grammatical expression: spic and span


It’s almost spring time and that means in many parts of the world people will soon start to do their spring cleaning. So, today,I’d like to go over an expression that we often use when talking about cleaning: spic and span.

We use this to describe the state of something that has been completely cleaned. Let me give you some examples.

I cleaned my room and now it’s spic and span.

My mother wants this kitchen spic and span by the time she gets home.

I like to have a clean house, but I don’t care if it’s spic and span.

As you can see from my example sentences, we use the verb “be” in front of this expression, so it’s usually used as an adjective.

Please note that the word “spic” is sometimes spelled “spick”.

The origin of this expression seems to come from the original meaning of the two words separately. The word “spick” referred to a spike or nail and was taken to mean something neat and trim. The word “span” seems to have come from the term “span-new” which meant new as a freshly cut wood chip. Therefore, “span” was associated with something new and unstained. I wasn’t able to find out when the two terms started to be used together to mean something which is totally clean.

idiom: to be just a matter of time

e6d8df3d34eb0f6009352066679ad9cc … continue reading this entry.

to be in a class by itself


Hello everyone!

This is my first blog entry for a very long time. I’ve been very busy working on another project which, I’m happy to report, is now finished! This project is a novel which is called A Murder in a Class by Itself. It’s a murder mystery set in an English school, called an eikaiwa in Japanese, in Tokyo. The story is about a Canadian man who is a former police detective who comes to Tokyo to work as an English teacher in an eikaiwa. While he is there, one of his students is murdered, and he is asked to investigate and find out who the killer is.

Because I’ve titled my novel A Murder in a Class by Itself, I want to teach the idiom, in a class by itself, in this blog entry. Basically, this idiom means for something or someone to be of the highest quality. In this case, the word “class” refers to a ranking of quality. For example:

This is the best restaurant in this city. It’s in a class by itself.

In my opinion, the paintings of Renoir are in a class by themselves. No other artist is as good as he was.

As you can see from my second example, we must change “itself” to “themselves” if the subject is plural. We must also change “itself” to “himself” or “herself” if we are talking about a person. For example:

As a science teacher, Mr. Johnson is in a class by himself. I’ve never had a better science teacher than him.

As far as I’m concerned, Sarah McLachlan is in a class by herself as a singer and musician.

So that’s my entry for today. Now that I’m finished my novel I’ll have more time to continue writing this blog.

In my novel’s title, this idiom has a double meaning because it can mean this murder is of the highest quality. However, it also has another meaning because the murder victim’s body is found in a classroom in the school in Tokyo.

If you’re interested in my novel, it’s available on any Amazon site worldwide. You can get it in ebook Kindle format or as a paperback. I think it would be of interest to anyone who wants to visit Japan, has ever thought about teaching English overseas, has ever studied English as a second language or anyone who just loves a good old-fashioned murder mystery.


the difference between words: it and this/that


One of the most difficult things to understand for my students is knowing when to use “it” and when to use “that” (or sometimes “this”). I have to admit that I found it difficult to explain this but I think I’ve managed to come up with a few rules about the usage of these pronouns.

First of all, it’s important to note that the pronouns “this” and “that” are stronger in nature than “it”. They are generally used to emphasize something. However, it is important to note that something is usually only emphasized once in a space of one or two sentences. We use “this” or “that” to emphasize it first and after that we use “it”. For example:

A: What is this?

B: It‘s a toy for children.

I don’t know what this is used for. Do you think it‘s used in the kitchen?

A: Is that a cat?

B: No, I think it‘s a rabbit.

I can’t understand why you did that. It was a really stupid thing to do.

We also use “that” to make reference to something a person has just said in the previous sentence or statement. This can be someone else the speaker is talking to, or it can be the speaker himself or herself. For example:

A: We should paint our house yellow.

B: I don’t think that is such a good idea.

I think it would be a good idea for you to eat more vegetables. That will help you lose weight.

We can sometimes use “this” instead of “that” when it’s the same person speaking, but this will make the explanation seem more intimate. It is often used when doing some kind of presentation or demonstration. For example:

You should cut up the onions very finely. This will allow them to cook more quickly.

It’s important to note that it makes a difference if the original noun is an object or an idea. If it’s an object, we often use “it” as the pronoun. However, if the original noun is an idea or something non-tangible, we often use “that” or “this” as the pronoun. For example:

Peter thinks we should get a bigger sign. He says it will help us increase sales.

Peter thinks we should move to a new location downtown. He says that will help us increase sales.

In the first sentence, the pronoun “it” refers to a physical object, the sign; however, in the second sentence the pronoun “that” refers to an idea, the plan to move to a new location.

I hope today’s blog entry helps people understand this complex feature of English a little better.


the difference between words: at and in


Today’s entry is a seemingly simple one, but it’s something that confuses the majority of my students. It is the difference in usage between the prepositions “at” and “in”.

There are several ways to use prepositions, but for the purposes of this blog entry, I’m going to focus on using them to talk about places.

When we are talking about places, we use “at” to talk about a location such as a school, store, hospital, etc. These locations exist within a wider, spread out area. We use “in” to talk about that wider area. For example:

Right now, I’m at a hospital in Brentwood.

When you called I was shopping at the department store.

A: Where do you live?

B: I live in Shinjuku in Tokyo.

We use “at” for ‘hospital’ and ‘department store’ because they are small locations, we use “in” for ‘Brentwood’, ‘Shinjuku’ and ‘Tokyo’ because they are wider areas. It doesn’t matter how big the wider area is; we always use “in” for these situations. Therefore, we could say “in New York”, “in the United States”, “in North America”, and “in the world”. However, if we talk about planets, such as Earth, Mars, or Jupiter, we use “on”.

It’s important to note that it is possible to say “in” for a location such as a school, store, hospital, etc. In these cases, we are talking about being physically inside the building. Therefore, if person A and person B are at a hospital and person A is inside the building and person B is outside the building, we can say that person A is “in the hospital” and “at the hospital”, but person B is only “at the hospital”. We CANNOT say person B is “in the hospital” because they are not inside the physical building.

the difference between words: lie and lay


Hello again. I’m back after a long break, and I have a complicated but important entry for you today. This one is about two verbs that have long confused even native English speakers: lie and lay.

The chief difference between these two verbs is about whether it’s about a person or a thing. If we’re talking about a person (or an animal) putting their own body on something, we use “lie”, and if we’re talking about a person setting a thing on a certain surface, we use “lay”. For example:

I want to lie down on my bed and take a nap.

The cat often tries to lie on my computer while I’m trying to work.

Please lay the package on the table.

I will lay my textbook next to my bed so I can study it easily.

As you can see from these example, the verb “lie” is intransitive, which means that it doesn’t have an object. The verb “lay”, on the other hand, is transitive, so it always has an object. Please note that we often use the word “down” after “lie”, as in my first example.

When we use these verbs in the past tense, it becomes a little confusing. This is because the past tense form of “lie” is “lay”, and the past tense form of “lay” is “laid”. For example:

I lay down on my bed and took a nap.

The cat lay on my computer while I was trying to work.

I laid the package on the table yesterday.

I laid my textbook next to my bed so I could study it easily.

It’s also important to note the -ing form of these verbs. For “lie” it is “lying”, and for “lay” it is “laying”. For example:

I was lying down on my bed when you called me.

The cat is lying on my computer now.

A: What are you doing?

B: I’m laying the package on the table.

The most important thing to remember about these verbs is that the past tense of the verb “lie” (“lay”) is the same as the present tense verb “lay”.

Also please note the past participle forms in red:

lie – lay – lain

lay – laid – laid

idiom: par for the course


This is my first blog entry for a while and this time I’d like to teach you another idiom: par for the course. We use this when we want to talk about something happening that we think is usual or typical for a certain situation. In other words, we expect this thing to happen in the situation because it’s happened many times before. Let me give you some examples using this idiom.

At my company, Bill got promoted instead of Mary. Unfortunately, that’s par for the course at my company; the women almost never get promoted.

Don’t expect Nancy to come to the party on time. Being late is par for the course with her.

Working until late at night is par for the course at my office.

Please note that we always put some form of the verb “be” in front of this idiom.

This expression comes from the sport of golf. In golf, “par” is the typical number of strokes it takes to complete one hole or one game. Therefore, the word “course” in this expression is referring to a golf course.

However, the meaning of “par for the course” has been expanded from referring to the typical number of strokes in a game of golf to mean a typical thing to be expected in a situation.

idiom: to put something on the back burner


Today I’d like to write about the idiom, to put something “on the back burner”. We use this expression when we want to talk about postponing doing something. The postponement happens usually because we feel the activity is less important than other things we have to do, and therefore it can be delayed. The activity can also be delayed because we feel it’s not possible to do it at the moment. Here are some example sentences using this idiom.

This new project is really important, so I have to put my current project on the back burner for a little while.

My boss wants me to put my research for the ABC project on the back burner because he wants to focus on the XYZ project.

I don’t have much money, so I’m going to put buying a car on the back burner for now.

This expression is often used in business situations, but not always. We sometimes use it to talk about personal plans, such as in my third example.

This expression comes from the idea of cooking something on a stove. In many western countries we have four elements, or burners, on our stoves. The ones closest to us when we’re cooking are the front burners and the ones farthest away are the back burners. If we’re cooking something that is more important we usually use the front burners but if something is less important, or will take longer to cook, it’s often put on the back burner of the stove.



the difference between words: study and learn


Sometimes my students get confused about when to use “study” and when to use “learn”. Therefore, I would like to write about that in today’s blog entry.

Both words are used to convey the idea of trying to intake information in order to become more knowledgeable or intelligent. When we put them in order, however, we have to place “study” first, and then “learn” after that. Therefore, when we “study” we are reading, watching or listening to something in order to keep it in our memories. If we do this successfully, we can say that we “learned” it. Let me give you some example sentences using these words.

I have to study fifty new words for my final exam in Spanish. I hope I can learn all of them.

I studied really hard in my history class, but I couldn’t learn all of the information.

I learned a lot in my economics class because I studied every day.

As I said before, learning is successful studying. Therefore, just because you study something doesn’t mean you will learn it. But if you never study at all, then you will never learn.

In addition, it’s possible for us to learn something and then over a period of time, forget it. I’m sure all of us have had this experience when we think about our high school or university days.

We can also “learn” something in ways that don’t involve studying. All of us learn things just from living our lives and making mistakes. Some people don’t learn from their mistakes, but I hope that most of us do.

adjectives: plausible / implausible


For today’s blog entry, I’d like to go over the adjectives “plausible” and “implausible”. We use them when we want to talk about something which a person says that likely to be believed or not believed. We can also use them when we are trying to figure out if something is true or not. Finally, they can be used to talk about the believability of a story in a novel, movie, or TV show. Let me give you some example sentences using them.

I was late for work because I overslept, but I can’t tell my boss that. I have to think of a plausible excuse for being late.

I can’t tell my boss that I was mugged on my way to work. This is a safe city, so that would be totally implausible.

Some people don’t think it’s plausible that a meteor hitting the earth could cause the dinosaurs to die, but I think it’s totally plausible.

Some people think it’s implausible that a meteor hitting the earth could cause the dinosaurs to die, but I don’t agree.

I like action movies even though most of the time the stories are not plausible at all.

I like action movies even though most of the time the stories are completely implausible.

The word “plausible” is used positively, and the word “implausible” is used negatively, so they are the opposite of each other. However, we can also say “not plausible”, as in my fifth example sentence. The only difference between “not plausible” and “implausible” is that “implausible” is slightly more formal than the other one.

Please note that we don’t usually use words like “very” or “really” to emphasize these adjectives. Instead, it’s more common to use words such as “totally” and “completely” in order to emphasize them.

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