Language tip of the week: trouble

Posted by on December 13, 2011

In this weekly microblog, we bring to English language learners more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary. These tips are based on areas of English (e.g. spelling, grammar, collocation, synonyms, etc) which learners often find difficult.

This week’s language tip helps with the noun trouble.

Trouble is mostly used as an uncountable noun, so:
▪  it is not usually found in the plural
▪  it never comes after a or a number
✗ Most people who are in prison have had troubles with the law before.
✓ Most people who are in prison have had trouble with the law before.
✗ If they come face to face with a trouble, the first thing they do is cry.
✓ If they come face to face with trouble, the first thing they do is cry.
When trouble is the object of the verbs cause and get into, it is always singular:
✗ Young criminals should get in touch with their victims, so that they can realize the troubles they have caused.
✓ Young criminals should get in touch with their victims, so that they can realize the trouble they have caused.
✗ If children get into troubles, their parents must bail them out.
✓ If children get into trouble, their parents must bail them out.
The plural form troubles is used to refer to all the problems that a person has, and it is often used with a possessive determiner:
The prime minister seemed to be brooding over his troubles.
We all have our troubles and we must deal with them as best we can.

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Comments (2)
  • One common idiomatic use of ‘trouble’ is in the phrase ‘the trouble is (that) …..’ – e.g. (in the context of trying to make arrangements):

    The trouble is that I’ve got to pick the kids up from school first.
    The trouble is, I’ve got to pick the kids up from school first.

    This is particularly common in spoken English, and the comma in the second version represents a pause, or at least an intonation boundary. The main stress is on ‘is’ (or ‘was’, if you’re talking about a past situation) and the word ‘is’ (or ‘was’) typically, though not always, has a fall-rise intonation.

    In this idiom, ‘trouble’ means more or less the same as ‘problem’, and you can equally well say, with the same stress and intonation:

    The problem is that I’ve got to pick the kids up from school first.
    The problem is, I’ve got to pick the kids up from school first.

    Other lexical phrases that typically conform to the same pronunciation pattern – stress on ‘is/was’ and fall-rise intonation – include:

    the thing is …..
    the snag is …..
    the only thing is …..
    the reason is …..
    the point is …..
    the question is …..
    the fact is …..
    the funny thing is …..
    the strange thing is …..
    the worst thing is …..
    the best thing is …..

    Posted by Jonathan Marks on 16th December, 2011
  • Thank you, Jonathan. A very useful addition and phrases & examples too.

    Posted by Kati on 17th December, 2011
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