Without pillars, buildings will never stand. They are the strong columns that are the supports for a building. In the English language there are five pillars. They are the building blocks and the key to fluency and exceptional ability in English. These five pillars are not all equal and are in order of importance.

Many words in the English language have more than one meaning or usage. Thus to understand the meaning, you have to think context. Better late than never is an adage that reminds us that in many situations arriving after the correct time is better than not coming at all. But if we talk about the late Mr X, unfortunately, he will never arrive because in this context, the late is used to refer to a person who has passed away. Not all synonyms are created equal, so choosing the best word depends on the context. For example the word offspring, progeny and scion have similar meanings. However, a scion is usually the young member of a rich and famous or socially prominent family, while offspring and progeny just mean the immediate descendants of a person.

Native speakers love to use imaginative words when they are speaking and writing. They talk in imaginative ways. The original meaning is the supporting columns of a building. Without them, buildings cannot stand. Speakers take this original idea and then develop expressions such as the pillars of success or the five pillars of English. This then is used in an expression or usage sense. So to understand the expression meaning, always consider the original meaning. Understand the original meaning first and then it will be easier to understand the usage meaning. Let us look at another example, fat cats. Fat cats are overweight, pampered cats. That is the original meaning, but the expression/usage meaning has developed into a number of ideas including a wealthy and privileged person.

Collocations trump grammar. Some English experts believe that we should learn English by focusing on phrases and that learning by single words is not the most effective way to develop English. Given that context is all, it means that you focus on phrases which are collocations because that is the way native speakers speak. Collocations are a grouping of words in a sentence. They are two or more words used together in the way that is accepted English or the way native speakers group words. Examples of collocations are strong tea, heavy drinker, dead serious. Another example is the phrase, a hard frost. To native speakers, the word strong would not sound natural or correct in this context. Native speakers would not say a strong frost.

Collocations trump grammar. Thus in the hierarchy of the pillars of English, collocations come before grammar. In fact, some collocations do not follow the grammar rules. This is because often native speakers do not think of grammar when expressions (phrases, collocations) are being developed. Grammar has its role and place, but collocations are the lynchpin of the English language.

There is a whole body of rules about pronunciation. For me, the rules of pronunciation are as important as the grammar rules. In fact, they are crucial for a complete understanding of the English language.

Author's Bio: 

Susan McKenzie is a London-trained lawyer and English teacher. Susan McKenzie teaches at Linguaphone in Singapore. For enquiries about the courses Tel: 8455 8534, Email: and Read articles written by Susan at