Previous newsletter questions              and their solutions


Newsletter, 19.04.2018

Prepositions tend to give non-native English speakers plenty of headaches! Here’s an example that is (hopefully) simple. Which version is correct?

 

1. Hey Steve, have you read the latest report ON the competition?

2. Hey Steve, have you read the latest report OVER the competition?

3. Hey Steve, have you read the latest report IN the competition?

4. Hey Steve, have you read the latest report INTO the competition?

 

Needless to say, ‘in’ and ‘into’ can’t help us here. Many people make the mistake of using ‘over’ when they mean ‘about’, but ‘on’ is the correct choice.

 

Example:

Last night there was a great documentary on the ancient Incas!


Newsletter, 29.03.2018

Some people tend to overreact when in a difficult or stressful situation. What do we tell them?

 

1. Don’t make an avalanche out of a rock!

2. Don’t make an elephant out of a mosquito!

3. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill!

4. Don’t make a blizzard out of a snowflake!

 

Even though ‘Don’t make an avalanche out of a rock!’ and ‘Don’t make a blizzard out of a snowflake!’ seem to make sense, and ‘Don’t make an elephant out of a mosquito!’ is the equivalent German idiom, in English we always use ‘mountains’ and ‘molehills’. 

 

Example:

I’m sorry the concert tickets were all sold out, but let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill, OK?


Newsletter, 08.03.2018

Which of the following sentences is correct?

 

1. I would as well like to thank you for your valued advice.

2. I as well would like to thank you for your valued advice.

3. I would also like to thank you for your valued advice.

4. I also would like to thank you for your valued advice.

 

‘As well’ can’t help us here because it always has to come at the end of the sentence or phrase. ‘I also would like’ doesn’t work either, because the adverb ‘also’ has to come directly before the main verb it describes, in this case, ‘like’.

 

Example:

I would also welcome the opportunity for a face-to-face talk.


Newsletter, 27.02.2018

Sometimes we need to work on an important project but something else comes up that distracts us. When that happens, which phrase should we use to describe it?

 

1. I meant to finish the report but got sideswiped by the conference call.

2. I meant to finish the report but got sidelined by the conference call.

3. I meant to finish the report but got side-saddled by the conference call.

4. I meant to finish the report but got sidetracked by the conference call.

 

When you ‘sidetrack’ someone, you distract them from an immediate or important issue. In American English, to ‘sideswipe’ is to strike a glancing blow. To ‘sideline’ is to remove someone from the centre of attention. And ‘side-saddle’ cannot be used as a verb; it is actually a saddle in which the rider has both feet on the same side of the horse.

 

Example:

I was very impressed that Terry didn’t get sidetracked by the new assignments I gave him.


Newsletter, 15.02.2018

Unfortunately, sometimes we have to endure unpleasant situations (stressful meetings, giving or getting bad news, etc.). What idiom do we use to describe this?

 

1. Joanna decided it was best to just bite the bullet and tell her roommate to move out.

2. Joanna decided it was best to just bite the hand that fed her and tell her roommate to move out.

3. Joanna decided it was best to just bite the dust and tell her roommate to move out.

4. Joanna decided it was best to just bite the sour apple and tell her roommate to move out.

 

‘Bite the sour apple’ is a German idiom, but it doesn’t work in English. If you bite the hand that feeds you, you are ungrateful; and if you bite the dust (like in the classic Queen song), it means you get defeated or even die. In the distant past, when soldiers had to have their wounds treated, they bit down on a bullet to keep from crying out.

 

Example:

Look, Ted, I know you don’t want to go to the dentist, but you should really bite the bullet and get it behind you!


Newsletter, 06.02.2018

Very often we need to schedule a meeting, workshop or some other event. How do we communicate the date correctly?

 

1. The workshop will be on the 5th of March 2018.

2. The workshop will be on the 5 March 2018

3. The workshop will be on March the 5 2018.

4. The workshop will be on March 5 2018.

 

We can’t use ‘on the 5 March 2018’ or ‘on March the 5 2018’, because we never use ‘the’ with a simple number. Once we add ‘the’, we need to use an ordinal number such as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. Of course, we can simply say, ‘The workshop will be on 5 March 2018.’ Also, we cannot use ‘on March 5 2018’ as the American date format requires a comma before the year: March 5, 2018.

 

Example:

Oh, I can’t wait until Easter; the 1st of April isn’t that far away!


Newsletter, 25.01.2018

How would you reply to ‘What is your good name?’ in India?

 

1. You would give them your nickname.

2. You would give them all your names.

3. You would simply give them your name.

4. You would give them a ‘fake’ name.

 

Although in British English ‘having a good name’ means that people have a good opinion about someone or something, asking someone for ‘their good name’ in India is simply a polite manner of asking them for their name. It has its roots in old English, where it stood in for ‘honourable’ when you would normally address someone as ‘good sir’, and in Hindi, where one asks ‘Aap ka shubh naam?’ - literally, ‘What is your good name?’

 

Example:

Bengali culture calls for a child to have two names, a pet name to be called by family, and a good name to be used in public.


Newsletter, 16.01.2018

Which of the following predictions is phrased correctly?

 

1. I don’t imagine the client sets a deadline.

2. I don’t imagine the client is setting a deadline.

3. I don’t imagine the client set a deadline.

4. I don’t imagine the client will set a deadline.

 

Options 1 and 2 make no sense, and although 3 is a correct sentence, it would refer to the past, not the future.

 

Example:

I imagine they’ll make up their mind this week.


Newsletter, 19.12.2017

If someone says, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” what does it mean?

 

1. There’s always an opportunity to make money.

2. A bad situation can only get worse.

3. There’s a storm coming.

4. There’s a positive side to everything.

 

If we want to encourage someone to be positive, we remind them that no matter how dark a cloud looks, there is always sunshine behind it: every cloud has a silver lining.

 

Example:

My television broke. Never mind, every cloud has a silver lining, and at least I’ll have more time to read that book you gave me!


Newsletter, 05.12.2017

If we need to explain an erratum, what should we say?

 

1. Your name was wrongly included in the list of contributing experts.

2. Your name was not rightly included in the list of contributing experts.

3. Your name was incorrectly included in the list of contributing experts.

4. Your name was mistakenly included in the list of contributing experts.

 

‘Mistakenly’ has a different meaning, indicating that the expert should not be on the list at all. Similarly, ‘not rightly’ would have also a completely different meaning. The difference between ‘wrongly’ and ‘incorrectly’ is that the former is associated with justice and fairness, while the latter is all about correctness. Since we’re talking about an error, we need ‘incorrectly’ here.

 

Example:

I incorrectly assumed that Jeff would want to join the project team.


Newsletter, 21.11.2017

If a colleague sends us a proposal and we need more details, what should we write?

 

1. Could you please provide more details over it?

2. Could you please provide more details to it?

3. Could you please provide more details under it?

4. Could you please provide more details on it?

 

We can’t use ‘under’ or ‘over’ because they are physical/spatial references (the light switch is over the table; the cat is sleeping under the table). And unlike in German, we can never use ‘to’ to mean ‘about’ or ‘on’. Also, in this particular combination, if we ‘provide details to’, it means we give those details to someone. But we can’t give more details to ‘it’, because ‘it’ refers to their idea.

 

Example:

The report could provide more details on traffic patterns in the city centre.


Newsletter, 07.11.2017

If we think someone misunderstands us, what should we tell them to be polite?

 

1. I think you don’t see my point.

2. I think you didn’t understand me correctly.

3. I don’t think you see where I’m coming from.

4. I believe you didn’t understand my point.

 

We can never use a negation AFTER the verbs ‘think’, ‘believe’ or ‘feel’. We call this rule for verbs on opinions ‘early negation’. So we have to say: “I don’t think you see where I’m coming from.”

 

Example:

I don’t think Mary will approve the plan.


Newsletter, 17.10.2017

When we write an email or letter in English and expect a reply, we often end it with one of these phrases. Which of these can we use?

 

1. I look forward to hear from you.

2. I looking forward to hear from you.

3. I look forward to hearing from you.

4. I looking forward to hearing from you.

 

We look forward to ‘doing’ something – we have to use the ‘-ing’ form. We can’t look forward to ‘do’ something, so 1. is incorrect. 4. doesn’t work because we can’t say ‘I looking’. We would have to say ‘I am looking forward to hearing from you’.


Newsletter, 05.10.2017

If we would like to have a private conversation with someone, what do we informally say?

 

1. Hey Kurt, may I pull your leg?

2. Hey Michael, may I push your buttons?

3. Hey Alex, may I bend your ear?

4. Hey Theresa, may I tweak your nose?

 

Pulling someone’s leg and pushing their buttons are both real idioms, but have very different meanings. And tweaking someone’s nose literally means pinching their nose, something we often do playfully with children. If we want to talk to someone, especially if we want their advice, we ask if we may ‘bend their ear’ a bit.

 

Example:

I know you’re busy, but may I bend your ear for just a few minutes?


Newsletter, 19.09.2017

When we have to plan something (e.g., an agenda) and come up with a first draft that we plan to use but might still need to change, what term should we use?

 

1. I’ve attached the temporary agenda.

2. I’ve attached the tentative agenda.

3. I’ve attached the provisional agenda.

4. I’ve attached the final agenda.

 

Of course, we can’t use ‘final’ because we might still need to change it. ‘Temporary’ or ‘provisional would mean that we will definitely change it. So ‘tentative’ is what we need.

 

Example:

I’ve read the tentative proposal, and it’s fairly promising.

 


Newsletter, 05.09.2017

Let’s try some reported speech. Which of the following is right?

 

1. Carol told me she was very confident the deal would go through.

2. Carol told me she is very confident the deal will go through.

3. Carol told me she would be very confident the deal would go through.

4. Carol told me she is very confident the deal would go through.

 

Since we start reported speech in the PAST tense, answer 1 is the only one that can work; we can’t start with the present or a conditional form.

 

Example:

Madeleine claimed the French market was ready for new growth.

 


Newsletter, 17.08.2017

If we are trying to find an explanation for a problem or issue, what should we say?

 

1. We’re doing our best to get to the top of the problem right now.

2. We’re doing our best to get to the bottom of the problem right now.

3. We’re doing our best to get to the inside of the problem right now.

4. We’re doing our best to get to the outside of the problem right now.

 

That’s right! ‘Inside’ and ‘outside’ can’t help us here. ‘Getting to the top’ is only used in competition. To solve a problem, we need to dig down until we get to its BOTTOM.

 

Example:

Despite our best efforts, we still haven’t got to the bottom of the server problem.

 


Newsletter, 27.07.2017

When trying to determine an applicant or colleague’s potential, we often look at what they’ve done so far. What should we say?

 

1. I’m convinced that Dr Shepard’s considerable learning will be of great value.

2. I’m convinced that Dr Shepard’s considerable experience will be of great value.

3. I’m convinced that Dr Shepard’s considerable experiences will be of great value.

4. I’m convinced that Dr Shepard’s considerable qualification will be of great value.

 

We can’t use ‘learning’ because that’s an activity (something we do, not a quality we possess). ‘Qualification’ should be in the plural to be acceptable in this context. ‘Experiences’ are separate parts of our lives, like snapshots. ‘A trip to London’ and ‘a night at the theatre’ are experiences. But what we learn from those experiences combines to form our ‘experience’, which is always singular.

 

Example:

Though a bit lacking in experience, Sophie has shown a great deal of enthusiasm for the project.


Newsletter, 11.07.2017

We all love a bargain. If something is offered at half price, we talk about:

 

1. a discount of 50% to the price.

2. a discount of 50% off the price.

3. a discount of 50% on the price.

4. a discount of 50% in the price.

 

When we talk about discounts, we use ‘on’. We can say a reduction in or money off something, but we can’t use these with discount.

 

Example:

There is a 5% discount on all orders placed before 1 January.


Newsletter, 22.06.2017

 If we want to set a deadline, what should we say?

 

1. Please submit the print-ready materials latest September 3rd.

2. Please submit the print-ready materials no later than September 3rd.

3. Please submit the print-ready materials not later than September 3rd.

4. Please submit the print-ready materials until September 3rd.

 

We can’t use ‘latest’ (1) on its own, and ‘until’ (4) can never be used for deadlines. Though ‘not later than’ (3) would seem to make good sense, we actually say ‘no later than’ (2).

 

Example:

We’ll need the signed copies back no later than Friday.


Newsletter, 08.06.2017

When we advertise publications, how should we describe them?

 

1. We are pleased to offer high quality reference works.

2. We are pleased to offer reference works with high quality.

3. We are pleased to offer adequate reference works.

4. We are pleased to offer high-quality reference works.

 

‘High quality reference works’ (1) is not correct because it does not have a hyphen, which we need for compound adjectives. ‘Reference works with high quality’ (2) is incorrect because we don't say something is with quality; quality in this case is a characteristic of the reference works, not a separate feature. You should never use ‘adequate reference works’ (3) because ‘adequate’ means just good enough and this adjective is inappropriate when you want to sell something!

 

Example:

The team consistently delivers high-quality reports.


Newsletter, 16.05.2017

Sometimes we need to split up larger tasks or projects into more manageable tasks. If we want to make it clear that we will be responsible for a specific task, what should we say?

 

1. I will take care for the market research.

2. I will care for the market research.

3. I will take care of the market research.

4. I will care about the market research.

 

When we want to make it clear that we will be responsible for a specific task, we say we will take care of it. The expression ‘take care for’ doesn’t exist. We use ‘care for’ in the sense of making sure someone is healthy and happy, like childcare. And ‘care about’ simply means something is important to us, like caring about the environment.

 

Example:

You come up with the strategy, and I’ll take care of the details.


Newsletter, 27.04.2017

When we want to say that someone is a good worker, we say they are:

1. good in their job.

2. good at their job.

3. good for their job.

4. good to their job.

 

Good at (2) means talented or skilled at something. We can’t use good in (1) unless we’re talking about a place – he’s good in the kitchen means that he’s a good cook. Good for (3) is wrong because it means that something is beneficial, e.g., exercise is good for you. Good to (4) doesn’t work because it means to treat someone or something well, e.g., she was always good to animals.

 

Example:

He was very good at solving problems.


Newsletter, 06.04.2017

Very often, our work is affected by changes in policies (corporate, government, EU, etc.). If certain changes come about as a result of a new policy, they come:

 

1. on its doorstep.

2. in its wake.

3. over its head.

4. at its side.

 

We can’t use 1 because if something is on your doorstep, it means it suddenly surprises you. If something is over your head (3), you can’t quite understand it, and someone at your side (4) is a friend to help you. Think of the new policy as a big ship that leaves serious waves behind it.

 

Example:

In the wake of new EU legislation, limits have been placed on phosphate in detergents.


Newsletter, 21.03.2017

Sometimes we have to introduce someone or describe their reputation. If they are outstanding in their field, how should we NOT describe them, i.e., which of the following four options is WRONG?

 

1. Dr Fiori is an esteemed physicist.

2. Dr Fiori is a respected physicist.

3. Dr Fiori is a prominent physicist.

4. Dr Fiori is a famous physicist.

 

We can’t use 4 because ‘famous’ is only used when many people know about someone, such as a celebrity, a politician or an athlete. Scientists and researchers, who stand out in their field, are called prominent, esteemed or respected, as these adjectives also emphasise the quality of their work.

 

Example:

Thanks to his countless publications on quantum dots, Prof. Chaykin is one of the most prominent researchers in his field.


Newsletter, 14.03.2017

Since we all know that four eyes see more than two, it's often a good idea to have someone check our work for us. How do we ask them to do so?

 

1. I'm a little nervous about my report. Could you look into it?

2. I'm a little nervous about my report. Could you look about it?

3. I'm a little nervous about my report. Could you look over it?

4. I'm a little nervous about my report. Could you look after it?

 

We can’t use 1 because 'look into' means investigate; we can’t use 2 because even though 'look about' (=search) exists, 'look about it' does not. And we shouldn’t use 4 because 'look after' is what babysitters do; they make sure small children are taken care of.

 

Example:

I took a few minutes to look over Claudia’s report, and I have to say I was impressed!


Newsletter, 21.02.2017

If we talk about someone’s strong suit, we are referring to:

 

1. what they prefer to wear.

2. what they do best.

3. the type of work they do most often.

4. the type of work they enjoy the most.

 

We can’t use answer 1 because this idiom has nothing to do with clothing; it comes from the four suits (hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds) in poker. Though it might ideally also be what they do most often (answer 3) or truly enjoy doing (answer 4), the true meaning is that they are darn good at it!

 

Example:

If you really need a brilliant specialist for land-use management, I’d ask Beate; it’s definitely her strong suit!


Newsletter, 09.02.2017

When problems arise, it’s always best not to overreact. We say:

 

1. Don’t make an avalanche out of a rock!

2. Don’t make an elephant out of a mosquito!

3. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill!

4. Don’t make a blizzard out of a snowflake!

 

Although answers 1 and 4 seem to make sense, and answer 2 is a German idiom, we always use ’mountains’ and ’molehills’ in English.

 

Example:

I’m sorry the concert tickets were all sold out, but let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill, OK?


Newsletter, 24.01.2017

We very often have to discuss news that covers business-related topics. So what is the right terminology to use if we’re talking about the economy?

 

1. The latest news offers insights into US economical policy.

2. The latest news offers insights into US monetary policy.

3. The latest news offers insights into US economic policy.

 

We can’t use ‘monetary’ because it really has to do with currency, not the economy itself. And we can’t use ‘economical’ because ‘economical’ means cheap, inexpensive or affordable. Topics that deal directly with the economy are called economic.

 

Example:

Economic questions are always important election-year issues.


Newsletter, 12.01.2017

If we want to warn a friend not to make a bold move (like changing job or university) without getting all the facts first, what should we say?

 

1. I know it sounds exciting, but be sure to walk before you run!

2. I know it sounds exciting, but be sure to wash before you dry!

3. I know it sounds exciting, but be sure to look before you leap!

4. I know it sounds exciting, but be sure to brush before you floss!

 

Though the other phrases all make sense in their own way, ‘look before you leap’ is the only idiom we use in this context.

 

Example:

I wanted to buy the sports car the moment I saw it, but my better half warned me to look before I leap!


Newsletter, 13.12.2016

Which Christmas greeting would NOT be suitable in a multicultural context:

 

1. Happy Holidays?

2. Happy Xmas?

3. Holiday Greetings?

4. Season’s Greetings?

 

The suggestion that Xmas is an attempt to cross out Jesus (Christ) and banish religion from the holiday is a misconception. The X stands for the Greek letter Chi, often used to abbreviate the name Christ. The use of Xmas can be traced to the year 1021 when monks in Great Britain used the X while transcribing classical manuscripts into Old English in place of Christ. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first recorded use of Xmas for Christmas dates back to 1551.


Newsletter, 21.11.2016

In emails and casual conversation, we constantly have to explain to people WHY something happened – but in order to do so, what should we write?

 

1. The author has fallen ill. As a consequence, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on her work.

2. The author has fallen ill. As a result, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on her work.

3. The author has fallen ill. As an impact, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on her work.

4. The author has fallen ill. For this reason, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on her work.

 

Even though consequences and results are essentially the same thing, we only say “as a result.” “Impact” is a very strong word and doesn’t belong here. Also, even though “for this reason” makes good sense, native speakers actually never use it.

 

Example:

The train was delayed. As a result, I barely made my connection in Bonn.


Newsletter, 27.10.2016

If you’re surprised and upset about your colleague deciding to leave, what might you say?

 

1. John’s decision really threw me a rope.

2. John’s decision really threw a wrench in the works.

3. John’s decision really threw me for a loop.

4. John’s decision really threw me over.

 

When you’re upset, surprised and confused about something, you can say that it threw or knocked you for a loop.  British English alternative would be to say it knocked you for six. We can’t use 2. because it means to do something that stops a plan succeeding. 1. and 4. aren’t used as idioms, so they don’t work here.

 

Example:

The news of her accident threw me a loop.


Newsletter, 18.10.2016

What can we say when we talk about being in a very difficult situation?

 

1. I’m on a boat without a sail.

2. I’m on a bike without a chain.

3. I’m on a roof without a ladder.

4. I’m up a creek without a paddle. 

 

The correct answer (4) is based on the idea that you’re in a boat on the water but you can’t go anywhere because you don’t have a paddle or an oar. We often leave off the ending and just say: “I’m up a creek.”

 

Example:

If I lose my job, I’ll be up a creek without a paddle.


Newsletter, 22.09.2016

We very often have to set up meetings or other appointments with our colleagues, authors, editors, etc. When we do so, how should we put it? Though we've mailed back and forth, I'm looking forward to:

 

1. finally meeting you in the real.

2. finally meeting you personally.

3. finally meeting you in person.

 

We can't use 1 because (outside of philosophy) we never talk about "the real". And we can't use 2 because that would mean we were personally looking forward to meeting them. If we meet someone face-to-face or (informally) "in the flesh", we meet them "in person".

 

Example:

That Brad Pitt is a totally nice guy, even if he's really not so tall in person.


Newsletter, 03.08.2016

Working on a project

If a project we’re currently working on is not yet ready, it is:

 

1. in the woodwork.

2. on ice.

3. in the pipeline.

4. in the underbrush.

 

We can't use on ice because that means we are not working on the project (and may not come back to it). We can only say something is coming out of the woodwork, which means suddenly appearing from nowhere. And in the underbrush is used to describe a confusing situation: lost in the underbrush of EU legislation. If we'e working on something, it's already in our network (of pipes) and will soon be on its way...

 

Example:

I'm very happy to report that we have five major projects currently in the pipeline, the first of which should be launched in January.


Newsletter, 21.07.2016

Talking about deadlines

You have a deadline for your report. You have to hand it in:

  1. at Friday.
  2. by Friday.
  3. till Friday.
  4. until Friday.

We can't use at with days of the week. Until and till mean the same thing and aren’t used for time limits; they are used to talk about how long something lasts. The weather will be good until Sunday means that the good weather will continue for the next few days and it will change on Saturday. When we talk about deadlines we need to use by: She will be back by Sunday means that she will return on Sunday at the latest.

 

Example:

The project must be finished by October.


Newsletter, 05.07.2016

Resuming contact

If we’re corresponding with someone we haven’t been in touch with for a time, what should we write?

  1. Sorry it’s taken me so long to talk back to you, but ...
  2. Sorry it’s taken me so long to come back to you, but ...
  3. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you, but ...

If we talk back to someone, it means we are disrespectful to them, so hopefully that’s not what we need here. If we use come back, it means we left someone (in the sense of breaking up), so hopefully we don’t want that one, either. To get communication rolling again, we get back to someone.


Newsletter, 16.06.2016

Asking for information

When you are missing some facts and would like a colleague to help you out, you ask for:

  1. an information.
  2. a information.
  3. some information.
  4. some informations.

We ask for some information. A and an can only be used with countable nouns, and information isn't countable, so we can't use 1 or 2. And, unlike in German, information doesn't have a plural form in English, so we can't use 4 either.

 

Example:

I’d like some information on places to visit near Heidelberg.


Newsletter, 31.05.2016

Both/none/the two

When dealing with multiple authors, there are sometimes disagreements. If we are trying to convey that a pair of authors don’t agree on something, what should we write?

  1. Right now the difficulty is that both don’t agree on the structure of the book.
  2. Right now the difficulty is that the two don’t agree on the structure of the book.
  3. Right now the difficulty is that none of them agrees on the structure of the book.

We can’t use none of them because none is never used for groups of TWO (there have to be more than two), and we can’t use both don’t because we can never use both with a negation; both can only be used in the positive (BOTH of them are respected researchers, but THE TWO can’t agree). Note that we can say the two or the two of them.

 

Example:

To solve this dilemma, the two of them should sit down over a nice cup of coffee and settle their differences.


Newsletter, 03.05.2016

Making a phone call

In order to explain the reason for a telephone call,  you would say:

  1. I call about the bill.
  2. I do call about the bill.
  3. I do am calling about the bill.
  4. I’m calling about the bill.

We can’t say either answer 2 or 3. While 1 is grammatically correct, we use the simple present (I call) to talk about things that we do generally or as a rule. If we want to talk about actions that are happening at the moment, we need the present continuous (I am calling).

 

Example:

I’m writing to thank you for the book.


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