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What are friends for?

I don't like to admit it, but I've been feeling a bit down in the mouth this week. Perhaps I'm missing New York, or maybe it's the changing season - the days are getting shorter (it gets dark here around seven thirty) and it's cold now when I go for my early morning run in the park.

Horse-chestnuts and autumn leaves

The leaves are turning yellow and they will soon begin to fall. I've also just received my credit card statement for August and realise how much money I spent in New York (ouch!). Then my sister was rushed into hospital for an emergency operation yesterday. Oh, yes, and my girlfriend and I just broke up (so I suppose I should say my ex-girlfriend). It's not been a good month. Advice and tips, please.

But then I went online and read your comments on my previous column, and they cheered me up enormously. It was like reading a letter from an old friend. And what are friends for? So thank you.

I laughed aloud when I read Kirsti's (France) comment. I hope my New York friends didn't read it! Gaga (Georgia) was wonderfully concise. I laughed aloud again.

No, Anh, (Vietnam) I wasn't bitten by insects (or anything else!) in Central Park. Thank you all for your concern. Iza, from Poland, may be right: perhaps I was lucky not to have been mugged. Antonis, from that lovely Greek island, Crete, used a nice word: grumpy. Personally, I am never grumpy [and if you believe that you'll believe anything - Lucy].

Yes, Ana (Poland), the cat survived me, and I survived the cat. Monica (Brazil), like Lucy, also thinks I'm not safe to be left alone, but I love the way she ended her comment with 'Take care and behave yourself'. In fact, many of you have sent good wishes in very affectionate ways: 'Thanks and God bless' (Anil Ray), 'Cheers' (Jill Huang, Beijing) and 'Good luck boy' (Analu Lima, Brazil). I even got some virtual Brazilian kisses (Adriana) to brighten up a chilly London autumn day.

Excuse me for a second, that's the phone.

Lucy celebrating her 'A'-level results

Well, I've just had some good news about my sister. Her operation was successful and, after a long period of total rest, she should recover completely. And then I received an unexpected (small) cheque in the post. Things are looking up. Lucy took me to an excellent Indian restaurant last night for my birthday. And I've saved the best till last: Lu got the grades she needed to take up her place at university! Thank you all for asking. We didn't stop partying for a week! Right now we're packing her books and clothes into a huge trunk ready for our trip to Scotland at the end of the month. I'll take photos of where Lucy will be studying to show you in October.

Meanwhile, many thanks, take care and please keep writing to me.

Best wishes,


to admit
to accept something is true which you would rather was not true; to acknowledge something, reluctantly

feeling a bit down in the mouth

If you miss (or are missing) a place, you feel sad because you are not there.

changing to

credit card statement
a printed document you receive each month which tells you how much money you have spent using your credit card, and how much must be repaid

was rushed into hospital
was taken into hospital suddenly and very quickly for emergency treatment

former; if you are divorced, your former wife or husband can be called your 'ex-wife' or 'ex-husband'; in colloquial English you can refer to a former partner as 'my ex-' (for example: 'I bumped into my ex- at the pub last night.')


cheered me up
made me feel happier

the opposite of silently

what are friends for?
what is the purpose of friends?

brief and direct

bad-tempered, miserable and cynical (and, by the way, Lucy is completely wrong!)

demonstrating fondness; showing caring friendliness

rather cold and (feeling) unpleasant

Things are looking up.
Things are getting better.

a strong case or box for storing things or transporting things on a journey


Focus on tenses
Re-read the first paragraph. How many different tenses have I used? Can you find examples of the Present Simple, the Present Perfect Continuous, the Present Continuous, a Future structure, the Present Perfect, the Past Simple and the Past Simple in the Passive Voice? As you identify each tense structure make sure you understand why I used it (try translating into your mother tongue if you need help understanding tense selection: this can help even if your mother tongue doesn't have 'tenses').

Word groups
I described an autumn day as 'chilly'. How many other English words do you know which describe low temperatures? Use a good dictionary to help you distinguish between 'cool', 'chilly', 'chilled', 'cold' and 'icy' and then try the same activity with 'mild', 'warm', 'humid', 'hot' and 'heated'. Use each of these ten words to complete the sentences below. Use each word only once.

a) Take care when driving because it's freezing and the roads are __________.

b) We had some pleasantly unseasonable __________ weather in January this year.

c) My new car has a __________ driver's seat which will be very welcome in the winter months.

d) I'm very __________. I need a hot drink.

e) You should always keep chocolate in a __________ place.

f) Champagne should always be drunk __________.

g) My room isn't __________ enough. Can you turn up the heating?

h) Be careful not to burn your mouth, the coffee is very __________.

i) If you want to grow tropical plants in a greenhouse you will need to keep the atmosphere very warm and __________.

j) If you're feeling a bit __________ maybe you should put on an extra sweater.

ANSWERS: a) icy; b) mild; c) heated; d) cold; e) cool; f) chilled; g) warm; h) hot; i) humid; j) chilly


Thank you for sending your comments, this topic is now closed.

Kirsti, France
I think my comment was lost as the comment system crashed. I had said 'Many happy returns', though it was already a bit late. And I mentioned that your age, Stephen, was no secret any longer, and that you were a mere stripling, compared to me.

Hana, Somalia
Hi Stephen, it's my first time to write to you, but i always read your columns and i really enjoy the way you describe things, i hope someday i will write like that. Dear Stephen what should i do to be great writer pleas, thank you for your columns.

Hi stephen,I think what you have writing reflect the nature of life which is mixure a of Sorrow and happiness .And I had really enjoyed my first writing to you

Nouman, Pakistan
Hello It's first time I write to you. i like this column. your writing would be very useful and helpful who wants to improve their English. So thank you very much and appreciations everythink you have done for English learners and also enjoyed in future. good luck

Do not feel sad about anything.Live your life like your`s.

Sara, Iran
Dear stephen, I hope you will keep your optimistic charachter even thousands of unfavorable happines are around you.

Bo Hu,China
Dear friends,thanks for your blogs which tell me a lot about your family life.

Vishnu, Hyd, India
Hi Stephen after long time i visited this site & i learned new words this day. i feel happy. Ii's really a amazing webside for those who lunatic in English language.

Barouki driss, Temara, Morocco
Dear stephen, how are you?It was just by coincdence that I ran into your site. I really find it very interesting and extremely helpul for English learners.I've been consulting your site since then and I'm learnig a lot. Thank you.

Andrea, Forlì, Italy
Hi Stephen, this is my first time that I read your column and I like it very much. All the BBC learning web site is perfect for me. I was rushed into the hospital too, as your sister, at the end of August, because a very unbearable back pain. The CT scan showed a hernia between the 4th and the 5th vertebra. So I was admitted in the Neurosurgery unit for the operation. Now I feel very good, but I'll not play tennis, my favourite sport, for several months! It is not so big problem! Keep up your spirit! Best wishes!

Ruth ,China
Dear Stephen this is a great morning for me ,because i learned a lots of useful words and sentence from your column.i feels very satisfied and happy,thank you the way this is my first time visit this blog.enjoy everyday!

Nour, Syria
Hello Stephen, It's first time I write to you, but I used to purchase your columns, I'm happy that things ended up very well, I was so worried from the beginning about what will happen in the end. I'm sure that Lucy will be doing well. and I do wish you both best wishes

Adriana, Brazil
Oh! Only now I see the comment I have written here isn't appearing. Sorry Stephen, it must be some technical problem because I've sent.Bye

Jake (Adana Turkey)
I love the idea. This is a great thing. I head about what your were doing with this site from a student and have used your recent column in two private english lessons already. I wish you had a RSS feed for this site. I'd like to be alearted on my blog reader whenever you post a new column.
BBC Learning English replies
Hi Jake, Stephen's column is on RSS feed.

Viktor, Clorinda, Argentina
Dear Stephen,It's the first time I read your column, and I liked it. Sorry about your break up and your sister. Hope you get well. I'd like to write more things but I'm in a cyber(=a place where you pay a fee to use a computer, that's how I study English) and I'm supposed to leave now. Anyway I'll be reading your column from now on. Cheers.

Dear Stephen,It's the first time I read your column, and I like it. Unfortunately I don't have a computer at home, so I can't read it regularly, but I printed this recent column and took it home, as I do with all the material I read on interent to improve my English. Sorry about your break up and your sister. I don't imagine how hard it is--I've never had a girlfriend;). But, as we say in my country, "al mal tiempo buena cara"; it's difficult to translate, I think an English equivalent may be "every cloud has a silver lining". Well, I won't tell you (yet)where I am from because there's a myth about the inhabitants of my country--they are impolite, and they swear every three words! I remember one of my teachers said, "never ever say you're from ..., you won't be welcomed"--that's unfair, every country has people like that and not every one is like that (certainly I'm not!). OK, I get to go now. Get well!

Dunia, Iraq
Dear Mr. Stephen, This is my first comment on your article, your writing making us live your life and imagine the style of life in the other side of the world, please don't be sad we all pass through moments of pain but then we recover and continue our life with our believe in GOD and with hope we can skip the hard moment in our life, so keep writing your beautiful article to enable us learn more and more about English. I'm Iraqi citizen trying to escape from Iraq after improving my skills and acknowledgment. Wish you all the best.

Josephine, Korea
Hi! This is my first visiting. It's so nice reading your columns and letters from various country. My english is not good, but I love reading english books and watching something related with English. That's my way of communication of world people.

Sseok Jin, South Korea
hi mr.stephen~ breaking with your girl friend is nothing special.. i actually went through two months ago, it turns out to be minute thing in my life.. somtimes i miss her though-_- hey dude~ go for it whatever that is~ just be cool , be busy ~ life is not the thing we have to worry, the thing we have to enjoy that's it no big deal!

Julia, Korea
I hope you have a wonderful trip. I envy you your trip

Maria, Greece
Dear Mr Stephen, I feel sorry to hear that you broke up with your girlfiend and I also hope it is not too hard for you :) Don't feel down! Always a bad situation is followed by a good one! I am sure you deserve a good many happiness. By the way, congratulations for your daughter!!! and many many thanks for the help which you offer to all of us with your columns. Bye bye!

Jill Huang, Beijing
Hey hey hey, Stephen. Are you feeling better now? Does your sister recover now? I believe so. In the next blog, will you show us an optimistic, happy, humorous Stephen and a big smile? I’m looking forward. Last week, for me, was hard too. I was ill, a little bit serious. I didn’t see a doctor, but took many kinds of different medicines. But now, everything returns to normal. I’m ok. Are you OK? You should remember we are all on your side. You are happy, so we are happy. You feel sad, then we feel the same. You have a huge fun club! Oh, please accept my late birthday greetings! Happy birthday to you~~~ it’s late, but I know you won’t mind. What a gorgeous daughter you have! :) How many wishes do you make on your birthday? Ok ok ok, I won’t ask what they are. So, take it easy. Here comes the most important thing: congratulations to Lucy! Enjoy the upcoming university life! Stephen, cheer up! Take care and best wishes for Lucy’s and your magic trip to Scotland. Waiting for more stories from you. Jill.

Mehran, Iran
Hi, this my frist time i came to your blog, sounds you had not enjoy your time at that moment even i had a some proplem when i came to India for studying. Since i've been living here every day some thing new comes up to me, i laugh at any thing you do the same and take it as a good omen. I'm posetive your life is going to change, take care and enjoy, God blees u.

Gijo, India
Words are really a gift to mankind and you are using it to the best. I really enjoy reading your articles.

Ali Didan - Sudan - Nuba Mountains
Hi stephen, thank you very much, I'm a beginer in English language, and I have found your article usefull to me, I had done all the homework, and have found it usefully acording to level. With best regards.

Lucinda, Nice - France
No better way to learn than sharing a bit of your life. Thank you for chosen words. Wish you the same fine weather we have. Lucinda

Rita, Lebanon
The best advice I can give it to my friends is: never give up never give up...

Fatemeh, Afghanistan
Hi Mr Stephen, I'm new here in this comprehensive site. Its interesting, I find it, very useful, for every body who wants to improve their English. I'm a person who study English by myself …. I try hard and I want to be able to be a master in it maybe in a close future… I hope… Its my goals and I do my best to learn it from you. Furthermore, thank you so much for your beautiful words, wonderful teaching notes. Best wishes and good luck.

Simon, Italy
dear stephen, thanks a lot for the enjoyable and interesting sharing of your life with us! i accidently found your site and I will keep reading it because your English is what we all need!! cheers from simona

Marwa, Egypt
Hi Stephen, its my first time to read your article, very nice indeed. My husband adores BBC and everything related to it. I'm working as a translator and wish I could improve my spoken english rather than my written one.. I'll keep reading ur articles, good luck and speedy recovery to ur dear sis.

Richard, China
I love your story, hopefully, I can study as if your students. I am really appericiating your writing style.I am lacking of writing. Sometimes I try to get some information from Internet, but I didn't to copy them. I do not know weather it's a good way to learn Enlish or not if you have any suggestions. One more question, do you know what kind of job should be fit a Chinese who is learning Enlish? Thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!

Helen, Russia
Hello, Stephen, it's first time I have read your blog, but cant help feeling that I have known you for a long time. Imagine, we have met in Russia - your name would have sounded like Stepan, by the way /second sillable is stressed/,and the girl - Lyusya, and the autumn, oh, it always sounds the same, drizzling in a whisper. Time to withdraw into ourselves? For a while, perhaps...

Things always change nowadays,but don't mind them. Always look on the bright side of life,that's what we can do.And that will make our happier.

Leila, Iran
Hi Stephen,It's been a while since I've been reading your blog. Very nice and exciting. I've lived in the UK for a couple of years and all those stuff you write, remind me the sweet memories that we've (my husband, my son & I) had back in England.So sorry for your break up and happy birthday! Carry on writing and make us feel we are still living in the rainy and cold autumn of the UK! (; Thanks v. much

Paola, Argentina
Hi Stephen! This is my first message and I'm very happy...I wanted to say your column it´s great, I always enjoy reading it! The way you write, the words and useful expressions encourage me to keep improving my english every day. Thanks a lot. Bye, Paola:)

Klara, Hungary
Hi Stephen! This is my first visit in this page...your story is so enjoyable! I was in England during last autumn and after reading the first pharagraph I just started to remember and, every words are true.However it is the nearly the same here now, but I'm still waiting for the indian summer.(Hope there will be!:-)Well, I keep reading your stories. Take care, and do not miss New York(too much:-)!Bye, Klara

Anja, France
Giving you what I received from my friend from Califoria: "tough times never last, tough people do!"

Rachelle (Dubai, UAE)
Dear Mr. Stephen,Hi! I'm new here... I just read your adventure and its really very interesting... I am not good in English so please forgive my grammar. I am really looking for something / any materials which could improve myself... And I think I have found your article! Thank you! I will keep on reading and learning from you! Keep it up!Rachelle

Mehmet Seyman, Turkey
I have been looking for ages this kind of job. because of my poor English,when I read an article, I can't understand it very well. ı think your writing would be very useful and helpful who wants to improve their English. So thank you very much and appreciations everythink you have done for English learners. Best regards Mehmet.

Pinar Koc, Ankara, Turkey, Middleeast
Hello to everyone, I came across this site while I was searching on the internet. It is very helpful for people who want to improve their English. I am going to follow the suggestions specified here. Very nice day to everyone....Pinar Koc (actually "i" written without a dot but well...)

Silwal Kishor, Nepal
Hi Stephen, When I read your column, I can not stop reading whole material as soon as possible but I am really unlucky to do so in a single sitting. When I concentrate myself to read, I get disturbed by visitor or telephone ring. When I thoroughly read first paragraph I found sentence structure with simple present, present continuous, and present perfect continuous. As you mentioned, I could not find past simple and past simple in passive voice but I am able to find then in the second paragraph. Then in my mind, I get a doubt whether I am unable to distinguish the first and the second paragraph. I found your column really helpful to learn English word, phrase and idioms in interesting manner. I expect such type of material again and again.

Maria, Pakistan
Hello, I read your column for the first time, your expression is warm and lively. I enjoyed. I like the way people use words to express themselves, I'm into English literature by the way.Regards.

Hyoshil, Lincoln, UK
Ou! Stephen, I think you have been some disastrous days. I am really sorry for your broken relationship with your ex-girlfriend and your credit card statement. I am waiting for my credit card statement and thinking of it makes me trembling because I've been to Korea for 6 weeks and I just only guess how much will be. I am so happy for LUCY and you and of couse your sister, too. I hope your sister is better soon. Good luck to Lucy for a new life in Scotland! Do you feel your baby is leaving you?

Marianna, Slovakia
Hi! I want to reasure Lucy, the beautiful young lady, about taking long a suspicion which Addeax specified well recently. And, since I have been playing a game for months I continue. Believe me or not the day of your birthday was a day of my forname in our calendar. You may be aware of the tradition in my country (in Czech rep. too) that our first names are on a particular fixed day in the calendar. When it comes the Datum with your forname below it, we celebrate then at work, with family or friends. Last week there was my name, too, which I forgot completely.(My nephewes are away with another names in their heads or harts!) The day I switched on the computer at work, opened a page with my newspaper and searching acros the news, in the space with blogs, I registered a title ´Marianne´. I knew the name of the blogger. Actually, his appearance suggests a monster the best. He is the wellknown political commentator and an university teacher. I opened the article and read the breathtaking stunning love letter which you would hardly ever read in a book! It seemed to be written VERY personally to some real but unknown woman who by the merest chance was holding my name. You can imagine that below this article some commentators wrote such words as...´he had to get completely mad´..or´I had to shot my insuline dose´..and so on. This is the true story, but there didn´t appear my two words ´Thank you´ below the blog, because I wasn´t able to get through the applying procedure... Don´t be sad, the fall is the best for reading, walking and more learning! Good luck for all of you!

Stephen Keeler
Stephen Keeler

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