Getting the hang of it (Words and phrases for getting used to things)

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by Kate Woodford

Getting used to things is a part of life. We all deal with situations, tasks or tools that are new to us. At first, they may seem difficult or strange. With time or practice, they become familiar and normal.  In this blog, we look at the language for expressing this idea.

Starting with single words, if you familiarize yourself with something that you don’t know about, you intentionally learn about it, usually to prepare for something: I need to familiarize myself with the new software. If you acclimatize, you become familiar with different weather or surroundings so that you are able to deal with them: More time will be needed for the troops to acclimatize to the desert conditions.

Several idioms exist in this area. Some convey the idea of getting used to a new situation or getting used to your role in that new situation. For example, if you get or find your bearings, you succeed in learning about a new situation, especially learning where things are: It takes a while to get your bearings when you start a new job. If you (informal) get into the swing of it or get into the swing of things, you start to understand and enjoy a new situation and feel confident about your role in it: I hadn’t worked in an office for years so it took me a while to get back into the swing of it. If you (UK) get into your stride / (US) hit your stride, after a little time you become confident doing something new: Let’s wait till she’s got into her stride before we ask her to manage that project.

If you (informal) get the hang of a task, you learn how to do it. This is often said of tasks that are not simple or obvious: It’s a slightly tricky system but you’ll soon get the hang of it. If a task is second nature to you, you are now so familiar with it that you do it easily, without thinking much about it: I’ve been driving so long, it’s second nature to me now.

There is also the phrasal verb settle in/into. If you settle in or settle into a new place, such as a house, job or school, you start to feel happy there: Once we’ve settled in, we’ll invite them over for dinner. / He settled into the company quite quickly.

Finally, we sometimes find it impossible to get used to new ways of doing things, having done things differently for a long time. For this, we might say You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. What is the equivalent in your language?



24 thoughts on “Getting the hang of it (Words and phrases for getting used to things)

  1. gurdeep singh

    I was not familiarized with these words but i will hit my stride very soon after learning it.

  2. Maryem Salama

    It is really interesting. Thank you. What about the phrase: “get accustomed to it”? In our language we have this idiom “after he gets grey (his hair) he enters Kutab”. A Kutab is a primitive way or institution for learning, now it seems revived to teach children religious sciences. Take note that we say (he not she) because education or actually this type of education was restricted to males only.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Maryem! Thanks for your message. What an interesting phrase in your language! Re your query, yes, you can be/get/become accustomed to something. It’s a good addition. I was focusing more on the idiomatic side of things but this is a useful phrase – thanks! Best wishes from Cambridge.

  3. Temraz

    Very nice because if these words are not explained as they are now ,it is difficult to understand them for the first time in a context !!?

  4. Patrick

    For me,memorising phrases like these requires regular usage to get the hang of it.But thanks for boosting my English language status.

  5. F Hossain

    I’ve been working with a company for over a decade. So, everyday’s work here is now second nature to me. I’ve noticed many of my colleagues couldn’t find bearings, or get into swing of things when it came to work on a new project.

  6. Samit

    It is really good, learnt lot of new phrases. Mainly I find difficulties to figure out formal and informal way to covey same message that was explained here properly.

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