Whether (or not)

We must decide by the end of the month whether or not we’re going to do it.

This is an example of a very common mistake. In this sentence “or not” is unnecessary.

We must decide by the end of the month whether we’re going to do it.

Here are some other examples. In each case just “whether” is enough:

He asked me whether or not I was interested in a posting to Hong Kong.
It depends on whether or not we find a buyer in Moscow.
Whether or not my phone will work depends on me finding a charger.

Sometimes, however, “whether or not” is correct. Have a look at this sentence:

He said he can finish the project this weekend whether or not the server is down. His family is away and he can work at home.

Here “whether or not” has the same meaning as “regardless of whether”.

More examples:

The party will be outside whether or not it rains. We’ve put an awning up over the terrace.
Overall profits are up so much that apparently we’ll be getting a bonus this year whether or not we’ve met our individual targets.



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Pairing adverbs and adjectives

Have a look at this sentence:

I have noticed that paragraphs 81 and 82 are virtually similar to paragraphs 5 and 6.

Virtually similar” is incorrect because “virtually” is a non-grading adverb and “similar” is a gradable adjective.

Very similar” or “virtually identical” are correct.

Think about what “similar” means. Things that are similar to each other have attributes in common. Some similar things may have almost all of their attributes in common; some similar things may have only a few attributes in common. So there are degrees of similarity. “Similar” is a gradable adjective.

“Identical”, on the other hand, is a non-gradable adjective. Something is identical to something else, or it is not.

“Virtually” is a non-grading adverb and can only be used with non-gradable adjectives. Saying “virtually similar” is the same as saying “almost similar” – which is absurd. Instead you should say, for example, “very similar”, “quite similar” or “rather similar”. “Very”, “quite” and “rather” are grading adverbs.

Examples of grading adverbs Examples of gradable adjectives
extremely, hugely, immensely, intensely, quite, rather, reasonably, slightly, tremendously, very big, busy, common, deep, fast, high, important, popular, rich, strong, young


Examples of non-grading adverbs Examples of non-gradable adjectives
almost, absolutely, completely, entirely, exclusively, fully, mainly, nearly, perfectly, primarily, simply, totally, utterly, virtually awful, essential, excellent, huge, identical, impossible, perfect, terrible, unique, unknown, whole, wonderful


Adjectives that classify a thing, such as annual, digital, domestic, environmental, general, maximum, minimum, northern, underlying, etc. are also non-gradable. A thing is either annual, digital, domestic etc., or it is not.

The adverbs fairly, really and pretty can generally be used with both gradable and non-gradable adjectives.

Some adjectives can be both gradable and non-gradable, depending on their meaning.

Gradable meaning Non-gradable meaning (including classifying adjectives)
It is very common for employers to offer overtime pay.

My old boss was very critical of my work.

My computer is very old.

My cat is very particular about his food.

The new graphic designer has some very original ideas.

They are very private people. We seldom see them out of their house.

They had a very public argument on the train – everyone could hear.

We have a lot of common interests.

This hearing is absolutely critical for the case.

My old boss was very critical of my work.

How we deal with this issue depends on the particular activity.

Please send me the original version of the document.

It has been a private company ever since it was established 100 years ago.

It became a public company in 2015.

Another important question to consider when pairing adverbs with adjectives is – do they collocate? Collocations are combinations of words that commonly occur together. So, although it may be grammatically correct to say e.g. “hugely deep” (as we’re pairing a grading adverb with a gradable adjective), native speakers do not usually use this word combination. Instead we might say “extremely deep” or “tremendously deep”.

There are innumerable collocations, and it would be impossible to learn them all, except through continued exposure to native-speaker language.

A final point to make is that there are numerous exceptions to these rules (as always!). If you are in doubt about a particular adverb-adjective pairing, try a Google search. If the word pair gets a significant number of hits, it is probably OK; if not – try another pairing. For example, “hugely deep” only gets 11,100 hits, while “extremely deep” gets over a million.



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The difference between “currently” and “presently”

Many people – native English speakers included – are confused by the word “presently”.

In UK English it has traditionally been a formal, literary word which means “in a short time”, “soon” or “before long” – in contrast to “currently”, which means “at the present time”.

Here are some examples:

Please hold the line, I’ll be with you presently.
i.e. Please don’t put the phone down, I have to do something else right now and I’ll talk to you again in a short time.

I’m sorry Angela isn’t here yet, but she just called us and we’re expecting her to arrive presently.
i.e. “soon”

They drove through the forest. Presently they came to a small town, where they pulled up at a petrol station.
i.e. “before long”

However, because “presently” has an obvious close association with the word “present”, people tend to use it to mean “at the present time”, “currently”. This usage is likely to be considered incorrect by conservative speakers of UK English – as in this example:

We are presently experiencing problems with the internet connection in the London office.

We are currently experiencing problems with the internet connection in the London office.


In US English, it is correct to use “presently” as a synonym for “currently”. Because of this, some UK English speakers may also find this usage acceptable.

More examples of how to use “currently”:

The price is currently being negotiated.
i.e. the negotiations have started but haven’t finished yet.

The employee started working for the Company in 2015 and is currently employed as Sales Director.
i.e. at the present time the employee works as Sales Director.

Speakers of US English would probably be fine with “presently” being used instead of “currently” in such sentences, but some speakers of UK English might think it incorrect.




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How to translate “termin” (time expression)

The Polish word “termin” can mean a period of time or a point in time.

In English, the word “term” can also mean a period of time or a point in time. But “term” has very specific uses (relating to e.g. school semesters, prison sentences, pregnancy etc.). As a result, in most circumstances “termin” cannot be translated as “term”.

“Termin” usually translates as “closing date”, “deadline”, “time limit”, “date”, “time”, “period” or “duration”, depending on context.

Some examples:

Termin składania wniosków upłynął kilka dni temu.

Mamy świadomość, że wyznaczyliśmy sobie napięty termin.

Może to uczynić przedłużając termin Programu gospodarki odpadami rolnymi.

Termin ważności produktu został podany w ulotce.

Termin ważności pozwolenia budowę

The closing date for the submission of applications passed a few days ago.

We are aware that we have set ourselves a tight deadline.

It can be done by extending the duration of the Agricultural Waste Management Programme.

The product’s expiry date is given in the leaflet.

Validity period of a building permit

Because of the different meanings of “termin”, you should also be careful how you translate the verbs that go with it, such as “ustalić” and “określić” and especially “upływać”.

Examples of how to translate “ustalić / określić termin”

Chciałbym ustalić termin naszego kolejnego spotkania.

Komisja może ustalić termin, w którym grupa powinna dostarczyć opinię lub sprawozdanie.

Proszę zadzwonić do Johna i ustalić termin.

Należy określić termin rozpoczęcia tego obowiązku.

Na każdym posiedzeniu Konferencji Stron należy określić termin i miejsce następnego posiedzenia.

I would like to schedule a date for our next meeting.

The Commission may set a deadline by which the group should deliver an opinion or report.

Please give John a call and arrange a time.

We must establish the starting date for these obligations.

Each sitting of the Conference of the Parties should determine the time and place of the next sitting.


How to translate “upływać termin”

Termin upływa w piątek. 

Sentences like this are often incorrectly translated as follows:

The deadline elapses on Friday.
The deadline expires on Friday

A deadline is a point in time, not a period of time. Only periods of time, or things that last or are valid for a period of time, can elapse or expire (or lapse, or end).

As they are points in time, deadlines and closing dates can only “be” or “pass”. And we usually use the verb “to be” with them:

The deadline is Friday.
The closing date is on Friday.

If you want to refer to the period of time in which a task must be finished or documentation submitted, you might translate the above sentence as follows:

We have until Friday.  i.e. We have the time between now and Friday to complete the task / submit the documents.

More examples:

Termin ważności leku upływa jeden dzień po podanej na etykiecie dacie odniesienia.



Termin złożenia naszej propozycji faktycznie upłynął kilka dni temu.

To uprawnienie obowiązuje do upływu terminu ważności prawa jazdy.

The medicine’s expiry date is one day after the reference date indicated on the label.
The medicine’s validity period expires one day after the reference date indicated on the label. 

The deadline for submitting our proposal passed a few days ago.

The right applies until the driving licence expires.


Some typical mistakes with “deadline”

Please note that the deadline for delivery expires on 21 April 2018 at the latest.

Please note that the deadline for delivery is 21 April 2018.

After the expiry of the deadline the Technical Arbitrator will not take into account any documents provided by the Parties.

After the deadline the Technical Arbitrator will not take into account any documents provided by the Parties.

As the last day of this deadline falls on a Sunday (20 May), the last day of the deadline will be moved to Monday, 21 May. Following the lapse of this deadline the tender participants will not be able to challenge the outcome of the prequalification directly.

As this deadline falls on a Sunday (20 May), it will be moved to Monday, 21 May. After this deadline the tender participants will not be able to challenge the outcome of the prequalification directly.


More examples of how to use “deadline”

If we don’t get a move on we won’t make the deadline.

In order to meet the deadline we will have to divide the work between the three of us.

It’s too late now. We’ve missed the deadline.


How to use “time limit”

“Time limit” is used to refer to a period of time.

I have set my students a two-hour time limit to do the task.

The travel pass allows you to use the rail system as much as you like within a certain time limit.

But – we do not usually describe a time limit as starting, ending, expiring or lapsing.

The time limit for the Borrower to rescind the agreement starts on the day the Borrower signs the agreement and lapses 14 days later.

Such sentences need to be reworded.

The Borrower may rescind the agreement within 14 days of signing.

Rewording sentences without using the phrase “time limit” is usually possible:

I have set my students two hours to do the task.

The travel pass allows you to use the rail system as much as you like within a certain limited period.

We can, however, talk about “extending” a time limit:

The six-month time limit will be automatically extended by this additional period.


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The difference between “practice” and “practise”

In British English – like “licence/license” and “advice/advise” – “practice” is a NOUN and “practise” is a VERB:

Safeguarding clients’ personal data should be standard practice in the company.
He has been a lawyer for many years, but he only opened his own practice last month.

Practice makes perfect.”

If you want to be a professional pianist you must practise for several hours every day.
So you’re a lawyer? When did you start practising?

In American English, however — and in contrast to the rule for “license” — “practice” is used for both the noun and the verb. “Practise” is a less common spelling variant.



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The difference between “licence” and “license”

“Licence” is the British English NOUN – The bar has received a licence to sell alcohol.

“License” is the British English VERB – We are now licensed to sell alcohol.

You can remember this because it is the same as “advice” (noun) and “advise” (verb). But of course, unlike advice/advise, licence/license are both pronounced the same.

“Licensor” and “Licensee” always have an s.

In American English, however, “license” is used for both the noun and the verb.

You may think this is very sensible, but check out the next tip on “practice” and “practise”.



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The difference between “prescribe” and “proscribe”

The verbs “prescribe” and “proscribe” are very close in spelling and pronunciation but almost opposites in meaning. Don’t get them confused!

Prescribe” means “stipulate” or “order”. Perhaps the most common usage is in the field of medicine – where a doctor prescribes a course of treatment for a patient.

Proscribe” means “condemn”, “prohibit”, “forbid” or “outlaw”.

So, a doctor could prescribe one course of action while proscribing another: Eat more vegetables. Stop smoking.

“Prescribe” is in common everyday use, but “proscribe” is not commonly used.

Other examples:

The doctor prescribed a course of very strong antibiotics.
The regulations prescribe that employees must undergo an eye examination every five years.

The government has proscribed far right and ultra-nationalist organisations.
Eating pork is proscribed by their religion.

The noun deriving from “prescribe” is “prescription”. A doctor writes you a prescription which you take to the pharmacy in order to buy the prescribed medicine.

“Prescription” also has a specific legal use. It refers to the right to use land owned by another person following continued and regular use of that land without receiving any complaint from the owner for a certain period of time (usually around five years). A claim to such a right is called a “prescriptive claim”.

The noun deriving from “proscribe” is “proscription”. A proscription is a ban or prohibition.



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