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General English


Cat Idioms

English has tons of idioms about animals. Have a look at these idioms about cats. Check out this post for several example sentences, definitions. and images to help you remember these idioms!



Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect is a common but confusing verb tense in English. It is used to connect the past to the present.. Read about the rules for using the present perfect tense and how we form it, with charts and tons of example sentences!



Simple Future Tense

The simple future is a very common verb tense used to talk about plans and expectations in English. Read about the rules for using it, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!



The Idiomatic Fridge

English Idiom - The Idiomatic Fridge

We came across this fantastic cartoon by John Atkinson, from his site Wrong Hands, and thought it would be the perfect topic for a vocabulary lesson. It’s called The Idiomatic Fridge because all of the “foods” in here are actually idioms in English!

idiomatic fridge

Before we get started, take a look! Do you know any of these?

fish out of water

icing on the cake

piece of cake

top banana

second banana

tall drink of water

milk and honey

full of beans

bowl of cherries

bunch of baloney

whole enchilada

small potatoes

bad apples

good egg

big cheese

Definitions and Example Sentences

top banana 🍌

The idiom top banana is used to describe the best or most popular person in a show, group or organization.

Of all the comedians in the world, Robin Williams was the top banana. Would you agree?

second banana 🍌🍌

Going hand in hand with top banana is second banana which means the second best or most popular person in a show group or organization.

President Obama was top banana, but he would be nowhere without his second banana, Vice President, Joe Biden.

whole enchilada 🌮

The whole enchilada is a funny way of explaining that something is complete and comes all packaged together.

When considering vacation packages, I decided to go for the whole enchilada  and get a deal that included the room, transportation to the airport, and unlimited food and alcohol. I didn’t regret it, I had an amazing trip!

small potatoes 🥔

If something is small, insignificant, or cheap, we might say that it’s just small potatoes.

The price we pay for health insurance is small potatoes compared to what we would pay for medicine without it.

bad apples 🍎

If a bad apple is stored in a container with good apples, it will typically cause the other apples to rot faster. Someone who is very negative can make people around them very negative as well, so we call a negative or badly behaved person a bad apple or a rotten apple.

Joey always complained about his homework in class, and then I started noticing my other students didn’t want to do their work either. I think he’s a bad apple!

good egg 🥚

A good egg is pretty much the opposite of a bad apple. If you someone is just all around (like an egg!) a nice, helpful, and responsible person, he or she is considered a good egg.

When I broke my leg, my neighbor mowed my lawn and made me dinner without me even asking! What a good egg!

big cheese 🧀

If someone is very important and successful, we might call them the big cheese, or a big shot.

After Alex got promoted, he thought it was the big cheese around the office, but he quieted down once he realized he still wasn’t such a big shot...

tall drink of water  🚰

This isn’t an expression that we use very often anymore, but it’s still a funny one! If someone is very beautiful, handsome, and overall just very attractive, you could say that they are a tall drink of water. Imagine drinking a tall glass of water on a hot day. This is how some people feel when seeing someone very attractive!

Even after all these years of marriage, when my wife comes into the room I still think she’s a tall drink of water!

milk and honey 🥛 🍯  

This term is used to explain a land that has plenty of everything that you could possibly need to survive, and is therefore considered a perfect place to live.

When I moved to Florida, it had everything I could want, beaches, friendly people, and good food! I thought it was the land of milk and honey until I realized that I missed snow!

full of beans 🥫 

If you have a ton of energy, are very happy, and can't sit still you’re full of beans. 

On this beautiful summer day, we were full of beans and couldn't wait to go play outside!

bowl of cherries 🍒

When something is very nice, and everything is going perfectly in your day, or your life, we might say that it’s like a bowl of cherries.

Today I found $100 on the sidewalk! Life is a bowl of cherries!

However, this expression is actually used more often in a sarcastic or ironic way, meaning exactly the opposite of perfect.

My car broke down, and I was late for work so I lost my job. Life is a bowl of cherries, huh?

bunch of baloney 😡

If someone is telling you lies, or a fake story, we call this a bunch of baloney.

The car salesman promised me a good price on a car, but when I went to actually buy it, it was much more expensive than he originally said. What a bunch of baloney!!

fish out of water 🎣

A fish out of water is very uncomfortable, doesn’t know what to do and usually can’t survive. When someone is in a situation that they are unfamiliar with, or very uncomfortable with, we call them a fish out of water.

When Lexi visited China for the first time, she felt like a fish out of water because she didn't know anyone, couldn't speak Chinese, and had no idea where to find her hotel.

icing on the cake 🎂

This is another idiom that can be used positively or sarcastically. The icing on the cake is the colorful, sugary cream that goes on the top of the cake. It is the last thing done to make the cake look perfect.

We use this positively to talk about the final thing that made a situation just perfect:

The dinner was already amazing, but the waiter gave us a free bottle of wine, which was really the icing on the cake.

We also use it negatively, sarcastically, or ironically when a situation seems like it can’t get any worse, but then it does:

It rained on my wedding day, my mom couldn’t come because her flight was delayed, and the caterer canceled but the icing on the cake was that my husband got food poisoning! It’s ok though, the honeymoon was amazing!

piece of cake 🍰

Something that is very easily accomplished or achieved is known as a piece of cake.

I got the job! I had the right qualifications and had great answers prepared for their questions, so the interview was a piece of cake.

Other free English resources:

Idiomatic Fridge

Idiomatic Fridge

Check out this blog post to learn what "going hand in hand" means!

Check out this blog post to learn what "going hand in hand" means!



Silent E Words

English spelling is crazy but there are patterns. Silent E words follow a very common pattern. Check out this explanation with charts and over 200 of examples.



What is Ginseng?

Well, you already know that Ginseng is an online English school. But as we talk to more and more people around the world about Ginseng, we’ve learned that more and more people want to know about the word ginseng:

  • What does it mean?
  • How do you pronounce it?
  • Why is it the name of an English school!?!?

Well, ask and you shall receive. Let's get some answers to those questions!

What is Ginseng?

Ginseng is a plant! And it's a funny plant because the root—the underground part of the plant—is more famous than the flowers and leaves.

Ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to help people relax. Some people even say it improves your memory!

The word ginseng comes from the Hokkien pronunciation (/jîn-sim/)of the Chinese word (人参) for the plant. That literally translates to person-root, because the root often has two “legs” and looks like a person.

How do You Pronounce Ginseng?

First, that G is soft. This means it sounds like an English J, as in jump. G is often—but not always—pronounced this way when it is before either an E or an I.

The first syllable sounds exactly like the word gin, a common alcohol. It also sounds like the first syllable in ginger, another root.

The last syllable sounds exactly like the English word sing. The E is pronounced like a short I sound. (Note: some people pronounce the -seng with a short E sound, but that's not what we say for Ginseng English).

The stress in the word is on the first syllable. So all together, the word ginseng is pronounced jin-sing (IPA: /ˈdʒɪn sɪŋ/).

Why did you name the school Ginseng?

Lots of reasons! Many of the best brands out there are not literal descriptions of what the company does. Think about Google, Nike, Mercedes. This was the type of brand we wanted. We didn't want to be Rob’s Online English School. We wanted something more abstract and suggestive, something evocative.

Early logo for Engma English

Early logo for Engma English

The first idea was Engma, the name for this symbol: ŋ. After a while, we decided that this was a little too esoteric and just didn't work for our company.

Ginseng worked better for a couple of reasons:

We first started considering this name because of its sound. It’s one of the only other words in which the letters E-N-G are pronounced /ɪŋ/ like they are in Eng-lish

Also, ginseng has lots of positive connotations: it's relaxing and it helps your memory. These are two very important things for learning a language!

What about that logo?

Ginseng root is often made into a relaxing tea, so our logo is a steaming cup of tea to help you relax while you learn English with us! As you may have noticed, it’s also our letter G, upside-down!

More about Ginseng English

What is Ginseng?


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Learning English on Instagram

Learning English online isn't easy, and your best options are generally actual online classes with real teachers, but Instagram does have some great ESL sites to help you improve your English! Here's a list of our favorite accounts. 

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Contractions in English

One challenging aspect of learning English is that there are different registers: we have spoken English and written English, formal English and informal English. Some words are okay in every register, but others are only okay in speech. Some only sound right in writing. 

Contractions are a big part of distinguishing between these different forms of English. If you ever go to an English-speaking university, you'll find that you can't use can't or don't or isn't in your academic writing. Let's take a look at what contractions are and how they can make your English more or less formal.

What are Contractions?

Contractions are words that combine two or more other words together into a new shortened version, usually using an apostrophe ('). Contractions are very common in spoken English. You have probably heard some of these common contractions: I'm, can't, aren't, don't, didn't

The apostrophe is small, but important. In writing you must use the apostrophe. You do not pronounce it, but it is important in writing. Notice that the apostrophe represents some letters that are missing from the longer form of the word. For instance, the apostrophe in didn't is in place of the O in did not and the apostrophe in I'm  is in the place of the A in I am.

Be careful, because not every word with an apostrophe is a contraction. Possessive nouns in English end with apostrophe -s, (Bob's house, Carla's mom) but these are not contractions.

Why Do We Have Contractions?

Contractions originate in speech. We are lazy when we speak English! When we are speaking quickly, we reduce certain sounds (make them shorter and quieter), and over time we elide them completely (we don't pronounce them at all). So over time, she will becomes she'll, I have becomes I've, going to becomes gonna

When do we use contractions?

This question has a slightly complicated answer.

We frequently use contractions in spoken English, and you should try to use common contractions in your speech to make your English more fluent. We generally do not use any contractions in formal writing (academic papers, for examples).

In between casual speech and formal written English, there is a gray area: we have more formal spoken English, like presentations and business meetings. We have less formal writing, like emails and letters. In this case, you have more of a choice. Some people use contractions and some do not. In this gray area, we should also talk about different types of contractions!

Standard Contractions

Not all contractions are the same. Some are more standard and acceptable than others. Standard contractions include the following:


Great poem by Shel Silverstein about informal contractions

  • there's
  • wasn't
  • we'd
  • we'll
  • we're
  • we've
  • weren't
  • won't
  • wouldn't
  • you'd
  • you'll
  • you're
  • he's
  • how'd
  • how's
  • I'd
  • I'm
  • I've
  • isn't
  • let's
  • she'd
  • she'll
  • she's
  • shouldn't
  • aren't
  • can't
  • couldn't
  • didn't
  • doesn't
  • don't
  • hadn't
  • hasn't
  • haven't
  • he'd
  • he'll
  • he's

Some Standard English Contractions

You can use these in anything but formal writing. This means they are common in speech, creative writing, emails, text messages, notes, and letters. Try to pay attention when you are reading online. Are there contractions in what you are reading? If there are no contractions, you are probably reading a more formal style of writing.


Nonstandard Contractions

But there are other contractions that are nonstandard. These contractions have evolved more recently and haven't become as acceptable in written English yet. Nonstandard contractions should only be used in very informal situations (text messages with friends, for instance) or to be funny. Here are some examples:

  • gimme
  • gonna
  • gotta
  • hafta
  • I'd've
  • I'm'a
  • must've
  • there're
  • there've
  • those're
  • wanna
  • we'd've
  • what're
  • who'd've
  • why'd

This is not a complete list. People can often get creative and make their own contractions like these, so watch and see if you can identify new contractions!

Nonstandard English Contractions



What is a Free Demo Class, Anyway?

Free Demo Class

You may have seen this button on the Ginseng homepage and wondered, what is a "free demo"?  What happens if I click this button!? Is it really FREE? Are there any strings attached? What happens next? Well, let me see if I can help to answer your questions!

We think our classes are pretty great, but you can't know that this is true unless you try one out, right?! That is where a free demo class comes in. 

Demo is short for demonstration, which means we are showing you something. You might go for a demo, or a test drive, at a car dealership if you're thinking about buying a car, or you could get a free demo of a new computer software that your company is considering buying.

 A "demo class" at Ginseng is a short, 30 minute sample of an online class class. You get to meet one of our teachers, see some of our fancy materials, and check out the follow-up emails we'll send you. 

So, what happens when I actually click that button?

When you click on this button, you will need to fill out a short form and then I will get an alert from you. But wait, who am I?! Great question.

Sarah Hi!

My name is Sarah, and I work for Ginseng. It is my job to help you with pretty much anything that you need from our online English school! You can ask me anything you want about our school, and I will do my best to help you out!

When I receive your free demo request, I will e-mail you to set up a time to video chat 📹 to learn more about what you are looking for. We can talk on Skype, Google Hangouts, WeChat, WhatsApp, Facetime—you name it!



I'll ask you questions about yourself, like:

  • Where are you from? 
  • How long you've been studying English?
  • Why is learning English important to you?
  • What part of English do you want to study the most? 
  • What time is good for you to have classes?

(It's ok if you don't know, or even if you just want to study EVERYTHING!)

It is up to you to choose what you want your free class to be about. It can be focused on just about anything English, such as pronunciation, grammar, writing and conversation! We will also talk about what times are good for your free class.

After we speak, I will talk to our team here at Ginseng and find you the best online English teacher for your educational goals, and your availability.

But wait, is it really free?

Yes!  Your 30 minute demo class is completely free. If you like what you see, we would love for you to share Ginseng English with your friends, and maybe even sign up for a class or two!

Ok, Now you've got me curious...

Great! So, take a moment to click the "request demo" button and fill out the form.  Soon, you'll be hearing from me! Who knows, we might even become friends! 


3 Steps to Studying with Ginseng

Studying with Ginseng is easy! Click the FREE DEMO CLASS button to request your demo. Then you will get an email from one of our staff to schedule your class. Then just log in and meet your teacher!

Request Demo Class Meet Ginseng Teacher Schedule First Class!
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If have any questions about Ginseng, e-mail me at

My name is Sarah and I have 8 years of experience working with international students studying in the United States, most recently at Berklee College of Music in Boston. I share your passion for adventure, and am currently traveling through Asia as part of the Ginseng English Anywhere tour! 




Simple Past Tense

The simple past is a very common English verb tense used to talk about actions that happened at a specific time in the past. Read about the rules for using it, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!


Describing People in English


Describing People in English

In this post we introduce over 40 vocabulary words for describing people in English, along with 6 sentence frames to use them in. The first three sentence frames are basic (level A1). The other three are a little more advanced (level A2-B1). All of the vocabulary is basic (levels A1 to A2). (If you don't know what A1 and A2 and B1 and B2 mean, learn about the CEFR!)

Note: Reading this article in English will be difficult for A1 and A2 students. We will soon translate this article into many different languages!

What is a Sentence Frame?

Sentence frames are a really useful way to learn how we speak English. A sentence frame is a sentence with an empty slot that many different words can go in for many different situations. For example, if you learn the sentence frame I feel [ADJECTIVE], you can make hundreds of different sentences. All you need to do is learn a new adjective that fits in that slot: I feel hungry. I feel tired. I feel angry. I feel sick. At a basic level, sentence frames are a great way to learn English!

Frame #1 - Basic Sentences for Describing People

The first three sentence frames we will look at are simple sentences. One of the most common ways to describe people is with adjectives: tall, short, fat, skinny, pretty, handsome, ugly. To use these common adjectives in a sentence, try this frame:

The man is [ADJECTIVE].

The man is tall. The man is fat. The man is ugly. The man is in shape. These are all good sentences in English. 

It is important to know that The man is another slot that you can change. The woman is tall. My friend is tall. My dad is tall. Jane is tall. She is tall. You can put any person in that slot.

Now let’s take a look at some adjectives describing people that can fit into this slot:

Adjectives to Describe People in English
Word Pronunciation Definition
tall /tɔl/ greater in height than the average person; not short
short /ʃɔrt/ lesser in height than the average person; not tall
thin /θɪn/ not having lots of extra flesh; not fat
fat /fæt/ having lots of extra flesh; not thin
old /oʊld/ having lived many years; not young
young /jʌŋ/ not having lived many years; not old
in shape /ɪn ʃeɪp/ healthy and physically strong
out of shape /aʊt ʌv ʃeɪp/ not healthy or physically strong
beautiful /ˈbjutəfəl/ attractive; good looking (mainly for females)
ugly /ˈʌgli/ not attractive; not good looking
handsome /ˈhænsəm/ attractive; good-looking (usually for males)
bald /bɔld/ not having hair on the top of the head

 Frame #2 - Basic Sentences Describing Features

The next basic sentence frame for describing people in English focuses on a specific feature: glasses, curly hair, black hair, blue eyes, a mustache, a ponytail. To talk about a person’s features, use this sentence:

The woman has [FEATURE].

With this sentence frame, you can make lots of different sentences:The woman has curly hair. The woman has glasses. The woman has long hair. The woman has a ponytail.

Again, you can change the person slot as well: The man has long hair. My friend has long hair. My sister has long hair. Clara has long hair.

Here are some features (nouns or nouns with adjectives) that can fit into this sentence frame:

Frame #3 - Basic Sentences Describing Clothes

The last sentence we will talk about for describing people focuses on clothes. Who doesn’t love clothes!? Black shoes! Gray pants! Blue ties! Green skirts! But let’s make complete sentences with them. Here is the sentence frame:

The woman is wearing [CLOTHES].

And here is a list of clothes that can go into this sentence:

All of these clothing items can be used with color words to be even more descriptive. The woman is wearing black shoes. The man is wearing a yellow tie.

So, those three sentence frames, combined with this vocabulary, allow you to make hundreds of different sentences to describe people. If you are a beginner, and this is mostly new information for you, you can stop here.

But, if you know most of this stuff, and you want to learn some more advanced English sentences, read on!


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Complex Sentence Frames Describing People

The first three frames talked about nouns, features, and clothes, in that order, right? The next three frames will be used to talk about the same three things, but in a more complex way. All of the same vocabulary from the sections above can be used with the next three frames, in the same order. 

In the first three sentence frames, the main idea of each sentence was describing people. The sentences were about describing people. The thing that I want to tell you about the man is that he is tall. But sometimes we want to describe people in a sentence about something else, and the description is not the most important idea in the sentence. For example, maybe I want to tell you that the man is my neighbor, but I also want to mention that he is tall. These next sentence frames will help in situations like that. 

Frame #4 - Adjectives Before Nouns

Let’s use that example. The I want to tell you that the man is my neighbor, and I also want to describe him as tall. I can put the adjective before the noun: The tall man is my neighbor. You can also put any of the other adjectives from above into that slot.

The [ADJECTIVE] man is my neighbor.

The handsome man is my neighbor. The old man is my neighbor. The fat man is my neighbor. And again, the end of the sentence (which we call the predicate) is a slot, too, and you can put different verbs in there: The tall man likes football. The tall man is eating. The tall man has a car.

Frame #5 - Features and With

If you want to talk about someone’s features in that same sentence, we need to use the preposition with. We could say The man with glasses is my neighbor. Any of the other features can go into that same slot:

The man with [FEATURE] is my neighbor.

The man with red hair is my neighbor. The man with a mustache is my neighbor.

Frame #6 - Clothing and in 

When we want to talk about clothes, we need another preposition. Instead of with, we use in. The man in the blue shirt is my neighbor. Any of the clothing vocabulary above can go into that same slot:

The man in [CLOTHES] is my neighbor.

The man in the tie is my neighbor. The man in the grey pants is my neighbor. The woman in the red hat is my neighbor.


That's it! Study these six sentence frames and the vocabulary, and you can now make hundreds of new sentences to describe people! Check back soon and we'll have a quiz to check what you have learned!

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Rob Sheppard is the founder and Chief Executive Teacher at Ginseng. Over the past ten years, he has taught English in Taiwan, South Korea, and his hometown of Boston. Now he teaches online at Ginseng while traveling the world.

You can email Rob at

More free English Vocabulary Resources



Simple Present Tense

The simple present is the most common and useful verb tense in English. It is used to talk about repeated actions and to describe people or states of being. Read about the rules for using the simple present tense, how we form it, and tons of example sentences!





If you spend any time on Twitter, you may have heard some funny words that all look the same: POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS. What do these strange words mean? Well, they are all acronyms. Acronyms are abbreviations, in which each of the letters represents a word. The -OTUS in these three words stands for of the United States. POTUS means president of the United States. FLOTUS means first lady of the United States (the term for the president's wife). SCOTUS is Supreme Court of the United States (the most important court in the US). 

English has many acronyms like this. Many of them began in the military. SCOTUS and POTUS were first used in the late 19th century, in telegrams. FLOTUS didn't come into the language until almost a hundred years later. VPOTUS has been used here and there to refer to the vice president, but this isn't exactly easy to pronounce, so it hasn't caught on. 

As you may know, Donald Trump is a very unpopular POTUS, and this has led to many jokes about him. In 2017, a Twitter user came up with a new -OTUS word for Trump: SCROTUS. This joke works for two reasons: first, it stands for so-called ruler of the United States, and Trump really doesn't like when people suggest that he is an illegitimate president. But the much funnier part of this joke is that it sounds like the word scrotum. You can click here to find out what that one means; this is a family website! 😂 

more free english resources



Silent G Words

If you’re looking for explanations and examples of words with silent G, you’ve come to the right place. Charts, definitions, word lists, and the history of how silent G became silent.