If someone asks our opinion on something (a book, a film, etc.) and we didn’t find it particularly good or interesting, how do we describe it?
1. Hmm, it was nothing to sniff at.
2. Hmm, it was nothing to shake a stick at.
3. Hmm, it was nothing to write home about.
4. Hmm, it was nothing to complain about.
Although we do say ‘not to be sniffed at’ (worth having, accepting or considering) and ‘more than you can shake a stick at’ (a lot; more than you can count), both are used incorrectly in this case. When there’s ‘nothing to complain about’, things are okay—you cannot find fault with them. However, when something is ‘nothing to write home about’, it’s very mediocre and unexceptional—not particularly good or interesting.
The salad was delicious, but the steak was nothing to write home about.
Every now and then, we’re lucky enough to meet someone who is truly generous and eager to help us. If we know someone who is a genuinely giving person, we can say:
1. The great thing about Sven is he’d give you the cheese off his sandwich.
2. The great thing about Sven is he’d give you the shoes off his feet.
3. The great thing about Sven is he’d give you his very last beer.
4. The great thing about Sven is he’d give you the shirt off his back.
Though a sandwich without cheese is a sad thing, giving away your very last beer is practically unthinkable for some of us, and it would certainly be a sacrifice to have no shoes, we say that a generous person would give you the shirt off their back!
Look, I know you and Doug don’t always see eye to eye, but you have to admit that if you were in trouble he’d give you the shirt off his back.
When we talk about habits, we say: I always wear my seat belt …
1. … in case I get into an accident.
2. … if I get into an accident.
3. … for the case that I get into an accident.
4. … when I get into an accident.
We use ‘in case’ to talk about precautions. ‘If I get into an accident’ would mean that we wait until we have a crash and then put the seat belt on, and ‘when I get into an accident’ would mean that every time we have a crash, which happens quite regularly, we wear a seat belt. We don’t say ‘for the case that’ at all.
I’ll give you my phone number in case you need to call me.
After a long morning at the office you’re hungry. What do you say to your colleagues?
1. I suggest to stop for lunch.
2. I suggest to stop in lunch.
3. I suggest, that we stop for lunch.
4. I suggest stopping for lunch.
We can’t use ‘I suggest to stop’ because we never suggest TO DO something and we stop ‘for’ not ‘in’ lunch (‘in’ is the wrong preposition). ‘I suggest, that’ would be correct except for the comma: we can’t have a comma between that and a verb that means some sort of mental action such as suggest, think, hope, etc.
I suggest finishing work early today.
I suggest that we finish work early today.
Today let’s talk about popularity! If we want to say that an author’s book has sold very well, how do we say this?
1. Her first book produced a great resonance.
2. Her first book was very well-received.
3. Her first book arrived extremely well.
4. Her first book touched down very well.
We can’t use ‘resonance’ because it is really used for sounds in English, like echoes or church bells. And we can’t use ‘arrive’ or ‘touch down’ because books and other publications simply don’t do that—only airplanes and ships do! When a book or anything else is given a positive or friendly reception, or favourably regarded or reviewed, it is ‘well-received’.
Though no one can say what the sequel will look like, the first film was extremely well-received in France.
If we want to applaud someone’s ability to react quickly, what do we say?
1. Say what you will, but James can really think on his legs!
2. Say what you will, but James can really think on his arms!
3. Say what you will, but James can really think on his hands!
4. Say what you will, but James can really think on his feet!
When we’re trying to describe how quickly someone thinks and reacts, we talk about how they think ‘on their feet’. They don’t have to sit down and ponder things; they can be spontaneous.
Give him a bit of time; thinking on his feet isn’t his strong suit.
If something is very expensive, what do we say?
1. Buy it if you want, but it will cost you an ear and an eye!
2. Buy it if you want, but it will cost you your nose and your mouth!
3. Buy it if you want, but it will cost you a finger and a toe!
4. Buy it if you want, but it will cost you an arm and a leg!
Even though we don’t really want to lose any body parts, if something is TRULY expensive, we say it costs an arm and a leg.
Jeff didn’t want something that cost an arm and a leg, so he chose a more basic model.
What do we say when something is done just to keep up appearances and avoid trouble?
1. Although he promised to do better, all we’ve seen is a coin effort.
2. Although he promised to do better, all we’ve seen is a cash effort.
3. Although he promised to do better, all we’ve seen is a token effort.
4. Although he promised to do better, all we’ve seen is a dollar effort.
The word ‘token’ has several interesting meanings. In everyday life, a token can be a coin used for a special purpose (such as washing your car at the car wash). When used as an adjective, however, it has a very different, negative meaning: instead of truly fulfilling a promise, someone does the very minimum that it takes to seemingly keep the promise (and avoid criticism). That’s called making a token effort.
I’m not interested in a token effort; either do it for real or forget about it!
If we succeed in solving a nagging problem, what do we say?
1. Yesterday I met with Brad, and we managed to rub in the problem.
2. Yesterday I met with Brad, and we managed to iron out the problem.
3. Yesterday I met with Brad, and we managed to fold up the problem.
4. Yesterday I met with Brad, and we managed to take down the problem.
If we were to think of a problem as a piece of laundry (such as a dress shirt), it wouldn’t help if we were to rub in a problematic stain. Folding it up or taking it down would, likewise, not get rid of the problem. That’s why we say we ‘iron out’ a problem: minor disagreements and conflicts are like wrinkles, so if we invest a bit of careful work, we can make them disappear.
Before we have a real problem, I want you to sit down with Linda and try to iron out your differences.
If we want to say that an article is ready for publication, what should we say?
1. I’m happy to say the review process will now be completed.
2. I’m happy to say the review process is now completed.
3. I’m happy to say the review process has now been completed.
4. I’m happy to say the review process would now be completed.
‘Will now be completed’ would mean that the review process isn’t finished yet, so the article isn’t ready for publication. ‘Is now completed’ is wrong: we need to change ‘completed’ to the adjective ‘complete’ to construct the sentence in the present tense (‘is now complete’). ‘Would now be completed’ is also wrong, because it starts out with a factual statement before turning hypothetical in the second half. Since completion is a process, we use the present perfect ‘has now been completed’.
Since Eric has completed his traineeship, he can start job-hunting.
When someone gives you something to read that you don’t understand at all, you can say:
1. I only understand station.
2. That’s all Greek to me.
3. That sounds like Spanish to me.
4. I can’t see the forest for the trees.
‘I only understand station’ and ‘That sounds like Spanish to me’ aren’t English idioms. When someone can’t see the forest (or woods) for the trees it means that they are concentrating on the details and can’t see the overall situation, so ‘I can’t see the forest for the trees’ is wrong too. When we don’t understand something—often because it’s too complicated or has too much jargon—we can say, “That’s all Greek to me.”
I’ve tried reading the report, but it’s all Greek to me.
What would we say when we want to compare two things?
1. My new office is twice as large as my old one.
2. My new office is twice so large as my old one.
3. My new office is twice as large like my old one.
4. My new office is twice as large than my old one.
When we compare two things, we need to use ‘as + adjective + as …’. In this case, the adjective is ‘large’. ‘As large like’, ‘as large than’ and ‘so large as’ don’t exist!
Though a hard worker, John isn’t as clever as Jane.
Since Thursday is a public holiday, many people in Germany are taking the ‘Brückentag’ on Friday off, which means that their weekend starts today. Congratulations, you earned it! But do you know how we say we are taking the ‘Brückentag’ off in English?
1. I’m taking the bridge-over day off.
2. I’m taking the long weekend off.
3. I’m taking a bridge over the weekend.
4. I’m bridging the weekend.
Germans have the habit of merging all manner of words together to form new words that have a unique meaning. These single words are of course sometimes impossible to translate into English without using an entire sentence. A ‘Brückentag’ is a day that occurs between a public holiday and a weekend, generally a Monday or a Friday: it literally bridges the public holiday and the weekend, or vice versa. We simply refer to such occurrences as ‘long weekends’ when we take the ‘Brückentag’ off too! Words like ‘Brückentag’ are one of the reasons you should have a native speaker translate your texts.
The promise of balmy spring days was enough for me to take the Friday off too and spend the long weekend by the sea.
Idioms help us speak more naturally. If a colleague asks you to ‘cast your eye over’ something, they want you to:
1. Have a quick look at it.
2. Ignore it.
3. Go through it in detail.
4. Do it for them.
To ‘cast an eye over’ something means to scan or check it quickly without going into detail. By the way, if we ignore something, we ‘turn a blind eye to it’.
Could you cast your eye over the figures and tell me what you think?
You would like your colleague to keep you informed about a project and involve you in any decisions. What do you say?
1. Keep me on the ball.
2. Put me in the loop.
3. Keep me in the loop.
4. Keep me out of the woods.
We can’t use ‘keep me on the ball’ because being on the ball means that you are knowledgeable and aware of things, and only you can do that! If you are ‘out of the woods’, you are out of danger. ‘We’re not out of the woods yet!’ means that the situation is still serious. We don’t PUT someone in the loop; we KEEP them in the loop.
Thanks for the update. Keep me in the loop.
Today let’s talk about something we all enjoy: travel! If we’re going somewhere and take the train, what do we say if someone calls us on the phone?
1. It’s a little loud; I’m in the train right now.
2. It’s a little loud; I’m by the train right now.
3. It’s a little loud; I’m within the train right now.
4. It’s a little loud; I’m on the train right now.
We can’t use ‘by’ because it would mean that we are ‘next to’ the train, which won’t get us very far. We don’t say that we are ‘in’ (even though it may sound logical!) or ‘within’ the train (that would mean inside the engine!). We say we are ‘on’ the train. The same applies to buses and aeroplanes.
There’s been a delay, and I’m still stuck on the train.
How would you tell your boss that your prospective clients will be attending a meeting?
1. They're going to be at the meeting too.
2. They are going to be at the meeting too.
3. They will be at the meeting too.
4. They'll be at the meeting too.
You could say, ‘They're going to be at the meeting too.’ However, ‘They are going to be at the meeting too,’ is also correct. ‘They will be at the meeting too,’ is not wrong either. And, coming to think of it, even, ‘They'll be at the meeting too,’ is right.
April fool! All answers are correct! Rather than playing a trick on you, we thought we'd make sure you all got the answer right for a change! Doesn't that feel good!
Have a wonderful spring day!
A verb form that often causes headaches is the past tense of ‘to lead’. If we want to state that someone was in charge of something in the past, what should we say?
1. Professor Robards lead the initiative way back in 1986.
2. Professor Robards leaded the initiative way back in 1986.
3. Professor Robards unleaded the initiative way back in 1986.
4. Professor Robards led the initiative way back in 1986.
‘Lead’ can either be a verb in the present tense or a noun meaning a soft, heavy bluish-grey metal (pronounced like ‘bed’). Both do not fit. ‘Leaded’ and ‘unleaded’ are not verbs at all: they are adjectives describing types of fuel (with or without lead). They do not fit either.
Since I didn’t know where we were, Martin led the way back to camp.
If we want to say that a text, report or presentation takes certain trends into account, what should we say?
1. The content contemplates the latest developments in the Indonesian market.
2. The content reflects on the latest developments in the Indonesian market.
3. The content reflects the latest developments in the Indonesian market.
4. The content deflects the latest developments in the Indonesian market.
Only people can ‘contemplate’ things, so this option cannot help us. And ‘reflect on’ means exactly the same thing, so it can be ruled out, as well. ‘Deflect’ means that we repel or bat something away (physically), so it’s no good. ‘Reflect’ is the only option that works. By the way, ‘mirrors’ is often used in the same context.
Are you sure these figures accurately reflect the current situation?
When talking about the status of a project, which of the following sentences is correct?
1. There have been several important headways in the last five years.
2. There have been several important progresses in the last five years.
3. There have been several important advances in the last five years.
4. There have been several important forwards in the last five years.
‘Headway’ and ‘progress’ can be used to describe that something moves forward and develops well but cannot be used in the plural (‘progresses’ does exist as a verb in the third singular present tense, see the example below). ‘Forwards’ refers to emails or attachments that colleagues sends to us after having received them. ‘Advances’ is the only correct choice here.
As the twenty-first century progresses, I continue to be amazed by the rapid advances in medicine.
If we are trying to tell the difference between two things, what should we say?
1. This approach will allow us to discriminate against new and returning customers.
2. This approach will allow us to make a difference between new and returning customers.
3. This approach will allow us to distinguish between new and returning customers.
4. This approach will allow us to develop against new and returning customers.
If we ‘discriminate against’ someone, we treat them badly because of their sex, ethnicity, etc. (something we really don’t want to do with customers). ‘Develop against’ makes no sense at all, and ‘make a difference’ means that you achieve an important change. If we are merely trying to tell one thing from another, we need to ‘distinguish between’ them.
Even after five years, I can’t always distinguish between the twins.
If someone is very hopeful and optimistic about something, but we don’t think their plans will work out, what would we say?
1. Alice, I don’t want to snow on your party, but I don’t think your idea will work.
2. Alice, I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I don’t think your idea will work.
3. Alice, I don’t want to hail on your picnic, but I don’t think your idea will work.
4. Alice, I don’t want to sleet on your celebration, but I don’t think your idea will work.
Though it’s no fun if we throw a party and there’s any kind of precipitation (snow, rain, hail or sleet), the only correct idiom is ‘rain on your parade.’
Steve was in such a good mood about his upcoming presentation; did you really have to rain on his parade by criticising it?
If we want to praise someone’s ability to work with others, what should we say?
1. I greatly admire how sensory Jim is to the needs of others.
2. I greatly admire how sensible Jim is to the needs of others.
3. I greatly admire how sensitive Jim is to the needs of others.
4. I greatly admire how senseless Jim is to the needs of others.
‘Sensory’ means ‘related to the senses,’ and ‘senseless’ means either that something is pointless, or that someone has been struck and is now dazed. Two words that are sometimes confused are ‘sensible’ and ‘sensitive’. ‘Sensible’ means that either a person or their idea makes good sense. But someone who has a good feel for what other people want or need and is empathetic is ‘sensitive.’
You’d have more luck getting along with Helen if you managed to be a bit more sensitive.
As usual, Christmas has crept up on you. You’re painfully aware that your Christmas shopping is nowhere near done. What do you say when someone asks you about it?
1. I hadn’t got it done yet.
2. I haven’t got it done yet.
3. I mustn’t have got it done yet.
4. I won’t have got it done yet.
The word ‘yet’ is a signal that nearly always means we need the present perfect tense, because it signals that something has started in the past and extends into the present, i.e. the time of speaking. If a project, task, etc. still is not done at the moment of speaking and we’re a bit surprised and/or unhappy about that, we therefore should use the present perfect.
Haven’t you finished polishing your car yet? It’s been two hours!
You’ve had a busy day and dealt with several problems but managed to stay calm. Your computer has just crashed and you finally lose your temper. What do we say?
1. It was the last straw.
2. It was the last grass.
3. It was the last barrel.
4. It was the last drop.
When you talk about the last thing in a series of unpleasant or unfortunate events that ultimately makes you lose your patience or temper, you say it was the ‘last’ or ‘final straw.’ It comes from a proverb about a camel that was loaded with so much straw that eventually the last straw broke the camel’s back.
She’s always been rude to me, but when she insulted my mother it was the last straw.
Policies change over time. What do we say when we want to introduce a new policy that also applies to the past and not just to the present and future?
1. Please note that the new subscription policy will come into backward effect.
2. Please note that the new subscription policy will come into special effects.
3. Please note that the new subscription policy will come into effect immediately.
4. Please note that the new subscription policy will come into effect retroactively.
There is no such thing as a ‘backward effect,’ and ‘special effects’ are used in movies. Although something can come into effect immediately, that does not affect the past. We need the adverb ‘retroactively’ (or the fancy Latin expression ‘ex post facto’) for that.
Scott was pleased to learn that the new policy handling performance bonuses would come into effect retroactively because he had just completed a really successful project in March.
When we have to reschedule a meeting for a later date, we ‘postpone’ it. But what do we say if we need an earlier date than originally planned?
1. Because of scheduling conflicts, we’d like to speed up the meeting.
2. Because of scheduling conflicts, we’d like to move up the meeting.
3. Because of scheduling conflicts, we’d like to prepone the meeting.
4. Because of scheduling conflicts, we’d like to reterminate the meeting.
We cannot use ‘speed up’ because it would mean ‘make the meeting go faster.’ The expression ‘reterminate’ makes no sense at all and ‘prepone’ does not exist, at least not in US or GB English. To make sure you’re correctly understood, use ‘move up.’
As he planned to be away in January, Ted asked if we could move the meeting up by a week.
You have a deadline for your report. You have to hand it in:
1. … until Friday.
2. … at Friday.
3. … by Friday.
4. … till Friday.
We cannot use ‘at’ with days of the week. ‘Until’ and ‘till’ mean the same thing and are not used for time limits; rather, 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 submit her article by Sunday,’ means that she will send her article on Sunday at the latest.
The project must be finished by November.
Today is your chance to learn another useful English idiom! When we say ‘somebody dropped the ball’, it means:
1. They told us some very bad news.
2. They decided to give up on a project.
3. They made a difficult decision.
4. They did not pay enough attention to their work.
If someone ‘drops the ball’, it means they either did not pay attention or did not live up to their responsibilities. It does not have to do with choices or bad news. The phrase comes from ball games, where dropping the ball while it is in play is a mistake that may turn out bad for the team.
Well, obviously somebody dropped the ball, because the report isn’t ready yet.
When we want to say that there are not as many newspapers sold as there used to be, which phrase can we use?
1. There are less newspapers sold now.
2. There are fewer newspapers sold now.
3. There are little newspapers sold now.
4. There are not as less newspapers sold now.
We can’t use ‘little’ because this would mean that the newspapers have a small format. ‘Not as less’ doesn’t exist, so we can’t use it. If the noun is countable, we use ‘fewer’, and if the noun isn’t countable (for example, rain, money, information, milk, etc.) we use ‘less’. Therefore, since there can be two, three or more newspapers, they are countable, so we need ‘fewer’.
Example: There are fewer cars on the road now than during rush hour at five.
BUT: There is less traffic now than during rush hour at five.
How do we describe something that only happens very rarely?
1. Thankfully, we only run out of coffee once in a blue moon.
2. Thankfully, we only run out of coffee as the crow flies.
3. Thankfully, we only run out of coffee every other day.
4. Thankfully, we only run out of coffee around the clock.
A blue moon isn’t something you see very often; hence, ‘once in a blue moon’ has come to mean that something happens very rarely. ‘As the crow flies’ (in a straight line) is used to describe distances. ‘Every other day’ (every two days) and ‘around the clock’ (all the time) would indicate that we drink too much coffee and that we never have enough to keep us going. Now, where’s my coffee?
Once in a blue moon, I can enjoy jazz; but I’m not really a fan.
Let’s talk money! What is the correct way to write ‘five thousand euro’?
4. € 5,000.00
In English we use the decimal point to separate whole numbers and their parts (1.15, 10.36, 100.77), and we use the comma to separate thousands in larger numbers, making them easier to read. This automatically excludes options 1 and 3. Indeed, if a native English speaker were to see option 3 (€5.000,00), they would think you meant FIVE euro and not FIVE THOUSAND! Option 4 is incorrect because we do not put a space between the euro (or any other currency’s) symbol and the number.
Jack: This order form is obviously wrong! I ordered five laptops and they’re billing five thousand!
Jill: That’s because you wrote 5,000 and not 5.000! Next time pay better attention….
In emails and casual conversation, we occasionally have to explain why something happened. What should we write?
1. My colleague has fallen ill. As a consequence, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on her work.
2. My colleague has fallen ill. As an impact, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on his work.
3. My colleague has fallen ill. For this reason, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on her work.
4. My colleague has fallen ill. As a result, we’ll have to wait a bit longer on his 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 never actually use it.
The train was delayed. As a result, I barely made my connection in Bonn.
What do you say when someone gives you something to read that you don’t really understand?
1. I only understand station.
2. It’s all Greek to me.
3. This sounds like Spanish to me.
4. I can’t see the forest for the trees.
‘I only understand station’ and ‘this sounds like Spanish to me’ don’t exist as idioms in English. When someone ‘can’t see the forest (or wood) for the trees’ it means that they are concentrating on the details and can’t see the overall picture. When we don’t understand something—often because it’s too complicated or has too much jargon—we can say, “It’s all Greek to me!”
I’ve tried reading the report, but it’s all Greek to me.
How would you say that you accept something, although you don’t like or agree with it?
1. I’ll put upon with it.
2. I’ll put in with it.
3. I’ll put it down.
4. I’ll put up with it.
When we ‘put up with’ something or someone, we tolerate it or them. You can’t ‘put upon with’ or ‘put in with’ something. You can put something down, but it means to make a note of or criticise something.
He always talks so loudly on the phone—I don’t know how you put up with it.
If we have been persuaded (with sweet talk rather than pressure) to do something, what should we say?
1. I wasn’t sure I wanted to join the project, but Ted caroled me into it!
2. I wasn’t sure I wanted to join the project, but Ted caged me into it!
3. I wasn’t sure I wanted to join the project, but Ted caressed me into it!
4. I wasn’t sure I wanted to join the project, but Ted cajoled me into it!
To ‘carol’ means to sing Christmas carols. To ‘cage’ is to put someone or something in a cage or in prison. To ‘caress’ means to stroke gently or lovingly. If we talk someone into doing something, we ‘cajole’ them!
Don’t even try to cajole me; my mind’s made up!
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.
Last night there was a great documentary on the ancient Incas!
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’.
I’m sorry the concert tickets were all sold out, but let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill, OK?
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’.
I would also welcome the opportunity for a face-to-face talk.
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.
I was very impressed that Terry didn’t get sidetracked by the new assignments I gave him.
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.
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!
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.
Oh, I can’t wait until Easter; the 1st of April isn’t that far away!
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?’
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.
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.
I imagine they’ll make up their mind this week.
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.
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!
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.
I incorrectly assumed that Jeff would want to join the project team.
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.
The report could provide more details on traffic patterns in the city centre.
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.”
I don’t think Mary will approve the plan.
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’.
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.
I know you’re busy, but may I bend your ear for just a few minutes?
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.
I’ve read the tentative proposal, and it’s fairly promising.
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.
Madeleine claimed the French market was ready for new growth.
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.
Despite our best efforts, we still haven’t got to the bottom of the server problem.
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.
Though a bit lacking in experience, Sophie has shown a great deal of enthusiasm for the project.
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.
There is a 5% discount on all orders placed before 1 January.
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).
We’ll need the signed copies back no later than Friday.
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!
The team consistently delivers high-quality reports.
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.
You come up with the strategy, and I’ll take care of the details.
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.
He was very good at solving problems.
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.
In the wake of new EU legislation, limits have been placed on phosphate in detergents.
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.
Thanks to his countless publications on quantum dots, Prof. Chaykin is one of the most prominent researchers in his field.
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.
I took a few minutes to look over Claudia’s report, and I have to say I was impressed!
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!
If you really need a brilliant specialist for land-use management, I’d ask Beate; it’s definitely her strong suit!
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