Some tricks to check whether an expression is formal or informal (apart from looking it up in a few kinds of dictionaries or asking your teacher):

  • long Latin words (apprehension) and weird Germanic words (strength) are almost always formal (or neutral, so they are OK in a formal setting)
  • Use Enter your expression in the search box. A table with your expression should appear. Click your expression to show examples of its use. In a column to the left of the examples you shall see where the examples are from. If it’s “conv” (conversations), your expression is informal. If it’s “ac” (academic), it’s formal.
  • this blog is not written in formal English


Since I’ve been bombarding you with vocabulary lists lately, I think it’s time to show you yet another method of studying vocabulary – and, as what I’m covering now is CAE Writing, here is a worksheet I use to revise essay vocabulary by means of synonyms and little Post-its.

Prepare some post-its (little reusable sticky pieces of paper) with the vocabulary you wish to study. Here you can see that grouped into: verbs (with prepositions, if necessary), noun phrases (so much better than single nouns), adjectives/adverbs and linking. i suppose it’s nicer to study if you use different colours and arrangements.

Write the synonym of each word/expression directly under each piece of paper, on the large sheet. (Another way of doing this is using your language on the pieces of paper and English on the large sheet. However, personally I don’t recommend translation at the advanced level if synonyms can be used instead.)

To study, remove all pieces of paper, then stick them in the correct places. A more difficult option is to guess what’s under each piece of paper.

If you need a hint, just move the piece of paper a little bit to reveal the first letters.


If you’d like to recreate this particular worksheet, the pairs were as follows:

to lead to sth – to result in sth

to point sth out – to claim

to decline – to plummet

to grow – to soar

to distinguish – to draw a distinction

a serious disadvantage – a major drawback

important implications for sth – profound impact on sth

latest research – recent findings

the rapid growth -the significant rise

a source of sth – a trigger for sth

due to sth – owing to sth

whereas – while

mainly – largely

essential – vital

general – widespread

On the whole, … – By and large, …

It should be noted that… – It is worth bearing in mind that…

This means that… – …, which means that…

As to… – With regard to…

The main dangers are x of y, as well as nn and mm. = Apart from x of y, the main dangers are nn and mm.



Another way of dealing with CAE writing vocabulary, apart from mastering the synonyms from my previous post, is simply learning the following list. It comprises mainly formal words, which come up again and again in essays, reports, proposals and formal letters  Three or four of them in your piece of writing and your examiner is going to be quite impressed!

I recommend browsing three different online dictionaries to get 3-4 sentences with each of the words. It helps understanding them better. The worst thing you can do is translate each of them into your own language without any examples!

ADVERBS – strongly, fairly, quite, apparently, clearly, considerably, increasingly, pretty (as an adverb!!!), right, hopefully

ADJECTIVES – afraid (to introduce bad news), valuable, endless, likely, further, thorough, universal, ever-increasing, crucial, broad, unattainable, incapable, hazardous, cautious, commonplace, risky, challenging

VERBS – believe, fear, implement, succeed, determine, object, urge, gather, handle, aid, struggle, trigger, lead to, vary, snowball, account for

NOUNS – plenty, sample, rating, origins, issue, pace, visitor, outset, loss, means, view

LINKING – meanwhile, as well as, yet=still, since=as, needless to say, besides, while, worse still, even, even if, even though, unlike, which (especially the one preceded by a comma)

PREPOSITIONS – among, towards, within





It’s really easy. Forget about bombastic adverbs. Forget about using (yes, it is useful at times, but you need to look up each synonym in a dictionary anyway as their meanings and uses might be slightly different). You can even forget about locating the key words in your writing instructions and coming up with their synonyms so that you don’t repeat anything from the instructions in your writing (well, it would be great, but it might be tricky).

Just avoid the following general words and use their equivalents that fit the context and register (formal/informal):

  • happy – pleased, glad, delighted
  • important – crucial, vital, of utmost importance, worthwhile
  • difficult – challenging, tough, tricky, a hurdle, a struggle
  • great – superb, outstanding, amazing, brilliant
  • bad – terrible, horrible, awful, a nightmare, quite bad, not up to the standard, disappointing, non-existent, unsatisfactory
  • interesting – fascinating, memorable, fun, mind-blowing, enriching
  • dangerous – risky, hazardous, be in danger of, run the risk of
  • excited – thrilled, ecstatic, over the moon, extremely pleased
  • angry – mad, furious, not particularly impressed by, I’m afraid to inform you


  • think – suppose, guess, reckon, feel, believe, assume, hope
  • like – enjoy, to be a keen x, to have a great time doing something
  • hate – loathe, detest, avoid, try not to
  • recommend – suggest, (strongly) advise, my tip would be to, you had better
  • show, explain – present, highlight, outline
  • going to do something – thinking of doing something, planning to, intent to, look forward to doing something
  • meet – get to know somebody, arrange a meeting, make an appointment, meet up, catch up


  • people – visitors, foreigners, holidaymakers, local inhabitants, the public, the audience, hotel guests, hordes, fellow students, commuters, citizens, peers
  • problem – difficulties, struggle, hurdle, setback, issue


Some years ago in Poland I wrote and ran two courses for real estate agents, which were certified by Polish Ministry of Infrastructure. Since I’m not going to do that ever again, I’ve decided to make the materials public.

The following downloads are: a set of intermediate exercises in English for Polish real estate agents, a Polish-English real estate dictionary and a set of advanced texts on real estate topics followed by exercises and a revision of the first set.

Angielski dla posrednikow – cwiczenia

Angielski dla posrednikow – slownik

Angielski dla posrednikow – cwiczenia cz. 2


As I’ve mentioned while describing Task 3 in the Reading and Use of English Paper, English word building could be roughly divided into four different kinds:

Here are some words which you should know, divided according to their word building category:

LATIN/FRENCH – advantageous, advisable, advisory, affectionate, appalling, appealing, avoidance, climatic, coherence, commemorate, completion, conceitedness, courteous, diagnosis, division, endangered, enlargement, enriched, expiry, feminine, iilliterate, immunity, indistinguishable, literacy, numerous, posthumous, rewarding

GERMANIC – acknowledge, baggy, blissfully, broaden, challenging, cookery, costly, depth, earnings, firmly, flavoured, genuinely, golden, gripping, heights, loathing, noiseless, packed, poorly, revolting, sadden, strengthen, tighten, width

COMPOUNDS – bookmark, breathtaking, broad-minded, ceasefire, deadline, footprint, freelance, get-together, half-board, highbrow, lifelong, loophole, mankind, paperwork, pig-headed, screensaver, sitcom, smart-casual, state-of-the-art, teamwork

PREPOSITIONS – backlog, downpour, feedback, off-putting, outbreak, outstanding, outlook, overcome, overrated, undercover, undermine, upgrade, withdraw, workout, worn-out


The advantage of extracting expressions (to study) from a real exam task (rather then a random article) is that it is going to have more expressions that are adequate for the CAE exam level.

Here is a task from a very useful website It’s a Use of English Part 2 task.

Stress (0) is often called a 21st century illness but it has always been with us if perhaps with different names. These days we regard stress (1) as a necessary evil of modern living. Yet stress is not negative and without (2) it we would not enjoy some of the high points in life (3) such as the anticipation before a date or the tension leading up to an important match. All these situations produce stress but (4) provided/if you can control it and not the other way around, you will feel stimulated, not worn out. However, unlike these situations, (5) which are generally positive and easier to deal with, sitting in a train that is running late, (6) being stuck in a traffic jam or working to a tight deadline are much harder to manage and control and can be a significant cause of stress.
ss is now recognised as a medical problem and as a significant factor (7) in causing coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and a high cholesterol count. Patients are often unwilling to admit to stress problems since they feel they are a form of social failure and it is important that symptoms (8) are/get identified in order to avoid unnecessary suffering.


My initial notes (that I should later copy into different sections of my notebook):

0. to be called sth

1 to regard sth as sth

2 Remember that sometimes we need an “it” in English where we don’t need it in other languages e.g. “I like it when you hug me”.

3 such as = for example = like (informal!)

4 provided = if

5 comma + “which” (an additional comment about something).

6 to be stuck in a traffic jam – I hate being stuck in a traffic jam (stick-stack-stuck)

7 a (significant) factor in sth/ing

8 easy