Archive for July, 2010

idiom: to have a lot on one’s plate


This week’s idiom is a commonly used expression in English: “to have a lot on one’s plate”. It is used to talk about a person who is very busy and has many things that they have to do. For example:

I’m afraid I don’t have time to write that report. I have a lot on my plate already. Maybe Lance can do it.

My sister has a lot on her plate these days. She’s got two kids, a full-time job and she does a lot of volunteer work. I don’t know how she does it all.

A: I can help you plan the office party if you want.

B: Don’t you have a lot on your plate already with the ABC project?

A: Well, I’m a little busy with that, but I still have time to help you.

This expression can be used in both work and free time situations, so it’s quite flexible.

inseparable phrasal verb: hit on


Today I have another inseparable phrasal verb for you. Once again this means that the two words CANNOT be separated by a noun or a pronoun. The noun or pronoun must come after the second word. Today’s phrasal verb is “hit on”.  It has two meanings:

1. to talk to someone with the intention of starting a sexual or romantic relationship with them. For example:

This really strange guy was hitting on me at the bar last night, so I don’t want to go back there for a while.

I was hit on by a really strange guy last night. (passive voice)

A: Excuse me. I just wanted to say you’re the most beautiful girl in the room. Are you a movie star?

B: Are you hitting on me? I’m sorry, but I’ve already got a boyfriend.

2. to think of a good idea or a good explanation for something. For example:

I think you’ve really hit on something with your idea for that new restaurant. I”m sure it’ll be very successful.

A: I think the main reason for crime is poverty.

B: Yes, you’ve hit on it exactly.

We often use the word “something” when talking about thinking of a good idea. Therefore, instead of saying, “You’ve hit on a good idea.”, it’s more natural to say, “You’ve hit on something.”

grammatical expression: as long as


We have a common expression in English: “as long as”. It has the basic of meaning of “if”, but it is used in a different way from “if”. When we use “as long as”, we are trying to indicate some kind of limit. So, it means that a certain situation is ok if it stays within a certain limit. For example:

I will buy a new suit as long as it’s not over $400.

I’ll go to the party as long as you go with me.

My friend is willing to fix your car as long as you pay him for his work.

You can stay at my house as long as my wife doesn’t mind.

Sometimes “as long as” has the meaning of “since”. For example:

As long as you’re getting up, can you get me a beer from the refrigerator?

As long as you’re going downtown, is it ok if I get a ride with you?

As you can see, with the second meaning of “as long as”, the expression is usually placed at the beginning of the sentence and is used as an introduction for asking a favor of someone. In these cases, it does NOT mean “if”; it means “since”. Therefore, the speaker knows for certain that the other person is getting up or going downtown.

adjective: sensitive


Today, I would like to write about another common adjective: “sensitive”. It has three main meanings.

1. for some part of a person’s body to be easily damaged or irritated. For example:

My skin is very sensitive to the sun, so I get a sunburn easily.

My eyes are sensitive to light, so I have to wear sunglasses if it’s a bright day.

I have a really sensitive stomach. If any food is even a little spicy, I get a stomachache.

2. for a person to be very easily hurt by someone else’s words. For example:

Why did you call Teresa fat? You know how sensitive she is about her weight!

Wow, that girl is really sensitive! I just said I didn’t like her dress and she started crying.

My husband is too sensitive. If you criticize him even a little, he gets very upset.

3. for a person to consider other people’s feelings. For example:

My sister wants to find a boyfriend who’s kind and sensitive. Her last boyfriend never thought about her feelings at all.

Bill hasn’t been very nice recently but his wife is sick, so we have to be sensitive when talking to him.

The first two meanings of “sensitive” are a little negative, but the last meaning is positive. I hope that everyone understands how to use this word in all of its meanings now.

grammatical word: apparently


Today, I want to write about a word which is a bit complex in the English language: “apparently”. It is complex because it has two meanings which are, in many ways, the opposite of each other. The first way we use this word is when something is plainly obvious from our observation of the situation. For example:

Sam wants us to give him a promotion even though he’s only been with the company for six months. Apparently, he thinks he is better than the other employees.

A: Do you think Sarah is happy with the gift we gave her?

B: Apparently she is. Just look at the smile on her face.


A: Was our neighbor angry about the noise from our party last weekend?

B: Apparently he was. He complained about us to the landlord.

The second meaning of “apparently” is used when talking about some information that we receive about someone or something from another source. We do NOT experience the situation directly, but are told about it from another person or from some kind of media such as a book or newspaper. For example:

I’ve never been to Spain but, apparently, it’s a really beautiful country.

I wasn’t at the office yesterday but, apparently, Gerry had a big argument with the boss.

Apparently, there’s going to be a big storm this weekend, so we’d better cancel our plans to go hiking.

In the first set of examples, the people can tell from observing the situations that Sam thinks he’s better than the other employees, that Sarah is happy with her gift, and that the neighbor was angry. It is obvious based on their observations. However, in the second set of examples, the people get their information indirectly. The person may have read that Spain is a beautiful country, a co-worker told the person about Gerry’s argument with the boss, and the person probably saw the weather forecast for the weekend on TV or in the newspaper.

This word can be difficult because the two meanings are almost opposites of each other. The first meaning is that we get the information directly, and the second meaning is that we get it indirectly. To avoid getting confused, my advice is to always study full sentences so you know exactly how to use the word in each context.

the difference between words: for and during


Many students say things like, “I stayed in my apartment during three days.” This is wrong. The person should say, “I stayed in my apartment for three days.” So today, I would like to go over the difference between “for” and “during”.

The word “for” is followed by the word “a” or “an” or by a number; and then it is followed by a time noun (year, month, day, hour, minute, etc). However, the word “during” is followed directly by a regular noun. For example:

I’ve been working on this project for six months.

I did training for my job for a week.

The movie lasted for two and a half hours.

I fell asleep during the movie.

I got a sunburn during my vacation.

I didn’t see anyone during the weekend.

So, as you can see, with “during”, the word “the” or a possessive pronoun like “my” or “your” is usually placed between “during” and the regular noun. If we’re talking about public holidays, then we DON’T use “the”. For example:

What are you going to do during Christmas?

idiom: to bite the bullet


I hope everyone is having a good weekend. Today, I’ve decided to go over the idiom: “to bite the bullet”. This expression is used to talk about something that we don’t want to do, but we can’t avoid doing it. Because we don’t want to do it, we delay doing it. When we finally do it, we use this expression, “to bite the bullet”. For example:

I know you don’t want to tell Harold that he’s fired, but you have to do it eventually. You should just bite the bullet and do it now.

I broke up with my girlfriend last night. I wasn’t happy in the relationship for a long time, but I had been putting it off. Finally, last night I just bit the bullet and did it.

A: I’m really nervous about asking my boss for a raise.

B: I know it’s hard, but just bite the bullet and ask him. The worst thing he can do is say no.

In the second example, the phrasal verb “put off” means to postpone doing something. Also, in the last example, the word “raise” means a salary increase. Therefore, the person is nervous about asking the boss for a salary increase and is delaying asking him for it.

intransitive phrasal verb: come around


I have another phrasal verb for you today but, don’t worry, it doesn’t have as many meanings as “pick up”. Today’s expression is “come around”, and it only has three meanings.

1. for someone to change their thinking and start to support someone. For example:

At first, my mother wouldn’t support my decision to start my own company, but eventually she came around.

A: Dad really hates my fiancee! He says he won’t come to our wedding.

B: Don’t worry! Your father can be stubborn sometimes, but he’ll come around.

2. for someone to gain consciousness again. For example:

My sister fainted, but she came around after we sprinkled water on her face.

Oscar fainted! Everybody please stand back! He’s coming around now!

3. to visit someone’s home. For example:

We really enjoy talking to you, so please come around whenever you have time.

Mom, my friend Rob might come around this weekend. Is that ok with you?

So all of these examples are intransitive which means that there is no object in the sentence.

grammatical expression: I hate to think…


Today I have a common expression that English speakers use: “I hate to think…”. It is used when we want to talk about  a situation that  we don’t know the details about but which we imagine as being very negative. For example:

Living downtown was very expensive even 20 years ago. I hate to think how much it costs nowadays.

Paul is a very slow worker. I hate to think how long it will take him to finish this project.

My father hates my boyfriend. I hate to think what he’s going to say when I tell him we’re getting married.

My children were playing with matches near the gas stove. I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten home when I did.

In all of these examples, the person is anticipating a negative situation (very expensive apartments, a long time for Paul to finish the project, the father being angry about the news his daughter is marrying her boyfriend, the house catching on fire), but it’s only what they imagine will or would happen.

grammatical word: tell


Previously I wrote that certain verbs have surprising second meanings. The verb “tell” is another example of this. The main meaning of “tell” is to say something to another person. However, there is a second meaning which is to be able to notice something about someone or something based on your observation of that person or thing. For example:

What’s wrong with Nathan? I can tell that something is bothering him.

I’ve only seen the new video game for about a minute, but I can already tell it’s going to be really fun.

Is Paula telling the truth? I can never tell if she’s lying or not.

My wife can always tell if I’ve been drinking, and she doesn’t like it. I’d better not have a drink.

Most of the time, this meaning of “tell” is used to talk about other people. In these cases, the person observes the other person and realizes the truth about them.

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