Archive for May, 2010

inseparable phrasal verb: live up to


I think it’s time for another phrasal verb today, so I’d like to write about “live up to”. This is used when we want to talk about fulfilling another person’s expectation or following their example. For example:

My father has such high expectations for success. I could never live up to his expectations.

My father’s expectations for success can never be lived up to. (passive voice)

My mother is an amazing woman. I’ve tried hard all my life to live up to her example.

My idol is Nelson Mandela. Whenever I’m in a difficult situation, I try to live up to his example and rise above my anger and frustration.

So, as you can see from these examples, the person that you are trying to live up to is usually a high status person like a parent, teacher, politician, celebrity, etc.

grammatical word: should


Today,  I’d like to write about a word that everyone knows very well: “should”. However, most people only know one meaning for this word. Most people don’t realize that it has another meaning which is commonly used. So, let me go over the two meanings:

1. it is used to give advice to people and to say that something is a good idea, but that they have a choice about whether or not to do it. (If there is no choice, we use “have to” or “must”.) For example:

If you’re not happy with your job, you should quit.

My sister is a little overweight. She should go on a diet.

My Japanese isn’t very good. I should study more.

2. the word “should” can also be used when we have an expectation that something will happen, but which is not guaranteed. For example:

My friend invited me to a party tomorrow night. It should be really fun.

Mr. Norton should be back in the office at 4:00. Can I have him call you back at that time?

I ordered a book on the Internet. It should be delivered by Friday.

In the examples for the second definition, if we use the word “will”, it means that the situation is 100% guaranteed. So, because we can’t guarantee the situation will come true, we use the word “should”.

grammatical expression: after all


For today’s blog entry, I have another expression for you that is used a lot: “after all”. It is used when we want to give a reason for something, and the reason is very obvious or easy to understand. For example:

If our daughter wants to get married, we can’t stop her. She is a grown woman after all.

It’s the CEO’s right to sell the company if he wants to. After all, it is his company.

A: Wow, that Tim Burton movie was so weird. I didn’t expect that.

B: I don’t know why you’re so surprised. It is a Tim Burton movie after all.

We can also use “after all” to talk about the final part of a situation when the situation has changed. For example:

At first Caroline said she would come to the party, but she’s not going to come after all.

I know I said I would help you move this weekend, but I can’t do it after all. My boss just told me I have to go on a business trip on Friday.

At first, everyone in the office thought the new boss would be really strict, but he turned out to be a really nice guy after all.

In the case of the first meaning, “after all” can be place at the beginning or at the end of the sentence but , in the case of the second meaning, it is always placed at the end of the sentence.

idioms: to drive someone (crazy), (nuts), (up the wall), (around the bend)


Today, I have four idioms for you that mean the same thing: “to drive someone crazy”, “to drive someone nuts”, “to drive someone up the wall”, and “to drive someone around the bend”. They are all used to talk about a person or a situation that really annoys us. For example:

My co-worker is always asking me to help her with her project! She’s really driving me crazy!

It drives me nuts when people cut in line when I’m at a store.

My roommate was driving me up the wall because he was always playing his music really loudly. Eventually, I asked him to move out.

My car is often breaking down when I’m driving. It’s driving me around the bend.

In all of these examples, the person feels extremely annoyed by the person or situation. The last three examples are a little more casual than the first one, “to drive someone crazy”. However, all the expressions are used in casual conversations.

adjective: weird


The adjective for today is “weird”. This means the same thing as “strange”, but it is more casual. For example:

I saw a really weird movie last night. I didn’t like it very much.

My new co-worker is so weird. She’s always asking people what their favorite animal is.

I love that new store in the shopping mall. They sell a lot of weird stuff there.

Generally speaking, the words “strange” or “weird” are negative, as in the first two examples. However, sometimes  they can be neutral or positive in meaning, as in the third example. In that sentence, the person likes the stuff the store sells because they are unusual items, and that person likes that. In this sentence, the word “stuff” has the same meaning as “things”.

grammatical expression: about to


Today I have another common expression that I almost never hear my students use. However, it’s a very useful expression: “about to”. It is used when we want to say something is going to happen in the very near future. For example:

I’m about to go home now. Is there anything you need from me before I leave?

We have to hurry! The movie is just about to start!

I was just about to order a pizza on the phone, but my roommate beat me to it.

A: Hello.

B: Hi Jim. This is Sandy.

A: Sandy! Hi! I was just about to call you.

As you can see, we often use the word “just” in front of it. Also, we can use this expression with either the present tense or the past tense. If we use it with the present tense, as in the first two examples, it means that the event will happen very soon, probably within five minutes. If we use it in the past tense, as in the last two examples, it means that the person was planning to do something very soon (probably within five minutes), but another person beat them to it. The idiom “to beat someone to it” means someone did an action before another person could do it. If you don’t remember this idiom well, please review my blog from April 2nd.

Sometimes, “about to” can mean something will happen in the future at a time which is more than a few minutes. For example:

I’m about to go on vacation to Spain! I’m so excited!

The new project is about to start! I’m really looking forward to it!

In these cases, the time period is probably between one day and one week, but it would probably not be used if the vacation or project will start at a time which is more than one week away.

separable phrasal verb: hike up


Today’s phrasal verb is “hike up”, and it means to raise something, usually a piece of clothing or the price of something. For example:

My sister always hikes up her skirt after she leaves for school because she wants the boys to notice her legs.

That store keeps hiking up their prices, so I don’t want to shop there anymore.

The prices in that store have been hiked up again. (passive voice)

The airlines always hike up the airfares during the summer. It’s really annoying.

In English, the word “hike” is always connected to the idea of going up. In the Japanese language (and maybe in other languages too), when people say they will “go hiking”, it is on a flat surface. However, in English we would say “walking” for this. If we are walking up a mountain or a hill, then we say “hiking” because we are physically going up.

the difference between words: anyway, by the way, speaking of, and at any rate


Today I’d like to write about something that is confusing for many people: the difference between “anyway” and “by the way”. I’d also like to go over two other expressions which have similar functions, but which are a little different.

So, “anyway” is used when we want to change the subject completely, or when we want to bring back the original subject after being interrupted. For example:

A: …so that’s why I didn’t like that movie.

B: Oh I see. I won’t go see it then. Anyway, where do you think we should have dinner tonight?


A: I really don’t think this is a good time to…

B: Excuse me. Could you tell me where the bathroom is?

A: It’s at the end of the hall. Anyway, as I was saying, I don’t think this is a good time to invest in gold.

The expression “by the way” is used when we suddenly remember something that we want to say to someone. For example:

I’m going to the supermarket after work today. Oh, by the way, Harry wants to know if you’re coming over for dinner this weekend.

I watched a really good show on TV last night. Oh, by the way, here’s the DVD you lent me last month. Thanks for letting me borrow it.

The expression “speaking of” is also used when we remember something we want to tell someone, but it is directly linked to something that someone has said before which reminds us of it. For example:

A: I’m really excited about seeing Mark’s new play.

B: Yes, I am too. Speaking of Mark, did you hear that he’s going to get married soon?


A: Mary just moved into a new apartment!

B: Really? That’s fantastic! Speaking of new apartments, I’m also thinking about finding a new place. I’m tired of my old apartment.

The expression “at any rate” is used to give more details about something that we have mentioned already. For example:

A: I really want to go to Europe this summer.

B: But it’s really expensive. Can you afford it?

A: I’ve been saving my money. I don’t think it’ll be so bad. At any rate, I really want to go, and this will be my last chance before I start my new job.

So this is how we use these expressions. A few people have asked me to explain this, so I hope it is clear to everyone.

idiom: to do the trick

that should do the trick

I hope everyone has been having a good week. It’s Friday now in Tokyo, so the weekend is almost here! Anyway, the idiom for today is “to do the trick”. It is used when we do an action that is enough to accomplish something. For example:

My computer wasn’t working properly. My friend suggested I reboot it, and that did the trick. It worked fine after that.

The soup I made isn’t spicy enough. I’ll put in a little bit of chili pepper, and that should do the trick.

This screwdriver is too small to do the trick. I need to get a bigger one.

My sister wanted to get Billy’s attention at school. I told her to wear a shorter skirt, and that really did the trick. Billy asked her out on a date.

This expression is often used when we’re trying to fix something as in the first two examples. However, it can also be used when trying to accomplish a personal goal as in the last example.

adjective: subtle


Today, I have another adjective for you: “subtle”. It is used to talk about something that is so slight that it is difficult to detect. For example:

There is the subtle taste of garlic in this stew.

There are a few differences between these two pictures, but they’re very subtle.

A: I’ll find out if Nancy has a boyfriend for you.

B: Ok, but don’t ask her directly.

A: Don’t worry. I’ll be subtle when I talk to her.

In the first example, the taste of garlic is not strong at all. The person knows it’s there, but the taste is quite weak. In the second example, the two pictures look the same, but there are very small differences so the person has to look at them carefully in order to see them. In the third example, the person means that he’ll find out the information in an indirect way.

It’s important to know the pronunciation of this word. Even though it is spelled with a “b”, it is pronounced like a “d”. Therefore, the pronunciation is /SUD dul/.

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