‘Thing’ may not seem the most exciting word to base a blog post on, but it features in a very large number of informal expressions that are often used in conversation. If you’re interested in improving your English conversation, you might want to spend ten minutes reading this post!
Starting with a very common spoken phrase, the main thing means ‘what is most important in this situation’: I don’t know how much money she earns but she’s happy and that’s the main thing.
The whole thing can be used to mean ‘everything related to a particular activity or situation’: I love everything about teaching – the kids, my subject, being part of a team – the whole thing. / He had a really miserable few months there. I think he just wants to forget the whole thing.
The informal phrase the thing is introduces a fact that is relevant to a situation, often because it could cause difficulties: I’d invite Olivia too but the thing is, she doesn’t get on with Lucy. / I’d join you but the thing is, I have to be home by nine o’clock.
You might say the funny / sad / strange, etc. thing is before you mention a particular aspect of a situation: She made us go to this really expensive restaurant, but the funny thing is, she ate almost nothing. / The sad thing is, he died before his company became a great success.
People often ask whether something new or strange that they have just noticed is a trend by saying Is that a thing? So, socks and sandals on men – is that a thing now? You can also say that a particular thing that people do is a thing, meaning that it is a trend: Putting butter in your coffee. Apparently, it’s a thing now.
If someone doesn’t understand something that you have mentioned, you might explain by saying It’s a boy / girl / vegan, etc. thing. meaning that it is something that only that particular group of people know about: ‘What was that word you used – ‘aquafaba’?’ ‘Yeah, it’s bean water. Don’t worry, it’s a vegan thing.’
If you say someone is onto a good thing, you mean they have discovered a way to have an easy life or to make lots of money: He just assumed she was wealthy and thought he was onto a good thing.
If you say it’s a good thing something happened, you mean it is lucky that it happened: It’s a good thing we got tickets early. They’re sold out now.
If you’ve had a lot of problems in a short space of time, you can say it’s been one thing after another: The last few weeks have been so difficult. It’s been one thing after another.
Someone who does their own thing does what they want to do, without considering other people: Tom’s very independent – he’s always done his own thing.
‘Thing’ is often used after the adjectives ‘poor’, ‘sweet’ and ‘lucky; to refer to a person or animal: That’s a horrible cough, you poor thing! / You’re not working this week? You lucky thing! / Have you seen Amy’s new puppy – it’s such a sweet little thing!
Finally, the plural form things is often used to mean ‘life generally’: Things have been going pretty well recently. / How are things, then?