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Macmillan Dictionary Real Grammar

Real Vocabulary

After the success of Real Grammar – a series where we discussed 10 grammar topics that people are often uncertain about – we are now opening up the debate with Real Vocabulary.

As part of this Real Vocabulary series, we are welcoming Scott Thornbury, author of An A-Z of ELT, Beyond the Sentence and Uncovering Grammar. In his 10-part video collection, he will discuss common misconceptions about certain vocabulary questions, such as “When do you say awesome” and “Can you grow a company?”. In these videos, Scott will explain whether these usages are acceptable.

Over on the blog, Editor-in-Chief Michael Rundell will follow up each video with a post about a similar topic, explaining which vocabulary ‘rules’ should be followed – or ignored.

Scroll down to watch the first videos and read the accompanying blog post. There is also a classroom poster with 10 quiz items about grammar and vocabulary which you can download from our resources page. Or try our full vocabulary quiz below… if you dare!


An introduction to Real Vocabulary

In this video, Scott Thornbury introduces Real Vocabulary and explains what this new series will be about.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Welcome to Real Vocabulary

“[G]rammar and vocabulary are not two separate and independent systems. Rather, they operate together to create meanings, and it is often impossible (and pointless) to distinguish between the two.”

When do you say awesome?

In this video, Scott explains what the word awesome means – and in what situations you can use this expression.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

When do you say awesome?

“[T]he real key to judging whether it’s acceptable to call a band’s performance awesome is context – because context very often influences our vocabulary choices.”

Is it OK to ask: Can I get a coffee?

In this video, Scott explains in which ways you can ask for a coffee. Is “Can I get a coffee” incorrect?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Can I get…?

“[A]s our series on Real Grammar showed again and again, the rules which we learned in school – perhaps many decades ago – are not a reliable guide to contemporary norms.”

Uninterested vs. disinterested

In this video, Scott Thornbury talks about the meaning of ‘disinterested’. Can this word be used as a synonym for ‘uninterested’?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Is it OK to use “disinterested” to mean “not interested”?

“[M]ost common words in English have two or more meanings, and this rarely causes problems in normal communication. In almost every case, context resolves any uncertainty.”

Can you grow a company?

In this video, Scott Thornbury talks about the verb ‘grow’. Can you ‘grow’ a company?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Is it acceptable to talk about “growing a company”?

“[I]t’s important to distinguish between people’s dislike of certain vocabulary items and any judgements about ‘correctness’.”

Is it correct to say comprised of?

In this video, Scott Thornbury talks about the verb comprise and how it can be used. Can you say that something is comprised of other things?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Is it OK to use the expression “be comprised of”?

“It is reasonable to argue that the second meaning of comprise may sometimes lead to a lack of clarity […]. What is not reasonable is to conclude that the second meaning […] is “wrong”.”

What does decimate mean?

In this video, Scott Thornbury talks about the verb decimate and how it is used in today’s speech. He also discussed the etymological fallacy.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Using “decimate” to mean “kill or destroy in large numbers”

“What’s happening here is an example of our old friend the “etymological fallacy”: this is the mistaken belief that a word should only mean what it originally meant when it was absorbed into English from an earlier language such as Latin or ancient Greek.”

What does transpire mean?

In this video, Scott Thornbury talks about the word transpire: it has three different meanings, but one of these is considered by some to be controversial.

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Is it acceptable to use “transpire” to mean “happen”?

"[O]ne of the lessons we learn from corpus data is that it is [...] rare for two or more words to be complete synonyms which can be used interchangeably and which behave in exactly the same way."

Is data singular or plural?

In this video, Scott Thornbury talks about the word data: should it be followed by a singular or plural verb? Scott Thornbury has the answer!

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Should I say “the data is…” or “the data are…”?

"[W]ords that entered the English language from Latin or Greek don’t necessarily behave the same way, or mean the same thing, as they did in the language they came from.”

What does momentarily mean?

"[This] meaning is not current throughout the English-speaking world. It is characteristic of American English and there is little evidence of it being used more widely."

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Can “momentarily” mean “soon” or “in a moment”?

Keep an eye on our blog, where we’ll soon be posting Editor-in-Chief Michael Rundell’s blog post about this topic.

When do you use less and fewer?

In this video, Scott Thornbury talks about when to use less and when to use fewer: what’s the difference and is there a simple rule?

Macmillan Dictionary Blog

Which is right: “less cars” or “fewer cars”?

"According to a well-established traditional rule, we should use less with uncountable nouns and fewer when referring to things that can be counted. [...] The rule is quite simple … or is it?"

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