Flaring up or bubbling over? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 2.

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by Liz Walter

My last post was about phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs connected to sadness and happiness. This post will look at some other emotions.

Let’s start with anger. If someone suddenly becomes angry, we can say that they flare up. Blow up is similar and often describes an even angrier outburst. We use the preposition at if that anger is directed at a particular person: Continue reading “Flaring up or bubbling over? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 2.”

Sitting on the fence and turning a corner (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

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by Kate Woodford

The idioms and phrases in this week’s post are taken from a range of national newspapers that were published during the course of a weekend. We write a newspaper idioms post every couple of months in order to keep you supplied with up-to-date, commonly used English idioms.

One newspaper reports on the front page that a major British company is ‘on the brink of’ collapse. To be on the brink of or teetering on the brink of, something, (especially something bad), is to be very close to doing it. The same paper writes that the leader of a political party has ‘come under fire’ from within his own party. To come under fire is to be severely criticized.

In the sports pages of that paper, we read that a Formula One champion is set to ‘play hardball’ with his rivals. If a person plays hardball, they are very determined to defeat someone, using force if necessary. On another page of the sports section, a journalist observes that the story of an athlete who has successfully recovered from cancer will ‘strike a chord’ with very many people. If something strikes a chord with you, you understand it and respond to it emotionally, usually because something similar has also happened to you.

Another broadsheet insists that a UK party leader must ‘stop sitting on the fence’ in relation to Brexit. To sit on the fence in a debate is to not support one side or the other. A guest columnist in the same paper claims that he is a ‘dab hand’ at making tasty dishes with kale (= a dark green cabbage). A dab hand is someone who is very good at a particular activity.

A third newspaper comments that many people now have a low opinion of politicians, assuming that they entered politics only to ‘feather their nests’. To feather your (own) nest is to deliberately make yourself rich, usually by doing something dishonest. In an article on ‘ethical fashion’, a campaigner claims that the fashion world has finally ‘turned a corner’ and is now serious about environmental issues. If a situation turns a/the corner, it improves after a difficult period.

Finally, all the newspapers report that people in their millions have ‘taken to the streets’ to protest against climate change. Take to the streets is a phrase that newspapers often use simply to mean ‘demonstrate’.




He’s pulling your leg! Idioms with ‘pull’.


by Liz Walter

There are a surprising number of commonly used idioms that contain the verb ‘pull’. This post will look at some of the most useful ones.

Let’s start with the idiom in the title. If you accuse someone of pulling your leg, you mean that you believe they are teasing you by saying something that isn’t true. If we think that someone is teasing us in that way, we might say Pull the other leg/one!’, or even the longer version Pull the other one – it’s got bells on!. This shows that we don’t believe them.

She’s just pulling your leg – she doesn’t really expect you to do all the cooking.

You have a pet lion? Pull the other one!

We use ‘pull’ in several idioms connected with people making an effort and doing what they should do. If someone pulls their weight, they do their share of the work and if you pull out all the stops, you make as much effort as possible to ensure that something is successful or impressive.

Anyone who doesn’t pull their weight will have to leave the project.

They pulled out all the stops to make sure the president enjoyed his visit.

On the other hand, if someone tells you to pull your socks up, they are saying in an angry way that you should do something better.

You need to pull your socks up and start taking your studies a bit more seriously!

There are two nice ‘pull’ idioms connected with stopping things. If you pull the plug on an activity, you stop it, often by not spending any more money on it, and if you pull the rug from under someone’s feet, you suddenly stop supporting them or do something that causes serious problems for them:

They decided to pull the plug on their latest venture after disappointing sales in the first year.

We were planning a surprise party for their anniversary but they pulled the rug from under our feet by announcing they were going away on a cruise.

If you say that someone didn’t pull their punches, or didn’t pull any punches, you mean that they say something in a very direct way, without trying to be kind or tactful:

She told me exactly what she thought of my novel and she didn’t pull any punches.

And finally – a rather painful image! – if you say that doing something is like pulling teeth, you mean that it is very difficult and often slow to do:

Getting my boss to agree to any change is like pulling teeth.

I hope that learning these useful idioms won’t be like pulling teeth, so try to pull out all the stops to learn them!

Dreary and mind-numbing: interesting ways of saying ‘boring’

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by Kate Woodford

We recently looked at different ways of saying ‘interesting’. Sadly, not everything in life is fascinating, absorbing or gripping. Now and then, something that we watch, read or in some other way experience is, well… boring. However, if you read this post, you’ll at least be able to use interesting words and phrases to say that things are boring! Continue reading “Dreary and mind-numbing: interesting ways of saying ‘boring’”

Weighed down or perking up? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 1

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by Liz Walter

Phrasal verbs are a very important part of English (even if students hate them!) and I have written several posts explaining useful ones. I realised recently that there is a surprisingly large number of phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs relating to emotions. Today I am going to concentrate on happiness and sadness. My next post will cover some other emotions, and a final post will present a selection of phrasal verbs for talking more generally about emotions. Continue reading “Weighed down or perking up? Phrasal verbs to express emotions, part 1”

Couch potatoes and peas in a pod: more food idioms

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by Kate Woodford

Last month, we looked at idioms featuring words for sweet items of food. Changing the order in which we usually eat food, (savoury, then sweet), we’re now focusing on idioms that feature words for savoury (UK)/savory (US) food. Continue reading “Couch potatoes and peas in a pod: more food idioms”

Eggs are in aisle 3: the language of supermarket shopping

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by Liz Walter

Food shopping is something that nearly all of us do, and it is the kind of basic topic that is often quite difficult in another language. This post looks at some words and phrases you might need if you go to a supermarket in an English-speaking country. Note that — as so often with everyday language —  there are lots of differences between UK and US vocabulary. Continue reading “Eggs are in aisle 3: the language of supermarket shopping”

Pieces of cake and sour grapes: food idioms

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by Kate Woodford

This week, we’re looking at English idioms that feature food and drink words. As there are lots of these idioms, we’re focusing today on idioms containing words for sweet food. Next month, we’ll publish a post on savoury (UK) or savory (US) food idioms.

Continue reading “Pieces of cake and sour grapes: food idioms”

Rising sea levels, endangered species and renewable energy: talking about climate change

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by Liz Walter

I’ve written a couple of posts on collocations (word partners) recently, and a reader suggested some specific collocation topics, one of which was the environment. Climate change is in the news a lot, particularly because of the campaigning of the Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg. So here are some collocations to help you talk about this vitally important topic.

Continue reading “Rising sea levels, endangered species and renewable energy: talking about climate change”

Absorbing and thought-provoking: words meaning ‘interesting’

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by Kate Woodford

On this blog, we often look at the various English words and phrases that we use to express the same concept. This week we’re focusing on the word ‘interesting’. There are lots of synonyms (or rather, ‘near-synonyms’) for this adjective but most carry an extra meaning. In this post, I’ll try to show the differences in meaning between these near-synonyms and provide you with a range of ‘interesting’ vocabulary!

Continue reading “Absorbing and thought-provoking: words meaning ‘interesting’”