Archive for December, 2010

the difference between words: call back and call someone back


Recently I was teaching how to take and leave messages and my students asked me the difference between “call back” and “call someone back”. They thought it was the same thing, but it’s not. I want to write about that for today’s blog entry.

In English, when we say we will “call back” later, it means we will call again without leaving a message right now. However, when we say we will “call someone back”, it means we are returning a message from another person. For example:

A: Would you like to leave a message for Mr. Jones?

B: No, it’s ok. I’ll just call back later.


A: Would you like to leave a message for Mr. Jones?

B: Yes. Could you please ask him to call me back as soon as possible?

A: Alright. I’ll have him call you back when he arrives at the office.


Ms. Peterson called earlier, but you weren’t here. She said she’d call back at 3:00.

Ms. Peterson called earlier, but you weren’t here. She wants you to call her back at 3:00.

I know this can be a little confusing but try to remember it like this: If the words “call” and “back” are next to each other, the meaning is call again. If they are separated by another word like “you”, “me”, “him”, “her” or a name, it means that someone has to return the call.

idiom: to hit the road

The idiom for today is to “hit the road”. It is used when we want to say that we are going to leave for some place on foot, by car or by public transportation. For example:

It’s late, so I’d better hit the road now.

If we don’t hit the road soon, we’re going to miss the train.

A: Is your brother still with you?

B: No. He hit the road about an hour ago.

I don’t want you in my apartment anymore, so just hit the road!

It’s more common to use this idiom in casual conversation. We can use it in the imperative, as in the last example, but we more commonly hear that in movies and on TV shows. Sometimes we can hear it in songs too such as in the famous Ray Charles song, “Hit the Road, Jack”.

As I mentioned, we use this expression when leaving for a place on foot, by car or by public transportation, but we can’t use it when leaving on a ship or plane because there is no road involved.

inseparable phrasal verb: look down on

The phrasal verb for this week is related to the adjective I wrote about on Wednesday: “stuck up”. The phrasal verb is “look down on”. It is used when we want to talk about a person who thinks of another person as being inferior to themselves. Therefore, stuck up people often look down on others. For example:

Grant is such a stuck up snob! He looks down on me just because I don’t have much money or an expensive education.

I’m tired of being looked down on by Grant. (passive voice)

I know I shouldn’t, but I tend to look down on women who read cheap romance novels.

My parents look down on my girlfriend because she’s a waitress, but I don’t care what they think.

I used to look down on people who have blue collar jobs, but I don’t anymore.

Obviously, looking down on other people is bad, but most people do it sometimes.

grammatical expression: with my luck


It’s time for another grammatical expression. I really like writing about these because I don’t think they’re usually taught, but they’re extremely important. I often use today’s expression; it is “with my luck”.

It’s used when we want to express pessimism about some project or activity that we are planning to do. For example:

I’m planning to go on a picnic tomorrow but, with my luck, it’ll end up raining.

It’s possible that I’ll get a promotion this year but, with my luck, it will go to someone else.

A: Do you think there will still be tickets left for the concert?

B: With my luck, probably not! But I’ll still call to find out.

I’m going on a blind date tonight with my friend’s cousin. With my luck, she’ll be old and fat though.

So, this expression can be used in a serious way, as in the first three examples or as a kind of joke, as in the last example. It’s always used about a situation that will happen in the future. Most English speakers use this expression sometimes even if they’re not extremely pessimistic people. Using this expression is more like a common habit we have, so you shouldn’t take it so seriously when you hear a native English speaker using it.

adjective: stuck up

It’s Wednesday today, and that means it’s time for another adjective. The word for today is actually a combination of two words: “stuck up”. It is used when we want to talk about a person who is snobby and conceited. In other words, someone who thinks he or she is better than other people. For example:

I tried to ask Tammy out, but she wouldn’t even talk to me. She’s so stuck up because she’s pretty.

The kids that go to private schools tend to be a little stuck up, so I don’t want my son to go to a private school. I want him to be more down-to-earth.

Ever since Bill got a promotion, he’s gotten a bit stuck up. It’s a shame because he used to be such a nice guy.

A: I saw an interview with the famous model Helen Jacobson on TV yesterday, and she came across as really stuck up.

B: That shouldn’t be such a surprise. I think most models are stuck up.

So, we often use this word to describe people who think they’re better than others based on the way they look, but it’s possible to use it based on other things like money and education.

grammatical word: blow

Today’s word is another verb which has various meanings and uses in the English language; the word is “blow”. Let me go over the various meanings for you.

1. for someone to force breath out of their mouth. For example:

If the soup is too hot, just blow on it. That should make it cool enough to eat.

To make the wheel turn on this toy you just have to blow on it.

2. for a person to expel mucus from their nose. For example:

You have a runny nose now. Take this tissue and blow your nose with it.

I hate it when people blow their noses really loudly in public.

3. for the wind to produce currents of air. For example:

The wind was blowing really strongly last night.

A light breeze is blowing now, so it’s a bit cooler than it was before.

4. for a tire to suddenly burst. For example:

One of the front tires of my car blew while I was driving to work this morning.

The tires on your car are really old. I hope they don’t blow while we’re driving to the mountains.

5. for a person to make a mistake and ruin an opportunity. For example:

I had a chance to date Sarah, but I asked her out while I was drunk. Now she won’t even talk to me. I really blew it.

If you pass this test, you can get into a really good university, so don’t blow it.

6. for a person to waste their money on something. For example:

My brother is so stupid. He goes to the bar every weekend and blows all his money on beer and gambling.

I blew my entire paycheck last month on a new flat screen TV, so now I don’t have enough money for my rent.

7. for a situation to be really unpleasant or bad. For example:

This party blows! Let’s go somewhere else and have some fun.

I think that new TV show totally blows! I watched one episode, and it was so stupid!

Please be aware that this last meaning for “blow” is only used in the present tense and is very casual. It should NOT be used in a formal or business situation. However, the other meanings can be used in any situation.

the difference between words: it and one, them and ones


Recently there have been a few times I’ve had to explain the difference between the pronouns “it” and “one” to my students, so that’s what I’d like to write about today.

Basically, the difference between using “it” and “one” is about articles (the, a/an). If we use “a/an”, then the pronoun is “one”. If we use “the”, then the pronoun is “it”. We also use “it” with other words such as “this” or “that”. For example:

A: Do you have a pen?

B: Yes, I have one.


A: Do you have the pen?

B: Yes, I have it.


A: Would you like to see a diamond ring?

B: Yes, I’d love to see one.


A: Would you like to see this diamond ring?

B: Yes, I’d love to see it.

We can also use “it” with personal pronouns such as “my”, “your”, etc. For example:

Do you like my sweater? I bought it on sale yesterday.

What’s your name? I’m sorry, but I can’t remember it.

Have you seen Ryan’s new car? I really like it.

Sometimes, when we’re talking about more than one object, we have to use the plural forms “them” and “ones” instead. However, the same general rule applies. Please note that some things we wear have a plural form such as “pants”, “shorts” and “glasses”.  For example:

A: Do you like these pants?

B: Yes, I do. I’ll take them.


A: Do you like these pants?

B: No, I don’t. Do you have any blue ones?

In these examples, we use “them” in the first example because we’re talking about the pants that the person is holding. We use “ones” in the second example because we’re talking about other pants that may or may not exist. So, the basic difference is that “it” and “them” are pronouns for specific things and “one” and “ones” are pronouns for things in general. Let me give you some more examples of “them” and “ones”.

Do you like French movies? Personally, I really like them.

I don’t like French movies. I think Spanish ones are much more interesting.

I love your glasses! Where did you buy them? I want to get new ones.

I hope this is clear. I know it can be confusing, so my advice, as always, is to memorize sentences and then change the small details in order to learn the English sentence structures. Eventually, your brain will just know when to use “the”, “a/an”, “it”, “one”, etc. Good luck!

idiom: to give someone a piece of one’s mind

I recently saw an article on the Internet about a famous actress who was really angry at a photographer, and in the article they used today’s idiom: to “give someone a piece of one’s mind”. So, this is used when we want to talk about a person confronting another person directly when they are angry with that person and telling them directly how they feel about them. So, of course, the feeling is always negative. For example:

Julia Roberts gave a photographer a piece of her mind after she saw him taking pictures of her children.

Did you hear about Daniel? His boss tried to make him work on his day off, so Daniel really gave him a piece of his mind.

Beth is late again! She always makes us wait for her! When she finally gets here, I’m going to give her a piece of my mind!

So, you can remember this idiom by imagining that there’s a small piece of your mind with all your negative thoughts in it about this person. Usually we don’t share that, but sometimes we are so angry that we need to share, or give, that piece of your mind and tell the person how we feel. This can be used about people we know or with strangers.

separable phrasal verb: talk out of

Previously I wrote about the phrasal verb “talk into”. This means to persuade someone to do something. Today, I would like to write about the phrasal verb with the opposite meaning: “talk out of”. This, of course, means to persuade someone not to do something. For example:

Jane was planning to get a tattoo of a dragon on her back, but her boyfriend talked her out of it.

Jane was talked out of getting a tattoo of a dragon on her back by her boyfriend. (passive voice)

My parents talked my brother out of moving to New York.

My brother was talked out of moving to New York by my parents. (passive voice)

A: My father wants to make the whole family go camping together this weekend, but nobody likes camping except him.

B: Maybe your mom can talk him out of it.

I tried to talk my friend out of buying that car, but he wouldn’t listen to me. Now he really regrets buying it.

So, in the last example, when we say we “tried to” talk someone out of something, it means that we failed and the person did the action despite our advice. I hope this is clear to everyone.

grammatical expression: I’m dying to…


Sometimes we use the words “dead” or “die” in various expressions in English. I wrote about “dead” before and mentioned that we can use it to describe a place like a bar or restaurant where there are not many customers. Today’s expression, “I’m dying to…” uses the word “die” but is quite different in feeling.

We use “I’m dying to” do something when we want to talk about something that we want to do very much. For example:

I’m dying to see the new Johnny Depp movie! It’s supposed to be really good!

I’m dying to go to Paris! I’ve always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower up close.

My wife and I are dying to try that new Thai restaurant! We love Thai food!

I’m dying to get out of the office! This has been such a hard day at work!

So, when we use this expression, it’s usually for a positive situation such as in the first three examples. However, sometimes this situation can be negative such as in the last example of the person wanting to leave the office because it was a hard and stressful day.

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