We’re making headway! (Idioms and phrases used to talk about progress)

by Kate Woodford​
As part of our occasional series on idioms used in or in relation to business, we look today at the important area of making projects happen – getting projects started, making progress with those projects and, as sometimes happens, failing to make progress.

Starting at the beginning, if a plan gets or is given the go-ahead, permission is given for it to start: Plans for a new building at the university have been given the go-ahead. Another idiom which means much the same is to give the green light to something: The council has given the green light to the new development. You can also say that you get a project off the ground. If you get a project off the ground, you manage to make it start successfully: A lot more money will be required to get the project off the ground. Similarly, to start/set/get the ball rolling is to start to make something happen: Once we have permission for the project, we can start the ball rolling. Meanwhile, if a project is in the pipeline, it is being planned, though has not yet started: We have a number of projects in the pipeline, though none are due to start immediately. Continue reading “We’re making headway! (Idioms and phrases used to talk about progress)”

Take the rough with the smooth (Idioms to describe dealing with problems)

by Kate Woodford​
Readers of this blog will know that from time to time, we focus on frequent idioms. This week, we’re looking at idioms that we use to describe the way we deal with – or fail to deal with – problems and difficult situations.

Starting with the positive, if you are in a difficult situation and you take it (all) in your stride (UK)/take it in stride (US), the situation does not upset or worry you: Sarah often has problems with staff but she takes it all in her stride. Someone who weathers the storm or rides the storm is not harmed during a difficult period. You might say this of a person whose reputation is not damaged despite difficulties: For a while, the scandal threatened to destroy the president, but somehow he weathered the storm. Meanwhile, to get/come to grips with a difficult situation or task means to succeed in starting to deal with it: This is a problem that the government really needs to get to grips with. Continue reading “Take the rough with the smooth (Idioms to describe dealing with problems)”

Lectures, lessons and seminars: words and phrases for talking about studying (2).

by Liz Walter​
I passed my exams
As promised last time, this post continues the theme of study, and once again there are many differences between British and American English.

In the UK, the school year is divided into three periods, called terms. In the US, the school year can be divided into two periods, called semesters, or three periods, called trimesters. Many US universities have summer periods, so their year is divided into quarters. Students have a timetable (UK)/schedule (US) to tell them the times of their classes. To talk about what is taught in a particular subject area, we use the words syllabus or curriculum.

The person in charge of a school is called the headteacher in UK English and the principal in US English. Continue reading “Lectures, lessons and seminars: words and phrases for talking about studying (2).”

I passed my exams!: words and phrases for talking about studying (1).

by Liz Walter​
Almost everyone needs to talk about education now and then, so this blog post looks at some useful words and phrases connected with studying. It describes the most typical systems in the UK and the US, and explains some important differences between UK and US vocabulary.

The very youngest schoolchildren have a reception year in the UK and a kindergarten year in the US. After that, Brits talk about year 1, year 2, etc., while US children are in first grade, second grade, etc. The word grade is also used in US English to talk about scores in exams or written work. British English uses mark: He always gets good grades/marks.

In general, the UK has primary schools for ages 5-11 and secondary schools for ages 11-16, followed by sixth form colleges for ages 16-18. In the US, elementary schools teach grades 1-5 or 1-6, middle schools grades 6-8 or junior high schools grades 7-8, and high schools grades 9-12. Continue reading “I passed my exams!: words and phrases for talking about studying (1).”

Queen Elizabeth ll – Britain’s longest-reigning monarch

by Kate Woodford​

At around 5:30 p.m. this afternoon (September 9th, 2015), Queen Elizabeth II will become Britain’s longest-serving British monarch. She will break the record established by her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, (b.1819 – d. 1901), having so far reigned for an impressive 63 years and seven months. To mark the occasion, we are posting a short piece on the subject, including dictionary-linked words and phrases that we hope you will find interesting.

Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in the February of 1952, aged just 25, on the death of her father, King George VI. Her coronation at Westminster Abbey took place a year later, in June 1953, to allow an appropriate period of mourning for the King. It was the first coronation to be shown on television and was broadcast at the Queen’s insistence. It is often observed that in the years since the Queen’s coronation, the world has changed massively. Queen Elizabeth, with her husband at her side (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), has remained the one constant. (Interestingly, Prince Philip is himself the longest-serving consort of a British monarch). Just today, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Queen had been a “rock of stability” in an era when so much had changed, and that her reign had been the “golden thread running through three post-war generations“. Continue reading “Queen Elizabeth ll – Britain’s longest-reigning monarch”

Do you have what it takes? (Everyday idioms in newspapers)

by Kate Woodford​
As part of an occasional series on the subject of common idioms, we recently posted a blog which featured the idioms which we heard in spoken English during the course of a week. This week, we’re taking a different approach, picking out the idioms used in a range of national newspapers that were published on the same day. As with the previous post, we have only included the most frequent idioms – in other words, the sort of phrases that you are likely to hear or read nowadays.

One newspaper reports that a politician has criticized doctors as a group, claiming that they do not understand how their patients suffer when they wait a long time to be treated. Doctors, the politician complains, are ‘out of touch’.  To be out of touch is to not have the most recent information about a subject or a situation. On a different page, the same newspaper complains that a large sum of public money (330 thousand pounds) has been spent on equipment that will never be used. ‘£330k down the drain!’ reads the headline. Money down the drain (informal) is money wasted.

Another newspaper reports that a request by many people to stop a building from being destroyed has ‘fallen on deaf ears’. A request or warning that falls on deaf ears is not listened to. On the same page, the newspaper writes that the people of one country have ‘taken to the streets’. When people take to the streets, they show that they are against something by going to a public place and shouting, often while carrying signs. Elsewhere, the newspaper promises that cures for some diseases are ‘on the horizon‘, meaning that they are likely to happen soon.
Continue reading “Do you have what it takes? (Everyday idioms in newspapers)”

Does that sound like a plan? (Making plans)

by Kate Woodford
This week we’re looking at the sort of things we say to our friends when we are planning to do something together – the words and phrases that we naturally use when we are looking at our calendars and fixing a time and a place to do something.

You will probably start by trying to find a time when you and a friend are both free. You might say ‘Are you free next Thursday?’ or ‘Is next Thursday any good for you?’. You can ask the same question with the slightly more informal phrases, ‘Does next Thursday work for you?’ or ‘How are you fixed for next Thursday?’

If you can’t meet your friend on that day because you have already arranged to do something, you might say (UK) ‘I have something on that evening.’ or (US) ‘I have something going on.’ Or you may simply say, ‘I’m afraid I’m busy that evening.’ If you want to suggest a different time when you are free, you can say ‘I could do Friday evening. Is that any good?’ If your friend can’t do a particular date, you might say, ‘How about Sunday? Does that work better?’ Continue reading “Does that sound like a plan? (Making plans)”

Are you a glass-half-full person? (Everyday Idioms)

by Kate Woodford
A reader of this blog recently asked for a post on idioms that are used in everyday English. This seemed like a reasonable request. After all, if you are going to make the effort to learn a set of English idioms, you want those idioms to be useful. The question, then, was how to decide which idioms to write about. There are a great number of idioms in the English language, but some are rarely used. In the end, I decided to keep an idioms diary for a week, and make a note of any idioms that I heard people use in conversation. From this set of idioms, I chose a few that I considered to be common in contemporary, conversational English and have presented them here.

Early in the week, a radio presenter told his colleague that she was ‘opening up a can of worms’ when she said something that many people would disagree with. A can of worms (informal) is a situation or subject that causes a lot of problems or arguments when you start to deal with it or discuss it. The verb ‘open (up)’ is often used with this phrase. The same presenter later talked about occasions when he really wanted to say what he thought, but instead ‘bit his tongue’. To bite your tongue is to stop yourself from saying something that might upset someone or make them angry. Continue reading “Are you a glass-half-full person? (Everyday Idioms)”

As fresh as a daisy: using similes in English.

by Liz Walter​
There are two ways of forming similes. The first is with as … as:

The countryside here is as flat as a pancake.

I knew Polly was scared because she was as white as a sheet.

These similes have the structure: as + adjective + as a/an + noun.

We use them to emphasize the adjective. The examples above mean that the countryside is extremely flat, and Polly’s face was very pale.

Here are a few more very common similes:

as stubborn as a mule

as light as a feather

as different as chalk and cheese Continue reading “As fresh as a daisy: using similes in English.”

May I sit here? Asking for and giving permission.

by Liz Walter​
We often find ourselves in situations where we need to ask for permission or to reply to people who ask us for permission. Here are some words and phrases to help you do this in a natural way.

The simplest way to ask for permission is with the modal verb can:

Can I sit here?

Can we come in, please?

In a more formal situation, where you want to be very polite, you can use may:

May I borrow your pen?

May we look at the documents?

If you are asking about something that might have an effect on the person you are asking, you could say ‘Do you mind if …?’:

Do you mind if I open the window? Continue reading “May I sit here? Asking for and giving permission.”