Archive for May, 2010

grammatical expression: manage to (do something)

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Today I have another expression which many of my students misunderstand: “manage to”. This is used when talking about something we are able to do successfully, but that was not easy to do. For example:

I woke up late this morning, but I managed to get to work on time.

My team had to work overtime, but we managed to meet our deadline.

That novel was over 1000 pages, but I managed to read the whole thing in two weeks.

So in all of these examples, the person is successful, but when they say “manage to”, they are stressing the fact that it was difficult to accomplish.

We can also use this expression as a question. For example:

Do you think you can manage to write this report without making any mistakes?

In this case, the speaker is NOT being polite. It sounds like the person is angry about a previous report that contained many mistakes. I don’t recommend using this expression as a question because people won’t like you if you do. However, unfortunately, sometimes you might hear another person say this. I hope that no one speaks to you in this way though.

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separable phrasal verb: shoot down

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Today’s expression is “shoot down”, and it has two meanings.

1. to make an airplane fall by shooting it. For example:

My grandfather was in World War Two as a pilot. The Germans shot his plane down during the war, but he survived.

My grandfather’s plane was shot down by the Germans in World War Two. (passive voice)

2. to reject an idea or a person. For example:

We presented our proposal to the boss, but he shot it down. Now we have to think of  a new idea.

Our proposal was shot down by the boss. (passive voice)

I have a great idea for improving business, but it will cost a little bit of money to implement. I hope the boss doesn’t shoot it down.

I suggested to my friends that we see a horror movie, but everyone shot it down.

I asked Erika for a date, but she shot me down.

My sister told Jerry that she wanted to be his girlfriend, but he shot her down. She’s really upset right now.

The first meaning “shoot down” is almost always used in war situations. We don’t use it when talking about birds.

When it comes to the second meaning, when we are talking about rejecting a person, it’s always used for dating situations, not with friendships.

the difference between words: ago and before

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A few days ago, I wrote about the difference between “in” and “later”, so today I’d like to write about the difference between “ago” and “before”. As I explained in the previous blog, “in” is used when talking about future times from the present moment and “later” is used when talking about future times from a time which is NOT the present moment.

In the same way, “ago” is used when talking about past times from the present moment and “before” is used when talking about past times from a time which is NOT the present moment. For example:

I’m late for the meeting. It started about ten minutes ago.

I went to Paris for my honeymoon about fifteen years ago. My wife and I would like to go back there again.

A few weeks ago I broke my leg, but it’s starting to get better now.

I went to a Korean restaurant on Thursday even though I had eaten Korean food three days before.

I couldn’t buy the video game I wanted. I got to the store at 6:30, and the clerk told me he had sold the last copy of the game a few minutes before.

Many people I know work at my company. I was hired by them in 2005, and my friend got a job there two years before.

As you can see with the word “before”, it is often used with the past perfect tense (had + pp). You can see this with examples 4 and 5. However, it can also be used with the simple past tense as in example 6. We use the past perfect tense when there is a direct connection between the two ideas, but we use the simple past tense when one event simply follows another event.

idioms: search me, beats me, beats the hell out of me

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Today I have three idioms that mean the same thing: “search me”, “beats me” and “beats the hell out of me”. They all mean, “I don’t know”. For example:

A: What is the capital of Finland?

B: Search me. Why don’t you look it up on the Internet?

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A: Do you know where the Carlton Bookstore is?

B: Beats me. I’m just a tourist in this city.

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A: Where did Trevor go?

B: Beats the hell out of me. He never tells me anything.

All three expressions are used in casual situations. However, the expression “beats me” sounds a little more casual than “search me”, and “beats the hell out of me” is the most casual. It would usually only be used with friends. The word “hell” makes it a bit rude, but it’s not extremely offensive.

adjective: mediocre

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Today’s adjective is “mediocre”.  It is used to talk about something which is very average in terms of its quality. However, if we say something is “average” rather than “mediocre”, it sounds more positive. So the word “mediocre” has a very negative feeling to it. For example:

I’ve heard the quality of education at that school is very mediocre, so I want my son to go to a different school.

Frankly, your work on this project was mediocre. What’s the matter? You usually do much better work.

I was really looking forward to eating at the new Italian restaurant downtown, but the food was really mediocre. I was so disappointed!

That singer’s latest album is very mediocre compared to her earlier albums.

So this is how we use this word. It’s usually used when talking about situations that have to do with other people, but we don’t usually use it about ourselves.

the difference between words: in and later

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Many of my students make mistakes when talking about the future, so I’d like to clear up the difference between the use of  “in” and the use of  “later”.

We use the word “in” when talking about a future event which will happen at a certain time from NOW. For example:

I’m going to go to my hometown in five days.

The new Brad Pitt movie will open in one week.

My package is supposed to be delivered in a few days.

We use the word “later” when talking about an event which happens at a future time from a moment which is NOT now. For example:

I arrived in Tokyo on March 12th, and then I went to Osaka three days later.

I will get home at 6:00, and then my friend will come over about two hours later.

On my way to work, my train suddenly stopped, but it started again about five minutes later.

As you can see with the word “later”, it can be used with both the past and the future tense. We usually state the time or date in these sentences (as in the first two examples), but it’s not always necessary (as in the third example).

inseparable phrasal verb: run into

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The phrasal verb for today is “run into”, and it has two meanings:

1. to meet someone by accident. For example:

I ran into one of my old friends from high school at the shopping mall today.

I don’t want to go to Jerry’s Pub because my ex-girlfriend often goes there, and I don’t want to run into her.

Have you ever run into your boss outside of the office?

2. to encounter a problem. For example:

We’ve run into a problem with one of our investors. He’s decided not to give us any money after all.

I ran into a technical problem while I was trying to set up the Internet connection on my computer.

Our presentation has to go well tomorrow. I hope we don’t run into any problems.

In both cases, the expression means to encounter someone or something by accident. In the first meaning, it could be a positive or a negative situation but, in the second meaning, it’s always negative.

grammatical expression: to do with

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I have another very common expression that we use in English today: “to do with”. This expression is used to talk about something that is connected to someone or something else. For example:

Why did you suddenly start talking about cars? That has nothing to do with what we’re discussing.

I’m not in the marketing department, but my job has a lot to do with marketing.

I don’t have anything to do with the ABC project, so maybe you should talk to someone else.

A: I’d like to talk to you about Bill’s idea about improving the office.

B: Why? What has his idea got to do with me?

In English, we can say “have to do with” or “have got to do with” (as in the last example). Both “have” and “have got” mean the same thing, but “have got” is more commonly used in conversation while “have” is used in both conversation and writing.

If you have trouble remembering this expression, just think about the old Tina Turner song, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”.  🙂

idiom: to be tied up

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I have another idiom today which is often used in business situations: “to be tied up”. This expression is used when people want to say that they are busy doing other things so that they can’t do something else. For example:

I’m afraid I can’t meet with you on Monday at 3:00. I’ll be tied up all Monday afternoon.

I’m going to be tied up with meetings all day on Thursday. Let’s try to meet on Friday instead.

I’m sorry, but Mr. Tanaka is tied up in a meeting right now. Would you like to leave a message for him?

So, as I mentioned already, this expression is used in business situations. If you want to talk about a free time situation, you can say, “I’m busy.” or “I have plans”.

adjective: crooked

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Today I have an adjective for you: “crooked”. It has two meanings:

1. for something to not be straight. For example:

The picture on the wall was crooked, so I straightened it.

I hope my tie isn’t crooked. I want to make a good impression in my job interview.

I used to have crooked teeth, so I got braces when I was younger.

2. for an important person (a high level businessman, a politician, a police officer, etc) to use their position to make money illegally. For example:

It was recently discovered that the vice president of my company is crooked. He’s been stealing money from the company and putting it into a Swiss bank account.

Recently, there’s been a government scandal in which several crooked politicians were caught taking bribes.

There are many crooked cops in the world who will let criminals go if they pay them.

In the examples, there are a couple of words people might not know. The word “bribe” means money that someone pays to an important person in order to influence them, and the word “cop” is a slang word for police officer. We usually say “crooked cop” in English, but it sounds unnatural to say “crooked police officer”.

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