Talking About Observed Change in English
From time to time, we need to describe change in the world around us. Those descriptions may sound formal in business or academic contexts. We also make observations about what is happening around us with everyday language. Below I cover essential language for discussing change.
After reviewing some of the below expressions with your students, consider giving them a chance to practice with this discussion activity: Observed Change Conversation Questions.
Common Expressions and Structures for Describing Change
A basic and always useful way of describing change is to describe states at different points in time. Pay special attention to the words in bold below:
It used to be terrible, but now it’s okay.
It was three million when I was at school, but it will be over four million soon.
At first it was blond, then it was brown, and now it’s gray.
A similar strategy can be used to talk about the change in people:
He struggled at school, but he has been happy since he started working.
Comparison language is often useful for describing change:
This forest is smaller than it used to be.
She is more talented than she seemed at first.
People have more spending money than they used to.
When there is no significant change, these expressions are useful:
The size of my wardrobe has stayed the same since 1986.
The price of milk remains constant.
The price of oil is still high.
We expect to see a continuation of that behavior.
There has been no change in the amount of traffic where I live.
Verbs for Describing Change in Amount, Number, or Value
Increase (and Similar Verbs)
<< increase, rise, grow, go up >>
When we describe change as an observer, we often use intransitive verbs because we are not focused on or don’t know who is causing the change. The subject of the sentence is often the thing that is changing (eg. The temperature is going up).
All of the above verbs can be used intransitively. Increase can be used transitively if you want to focus on the agent of change (eg. John increased the volume). Grow can also be used transitively (Edith grew her savings), but for descriptions of observed change, it’s more often used intransitively. See the examples below:
My savings are increasing/rising/growing/going up.
The price of milk has increased/risen/gone up.
The GDP of our country increased/rose/grew/went up last year.
Also, consider using noun forms of the above verbs: increase, rise, growth
There has been a rise in the cost of living.
The housing market will experience a lot of growth over the next few years.
Decrease (and Similar Verbs)
<< decrease, decline, fall, drop, go down >>
For the usage we are looking at in this post, only decrease can be used as a transitive verb, though it is often used intransitively. See the examples:
Apple stock decreased/declined/fell/dropped/went down yesterday.
The number of police officers in this city has decreased/declined/dropped/fallen/gone down.
The population of this country will decrease/decline/fall/drop/go down for the first time next year.
The quality of their food has been decreasing/declining/falling/dropping/going down.
Noun forms of the above verbs: fall, drop, decrease, decline
There was a decline in the number of people who wear jeans.
The drop in PC sales was related to the growth in smartphone use.
More General Verbs that Are Used to Describe Change
<< get, become, go >>
Get [adjective/past participle] is common in spoken English.
It’s getting old.
He got married.
Become [adjective/noun] sounds a little more formal than get.
She became a doctor.
It has become very strict.
Go [color] is used to describe changes in color and some changes for the worse (eg. go crazy, go blind).
My hair will go gray.
His face went red.
The milk has gone off. ( = rotten, spoiled)
For discussion questions that are focused on color, try these Colors Conversation Questions.
Specific Types of Change
Many words refer to some kind of specific change. Here are a few example verbs: develop, evolve, expand, learn, improve, mutate, transform.
Modifying Descriptions of Change
Once students can describe change in a few ways, they can be encouraged to modify their sentences with adverbs and adjectives. Here are just a few examples out of many possibilities:
My savings are rapidly growing.
My ability to speak French has improved considerably.
There has been a dramatic rise in the cost of living.
The quality of their food is going down bit by bit.
From 1997 to 2005, there was a steady decline in the number of people who wear jeans.
Take a look at the Observed Change Conversation Questions.