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)”

Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)

by Liz Walter

Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Lamaip/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Pronouns are words we use instead of nouns in order to avoid repeating the nouns. Compare the following:

Laura picked up the book. Laura gave the book to Zalie.

Laura picked up the book. She gave it to Zalie.

We use pronouns when we have already mentioned a person or thing, or when it is obvious who or what they are.

The most common pronouns are personal pronouns – pronouns that refer to people or things. The most important thing to remember about these is that (with the exception of you and it), they are different according to whether they are the subject or the object of a sentence. Continue reading “Me, myself and I: How to use pronouns (1)”

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)”

Transitive or intransitive; Countable or uncountable – what does it all mean??

by Liz Walter

RonTech2000/iStock/Getty Images Plus
RonTech2000/iStock/Getty Images Plus

It’s all very well being told that we use many in front of countable plural nouns and much before uncountable nouns, but what happens if you don’t know what ‘countable’ and ‘uncountable’ mean? People like me, who write about language, use these terms all the time but why should we assume that our readers know them? After all, they are quite technical, and most people in the street wouldn’t know their meaning. That’s why I thought we’d take a step back this week and look at a few really basic terms that help learners understand language. Continue reading “Transitive or intransitive; Countable or uncountable – what does it all mean??”

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)”

Turning over a new leaf: idioms and phrases for the New Year

by Liz Walter

Lewis Mulatero/Moment Mobile/Getty
Lewis Mulatero/Moment Mobile/Getty

New Year is a time when we often take stock of our life (think about what is good or bad about it). We may feel that we should draw a line under the past (finish with it and forget about it) and make a fresh start. This post looks at idioms and other phrases connected with this phenomenon.

If we decide to stop doing something we consider to be bad and to start behaving in a better way, we can say that we are going to turn over a new leaf. We might decide to kick a habit such as smoking (stop doing it), have a crack at (try) a new hobby, or even leave a dead-end job (one with no chance of promotion) or finish a relationship that isn’t going anywhere. Continue reading “Turning over a new leaf: idioms and phrases for the New Year”

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)”

Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings

by Liz Walter

KidStock/Blend Images/Getty
KidStock/Blend Images/Getty

At this time of year, many people around the world gather with their families to celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and other festivals. Relatives come to stay with you, share large meals, and give presents. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But when families get together, there can be tension, too. This post looks at some common idioms and phrases that we use to describe what can happen when families have a little too much togetherness.

In our dreams, we imagine cosy family meals with the kids on their best behaviour and everyone being careful to steer clear of (avoid) those topics they know will cause Great-Uncle Henry to go off on one (UK )/go off on someone (US). We want our parties to go (UK) / go off (US) with a bang  (be very successful) so that everyone has a whale of a time (enjoys themselves very much) and Great-Uncle Henry forgets his usual complaints and turns into the life and soul of the party (becomes happy and sociable). Continue reading “Getting into the holiday spirit? Idioms and phrases for family gatherings”

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)”