Orchid English Blog

How to Recognise a Double Negative in English

Posted on November 9, 2017


A double negative is where you have two negative grammar markers in the same sentence. Consider the famous Pink Floyd song: “We don’t need no education“. The meaning of the title is “we don’t need education” “or “we don’t need any education”.


This double negative construction using “don’t” with “no” is part of what is called “non-standard grammar” in linguistics. You can hear this type of grammar in songs and casual situations. This double negative grammatical construction acts as a social class marker and this is true all over the English-speaking world; in British English, American English and so on.


Social class was important in British history, and expressing social class through language is an interesting part of English. In standard English, it’s appropriate to use “any” with a negative. So the song’s title, in standard grammar, should be “We don’t need any education”. In a professional situation, it’s more appropriate to use standard English.


For several of our English as a second language students it seems more intuitive to use a double negative construction than to use “any”. This is particularly true for students who speak a Latin language such as French or Spanish. However, literally interpreting “I haven’t had no emails” in standard English is rather strange. It means the opposite of what it is intended to mean. It means “I haven’t had NO emails, so I have SOME emails”.


I listened to a very interesting podcast episode from The Economist recently. The interviewee was talking about the importance of cobalt, and said “you can’t have no cobalt at all”. He meant that you needed at least a little bit of cobalt.


Standard construction: Standard English
I haven’t had any emails
He doesn’t go on any business trips
They won’t do a presentation


Double negative construction: Non-Standard English
I haven’t had no emails
He doesn’t go on no business trips
They won’t do no presentation

How to say you will pay for someone else in English

Posted on November 2, 2017

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English

Suppose you’re in a restaurant and you want to pay for everyone’s meal. How do you offer to pay? You can say “this is on me” or “it’s on me”. Then everyone will understand you want to pay for them too. You could also say “I’ll get it”, which is a bit more direct.

“On me” in this context has the nuance of “this is my responsibility”. A more uncommon use of “this is on me” is where you are admitting responsibility for doing something wrong.

Lots of people learning English mistakenly use the word “invite” to mean they will pay for everyone. “Invite” doesn’t imply you will pay, just that you organised the event. If I “invite” you to a restaurant it doesn’t necessarily mean I will pay for you. Maybe it’s my birthday and I want you to join my party so I “invite” you.

I have been confused at the end of meals with non-native English speakers because they have told me they “invite” me”. But we’re already in the restaurant!

In Britain in a group of colleagues or friends we usually take turns to pay for drinks for everyone. We call this a “round” of drinks. Then for the next drink another person pays. So how do you offer to pay? To volunteer to buy drinks for everyone you can say “it’s my round”.

If there is someone who is happy to accept drinks but is reluctant to buy drinks for other people, just remind them with a smile: “it’s your round!”

10 Delicious British Puddings to Buy in the UK

Posted on November 18, 2016


By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English

We are often asked for recommendations for food for newcomers to London to try. There are quite a lot so we will just focus on puddings today! We couldn’t agree on the best British pudding so we put together a list.

Below are some of our favourite British puddings typically eaten in colder seasons. They can all be served hot and are particularly satisfying on cold winter evenings. All of these are quite easy to find if you go to good gastropubs. If you’re making these yourself or buying them to eat at home, don’t forget to buy custard, ice cream or clotted cream to go with them!


Winter Puddings

Christmas Pudding – rich moist dark pudding made with dried fruits and sometimes brandy, sherry or rum. For those with a low tolerance to alcohol, bear in mind that Christmas puddings are cooked for a long time so most of the alcohol has evaporated. 

Mince Pies – similar flavour to Christmas pudding but with mincemeat (sweet rich jam with dried fruits) in individual pastry cases. 


Fruit Puddings

Apple Crumble – like apple pie but with a crust of butter sugar and flour “crumbled” into breadcrumbs. Very easy to make at home or to find in a good pub. 

Bakewell Tart – from Bakewell in the North of England, made with frangipane and jam, we can also get Bakewell slices. These are best bought fresh from a bakery. 

Spotted Dick – a traditional mild-tasting suet pudding with dried fruits.


Toffee and Fudge Puddings

Sticky Toffee Pudding – a soft toffee cake with a rich toffee sauce and a pub favourite. The illustration for this post is sticky toffee pudding. 

Treacle Tart – a very sweet, simple tart made with golden syrup and breadcrumbs. 

Banoffee Pie – a modern favourite invented in 1971 by a top chef in Sussex made with banana and toffee. Best made fresh in a restaurant or café although you can buy them in supermarkets. 


Bread-Based Puddings

Bread? In a pudding? Yes, try it!

Bread and Butter Pudding – a soft and light pudding with dried fruit that you can make very easily and is widely available in pubs. Similar to pain perdu or French toast. I grew up on this. 

Bread Pudding – a moist, dense, fruity pudding with spices. I often get warm bread pudding from Greggs the baker.


Which are your favourites? Let us know on social media.

Using “The” When You’re a Member of an Institution

Posted on October 11, 2016

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English

Should we say “University” or “The university”?

It depends. Do you go to university regularly as a student, or as a visitor? “I’m going to university” seems like you are a student of that university. Saying “I’m going to the university” seems like you are visiting as an academic or as a prospective student. It depends on whether you are a member of that institution or not.

Likewise, we say we are going to “hospital” if we are a patient, or “the hospital” if we are a visitor or if we work at the hospital. Americans may use “the” in both cases in this example here.

If I said “I went to church” you may assume I have a religious reason for going, and I am a member of that church. “If I said “I went to the church” it is sensible to wonder whether I visited the church for a fair or as a tourist.

“Prison” is another example of an institution. Next time you read about a crime in the paper, note whether the criminals are are “going to prison” where they will be members of that institution. Perhaps their families will “go to the prison” to visit them.

Using “The” in English can be a real pain – you’ll get there! It’s easier to learn the rules bit by bit like this. Let us know if you have any questions, or requests for future blog posts on Facebook or Twitter.

How Much is Too Much? How to Use “Too Much” in English

Posted on October 7, 2016

By Emily Stallard, Owner and Trainer at Orchid English

This is an easy mistake to make in English. Saying something like “the explanation was too much detailed” or “we were too much early”. What’s wrong with this?

With adjectives such as “detailed” or “early”, we use “too” not “too much”. So we should say “the explanation was too detailed”. If you want to emphasise your point, you can say “the explanation was much too detailed”.

To use “too much” with nouns, the nouns must be grammatically uncountable such as “money, “information”, or “equipment”. For grammatically countable nouns such as “people”, “pens” or coins” you have to say “too much”.

So: “There is too much information and too many people”.

For the negative, you can use “not enough” for countable and uncountable nouns: “I don’t have enough information and I don’t have enough pens”.

If you’d like to practise countable versus uncountable nouns, there is a good quiz here.