Archive for March, 2010

the difference between words: fun, funny and interesting

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Today, I have three adjectives which are closely related but have different meanings in English: “fun”, “funny” and “interesting”.

The word “fun” is used when we talk about enjoying ourselves or having a good time. For example:

The party was so much fun! We danced and drank all night long.

The action movie was a lot of fun. I’d like to see it again.

I love going to Disneyland! It’s so much fun!

The word “funny” is used when something or someone makes us laugh. For example:

Tom is such a funny guy. He always makes me laugh.

That joke wasn’t funny at all. Nobody laughed at it.

The new comedy with Jim Carrey is supposed to be really funny. Let’s go see it this weekend.

The word “interesting” is used when talking about situations in which we learn something or are made to think about something. For example:

I think going to museums is interesting, but my boyfriend doesn’t agree with me.

The new drama on TV is sad but very interesting. It’s about a doctor who is suffering from cancer.

I’m reading about the history of China right now. It’s really interesting!

So this is how we use these words in English. They are all adjectives, but the word “fun” can also be a noun and is used with the verb “have”.  For example:

I had a lot of fun at the party.

My family and I had fun on our vacation to Hawaii.

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grammatical expression: be supposed to

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Today, I’d like to write about “supposed to” which is often misunderstood. Basically, it means to be expected, but it can be used in different situations:

1. used when talking about previously arranged plans. For example:

I’m supposed to meet my friend at the station at 9:00 pm.

I’m sorry, but I can’t have dinner with you tonight. My friends and I are supposed to see a movie together.

2. used when talking about duties at home or at work. For example:

I’m supposed to help my mother cook dinner tonight.

I’m supposed to have a meeting with my boss at 3:00 pm.

Aren’t you supposed to be writing your report now? (This means the person is not writing the report but they should be).

3. used to relate information that someone told you. For example:

Mr. Taylor is supposed to be back at 3:30. (This means I was told he would be back at 3:30).

This machine is supposed to cook meat in less than five minutes. (This means I was told it would cook meat in less than five minutes).

4. used to talk about things you have heard about but not experienced directly

We should go to the new Thai restaurant downtown. It’s supposed to be fantastic!

I really want to go to the jazz club to hear Sarah Browning. She’s supposed to be an amazing singer!

5. used to talk about rules which are not always followed. For example:

We’re supposed to get to work by 9:00 a.m. every morning.

I’m not supposed to eat or drink at my desk, but sometimes I do.

6. used, in the past tense, to indicate things that were expected but did not happen. For example:

My friend was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago, but he’s still not here.

That movie was supposed to be great, but it wasn’t.

That test wasn’t supposed to be so difficult, but it was.

separable/intransitive phrasal verb: crack up

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Today’s expression “crack up” is a separable phrasal verb which is used to talk about something or someone which makes a person laugh. For example:

Peter told such a funny joke this morning. It really cracked me up.

Nancy is one of the funniest people I know. She can always crack me up.

We can also use “crack up” as an intransitive phrasal verb. For example:

I cracked up during my class because my friend was making funny faces at me.

My friend often cracks up when he gets nervous. I hope he doesn’t do that for his presentation today.

So, as you can see, we use “crack up” as a separable phrasal verb when we focus on another person making us laugh, but when we focus on the person who laughs, we use it as an intransitive phrasal verb.

idioms: to be over someone’s head / to go over someone’s head

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There are two idioms today which are very closely related: “to be over someone’s head” and “to go over someone’s head”. They are used to talk about something which we don’t understand because it’s too complex for us. For example:

My friend likes to study philosophy. He understands it, but it’s totally over my head.

I tried to study physics in university, but it was all over my head.

I tried to tell a joke to my friend, but she doesn’t speak English well so it went over her head.

I don’t know much about computers, so I’m going to take a course about that. I hope what the teacher says doesn’t go over my head.

These two expressions are almost exactly the same except that we use “to go over someone’s head” with something which we experience once such as a joke or a lecture. We use “to be over someone’s head” with a general subject such as philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.

adjective: blunt

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Today I’d like to go over another adjective – “blunt”. There are two meanings for this word:

1. to not be sharp (this is usually used to talk about the part of a knife blade or a sword blade which is not sharp). For example:

In the movie, the king struck another man with the blunt edge of his sword in order to scare him.

I almost hurt my hand with a knife. Luckily, it was the blunt edge that touched my hand, so I wasn’t hurt.

2. for a person to speak very directly when saying something negative. For example:

My boss is very blunt, so sometimes he offends people at my office.

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I thought your report was very badly written.

My sister is a very blunt person. She always says whatever she thinks.

The second meaning of the word “blunt” is much more commonly used than the first one. It is important to note that when people are blunt, they are usually not trying to be rude. It is just their personality to speak very directly. Therefore, the word “blunt” is neutral in tone. However, if we say a person is “too blunt” then it becomes negative.

the difference between words: find out and know

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Earlier, one of my students asked me what the difference is between “find out” and “know”, so I think that would be a good topic for today’s blog entry.

In English, we often have a separate word or expression to talk about the beginning of a situation. For example, first we PUT ON our clothes and then we WEAR them; first we GET a cold and then we HAVE the cold.

Another example of this is “find out” and “know”. First, we FIND OUT some information, and then we KNOW it. So when we talk about the first moment that we learn some information, we must use “find out”, but we can’t use “know” until afterwards. For example:

I found out about the terrorist attack when I watched the news report on TV. I was so shocked!

I knew about the terrorist attack before I watched the news because my friend had told me about it before.

Did you know that ABC Department Store is having a sale this weekend? I just found out today.

A: Did you know that Rachel is going to have a baby?

B: Yes, I know.

A: When did you find out?

B: I found out yesterday when Rachel’s husband told me.

As you can see from the examples, when we use “find out” we usually will say when we received the information. If we don’t say when we received it, the sentence will sound a little strange.

the difference between words: all, whole, entire, each and every

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I recently had a request from one of the readers to explain the difference between the words: all, whole and entire. So that’s what I’m going to write about today, but I’d also like to include the words “each” and “every”.

The word “all” is used with countable or uncountable nouns to refer to 100% of many things. For example:

All of my furniture is from Ikea. (uncountable)

I bought all of my plates from ABC department store. (countable)

The words “whole” and “entire” mean 100% of one thing. It is used with countable nouns. For example:

I ate the whole pie by myself. I’m so full right now.

I spent the entire day watching TV and drinking beer. It was great!

The word “each” and “every” are very similar but have slightly different meanings. They are both used with countable nouns. The word “each” focuses on the individual parts that make up a collection of something, but “every” focuses on all the parts that make up a collection of something. For example:

Each of the stamps in my collection came from a different country.

Every stamp in my collection is very valuable.

Each person in my family is very special to me.

Every person in my family can play the piano.

In addition, we use “each” when we want to focus on the differences between things, and we use “every” when we want to focus on the fact that things are the same. For example:

I have many pins in my collection and each one comes from a different country.

I paid over $20 for every pin in my collection.

I hope this is clear to everyone. Please note that when the words “each” and “every” are followed by a verb in the present tense, it must have an “s”. Therefore, “each” and “every” follow the same grammar rules as “he”, “she” and “it”.

transitive phrasal verbs: mark up / mark down

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Today, I have two phrasal verbs which are the opposite of each other – “mark up” means to increase the price of something, and “mark down” means to decrease the price of something. For example:

I haven’t shopped in that store since they marked up their prices.

The prices in that store have been marked up, so I don’t shop there anymore. (passive voice)

The airlines always mark up their prices during holidays.

The price of this computer wasn’t so high last month. Why did you mark it up?

We’ll have to mark down our prices if we want to stay competitive.

Our prices will have to be marked down if we want to stay competitive. (passive voice)

The price of this lamp is a little high. Could you mark it down for me?

I really like that store, but it’s so expensive. I wish they would mark down their prices.

As you can see, we usually use these phrasal verbs with the word “price”. These phrasal verbs are often used in business situations.

appropriate responses

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Today, I’d like to do something a little different. Many of my students don’t know how to respond to different statements or questions in natural English, so I’m going to tell you how to do that today. For example:

Positive situations

A: I just got a promotion at work!

B: Wow, that’s great! Congratulations!

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A: Yesterday was my birthday.

B: Oh really? I didn’t know. Happy birthday!

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A: I’m going on a trip to Spain for my vacation.

B: That’s wonderful!

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A: I really like your shoes.

B: Thank you very much. I just bought them.

Negative situations

A: I have to work all weekend.

B: Oh really? That’s too bad.

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A: I’m sorry I’m late.

B: It’s ok.

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A: My grandfather died last week.

B: Oh I’m so sorry!

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A: I can’t come to your party on Saturday.

B: I’m sorry to hear that. I really wanted you to come.

Neutral situations

A: I work for one of the largest banks in Japan.

B: Oh really? Which one do you work for?

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A: I really like sushi.

B: So do I. It’s one of my favorite foods.

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A: I can’t cook very well.

B: Oh really? I can. People tell me I’m very good at it.

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A: I’m not from Tokyo originally. My hometown is Sapporo.

B: Oh I see. When did you come to Tokyo?

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A: Do you have any questions?

B: No, I’m ok.

Responding to offers

A: Would you like some cheese?

B: No I’m ok, thanks.   or   No, thank you.

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A: Can I get you something to drink?

B: Ok. I’d like a beer, please.    or    Yes, please. I’d like a beer.

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A: May I help you?

B: Yes, I’m looking for some jeans.

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A: May I help you?

B: No thanks. I’m just looking.

Responding to invitations

A: Would you like to see a movie with me tomorrow night?

B: Sure, I’d love to!

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A: Would you like to have dinner together on Saturday night?

B: I’d love to, but I’m afraid I have other plans.

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A: How about going to a baseball game on Sunday?

B: Sure. Sounds good.

So these are some basic ways to respond in natural English. Please be careful when using “ok”. As you can see above in the examples about responding to offers, if you say “ok” to an offer, it means yes. However, if you say “I’m ok” or “It’s ok” to an offer, it means no.  Also if someone asks you “Do you have any questions?”, you can never say “ok” because it doesn’t make sense. You must either say “Yes” or “No”, and it’s very common to say “No, I’m ok” or “No, it’s ok”.

In addition, please note that in regular conversations the response “I see” should be followed by a statement or a question. If you simply say “I see” and then nothing after that, it could kill the conversation.

adjective: willing

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Today, I have another adjective for you. It’s another one which is commonly misunderstood by many people – “willing”. Many people think that being “willing” to do something means to be happy to do it or that the person wants to do it. However, the true meaning is different. We use this word when we talk about something that we don’t really want to do but, under the right circumstances, we will agree to do. For example:

I’d be willing to eat a cockroach if you gave me $1000, but I wouldn’t be willing to do it for less money than that.

I’m willing to go on business trips for this job, but only if my salary is very high.

I asked my friend if he’d be willing to lend me his car for this weekend, but he said he wasn’t.

A: If you get this job, you might have to move to our branch in London. Would you be willing to do that?

B: Yes, I’m willing to do that.     OR

No, I’m not willing to do that because my family lives here.

As you can see, we always follow the word “willing” with the infinitive form of a verb (to + base form). In the examples, the person doesn’t really want to do the thing (eat a cockroach, go on business trips, etc.) but will agree to do it if the situation is right. If a person is NOT willing to do something, then they will never agree to do it under any circumstances.

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