Sorry to butt in! (Phrasal verbs that describe ways of speaking)

by Kate Woodford

Jenni Holma/Moment/Getty
Jenni Holma/Moment/Getty

This week we’re looking at the many phrasal verbs in English that refer to ways of speaking and the sort of things that people do in conversation.

The adverb ‘on’ has a sense which is ‘continuing or not stopping’. Accordingly, there are a few informal phrasal verbs containing ‘on’ that are used for speaking a lot and not stopping. For example, if someone goes on, they annoy you by talking about one subject for too long:

I know she did well in her exams – I just wish she’d stop going on about it!

He went on and on about his new job.  Continue reading “Sorry to butt in! (Phrasal verbs that describe ways of speaking)”

Head over heels! (Love idioms)

by Kate Woodford

LWA/Dann Tardiff/Blend Images/Getty
LWA/Dann Tardiff/Blend Images/Getty

With Valentine’s Day almost upon us, our attention at About Words has turned to love, or more specifically, the various phrases and idioms that we use to describe romantic love. If love is on your mind, read on…

We’ll begin this post with the start of romantic love. When you fall in love, you start to love someone romantically: They met in the spring of 2009 and fell madly in love.

If you start to love someone from the first time you see them, you may describe the experience as love at first sightAl and I met in a friend’s kitchen and it was love at first sight for both of us. Continue reading “Head over heels! (Love idioms)”

I keep putting it off. (Phrasal verbs with ‘put’)

by Kate Woodford

Hero Images/Getty
Hero Images/Getty

As part of an occasional series on phrasal verbs formed with common verbs, this post looks at phrasal verbs that contain the verb ‘put’. As ever, the phrasal verbs that we include in this post are all common in everyday English.

Let’s start with an action that most of you have already done today – put on a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes:

Put your coat on, Jamie – it’s cold outside. Continue reading “I keep putting it off. (Phrasal verbs with ‘put’)”

Let’s call it a day. (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

by Kate Woodford

Darrin Klimek/DigitalVision/Getty
Darrin Klimek/DigitalVision/Getty

As regular readers of this blog will know, now and then we like to focus on frequent idioms – that is, the sort of idioms that you are likely to hear or read in current English. One way in which we do this is by looking at the idioms that are used in a range of national newspapers published on the same day. Here, then, are the common idioms that we found in papers on Monday, December 12th.

One broadsheet newspaper has an article on all the ways that companies nowadays try to make their employees happy at work. According to the author, companies go to great lengths (= use a lot of effort) to make the office environment fun. Elsewhere, the same paper reports that a new movie has swept the board at an international award ceremony. When someone or something sweeps the board, they win all the awards that are available. Continue reading “Let’s call it a day. (Everyday idioms in newspapers)”

Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure)

by Kate Woodford

Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty

Some of the time we are absolutely certain about our opinions and feelings, but now and then we are not. This post looks at the words and phrases that we use to express the fact that we are unsure, either of the way we feel or the way we think.

Sometimes we don’t understand how we feel about something because we seem to experience two opposite emotions or reactions at the same time. A very common phrase for this is mixed feelings/emotions: I had mixed feelings about leaving home – in some ways sad, but also quite excited.

The same idea can be expressed by the adjective ambivalent:

Many were ambivalent about the experience, expressing both positive and negative views. Continue reading “Mixed feelings. (the language of being unsure)”

It’s the thought that counts. (The language of giving and receiving gifts)

by Kate Woodford

karandaev/iStock/Getty Images Plus
karandaev/iStock/Getty Images Plus

With the holiday season fast approaching, many of you will be braving the crowds in shops and shopping malls in order to find the perfect gift for a family member or friend. With presents very much on our mind, we thought it might be interesting to look at the language of gifts and giving.

For people that you know well, you will probably want to give a gift that is thoughtful and personal. If you can’t find what you are looking for in the shops, you might decide against a store-bought present and instead give a homemade gift. Or you might choose a gift token (or gift voucher), allowing the family member or friend to choose what they want for themselves, though you may think this approach lacks the personal touch (=the quality of being chosen specially for one person). Continue reading “It’s the thought that counts. (The language of giving and receiving gifts)”

They’re crazy about football. (Talking about interests)

by Kate Woodford

Chris Whitehead/DigitalVision/Getty Images Plus
Chris Whitehead/DigitalVision/Getty Images Plus

This week we’re looking at words and phrases that we use to say that we are interested in something.

If someone enjoys a particular activity or is very interested in a particular subject, we often say, slightly informally, that they are into that thing:

He’s really into jazz.

I got into cooking when I left home.

If they really enjoy something, we might, informally, say that they are mad about or crazy about it:

He’s always been mad about football.

They’re both crazy about basketball. Continue reading “They’re crazy about football. (Talking about interests)”

Describing landscapes

by Kate Woodford

john finney photography/Moment/Getty
john finney photography/Moment/Getty

Have you ever wanted to describe an area of the countryside but found you didn’t have the right words? If so, we’ll fix that this week with a look at words and phrases that we use to describe different landscapes.

To start with the most basic description, an area of land that is mainly covered with grass or trees is often described as green: There are so few green spaces in the city. An area that is especially green, in a way that is attractive, may also be described as lush: lush green valleys. A more literary word for this is verdant: All around her were verdant meadows.

Meanwhile, a landscape that has few or no plants because there is so little rain may be described as arid: Few animals can survive in this arid desert landscape. (A technical description for an area that has little rain but is not completely dry is semi-arid: a semi-arid zone.)

Land that is extremely dry because rain has not fallen for a long time is often said to be parched: parched earth/fields. Sun-baked, meanwhile, describes land that is hard and dry because it has received so little rain for so long: The sun-baked earth was full of cracks.

Other words describe the shape of the land. A hilly area has lots of hills: The countryside round here is very hilly. The phrase rolling hills is often used in descriptions of attractive landscapes with many gentle hills: Everywhere you look, there are rolling hills. The rather literary word undulating is also used to describe this type of landscape: This picturesque village is surrounded by undulating hills.

Meanwhile, a landscape with bigger hills – mountains – is mountainous: a mountainous region. If those mountains have snow on the top, they are often referred to as snow-capped: a snow-capped mountain range.

Still with the shape of the land, craggy describes an area with lots of rocks sticking out: a craggy coastline. Rugged is very similar, describing an area of land that is wild and not flat: These photographs really capture the rugged landscape of the region.

Of course, not all landscapes are green and hilly. An area may be flat. If there are no trees, hills or other interesting features, it may appear rather featureless: It was a grey, featureless landscape.

Two negative adjectives that are sometimes used to describe featureless landscapes are bleak and desolate. Both are used for areas of the countryside that seem empty and cold, with nothing pleasant to look at: The house stands on a bleak hilltop.

Another adjective sometimes used in this context is windswept. A windswept area of land has no trees or other high structures to protect it from the wind: The picture shows a desolate, windswept landscape.

When were you last out in the countryside? How would you describe the landscape?

How to say no politely

by Kate Woodford

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty

Saying no to a kind offer or invitation can be tricky. We often feel slightly embarrassed by it – the last thing we want is to upset or offend the person who is making the offer. Luckily, there are a number of ways to ‘soften’ the refusal – to make it more polite and acceptable. This post aims to show you how.

Let’s imagine someone invites you out to dinner with a group of friends on Friday and you are unable to go. Of course, you could simply reply ‘No, thank you.’ or say ‘I can’t.’ but either of these responses might sound a little rude – or at least, not very friendly! The easiest way to ‘soften’ your reply is to start with an apology and a brief explanation of why you can’t come:

I’m sorry, I’m busy on Friday.

I’m afraid I can’t make this Friday. Continue reading “How to say no politely”

Idioms and phrases related to eating

by Kate Woodford

Moretti/Viant/Caiaimage/Getty
Moretti/Viant/Caiaimage/Getty

It is sometimes said that the next best thing to eating food is talking about food. If this is true, we need the vocabulary with which to do it! In this post, we focus on idioms, phrasal verbs and other phrases that we use to talk about eating.

As you might imagine, many of the more colourful phrases in English relate to eating a lot. Someone who has eaten too much may say informally that they have made a pig of themselves: I made a real pig of myself at lunch. Continue reading “Idioms and phrases related to eating”