Heads-ups and wake-up calls! (The language of warnings)

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by Kate Woodford

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!

Public notices that warn of danger often use the words caution, danger, warning and the phrase beware of: Caution: Hot water, Danger: Deep water, Warning: this fence is electric, Beware of the dog.

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.

18 thoughts on “Heads-ups and wake-up calls! (The language of warnings)

  1. Edson Kurth do Nascimento

    São Gonçalo, 15 April 2020, 16:11 h

    good afternoom Miss Kate Woodford.
    My name is Edson Kurth and I attempting learning english, mainly speak and listem , your essay is positive,
    suitable , but allow me one suggestion , audio about text.would have a beneficial impact
    I am sorry by the mistakes that I had done.
    This is way miss and go on.
    Have good moment.
    Edson Kurth do Nascimento

  2. Manar

    I think I’ve come around most of those words before but I never really divided into the meaning of each of them. Thank you for collecting them all together in this article 😀

  3. Marum

    Buenos noches Edith, com esta?
    ¿Puedo ofrecer una corrección de su texto al inglés coloquial que se habla en Australia?

    My name is Edson Kurth, and I am attempting to learn English, mainly conversational. Your essay is good.

    Good, but allow me to make one suggestion, audio of text.would be very useful.
    I apologise for my mistakes (in this posting/letter)

    This is too hit and miss.
    Have good day.

    Señora o señorita, su inglés es mejor que mi español.

    Va con….Marum.(El gato jugando al ajedrez)

  4. Marum

    EDIT: an audio of the text would be very useful.

    El Inglés como el Español es muy prolijo. Unlike Deutsch which is very precise.

    Buenos noches amiga….Marum.

  5. Marum

    Hi Edson,
    I may have goofed.

    I thought your name was Spanish. I note on checking, it is Portuguese. I am aware that if you are in the north of Brazil, you probably don’t speak Spanish. Although if you are in the south “hablo Espanol un poco” may apply, perhaps.

    Regards….Marum. (The cat)

  6. Nitin

    Whatever short tricks and examples you gave , they were quite useful . Heads up to u all for more articles like this . Learned a lot you have a good day

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