Archive for February, 2010

grammatical expression: might as well

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Today is a rainy Sunday here in Tokyo. I’d like to write about an expression English speakers use all the time: might as well. Even though it’s commonly used in English, I’ve never seen it taught in an English textbook. Anyway, we have two ways of using “might as well” in English:

1. It can be used when you want to say that there is no GOOD reason NOT to do something. For example:

It’s almost time to go home and you’ve finished all your work, so you might as well go home now.

In this example, the boss is saying that there is not a good reason for the employee to stay because it’s almost time to leave anyway, and he or she has no more work to do for that day. IF it were still early or IF there were more work to be done, then THAT would be a good reason not to go home now. However, because the work is done and it’s late, there’s no good reason for him or her to stay.

Another example of this could be at a restaurant:

A: You ordered spahetti with cream sauce, didn’t you? They gave you spaghetti with tomato sauce.

B: Yes, I know. But I like tomato sauce too and we don’t have much time, so I might as well eat it.

In this situation, IF the person had more time to change the order or IF he or she didn’t like tomato sauce, then THAT would be a good reason not to eat it. However, he or she DOESN’T have a lot of time and DOES like tomato sauce, so there is no good reason not to eat it.

2. We can use might as well to say that two things, people or situations are so similar that they could be considered to be the same. For example:

Daisuke can speak English so well, he might as well be an English native speaker.

My apartment is so hot, I might as well be living in hell!

The car I want is $20,000 but I have no money now, so it might as well be $20,000,000.

In the first example, I’m saying that there is almost no difference between Daisuke’s ability to speak English and a native English speaker’s ability.

In the second example, I’m saying the temperature in my apartment is almost the same as the temperature in hell. This is obviously an exaggeration and would be considered a joke.

In the third example, I’m saying that the price of the car is not important. I couldn’t buy it if it were very expensive ($20,000,000) or even at a cheaper price ($20,000) because I have no money.

So, this is how we use this expression “might as well”. As I mentioned before, it’s very commonly used by English speakers but very seldom taught. I hope this is helpful to people.

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idiom: to be on the tip of one’s tongue

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Today, I have another body idiom for you: to be on the tip of one’s tongue. This is used in situations where you have forgotten some piece of information, and you can almost remember but not quite. The information is usually quite simple such as someone’s name, the title of a movie or even just a word. For example:

I can’t remember the name of that movie, but it’s on the tip of my tongue.

What’s your brother’s name again? Wait, don’t tell me! It’s on the tip of my tongue.

What’s the word for “chair” in Japanese? Oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue! I hate it when this happens!

As you can see, we use this idiom when we ourselves forget some information, but it’s unnatural to use it about other people. Therefore, we DON’T say, “It’s on the tip of your tongue” or “It’s on the tip of her tongue”, etc. Also, we don’t use it when we forget some information which is more detailed and complex.

inseparable phrasal verb: come across (as)

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We have another inseparable phrasal verb today: come across. This expression has two meanings:

1. to find something by accident. For example:

I came across this watch when I was cleaning the house. Is it yours?

If you come across any interesting websites when you’re surfing the web, please let me know.

2. for a person or comment to be perceived in a certain way. For example:

I didn’t have the chance to hear Ben’s speech. How did he come across?

A: I didn’t mean to sound arrogant when I said that.

B: Well, that’s the way it came across.

In this example, the person seems to other people to be arrogant, even though that was not his intention. Please note that this second meaning of “come across” is intransitive. This means that there is not an object in the sentence.

We can also use “come across” followed by the preposition “as”. Again, this means that people have a certain idea about another person’s personality based on the way he or she looks or speaks. For example:

People tell me I come across as shy, but I don’t think I am. I’m just a quiet person.

In the TV interview, the actor came across as being very conceited. I don’t like him so much anymore.

Please note that  the pattern is:

come across as + adjective

or

come across as + being + adjective

the difference between words: upset, sad and angry

upset

Today, I’d like to deal with a common misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “upset”. Many people think that it means that someone is sad or angry, but it is different from both of these words. Basically, to be upset means to react to a negative situation in a very emotional way. For example:

I just found out I failed my exam, so I’m really upset now.

Everyone is upset today because the boss just cancelled the year end party.

I’ll be so upset if it rains tomorrow for our picnic. I’m really looking forward to it.

Carol is really upset now because the boss just fired her.

That little boy in the corner is crying very loudly. I wonder why he is so upset.

In these examples, we don’t use the word “sad” because the people are showing their emotions more openly. Sadness is a very internal feeling in which we don’t show strong emotions. Also, feelings of sadness usually last for a longer time. For example:

My wife has been so sad since her mother died. I wish I could do something to make her feel better.

At the end of the movie, the main character dies. It always makes me sad when I see it.

On the other hand, “angry” is used when a person or group does something bad to us and we react to that negative action. For example:

My co-worker stole my idea and told the boss it was his! I’m so angry at him right now!

The government is raising out taxes again! That makes me so angry!

I hope that helps everyone understand how to use “upset”. In my understanding, the Japanese language does not have an exact translation for this word and the closest words to it are “sad” or “angry”. However, as you now know, it’s quite different. This might be true in other languages as well. So, when you need to find the meaning of an adjective, please use an English-English dictionary only. If you use a translation dictionary, such as a Japanese-English dictionary, you will probably misunderstand the true meaning of the word in English.

separable phrasal verb: put off

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In today’s blog entry, we will go back to phrasal verbs. Today I’d like to write about “put off”. This phrasal verb has four meanings:

1. to postpone something. For example:

I can’t come to the meeting at 3:00. Can we put it off until 4:00?

The meeting has been put off until 4:00. (passive voice)

2. to delay doing something. For example:

You should go and tell Bob now that he’s being laid off. You can’t put it off forever.

You should go and tell Bob now that he’s being laid off. It can’t be put off forever. (passive voice)

3. to persuade someone to agree to a delay. For example:

I can put off the client until Friday, but that’s it. We’ll have to have  the presentation ready by then.

The client can’t be put off for much longer. We have to finish getting the presentation ready soon. (passive voice)

4. for someone’s manners or behavior to make other people uncomfortable. For example:

Jerry is a very direct person, so he can really put people off with some of his comments.

Some people are really put off by Jerry’s directness. (passive voice)

So these are the ways in which we use “put off”. Many phrasal verbs, including this one, have more than one meaning, so please be sure to pay attention to the context in which they are being used in order to fully understand how to use them.

idiom: to jump down someone’s throat

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Today, I think it’s time for another idiom, and I’ve chosen another one which is a body idiom: to jump down someone’s throat. This means for someone to get very angry at another person and then yell at them. For example:

I was just five minutes late for work, but my boss just jumped down my throat when I got there.

My wife jumped down my throat  when I got home last night because I forgot our anniversary.

In both of these cases, the boss and the wife were shouting at the person. If someone gets angry but doesn’t shout, we usually don’t use this idiom.

Also, we don’t usually say, “I jumped down my husband’s throat” or things like that. It’s most natural to use this idiom when describing a situation when someone else yells at us, but not when we yell at other people.

the difference between words: claim and complain

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Today’s entry is about a big misunderstanding many Japanese people have about the word “claim”. The Japanese language has borrowed many words from English and then changed the original meaning, so this leads to a lot of confusion. Many people in Japan think that to claim something means to complain about it. This is absolutely not true! The word “claim” has about four meanings:

1. for a person to say something without providing proof for their statement. This is often used when we have a doubt about the truth of the statement. For example:

My friend claims he saw a UFO last night.

The man was arrested for his wife’s murder, but he claims he didn’t do it.

2. to identify something as yours and then to take it. For example:

Someone found my wallet and took it to the Lost and Found, so I went there yesterday to claim it.

You said there would be a $100 reward for the person who found your dog. Well, I found her, so now I’m here to claim the reward.

I’ll get my bags at the baggage claim area and then meet you at immigration.

(The area at the airport where you collect your luggage is called the baggage claim area because that’s where you identify your bags and pick them up.)

3.  to write something down on a tax form in order to pay less tax or on an insurance form to get money back from the insurance company. For example:

I gave a lot of money to charity last year, so I can claim those donations on my taxes.

A: If you pay money for medication, your insurance company will let you claim that.

B: That’s great. That will save me a lot of money.

4. for a disaster to take the lives of people who were in it. For example:

The earthquake last week claimed the lives of over 10,000 people.

The fire in my apartment claimed the life of my landlord, but everyone else escaped.

So this is how we use the word “claim”. The word “complain” is used when we talk about situations or people that we don’t like. It can be done in an official way or just in a casual conversation. For example:

I complained to my landlord about the noise coming from my neighbor’s apartment.

I’d like to complain about the service in this restaurant. My waiter was very rude to me.

My co-worker is always complaining about having to work overtime.

Susan is having problems with her husband, and she complains about him all the time now.

So, this is how we use these two words in natural English.

inseparable phrasal verb: fall out with

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Today’s phrasal verb is “fall out with”. This is used when talking about two friends who end their friendship because of a fight. It is NOT used when the friendship between two friends slowly ends because they don’t contact each other anymore. In that case, we say the friends have “drifted apart”.  Here are some examples of how to use “fall out with”:

I fell out with Charlie about three years ago after I caught him kissing my girlfriend.

Patty and I fell out with each other when she stole my idea to improve business at our company.

A: Why don’t we invite Tracy to Nancy’s birthday party?

B: That’s not a good idea. They fell out a few months ago. I thought you knew.

We only use “fall out with” when talking about friendships. We have different ways to talk about the end of a relationship between family members and romantic partners. If a family member, especially a parent, no longer wants to talk to their adult child, we use the verb “disown”. For example:

Rachel’s father disowned her after she married a man he didn’t like.

If the relationship is romantic, then we use the phrasal verb, “break up (with)”. For example:

My girlfriend broke up with me because I’m too busy to spend time with her.

Peter and Jane broke up last week. I’m really shocked! They had been dating for over ten years!

So, this is today’s expression. I hope you never fall out with any of your friends! 🙂

separable phrasal verb: drown out

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Today, I’d like to go over another phrasal verb which is commonly used in English: “drown out”. This means that something is louder than something else so that the noise of the first thing makes it impossible to hear the sound of the second thing. For example:

My friend said something to me at the bar, but the music was so loud that it drowned him out.

My friend’s voice was drowned out by the music at the bar. (passive voice)

The TV in the next apartment is so loud. If we turn up the volume on our stereo, maybe we can drown it out.

Please be careful to say “out” with this expression. If you forget and only say “drown” by itself, it will sound very strange. This is because the word “drown” in English means to die in water. For example:

A young boy fell into the lake and drowned last summer. His parents must be so upset.

So this is today’s expression. It can be used in all situations in conversation because it is not extremely formal or casual.

idiom: to cost an arm and a leg

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Today, I’d like to go back to idioms. We have many idioms about body parts. Previously, I taught “to play it by ear” and today we have another idiom about our bodies: “to cost an arm and a leg”. This means that something costs a lot of money, in other words, it’s VERY expensive.

You can imagine that if you want to buy something and the store clerk says, “Ok, I’ll trade you one of your arms and one of your legs for this item.” Now, I don’t know about you, but my arms and legs are VERY valuable to me, and therefore would be worth a LOT of money. So that’s why this idiom means that something is very expensive. For example:

The tickets to the concert cost an arm and a leg, but they were worth the price. We had such a good time!

Renting an apartment downtown will cost you an arm and a leg. Why don’t you stay in the suburbs?

Bob just bought a new house. I hear it cost him an arm and a leg.

Please remember that when you use idioms, you can’t change any of the words. Therefore, if you say, “It cost me arm and leg.” or “It cost me an arm and leg.” or “It cost me arm and a leg.”, it will sound strange. So please don’t forget to say “a”, “an” and “the” when you’re memorizing  sentences. Articles ARE important. 🙂

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