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Inside The Language

Inside The Language

Date: Sep 26 2011

Topic: Conversational English

Author: englishteacher24/7


Inside the Language – Lesson No. 1

Learning English can be challenging and the beginning is to learn the basic Parts of Speech which will provide the rules of the language. In many countries, English is the native language and others it’s taught in junior and high school.

This structured study is necessary and the teachers are limited by time and the vastness of the language. My area of teaching English is to focus on the area that is not taught or is only taught by way of mentioning it. The side of English that is not taught is as large or larger than the structured parts of English.

This side of English is an area that doesn’t have any rules and many times cannot be understood by using logic. This is what I call “Inside the Language” which I will attempt to reveal to you in a brief lesson.

The areas I’m speaking of are comprised of the following:

1. Figures of speech- Using words in a distinctive manner to guide or mis-guide the listener. The titles below can all be placed under this name.

2. Puns- A word or phrase that has a double-meaning and used to allude the listener. William Shakespeare was known to use puns in his plays.

3. A play on words- Using puns to express a thought that has a double meaning.

4. Phrases and Idioms- Using a phrase to express a thought. Examples: A pretty penny (something was expensive), a drop in the bucket (a small contribution to the amount that is required.)

“An idiom is a phrase where the words together has a meaning that is different from the dictionary definitions of the individual words.” (UsingEnglish.com)

5. Homophones (homonyms)- Words that are spelled differently but have the same pronunciation sound. Example: Night /knight, bear /bare, hear/here

6. Personification- A figure of speech in which an inanimate object is used having human qualities. Example: “The ocean screamed in it’s fury!”

In this example, oceans don’t have a voice to scream, but the word “screamed” is used as if it were a human. In other words, the waves of the ocean produced a loud sound.

7. Euphemisms- Substituting an offensive or less desirable word for a non-offensive more desirable word. Example: Instead of saying a person died, you could say they passed away or a pre-owned car instead of a used car.

On this side of learning English, you will have to:

1.  Expose yourself to reading informal English materials.

2.  If possible speak to native speakers.

3.  Write down expressions you hear and make it your goal to learn the meaning.

Step-by-step you will increase your knowledge and you’ll see your improvement over time.

Lesson No. 2 will be: Determining the mood of the speaker


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United States

Hello Nasim,

Thanks for taking the time to communicate your feedback on the English lessons; I’m delighted you enjoy them.

Which phrases and idioms would you like help with? Your grammar is not poor, but even if it was, the solution is to use what you have and improve it.

Keep on keeping on!

08:14 PM Aug 29 2017 |



Iran, Islamic Republic Of

Hi Mr.Alston

I started to reading this English lessons and I have to say I really enjoy them

I think the phrases and idioms in this lesson is the most difficult part for me to understand :D because two simple words can make a strange meaning that I couldnt guess .

sorry for my poor grammer I m sure I will be better ;) 

thank you and God bless u 

12:07 AM Aug 27 2017 |


United States

Amira, you’re welcome and thanks for your feedback. You’ve taken a giant step by not automatically reaching for a dictionary but first thinking about the word. Eventually, you’ll find similarities in the meaning of words using the same prefixes and suffixes.

Additional information can be found by viewing the video I posted on my profile page.

It’s good to hear from you again, you’re an excellent student!

03:13 AM Aug 23 2017 |

La Princesse de la vie


Hello Mr. Alston,

That’s a lot of effort put in here :) I found it very beneficial to go through the whole post. It’s a commen problem for language learners that not all the words in a context look familiar and I myself used to use a dictionary blindly without even trying to guess! But now I give myself the time to think about the meaning from the context before I look up the exact meaning and it often works.

Prefixes and suffixes, sometimes I think they are endless! They’re too many, but very helpful. It happens a lot that I search a word meaning and then realize its meaning is actually within it because it has a prefix or a suffix in it and the root word is a familiar one. Even if the fix part is changing the meaning of the root word, you still can get a hint of what the new compound word might be meaning.

Thank you Mr. Alston :) God bless you for all your efforts :)

02:22 PM Aug 21 2017 |


United States

Tips on How to Learn the Meaning of a Word without a Dictionary:

There may be times when you encounter a word and you do not have the opportunity to use a dictionary. Times such as taking a test, reading something, of listening to a speaker.

On the surface, when you encounter a word that you don’t know the meaning there is a temptation to ignore it. However, sometimes the meaning of a word is critical to the message but there are methods to use that can at least help you to make a good guess based on some fundamental principles of word construction.

Below are some tips that will help you to determine the meaning or make a good guess of a word without the use of a dictionary.

1. Learn a brief history of English

English is not a language that has 100% of the words unique to English. Rather, 60% of English words are from Greek and Latin and in Science and Technology it’s even higher at 90%.

Many words are ”loan words” from other languages and combined with being familiar with other certain words from Greek and Latin you increase your chances of making a good guess at the meaning of an unknown word.

2. Look for context clues

Words that are unknown are usually in a sentence and are a part of the thought communicated by the person communicating. Therefore, think about what seems logical to you concerning the meaning of the word after you consider what the main topic of the sentence is about. 

Sometimes the meaning is directly revealed in the next sentence or paragraph. For example:

Bill is hyper-critical about kids walking on his lawn. He criticizes them all the time to his wife. 

Question: What is the meaning of “hyper-critical?”

Answer: After reading the first sentence, in the next sentence it is said that Bill criticizes kids all the time, therefore the answer in this sentence must mean that “hyper-critical” is that he at least complains excessively or extremely to his wife about the kids walking on his lawn.

3. Learn prefixes and suffixes-

The words from Greek and Latin are used as prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes are abbreviated words added to the front of the root (base) word to change its meaning. Likewise, suffixes are abbreviated words added to the end part of the base (root) word.

For example, consider the following sentence using a prefix (un), a root word (discipline), and a suffix (ed).

“Bill is an undisciplined person.”

Let’s analyze the word “undisciplined” using the strategy of knowing the meaning of prefixes and suffixes.

“Un” is a prefix which means “is not.”

“Discipline” is the root (base) word which means “self-control.”

“ed” is a suffix which changes the base word into past tense.

Now let’s re-write (paraphrase) the sentence using the above information:

“Bill is not a self-controlled person.”

Note: By adding “ed” to the base word “control” makes the sentence to mean that Bill has done things in the past that implies that he loses his temper or doesn’t control himself in something.

At the end of this lesson I provided a partial list of words from Greek, Latin, prefixes and suffixes. If you spend time to learn these common words it will help you in determining the meaning of words without a dictionary.

4. Look for the root (base) word in the unknown word-

A root word is a base word without a prefix or suffix. The root word stands alone but some can receive a prefix and/or suffix and change the meaning of the root word.

By learning some basic prefixes and suffixes you can develop a skill for determining the meaning of a word or at least make a good guess of its meaning without a dictionary. Below are some examples of root words and their prefixes and suffixes with the meanings:

Root word                                     New word

Act= To move or do / Action= The process of doing something

Auto= Self or same / Autograph= Self writing (signature)

Counter= Against or opposite / Counteract= Against an action

Derma= Skin / Dermatology= The study of the skin

Ex= Out or away / Extract= To take out

Intra= Within or into / Intracompany= Within the same company

Multi= Many / Multilingual= More than one language

Omni=All / Omnipresent= Everywhere

Poly=Many / Polytheist=Many gods

Script= Write / Manuscript= An authors text that has not yet been published

Semi= Half / Semicircle= Half of a circle

Un= Not / Unfinished= Not finished

5. Think logically-

Logic can be used to determine the meaning of a word. As you read a sentence and encounter an unknown word, imagine if the word wasn’t there. Does the sentence make sense? Is the sentence dependant on the unknown word, or does it merely adds additional descriptive information to the overall meaning of the sentence?

For example, consider these sentences:

1. “Bill was livid about kids walking on his lawn.” 

Livid means to be extremely angry. In the above sentence it is entirely dependent on the meaning of livid. if you were to remove the word “livid” and read the sentence, it doesn’t make sense.

Using logic, “livid” cannot mean that Bill was happy about kids walking on his lawn because it would eventually damage his lawn.

Therefore, the meaning of “livid” would have to be the opposite of Bill being happy which means he would at least be unhappy which is closer to the true meaning. 

You can conclude this meaning without a dictionary. Upon using a dictionary you would find that he was “extremely angry” but your initial thought of the word allowed you to make a good guess to understand the meaning of the word.

2. “Bill was livid and really upset about kids walking on his lawn.”

In this sentence “livid” is not detrimental to the meaning of the sentence because it is combined with the phrase “really upset” to describe Bill’s feelings about kids walking on his lawn. In other words, if you didn’t know the meaning of “livid” it’s not important because you understand the fact that Bill was upset about kids walking on his lawn.

In this case, you could write down the word livid and look up the meaning later to add to your vocabulary.


Unknown words do not have to be ignored because with an understanding of the above information you can figure out or make a good guess of the meaning of unknown words. I also suggest that you make it a priority to become an avid reader of material that interests you and write at every opportunity.

Avoid keeping a lot of information in your head without using it. It is better to have a small amount of English information that you’re using than an enormous amount of English information that you’re not using.

This website offers many opportunities to write English in the form of comments to the frequent lessons. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, use a grammar checker to help you minimize mistakes and improve your English.


Below are lists of common root words from Greek and Latin and Prefixes and Suffixes:

Greek root words:

Greek Words / Definition / English Words

A, an / No, not / Aseptic, anarchy

Anti / Against, opposite / Anti-discrimination

Auto / Self / Autograph, automatic

Biblos / Book / Bible

Bio / Life / Biology, biography

Cosmos / World, order / Cosmopolitan

Dia / Through, across / Diameter, dialogue

Demo / People / Democracy

Etho / Race, nation / Ethnic, ethnology

Ge / Earth / Geography, geometry

Graph / Write / Telegraph, lithograph

Hetero / Different / Heterosexual

Homo / Same / Homosexual

Hyper / Over, extremely / Hypersensitive

Mono / One, alone / Monopoly

Para / Beside / Paraphrase

Phone / Sound / Telephone, symphony

Pneuma / Air, breath / Pneumonia

Poly / Many / Polygraph

Tele / At a distance / Telescope, television

Latin words / Definition / English Words

Villa  / House, villa, / Villa, village, /villager

Alta /Tall, high, deep / Altitude, altimeter

Antiqua / Antique, old / Antique, ancient

Longa / Long / Longevity, long

Manga / Large, great / Magnify, magnificent

Pictura / Picture / Picture, pictorial

Terra / Land, earth / Terrestrial, terrain, terrace

Prima / First / Prime, primary, primitive

Sub / Under / Subway

Bona / Good / Bonus, bonanza, bond fide

Aqua / Water / Aquarium, aqueduct

Schola / School / School, scholar, scholastic

Circum / Around / Circumference

Post / After / Postpone, postnatal

Extra / Beyond / Extra, extra-terrestrial


Prefix= Means beginning 


a-, an-
not, without

amoral, anesthetic, apolitical, asocial


away from
abduction, abstain, abnormal

to, toward
adjoin, adjacent (lying near to)
ambidextrous, ambivalent
up, back, again
analogy, anatomy, anagram
antipathy, antiwar, antisocial
from, away from
apology, apologize
autobiography, automobile, autocracy, automaton
benediction benevolent benefactor
cata-, cat-
down, against
catastrophe—a turning down
centro, centri-
around, center
concentric, centrifugal
circumlocution circumference, circumvent
with, together
communal, community
with, together
connect, confide conspire
contradict, contravene
down, away
descend, deject (cast down)
dia-, di-
through, across
diameter, division
apart, not
disengage, discord, discomfort
ill, difficult, bad
dysfunctional, dysentery
out of, from
elect (choose out of), eject (throw out)
on the outside
ectoderm—outer skin
en-, em-
empathy—feeling in
within, inside
endoscope—instrument for observing inside
epitaph epidermis, epicenter
inward, within
esoteric—more inward, esophagus
well, good
euthanasia—good death
out of, from
exhume, exhale, exodus


other, different
heterosexual, heterodoxy, heterodox heterogeneous
homosexual, homogeneous, homogenized
hypertension, hypersensitive, hyperactivity
hypotension, hypodermic
illegitimate, illicit, illegal, illegible
imperfect, impolite, impossible
imbibe (drink in, take in)
indiscreet, invisible
incorporate (take into the body)
intervene (come between), interstate
intrastate, intramural
irregular, irrational, irredeemable


macrocosm, macroeconomics
mal, male-
bad, evil
malediction malevolent, malnutrition
microscope, microcosm, microeconomics
one, single
monologue, monotheism, monarchy, monogamy
new, recent
neologism, neo-liberal, neonatology. neolithic
object, obstruct (build against)
palin-, pali-
back, again
all, every
pantheism, Pan-Hellenic, panorama, pandemic
paramilitary, paralegal, parachute
percolate (flow through) perforate (punch through)
perimeter, periscope
phil-, philo-
like, lover of
philosophy, Francophile, bibliophile, philanthropy
many, several
polygon, polygamy, polytechnic, polytheism
postgraduate, posthumous postpone
precede, predict (tell before)
for, forward
promote, project
toward, in front
prospect—view in front, something coming up
prototype, protoplasm, protobiology
pseudonym, pseudoscience
again, back
repeat, recede, regress (step back)
retrogression, retroactive
away from
seduce (lead away), secede
submarine, subject, subhuman subterranean
sur-, super-
over, above
superhuman, superego, superintend, surpass
syn-, sym-, syl-, sys-
with, together
symphony, synonym, system, syllable
distant, far off
telephone, telepathy, television, telegram
transient, Transatlantic, transport (carry across)


Suffixes definition= After


-a little star


notable for

the belief in
pacifism, terrorism, socialism, communism
one who believes in
pacifist, terrorist, socialist, communist
one connected with
meteorite, polite, cosmopolite


study field of
biology, geology, etymology, cardiology
resembling, like-shaped
asteroid, spheroid
-or, -er
one who takes part in
doctor, actor, teacher, driver
exaggerated fear
photophobia, claustrophobia, agoraphobia
act, state, condition of analysis

This concludes the lesson, hopefully it will be beneficial for you to learn the meaning of words without a dictionary. Continue to build your vocabulary with commonly used words and use the internet for further information. The key is to listen, read, write, speak, and think in English to achieve your goal of improving your English.

If you have any questions or comments about anything in this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment in the forum. Learning English can be fun, enjoy the ride.

02:45 AM Aug 19 2017 |


United States

“Small Talk” “Chit-Chat” and “Shoot the Breeze” Meanings:

Communication is not always formal; there are times when you’re just “casual talking.” During these times, it is necessary to go with the flow of the conversation.

Small talk, chit chatting and shooting the breeze are all casual talking, however, there are some subtle differences and over-lapping between them as is described below:

1. Small talk- This is when you are in the company of someone and you both are finding something to talk about which is polite conversation about non-controversial things, oftentimes while you wait for a common reason.

For example, let’s say you and someone or group of people are somewhere waiting for the start of something and you start talking to each other to use the time until what you’re waiting for occurs.

The topic of discussion will likely be on unimportant non-controversial things that avoid offending the people present, especially in a social setting. Small talk can be among people that you know or among complete strangers. Grammatically, it is a noun and is not commonly used as a verb.

2. Chit-Chat- This is conversation about trivial non-important things bordering on gossip, usually among people that know each other. Grammatically, it can be used as a noun or verb. Adding “ing” to a word changes it to a verb. Below are a couple of examples of Chit-Chat as a noun or verb.

As a Noun: ”Jill, I don’t have time to chit-chat right now.”

As a Verb: “Jill, I can’t stand around chit-chatting right now.”

Note: To turn nouns into verbs you have to construct the sentence to allow the use of the verb and add “ing.”

3. Shoot the breeze- This idiom means to talk in a relaxed way about things that are not important, possibly for a lengthy period of time typically with someone you recently met.

Grammatically it can be used as a noun or verb depending on how you construct the sentence. Below are a couple of examples:

As a noun: ”If we go to visit my wife’s grandfather, we will shoot the breeze for hours.”

As a verb: ”My wife and I have been shooting the breeze with her grandfather for hours.”

As you can see, these three phrases are similar but also are different. As you get “inside the language” of English you’ll be able to add to your overall knowledge of English as it is actually used.

The main goal is to be able to communicate and understand English on this level and become fluent in English. Feel free to add your comments and/or ask any questions you may have about this topic.

09:57 PM Jul 23 2017 |


United States

Hello Juste, thanks for your inquiry for my newest upcoming forum “English Fluency Blueprint.” I hope to have the introduction posted by this weekend.

05:08 PM Jan 25 2017 |

1 person likes this




Hello Alston, we are waiting your newest forum ! :)  

02:33 PM Jan 24 2017 |


United States

English Listening Practice: If you are able to watch CNN International today, it would be good practice to listen to the Inauguration ceremony of President Donald Trump. Record some portions on your digital voice recorder and play it over and over until you understand what they are saying. This is a good exercise leading into my upcoming English Fluency Blueprint forum. Stay tuned.

10:58 AM Jan 20 2017 |


United States

I posted a video on tips for English Fluency on my profile page. My newest forum “English Fluency Blueprint” is coming. I’ll post it when it’s ready.


12:52 PM Jan 16 2017 |

1 person likes this


United States

Thanks for inquiring about my upcoming forum “English Fluency Blueprint.” I’m in the process of developing it and will post it as soon as possible. I ask you and others to check back periodically. It should be a fun project.

11:05 AM Jan 12 2017 |




Hello, maybe could you sent a link your a new forum, because I can’t find it. 

04:53 AM Jan 11 2017 |


United States

I’ve decided to write a new forum this year titled: “English Fluency Blueprint” that will present strategies, tips, information sources, etc. to help those whose goal is to achieve English fluency. Stay tuned.

07:47 PM Jan 07 2017 |


United States

I am thinking about starting a new forum this year with the goal of achieving English fluency. My decision will be based on the interest of the readers.

If you are supportive of this, please make a comment that you would like this type of forum and will support it with your participation. Otherwise, if there is no interest, I will not invest my time to launch it. My decision is based on your positive responses.

12:39 AM Jan 05 2017 |

1 person likes this


United States

My observations and thoughts: Acquiring English is a better method than “learning English.” Children acquire English without a textbook or formal English education. They soon learn what words to use to meet their wants and needs and intuitively construct sentences. Before kids start school they are already fluent in English, albeit on a child level.

Most of the emails I receive from people requesting help communicate that they can read and write English but have trouble speaking English and to a lesser extent listening and understanding spoken English.

The question is “why?” The answer is they are not using the language on a regular basis; therefore, their foundation is book knowledge of English.

If the goal is fluency in English, you should be speaking to someone every day in English. If that is not possible, then 2-3 times per week or at least once per week on a conversational basis without the stress of learning grammar rules.

Grammar is a two-edged sword, it is necessary on a basic level otherwise it is like studying a driver’s education book with an expectation of knowing how to drive a car. The only way to learn how to drive a car is to start driving a car and make corrections along the way. The bottom line is experience is the best teacher.

Finally, it is necessary to get inside the language to learn the language that is off the beaten path. This website will help to accomplish that goal.

12:25 AM Dec 29 2016 |


United States

Hello Justina thanks for your feedback. Concerning your request of more examples of the phrase the ”dog whistle” is as follows:

The dog whistle is usually a political method to talk to a certain group of people incognito (disguised) while appearing to be innocent. It actually is a “play on words” that says one thing but when challenged the person vocalizes, “No I didn’t mean that.”

1. “Law and order” - On the surface, it looks innocent to support the laws of the land and punish lawbreakers. However, because of the history of injustice in the US, it can actually mean to get tough on minorities and others.

2. ”States Rights” - It seems reasonable to support the rights of the states in the US, however when this term is used it can mean to support the states position to rebel against the federal government.

3. Barack Hussein Obama – This is President Obama full name, but the Dog whistlers will be sure to include his middle name (Hussein) to make light of his name.

4. Make America Great Again - There’s is nothing wrong with a country wanting to be great, most if not all countries aspires to be great. However, by adding the word “again” turns it into a dog whistle because it places the country at a time when Caucasian men dominated society and everyone else left out. The supporters of President-elect Donald Trump support this ideology.

5. Criminal illegal aliens - Using this phrase makes all undocumented people as criminals and is applied to Mexican people and not Canadians or people illegally entering the US through the Canadian border.

All of these dog whistle phrases require the listener to read between the lines that are not part of the target audience.

I hope this explanation helps.

One final point, all US citizens do not embrace the ideology of those using these dog whistles to communicate. 

09:36 PM Dec 20 2016 |




Hello English teacher!

The lesson on “Reading the lines” a very practical, could you give more examples with “the dog whistle” ?

04:47 AM Dec 19 2016 |


United States

Lesson on “Reading between the lines:”

Before diving into the meaning of this lesson of “Reading between the lines” it is necessary to review some basic facts about speaking or writing.

Types of English Communication:

1. Literally - In English there are several ways to communicate a message. The primary method is communicating in a literal sense. The words mean what they mean and the recipient of the speech understands the intended meaning.

2. Figuratively - This is when you use figures of speech to communicate a message. For example, “The trees are singing as the wind blows through their branches.” In this statement, the trees are not literally singing but a metaphor is used to describe the wind blowing through the tree leaves. The area of “figures of speech” is a vast study within itself; therefore I only mention it here for the sake of the lesson.

3. Between the lines - This is when someone says or writes something but hides the true meaning which has to be correctly interpreted by the listener. It is a way to send a message to someone without directly saying it.

Reading between the lines

This is being able to understand the “between the lines” message. For example, let’s say that two co-workers attended a company social event together and after an hour one of them wants to leave. Instead of one saying to the other person in the presence of many people “let’s go” one of the two people may instead say “don’t you have to go home and remind your mother to take her medicine?”

This gives the person a reason for leaving rather than just leaving because you don’t want to be there. It very well may be true or maybe not, but the point is to understand the meaning of reading between the lines. The range of this aspect of speaking or writing covers a broad area of ethics.

The Dog Whistle

A literal dog whistle is a device used by a dog owner to call a pet dog. It has a high frequency range that a human cannot hear but the dog can.

This fact has been used as a language strategy (phrase) to speak a message to a subset of a group of people within a group. The intent is to use acceptable language to the main group of people but with a totally different meaning to the subset of people within the group.

For example, during the 2016 US Presidential Election, Hillary Clinton accused Donald Trump of running a “dog whistle” campaign. That is, he was using topics and phrases that appealed to his followers but on the surface seemed innocent.

This is “reading between the lines” on steroids.

This method can range from euphemisms to untruthfulness. Therefore, be careful what you read, be discerning about the context, and be a careful listener to be able to “read between the lines.”

10:33 PM Dec 17 2016 |


United States

Fatemeh, I thank you for your feedback and expression of appreciation. I came across this information on the word “Up” which I thought the readers would benefit from.

It reveals a part of English that seemingly doesn’t make sense but nevertheless it is weaved into the language and we use it without even thinking about how we use this word.

Anyway I hope it will help students of English.

I intend to post my explanation to Lesson No. 86 on the “Do You Understand This Dialogue” this week. Thanks for your participation on that forum as well.

12:54 PM Nov 14 2016 |

1 person likes this


Iran, Islamic Republic Of

WOW!! very interesting lessons Alston! Thank you for all your top lessons, I really enjoy.

I UPdated my UPs :)

09:33 PM Nov 11 2016 |

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