The thing is … (Useful conversational phrases with ‘thing’)

Luis Alvarez/DigitalVision/Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

‘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?

32 thoughts on “The thing is … (Useful conversational phrases with ‘thing’)

  1. Tatiana Balandina

    Thank you, Kate! Your articles are always very informative and helpful. I usually use this word a lot. And now I”ll try to use other expressions.

      1. Christian KARL AUGUSTT

        Bonjour
        Je suis intéressé et comment faire pour suivre les cours ?
        Merci de me donner vos avis..
        Cordialement Christian

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Hans! In conversation, we sometimes introduce a general observation about the current state or situation with ‘Things are…’, for example, ‘Things are a bit tricky at the moment.’ The ‘divided’ bit in this phrase, I assume refers to the way that people are split down the middle, one half having one opinion on a matter and the other half holding the opposite opinion. I hope that answers your question!

  2. Bryan Rosa Contreras

    Amazing and very useful. In the past I used to simply say: The thing is, but now I like to work with all of them. I am from the Dominican Republic and here our first language is Spanish, but many Dominicans speak other languages ​​such as: French, Italian and Japanese, of course, in addition to English. The main thing is i like your post and i have learned a lot from it. I do apology whether I sound pretentious by saying this but i prefer speaking English most of the times due to it forces me to think differently than i do in Spanish. Once again i am sorry i know i sort of betrayed my native language however i have to be honest with myself so i can have a happier live. What do you thing about this whole thing?

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi Bryan, nice to hear from you! I’m so pleased that you find our posts helpful and impressed by your enthusiasm for language! Best wishes.

  3. Maryem Salama

    I love everything about your posts- the topics, the examples, clearance, and the beauty of your carefully selected words – the whole thing is just amazing.

  4. Anirban

    This is off topic but was wondering if you could answer what it means:
    #Mary, where’s your sister?
    I don’t know, Mommy. Maybe, she’s in the bathroom.
    By yourself? You know better than that.#

    Now what’s beyond me is if it is ‘by’ or ‘buy’ yourself. What does it mean? What does the mother mean through her reply ? (It’s from a movie.)
    Would appreciate if you could help.
    With regards

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hello! I’m afraid I don’t understand the mother’s response here. The phrase is ‘by yourself’ (and not ‘buy’), but it doesn’t make sense in the context of this exchange. Sorry!

      1. Anirban

        Many thanks and I would like to trouble u with another one if you don’t mind. Is it ‘I’ll race it to the stone wall’ or ‘I’ll race to the stone wall’?
        Thanks

  5. Muhammad Imran Sharif

    Being second language learner your phrases are really helping us many folds to improve our english language skills.

    Keep helping people with your knowledge.

    Gratitude for you.

  6. Warren Gasmena Oyando

    “See bro,the thing is”! that’s the word i always hear from my colleagues every time we’re having conversation. Now, It’s a good thing I’ve read your post and it helps a lot- Now i understood, that’s the main thing! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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