounds rude (I know you don’t mean to be!) Remember the rule of three to be more polite:

✔Yes I do. / No I don’t. / Yes I have. / No I haven’t.

Have you finished that presentation yet?

No I haven’t.

7. Hereby

You only use this word in English if you’re writing a contract. Since you probably aren’t doing that, throw this word away. When attaching a document to an email, use

✔Please find the revised version of my article attached.

6. on school

Many prepositions are used similarly, so it’s hard to tell which prepositions are different. On is an easy one though: Are you sitting on the roof of your school? If not, then you are

✔at school

5. Greetings

There are innumerable ways to translate groetjes or groeten, none of which are greetingsRead the blog post about how (not) to use greetings.

✔Cheers/Take care/Kind regards

4. The report is published.

Is published is the past tense in Dutch but the present tense in English, so it usually does not translate exactly. Read more about how to get the passive right in English.

✔The report was published (yesterday). / The report has (already) been published.

3. I am having an idea.

Certain verbs cannot be used in the ing form, even when you’re talking about right now. The most commonly misused one is have because have also appears in many expressions where it means something else, like

We’re having dinner (have = eat)

He’s having a great time (have a great time = enjoy oneself)

When have only means have, it can only appear one way:

✔I have an idea. He has a plan. We have our own company.

2. When I would do that, you wouldn’t like it.

There are actually two issues here: when and would do. Read the post about if/when and conditional sentences.

✔If I did that, you wouldn’t like it.

1. I have seen that yesterday.

I have seen/I saw sounds a lot like ik heb gezien/ik zag. However, you use each form in a completely different way than you do in Dutch. When an action is finished (last week, on Tuesday, yesterday), you have to use I saw even though you would make the sentence with ik heb gezien in Dutch:

✔I saw that yesterday.

If you learned something from this post, please share it with your friends or colleagues!


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Holiday Greetings

It’s Sinterklaas season! This Dutch holiday (that has been getting a lot of flak from the international community) is more important than Christmas for Dutch kids. Though the rest of us have to wait until December 25th to get our presents, Dutch children get theirs on December 5th.

Whether you celebrate Sinterklaas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Year’s or something else, it seems to be the holiday season for everyone. You send people greeting cards that might even say “Season’s Greetings” so this is the perfect season to talk about the word GREETINGS.

Where you can’t use it

Greetings or Greetz is a favorite among Dutch speakers because groetjes, the literal translation, can be used in many instances:

Say hi to him for me = Doe de groetjes aan hem.

Cheers = groetjes

Bye bye! = groetjes!

(Dutch Word of the Day has done a great little post explaining the use of groetjes in Dutch.)

However, in none of the above instances do we say greetings in English where you say groetjes (or even groeten) in Dutch. Greetings is just not that common a word. Greetz is not a word in English at all, as evidenced by the Urban Dictionary entry: “A term often used incorrectly by non English speaking people who insist on “greeting” people at the end of their message.”

Because both greetings and greetz are used so commonly in Dutch, it can be hard for Dutch people to separate themselves from this word in English. In general, if you’re Dutch, you should take the English word greetings and add it to your do-not-use list.

You might see some old-fashioned usage of greetings occasionally, but as a modern English speaker, you wouldn’t actually say these things because they sound awkward, overly formal, and stuffy:

Greetings if they are still with us to Len Wein and Berni Wrightson, originators of the comic strip.

I reciprocate your seasonal greetings.

Have you been flooded with greetings all day, sir?

In short, do not use it to say hello or goodbye. Do not use it to refer to saying hello or goodbye unless you are trying to sound stuffy.

But of course, there are always exceptions. Around the holiday season, you might see the word greetings in a couple of very specific contexts. This still does not mean that you should use it outside of this context.

Where you can use it

If you are reading a greeting card aloud to someone and it says Season’s Greetings, you can say this out loud. But only in this context–don’t go around wishing people “Season’s Greetings” — instead wish them “Happy Holidays” or the specific holiday they are celebrating: “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy New Year”.

greeting card english

You can use greetings to greet someone if you are imitating a Martian coming to Earth and greeting humankind:

Greetings, Earthlings!

Along these lines, if you are very competent, you can dare to use it in other contexts but keep that mental picture of the alien in your head. I admit that I sometimes receive an email from Coursera with the salutation “Greetings, Courserians!” but I have to think that is done tongue-in-cheek.

You can use greet as a verb, commonly seen in writing (novels, news articles, and the like):

How to greet a customer

He’d usually greet me in the Devon dialect.

When independence came in 1963, the moran were there to greet it with their manyattas intact.

We had all risen to greet them.

Now, go forth and greet everyone appropriately!

Happy Sinterklaas!

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Stylish writing in English: entertain

You can entertain in a lot of contexts outside of the entertainment industry. In academia, “entertain” is commonly used in the negative, as in “Late submissions will not be entertained.”

Entertain also means
a. To consider; contemplate: entertain an idea.
b. To hold in mind; harbor: He entertained few illusions.
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You can entertain a thought or an idea.

Actually, you can entertain anything that you can choose to dedicate mental energy towards.

This is commonly used in the negative in academic or professional contexts, for example:

Late submissions will not be entertained.

Further complaints will not be entertained

Telephone inquiries will not be entertained.

This gives the feeling of “I will not deign to look at your late submissions, so don’t bother.”

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Tricky words in English: Sure

One of my favorite dictionary blogs, Macmillan, posted about the meaning of sure:

I’m sure: the most usual way of saying that you are sure about something

via Macmillan Language Tip of the Week

You can be/feel sure of something: you’re certain, you know for sure.


they didn’t address one of the meanings of sure that English language learners rarely learn, and one of the more common sources of confusion between native and non-native speakers.

english lessons utrecht

“I’m sure” only means “I’m certain” when you say it with conviction. “Sure” by itself doesn’t mean yes. When someone asks you a question and you answer “sure” without any inflection, you are actually saying “Whatever– I don’t know and I don’t care.” “Sure” is also frequently used sarcastically.

1. When used flat, without any inflection, “sure” is not an answer to a question, it is neither yes nor no. It says “I am totally uninterested.”

-Do you want to go to the Art Fair in Amsterdam?


-Well, you don’t have to go if you’re not interested.

2. When used sarcastically, it says “yeah, right, I don’t believe you.”

-I won the race last Sunday.

-Sure you did.

Urban dictionary defines sure as “the quickest way to answer a question when not paying attention that usually doesn’t include any thinking whatsoever,” “to show sarcasm, lack of interest,” among others.

As you can see, “sure” can mean much more than just certainty, and if you use it with the wrong tone of voice, you might be implying something you don’t necessarily mean.

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Stylish Writing in English: tout

Essential vocabulary for academic manuscripts

Tout: to praise publicly and energetically with the intention of publicizing something

(pronunciation tip: rhymes with the English out)

This precise verb is quite useful in the introduction section of academic articles.

Tout is often used in the passive voice (because we don’t care who is doing the touting, and most of the time we don’t know anyway) as seen in the examples below:

Crowdfunding has been touted as a mechanism for creators without access to ready cash. (The Economist)

Medical marijuana has been touted as an effective cancer treatment for decades by its various supporters, but despite the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, marijuana remains a sparsely recommended drug for patients with life-threatening illnesses. (RiseEarth)

Social media has been touted as having an increasingly important role in many aspects of the hospitality industry, including guest satisfaction and process improvement. (Ecornell)

Biofuels have been touted as a possible replacement to fossil fuels. (Ted, Jonathan Trent)

But as you can see from the extent of these examples, tout is used is many tenses and contexts.

But that means travellers lose the benefit of a downtown arrival, often touted as an advantage of trains.
For a while it was touted as the fuel of the future, but it remains difficult to produce, transport and store.
Fluorescence is increasingly being touted as the future of clinical imaging due to its selectivity.
Micro fuel cells are being touted as the hot portable energy source of the future.
Some officials have touted the new property tax as another market-dampening measure.

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Stylish Writing in English: albeit

English vocabularyEveryone is looking to impress colleagues and journal editors with their proper academic writing skills. Using advanced vocabulary words seems like the easiest way to accomplish this, but using them correctly is harder than it looks.

Most people want to use advanced or uncommon vocabulary, but end up using them awkwardly, thus defeating the purpose. Non-native English speakers naturally find this more difficult as they haven’t had as much opportunity to hear advanced English vocabulary used correctly.

If you want to get away with using fancy words, then you have to do two things:

1. use them only when it serves a purpose

2. pay attention to both structure and meaning

Any advanced word won’t do: you’re looking for one that contributes a particular nuance or structural element to your text without sounding out of date or pompous. You can’t use your chosen word all the time either–try using it only once (only in the most appropriate place) in a given document for maximum impact.

Here’s an idea:English academic writing albeit



meaning: even though, though, although, even if

Middle English: “even if it be”

Be careful: albeit doesn’t have the same exact structure as even though. Albeit is more concise: it has both the subject and verb included in its meaning, so it can be used to avoid repeating “it is”.

In this way, albeit packs a punch–you’re not just using it to sound smart, you are using it because you want to introduce a contrasting idea with no unnecessary words.

Be careful! Albeit is used around the internet in ways that are neither useful nor intelligent. Every example you find is not necessarily a good one. Use the below examples as a reference.

1. Fusion power plants would also be boilers, albeit exceedingly complex ones.
2. However, the bus does have some basis in reality, albeit a more mundane and less glamorous reality.
3. Halpern believes he has benefited from his peyote sessions, albeit in ways difficult to quantify or even describe.
4. It has been expanding ever since, albeit at a more leisurely pace.
5. Such sounds have been linked, albeit tenuously, to some alleged hauntings.
6. Other observers eventually concluded that Piazzi’s discovery was indeed a planet, albeit a small one.
7. Yet those movies invoke scientific wonders and horrors largely through jolting, albeit crude, images.

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Coronation vs Inauguration

Dutch coronation

With all the hoopla surrounding the Dutch coronation song, I have been prompted to read a bit more about the upcoming festivities when Nederland will get a new king.

But, oops, it’s not actually a coronation, it’s a “coronation.” Apparently, the Dutch monarchy is more of a hereditary governmental job than an actual kingship. The king and queen will not be crowned, so we can’t use the word “coronation.” Instead, we have to use “inauguration” –which is what we use in the US for democratically-elected presidents!

Inaugurate just means to induct into office by a formal ceremony. There’s nothing “ruling” associated with the word. However, coronation comes from “crown” as in the act of crowning a monarch. Apparently there will be a crown, but it will be placed on the table.

Beware though: No crown doesn’t mean no tiara. Maxima has an extensive collection of tiara’s for the inauguration.

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Your Professional Reputation: Fired or Laid off?

In our current economic climate, more and more people are losing their jobs. In the Netherlands, we have been hearing about the casualties every week on the news: 3000 from one company, 800 from another. If you find yourself among the ever-increasing number of unemployed, Dutch and foreign alike, you should do all you can to increase your chances of future employment, starting with changing your vocabulary.

English course Utrecht

“I got fired” is the go-to expression in the Netherlands. However, this expression implies that you did something wrong and that you left your company on bad terms. When you say “I got fired,” you will usually be asked to explain what happened (you weren’t performing, you cooked the books, you couldn’t get along with your manager). Most companies are going to view the phrase “I got fired” as code for “I was a bad employee and my company had to get rid of me.”

Most likely you will want to use “I got laid off”: because of circumstances outside of your control, the company could no longer afford to employ you (and probably many of your co-workers). This expression implies that you could be a good employee, but your business division or your job was made redundant. It strengthens your argument if you can say something along the lines of “I survived three rounds of layoffs before it was my turn.”

Another neutral option is “I lost my job.” Use this when you don’t want to give information about the circumstances surrounding your dismissal.

Best of luck on the job market!

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