Archive for February, 2010

inseparable phrasal verb: come up with


Today,  I want to write about inseparable phrasal verbs. This means that the noun or pronoun must go at the end of the phrasal verb but never in the middle.  To give you an example, the phrasal verb “run into” means to meet someone by accident. For example:

I ran into an old friend from university when I was at the shopping mall.  (correct)

Do you remember Phil Smith from university? I ran into him when I was at the shopping mall.  (correct)

I ran an old friend from university into when I was at the shopping mall.  (incorrect)

Do you remember Phil Smith from university? I ran him into when I was at the shopping mall.  (incorrect)

Inseparable phrasal verbs will often end in a preposition rather than a noun.

Today’s phrasal verb “come up with” is an example of a three word phrasal verb. Almost all three word phrasal verbs are inseparable. “Come up with” has two meanings:

1. to think of an original idea. For example:

I came up with a good idea to help my company save money.

My boss wants me to come up with a new strategy for selling our product.

I’m having trouble coming up with a title for my book.

2. to produce something for a specific purpose. For example:

None of the students in the class were able to come up with the correct answer to the question.

I wanted to buy a new car, but I couldn’t come up with the money.

If I want to invest in this company, I have to come up with $10,000 by Friday.

This is a very common expression in English, especially the first definition. As I mentioned before, the best way to study is to memorize full sentences, so please try to do that with these examples. Good luck.

separable phrasal verb: bring up


Today I’d like to write about phrasal verbs. As I said before, these are very important in English and native English speakers use them all the time in all situations: formal, casual, business, etc.

Phrasal verbs come in two forms: separable and inseparable. When a phrasal verb is separable, it means that the noun can come either in the middle or at the end. However, if the noun is changed to a pronoun (it, them, him, her, etc) then it MUST go in the middle. I’ll give you an example of this with “call off” (which means to cancel a group activity).

My parents have called off the party because they don’t have time to have it.  (correct)

My parents have called the party off because they don’t have time to have it.  (correct)

My parents don’t have time to have a party so they called it off.  (correct)

My parents don’t have time to have a party so they called off it.  (NOT correct)

So this is what we do with separable phrasal verbs. I’ll deal with inseparable phrasal verbs tomorrow. Now, today’s expression is “bring up”. This has two main meanings:

1. to mention something for the first time in a conversation. For example:

In the meeting today, Bill brought up the problems we’re having with the ABC project.

When I was having lunch with my friend, he brought up the subject of guns.

A: Why are we talking about the economy? Who brought it up? Was it you, Sam?

B: No, I didn’t bring it up. Sarah brought it up.

2. to raise children. For example:

The Smiths have eight children. I don’t know how they can bring them up and still have time to travel.

I want to bring my children up in a small town.

My parents brought me up to be polite.

I was brought up to be polite. (passive voice)

Another way to use it is when you carry something to another place which is located in a higher position. For example:

You go upstairs and take a nap. I’ll bring some food up to you later.

“Bring up” can also be used to mean to vomit, but this is quite formal. For example:

Last night, I was so sick. I brought up my entire dinner.

So, these are the ways in which we use “bring up”. It’s a very common expression so I hope that you’ll be able to understand it and use it now. Tomorrow, I’ll deal with inseparable phrasal verbs.

the difference between words: embarrassed and ashamed


It’s Sunday here in Japan. I wasn’t able to write a blog entry yesterday because I was quite busy. First I had to teach and then I had dinner with some Japanese friends. During the dinner, we started talking about the difference between “ashamed” and “embarrassed”. This is a very common misunderstanding in Japan and I think in Korea too, so I’d like to write about it today.

Basically, the word “embarrassed” means having a feeling of emotional discomfort in front of other people. This last part is very important. If we are embarrassed, we have to be in front of at least one other person. We cannot be embarrassed if we are alone. These situations are usually not so serious.

Some example sentences using “embarrassed” are:

I made a big mistake during my presentation yesterday. I was really embarrassed.

I was embarrassed in front of my date last night because I didn’t have enough money to pay for dinner.

*It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t say “embarrassing” when talking about your personal feeling. We use that when talking about the situation. For example:

I made a big mistake during my presentation. It was really embarrassing for me.

It was so embarrassing for me last night. I didn’t have enough money to pay for dinner with my date.

On the other hand, “ashamed” means having a feeling of guilt because you did something bad intentionally. We can also be ashamed of  someone else if they did something bad intentionally. In this case, the feeling is not about guilt but about judgment. In both cases, it’s important that the bad thing was done intentionally. If we cause something bad to happen by accident, we don’t usually say we are ashamed.

Some example sentences using “ashamed” are:

When I was a teenager, I stole money from my parents. I’m really ashamed of that now.

Last year, Bill stole his co-worker’s idea and told the boss it was his. He should be ashamed of himself.

Many people in my country are ashamed of the way the government treated the native people a long time ago.

I can’t believe you cheated on your exam! I’m really ashamed of you!

So that’s the difference between “embarrassed” and “ashamed”. As I said in my first blog entry, the best way to improve your English is to memorize full sentences and then change the small details. You can do this with the examples I’ve given you and then you’ll never be confused about these words again. Good luck!

idiom: to play it by ear

For today’s blog entry, I’d like to talk about the idiom “to play it by ear”. This means that someone will not make a decision about an event until they are in the moment. I think the idiom might possibly come from music. I always think of the scene in Amadeus when Mozart is composing a song on the spot for the King. He was able to simply create the music in the moment without having to practice it before. So he was playing the music and creating it by listening to it with his ears so literally he was playing it by ear. I don’t know if this is the true origin but that’s my guess.

Anyway, nowadays the idiom means to not make plans or come to a decision before a certain event is taking place. For example:

A: What are you going to do this weekend?

B: I don’t know yet. I’m just going to play it by ear.


A: How long should we stay at the party?

B: Well, let’s play it by ear.

This idiom is often used as a response to someone’s question about their plans. In the first example, the person hasn’t made plans but will decide what to do when the weekend finally comes. In the second example, the person doesn’t know if the party will be good or bad. If it’s good, they’ll stay for a long time but if it’s bad, they’ll leave early. They can’t make that decision until they arrive at the party.

It can also mean that someone will improvise what they will do in a situation where they haven’t prepared. For example:

I didn’t plan my speech for my cousin’s wedding, so I’ll have to play it by ear.

So this is the idiom for today. It’s a very common expression in English so I hope you find it useful.

idioms: to be in someone’s hair / to get out of someone’s hair


Today, I’d like to talk about idioms. Idioms are very important in English and we use them all the time. First of all, I should talk about the difference between an idiom and a phrasal verb. Sometimes my students get confused about this. So, a phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and an adverb or a preposition. The second smaller word (the adverb or preposition) will change the meaning of the verb (usually). So for example, the verb “call” is different from the phrasal verb “call off”, which is different again from “call on”. I’ll talk more about phrasal verbs in future blogs.

However, an idiom is a sentence in which each word doesn’t contain the meaning of the sentence; you can only understand it as a unit. For example, in yesterday’s blog, I talked about the idiom, “to not see eye to eye”. This means to not agree. English speakers use these kinds of expressions all the time which is one of the main reasons English is not an easy language.

So, for today I want to write about two related idioms: “to be in someone’s hair” and “to get out of someone’s hair”.

“To be in someone’s hair” means to bother someone when they’re busy or to be in someone’s way when they are busy. For example, a father might say:

Kids, you’re in your mother’s hair. She’s trying to cook dinner so please go outside and play.

Or, someone might say to their co-worker:

I know this is a really small office we have to share. I hope I’m not in your hair.

A related idiom is “to get out of someone’s hair”. This means to stop bothering someone when they’re busy or to leave the room because they’re in someone’s way. We can change the examples I’ve already given in the following way:

Kids, your mother is cooking dinner now, so please get out of her hair. Why don’t you go outside and play?

I know this is a really small office we have to share. If you’re busy now, I’ll get out of your hair.

This is English Help Online’s first blog entry. February 10, 2010


Hello. My name is Mike, and I’m an English teacher in Tokyo. I have been teaching English for about 12 years in Asia (Japan and Korea). I really enjoy my work because I truly enjoy languages. I have studied French and a little Korean. I’m now studying Japanese and feel like I’ve been making a lot of progress lately. I would like to help other people who are studying English find ways to improve their language skills. Basically, I feel it’s very important to focus on full sentences rather than individual words when you study a language. Most of my students don’t do this, and this is the main reason why they have trouble improving their skills. So, what I do when I study Japanese is: First,  I read a sentence completely. Then, I cover it with my hand and try to repeat it from my memory. Usually I can’t do it and I forget, so then I read the sentence again and try one more time. After about three or four times, I can do it, depending on how long the sentence is. Finally, I take the same sentence and change it, but just a little bit. If you change only one or two details, the main natural structure of the sentence will stay the same.

So to give you an example of how to do this in English. Read the following sentence:

I went to the park because I wanted to go jogging.

After you memorize this sentence, you can change the parts which are in black italics. So for example:

I went to the supermarket because I wanted to buy some milk.

My sister went to the music store because she wanted to buy a CD.

My friend went home because he wanted to get some rest.

You can also use this for sentences which are much more complex and for high level speakers. This is a good way to study idioms. For example:

My boss andI don’t see eye to eye about where to open the new branch.

The idiom, to not see eye to eye, means to not agree. So this sentence means that my boss and I don’t agree about where to open the new branch.

Possible changed variations of this idiom are:

My wife and I don’t see eye to eye about where to move.

My friends and I didn’t see eye to eye about where to have dinner last night.

The president and vice president of the company don’t see eye to eye about how many people to hire.

So this is the technique I use, and I find it’s very effective. I’ve been able to really improve my Japanese in less than a year. I hope people will find it useful and interesting.

In future blog entries, I would like to teach various English expressions such as idioms and phrasal verbs. These are very important in our language. I hope you will continue to read my blog. Thank you.

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