The group of death and the underdog (The language of the World Cup)

ViewApart / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

With the FIFA World Cup just one day away, we thought you might like to brush up on (=improve what you know about) your tournament vocabulary.

Let’s start by getting up to date. The qualification phase ended in November 2017. In this period, the various countries’ national teams played against each other in order to qualify for (= succeed in getting into) the tournament. From a field of 211, a total of 31 teams qualified, ‘field’ here meaning ‘all the people or teams in a competition’. As always happens, the host nation (= country where the World Cup takes place – this year, Russia) qualified automatically. The resulting 32 teams were put into eight groups of four teams.

The next phase – the ‘tournament phase’ or ‘group stage’ – will kick off in Moscow on June 14th when the host nation will face Saudi Arabia.  During the month that follows, all the teams in each group will play against each other. The two top-scoring teams from each group will then go through to the next phase and the bottom two, sadly, will leave the competition. During this phase, people often use the expression ‘the group of death’ to refer to a group that stands out because it has more talented teams than any other. This year may be a little different, however, as many of the teams that would usually be considered the favourites to win, for example Italy, Chile and Cameroon, did not qualify for the tournament.

The 16 finishers of the group stages will now enter the second and final stage of the World Cup – the knockout stage. In the first round, the winner of each group will face the runner-up of another group and the winners of those matches will then go through to the quarter finals.  In this nail-biting phase, teams are knocked out (= removed from the tournament after a defeat). The two losing teams of the semi-finals will take part in a playoff in order to decide third place. In the knockout stage, if a match ends in a draw (=equal points), two 15-minute periods of extra time are played. If the score is still level, a penalty shoot-out decides the winner, each team taking turns to have a set number of kicks at the goal.

So who do you hope will lift the World Cup trophy on July 15th? Is it the defending champions (= team who won the last tournament), Germany, or one of the other favourites to win? Perhaps you’ll be supporting the underdog (= team least likely to win) or one of the debut (= first time) nations, Panama or Iceland. Whoever you support, have a fabulous World Cup!

A glimmer of hope (The language of hope)

Marko Nikolic / EyeEm / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

For many of us, spring – the season of new beginnings – is a time of great hope. With the flowers and trees in bloom and the temperature rising, it’s a time for feeling positive about the future. With this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at words and phrases related to hope.

Starting with the verb ‘hope’, people sometimes emphasize how much they hope for something by saying they hope and pray that something will happen: I just hope and pray that she’s well enough on the day to take the exam. If you say you hope against hope that something will happen, you very much hope for it, although you know it is not likely: We’re just hoping against hope that the police catch the burglar.

The noun ‘hope’ features in a few useful phrases. If you pin (all) your hopes on someone or something, you depend on that person or thing to bring success, usually when everyone or everything else has failed: We’re pinning our hopes on the new technology. If you don’t hold out hope that something good will happen, you don’t expect that it will happen: Few people hold out any hope of finding more survivors. Meanwhile, a glimmer of hope or ray of hope is a very slight sign that something good might happen in the future: Do these sales figures offer a glimmer of hope for the company?

The adjective hopeful means ‘feeling hope’: He’s fairly hopeful that they can reach an agreement. It can also mean ‘giving feelings of hope’: There are one or two hopeful signs that the situation is improving. We use the adjective positive in a similar way: We’re seeing some very positive developments. When a future situation is hopeful, we sometimes describe it as brightThings are starting to look brighter for the UK economy. / She has a bright future ahead of her.

The adjective optimistic describes someone who is hopeful about the future and believes that good things will happen: I remain optimistic about the future of humanity.  People sometimes describe themselves as cautiously optimistic about a particular situation, meaning that they are mainly hopeful but accept that there will be difficulties: I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the company. The adjective bullish describes someone who feels hopeful that something will be successful and expresses this in a very definite way: The team’s coach was in a bullish mood when we spoke. Finally, a formal word for ‘hopeful’ is sanguine: She is less sanguine about the prospects for smaller companies.

We trust you are feeling hopeful this week.






Out of the blue (Words and phrases for unexpected events)

PeopleImages / DigitalVision / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

Many of the things that happen to us are expected or even planned but some are not. Some of these unexpected events are welcome while others are less so. In this post, we take a look at the words and phrases that we use to relate events that happen when we are least expecting them.

Starting with a really useful idiom, something that happens out of the blue is completely unexpected: Then one day, out of the blue, she announced she was leaving. Two very useful, less idiomatic, phrases with a similar meaning are all of a sudden and all at once. Both mean ‘suddenly and unexpectedly’: All of a sudden, she collapsed. / All at once there was a loud crashing noise.

An event that catches/takes you by surprise shocks or confuses you because it happens suddenly when you are not prepared for it: The strength of the storm caught many residents by surprise. A similar expression is to catch someone off guard: Her remark caught me off guard and I didn’t know how to respond. The expression to catch/take someone unawares has a similar meaning, but sometimes has the additional meaning of ‘to embarrass someone because they are not prepared’: A gust of wind caught me unawares and scattered my papers everywhere.

Someone or something that comes out of nowhere or from nowhere appears suddenly and unexpectedly: Suddenly, out of nowhere a huge, grey dog bounded up to us. A similar expression is out of thin air: I hadn’t seen him approaching. He seemed to appear out of thin air.

A phrase that people sometimes use after reporting a sudden and unexpected event is just like that. It emphasizes how shocking the event was: That afternoon, he left the house and never returned, just like that.

Moving on to single words, bad things (for example, earthquakes, disasters and tragedies) strike when they suddenly and unexpectedly happen: Halfway through the flight, disaster struck. / The earthquake struck at 3 o’clock in the morning when most people were fast asleep.

If you spring something on someone, you suddenly and without warning  announce it: I’ll give you warning of any tests. I won’t just spring them on you. Things that spring up, suddenly and unexpectedly start to exist: Cafes and other small businesses keep springing up along this street. Another phrasal verb in this area is turn up. Unlike many words and phrases in this post, this has a positive meaning! An opportunity that turns up becomes available unexpectedly: This job turned up just when I needed it.


We’re on a roll! (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

Janie Airey / DigitalVision / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

We like to keep you supplied with frequent, up-to-date idioms on this blog. One way in which we do this is by reading, every few months, a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day. We then pick out the idioms and phrases in use. As ever, we only include common, current idioms and phrases – in other words, the type that will be most useful to learn.

This week’s phrases come from tabloid newspapers. (Strangely, the broadsheets that I read contained few phrases of interest.) Starting off with an idiom that was in two newspapers, a member of the British government, it is said, has been ‘hung out to dry’ over a scandal affecting the whole government. If someone is hung out to dry, they are left to fail on their own, with no one else defending or supporting them.

Elsewhere in the same paper, it is reported that a TV celebrity has ‘set her sights on’ becoming an online lifestyle guru. To set your sights on a goal is to decide that you want to achieve it.

The same paper notes that a serious crime was not widely reported in the media while other, less important events received a great deal of attention. Sometimes, it says, we ‘lose sight of’ what matters. To lose sight of something important is to forget about it because you are focusing on less important things.

The business pages, meanwhile, report on a businessman who is ‘on a roll’, forming a new company and becoming involved in various other projects. The informal phrase to be on a roll means ‘to be experiencing a period of success or good luck’. The same pages also describe a company as being ‘on its knees’, meaning ‘failing’. (The idiom bring someone or something to their knees also exists, meaning ‘to cause someone or something to fail’.) In the same piece, a businessman is said to be ‘at loggerheads’ with the management of a company he used to own. To be at loggerheads with someone is to strongly disagree with them. Another article complains that some groups in society pay more than others for the same goods and services. It is time, they say, to ‘level the playing field’. This is a reference to the phrase level playing field, meaning ‘a fair situation where everyone is treated equally’.

Another tabloid rudely comments that a celebrity chef has been piling on the pounds, meaning ‘putting on weight’. On a different subject, the same paper quotes a British politician as saying that the Prime Minister must ‘get to the bottom of’ a particularly difficult situation. To get to the bottom of something is to discover the truth about it, often when it is hidden.

Finally, a photograph of a famous boxer, it is reported, will soon ‘go under the hammer’. To go/come under the hammer is to be sold at an auction (= a public sale where people make offers for items).

On the other hand… (Words which express a contrast)

MangoStar_Studio / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

You probably know the English expression on the one hand … on the other hand. It is used in the following way for comparing two opposing opinions or facts about something (note that just one half of the phrase is often used):

On the one hand, Maria has experience, but on the other hand, she doesn’t have the precise skills that we’re looking for.

I don’t really want any more work at the moment. On the other hand, I could use the extra money.

Continue reading “On the other hand… (Words which express a contrast)”

Prodding and urging (Getting people to do what you want!)

SvetaZi / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

A recent post looked at words and phrases meaning ‘persuade’ but of course, there are other ways to make people do what we want, (and not all of them especially nice!) Let’s take a look, then, at these words and phrases.

You might try to get someone to do something or go somewhere by offering them something attractive or exciting in return. For this we have the verbs entice and lure. Adverts like these may entice the customer into buying things they don’t really want. / They try to lure people into the shop with the offer of free cake.

Continue reading “Prodding and urging (Getting people to do what you want!)”

Coaxing, cajoling and roping in (Ways of saying ‘persuade’)

Philip Lee Harvey / Cultura / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

This week we’re looking at the many near-synonyms in English for the verb persuade.

Let’s start with the verb convince, which is sometimes used to mean ‘to persuade someone to do something’: hope this will convince you to change your mind.

A number of verbs mean specifically ‘to persuade someone to do an activity’, for example the phrasal verbs talk into and (informal) rope in: Finn is refusing to go camping but I think I can talk him into it. / We needed two more people to make up the team so we roped in a couple of spectators.

Continue reading “Coaxing, cajoling and roping in (Ways of saying ‘persuade’)”

Observant or blissfully unaware? (Noticing and not noticing things)


Besim Mazhiqi / Moment / Getty Images

by Kate Woodford

Are you observant? (Do you usually notice what’s happening around you?) This week we’re thinking about words and phrases in this area.

A really useful word is the verb spot. If you spot something or someone that interests you, you notice them, often when you are trying to see them: I spotted Tom in the crowd. / Police spotted him leaving the building.

Continue reading “Observant or blissfully unaware? (Noticing and not noticing things)”

Are you listening? (Hearing and listening words and phrases)

borisovv / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

We have two ears and one mouth so that we listen more than we talk, or so the saying goes. Whatever we think of this saying, most of us certainly listen (or at least, hear) a lot during the course of a day. This week, then, we’re looking at the various words and phrases that we use to describe this activity.

Continue reading “Are you listening? (Hearing and listening words and phrases)”

Once in a blue moon (saying how often we do things)

korionov / iStock / Getty Images Plus

by Kate Woodford

Are you always saying ‘always’? Do you usually say ‘usually’? Would you like more ways to say how often you do something or how often something happens? Then look no further because this week, we’re looking at interesting alternatives to words such as ‘often’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘rarely’.

Continue reading “Once in a blue moon (saying how often we do things)”