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Your English: Word grammar: dead

Type: Article

We say Tim Bowen’s dead right as he looks at the word grammar of this useful word.

In addition to its main adjectival meaning of ‘not alive’, dead can also be used to describe a piece of equipment that is no longer working or able to receive an electronic signal, as in ‘The battery was completely dead’ or ‘The phone suddenly went dead’.  

A place, time or situation that is not very interesting can also be described as dead, as in ‘Seaside towns can seem dead out of season’ or ‘February is a dead month for many of the big stores’. 

Only used before a noun such as silence, centre or stop, dead can be used to mean ‘complete’, as in ‘When he finished his lecture, there was dead silence in the room’. 

In British English, a glass or bottle can be described as dead if it is empty or finished with, as in ‘Are these glasses dead? Can I clear them away?’ 

Used informally, and never before a noun, dead can mean ‘in serious trouble’, as in ‘If she catches you rifling through her purse, you’re dead!’ 

Dead can also function as an adverb, meaning ‘completely’, as in ‘You’re dead right!’; ‘exactly’, as in ‘The train arrived dead on time’; or ‘very’, as in ‘That lesson was dead boring’ or ‘I’m dead tired, but I simply can’t miss this meeting’. The expression dead beat can also be used to mean ‘dead tired’.  

As a noun, dead can be used in just a couple of expressions meaning ‘the middle of the night’ or ‘the middle of the winter’, as in ‘The terrorists arrived in the village in the dead of night’.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Hi nlomax,

    Sounds like your students might just not have learnt/remembered the form of each type of word rather than not knowing what an adjective and verb is. Would you say that's right?

    Perhaps as a homework activity you could give them some word formation tables. Have a look at the very end of any of the Business Spotlight lesson plans and you'll see a vocabulary record which is the kind of thing I mean. Here's a link to one (the vocabulary record is the second last page) but of course you could make your own versions with vocabulary you have recently covered.

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  • Any tips on how to raise awareness of the difference between adjective and verb? This is the main area of confusion for many learners e.g. 'she is died already.'

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  • Superb

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