Today, we’re looking at words and phrases that are used to tell people about possible dangers or problems. Let’s start with immediate, physical danger. You might shout or say Look out!, Watch out! or (UK) Mind out! to warn someone that they are in danger: Look out! There’s a car coming! / Watch out! You nearly hit that bike! / Mind out! You nearly banged your head!
You sometimes hear an adult saying to a child Look what you’re doing! when the child is being careless and is likely to have an accident: Look what you’re doing, Lucy, or you’ll drop that plate! Look where you’re going! is also said to a child who isn’t looking ahead as they walk or run: Look where you’re going, Harry! You nearly bumped into that man!
Of course, not all danger is immediate or physical. We warn each other about many different possible problems, future as well as present, using a variety of phrases. To warn about the bad result of a particular action, we sometimes use the first conditional structure – if + present simple, will + infinitive: Ethan, if you don’t hurry, you’ll be late for school!
Some warning phrases are used mainly in conversation. For example, you might warn someone not to do something by saying You don’t want to [do something]: You don’t want to say anything that will upset her. That’s definitely not a good idea! To warn someone very strongly that they should not do something, you might start a sentence with Whatever you do, …: Whatever you do, don’t tell Jo. If someone insists on doing something that you have warned them not to do, you might say on your own head be it, meaning ‘you must take responsibility for your action if bad things happen as a result’: ‘Anyway, I’m going to ignore your advice and invite James.’ ‘Well, on your own head be it!’ Another phrase used in this situation is Don’t say I haven’t warned you!
Focusing now on synonyms for ‘warning’, an alert is an official warning of danger: a bomb / flood alert. The word heads-up is used informally, meaning ‘a warning, often so that someone can prepare’: I just wanted to give you a heads-up that we’ll need more staff in December. A wake up call, meanwhile, is a bad event that acts as a warning, making you realize that you need to change something: Perhaps these floods will serve as a wake-up call to the world that climate change is serious.
The word ‘warning’ itself has some useful collocations. To heed a warning is to take it seriously and act on it: It’s quite clear that the government failed to heed warnings about the severity of the situation. If the government or another organization issues a warning, they officially warn people about a particular danger: The Met Office have issued a weather warning for heavy snow in the area.
Finally, someone who is warning you about a possible problem might say (Just) a word of warning: Just a word of warning – John’s very upset about the situation so it’s perhaps best not to mention it to him.