Archive for January, 2011

the difference between words: yes and sure


Today I’d like to go over something which seems very simple but can be quite confusing: when to use “yes” and when to use “sure” as a response.

We use “yes” as a response to a question about factual information. For example:

A: Are you coming to the party tomorrow night?

B: Yes. I’ll be there at about 7:00.


A: Do you like Mexican food?

B: Yes. I like it very much.


A: Have you ever been to Korea?

B: Yes. I’ve been there many times.

We use “sure” as a response to someone’s request. For example:

A: Can you help me with my project?

B: Sure. What do you need my help with?


A: Could you turn down the music please? It’s a little loud.

B: Sure. I’ll do that right now.


A: Would you pick up some milk at the supermarket before you come home tonight?

B: Sure, no problem.

The word “sure” is quite casual, so we don’t use it in formal business situations. In those situations, it’s better to use “certainly” or “of course”.

Sometimes in casual conversations people use “sure” or “of course” to respond to questions about factual information but, in these cases, it sounds stronger than simply saying “yes”. For example:

A: You’re coming to the party, aren’t you?

B: Of course! I wouldn’t miss it!


A: Do you like Mexican food?

B: Sure! I think it’s amazing!

idiom: to be in someone’s good/bad books

It’s time for another idiom. This week I’ve decided to write about the expression: to be in someone’s “good books”. We use it when we want to say that a person is in someone else’s favor at the moment because they did something good. The other person is usually someone of higher status. For example:

I’m in my manager’s good books right now because I agreed to work this weekend.

My sister is in our parents’ good books because she did really well on her final exams. They’re really proud of her.

I was a little late for my meeting with my boss. I hope I’m still in his good books.

We can also use this expression in the negative. For example:

I’m not in my teacher’s good books right now because I didn’t do my homework.

My brother is never in our parents’ good books. He’s always getting into trouble.

It’s also possible to use this expression with the word “bad”. For example:

I’m in my manager’s bad books right now because I made a big mistake at the office, and our client is really angry.

My father is in my mother’s bad books now because he forgot her birthday!

When we use “bad books”, it sounds much stronger than “not in someone’s good books”. So being in someone’s “bad books” indicates the higher level person is angry.

intransitive/inseparable phrasal verb: chicken out (of)

This week I have a really fun phrasal verb to teach you: “chicken out”. Normally we don’t use the word “chicken” as a verb, but we can use it in this phrasal verb. We use this expression when we want to talk about a person who is planning to do something, then becomes too scared to do it and changes their mind. For example:

Jimmy was planning to ask the boss for a raise, but then he chickened out.

I was going to ask Susan for a date but, in the end, I chickened out. I’m too worried that she’ll say no.

My daughter chickened out of going on the rollercoaster yesterday at Disneyland. She’s still too young for that I guess.

My friend chickened out of going bungee jumping with me. Would you like to go with me instead?

This phrasal verb is inseparable if we add “of” to it and follow it with an object. My last two sentences are examples of this. It can also be intransitive if we don’t add “of”. My first two sentences are examples of this. Once again, as a reminder, intransitive means that the sentence has no object.

This phrasal verb is a little bit casual, but it’s not offensive. Generally, we use this in casual conversations with friends and people we are close to.

grammatical expression: like there’s no tomorrow

I often find myself using the grammatical expression for this week: “like there’s no tomorrow”. It is used when we want to say someone does something very intensely. For example:

My friend always drinks like there’s no tomorrow. I’m really worried about her.

You shouldn’t spend money like there’s no tomorrow. You have to think about the future!

Jill must have been so hungry last night at the party. She was eating like there was no tomorrow.

Did you see Fred in the race? He was running like there was no tomorrow. I’ve never seen him run so fast before.

So the idea with this expression is that the person does this thing so intensely as if they were going to die the next day and that would be their last chance to do it.

As you can see, it’s possible to use “was” in the expression if you’re using it to talk about a past situation. My last two sentences are examples of that.

adjective: opinionated

This week’s adjective is “opinionated”, and it can be used to describe people who have very strong opinions about many things and who usually share those opinions with other people all the time. For example:

My boss is a nice guy, but he’s very opinionated especially when it comes to business.

I don’t like Charlie very much. He’s much too opinionated for me. In fact, he never shuts up about his opinions!

My mother seems to be a very quiet person, but she can be quite opinionated once you get to know her.

I certainly have opinions about certain things, but I don’t consider myself to be an opinionated person.

This word is generally neutral in tone, but it has the feeling of being a little negative. If you want it to have the meaning of being extremely negative, you can say someone is “too opinionated”, as in the second example, and that is much more negative. Generally speaking, when we add “too” to an adjective which is neutral, it makes it negative.

grammatical word: deserve

Today I have a verb for you which is very useful; it’s the word “deserve”. It is used when we want to say that a person should get something. It can be used in positive ways or negative ways.

So, a good person should get positive things – a good person deserves good things; a bad person should get negative things – a bad person deserves bad things.

However, life is often unfair, so sometimes good people get bad things even though they shouldn’t get them – good people sometimes get bad things, but they don’t deserve them. Bad people sometimes get good things that they shouldn’t get – bad people sometimes get good things that they don’t deserve.

Let me give you some specific examples:

I’m really happy for my co-worker! He just got a promotion. He works really hard, and he really deserves it!

My mother is such a wonderful woman. She really deserves to be happy!

That man killed many people. He deserves to be put in prison for a long time!

My boss just got demoted at work. He really deserved it because he’s so lazy!

My friend’s husband just left her for a younger woman. She doesn’t deserve to be treated like that. She was a loyal wife to him for a long time!

I think Jane was one of the best dancers in the competition, but she came in fifth place. She didn’t deserve such a low score!

My co-worker just got a raise he didn’t deserve. He’s only been with the company for six months!

The guy who stole my car only got only two weeks in prison. He didn’t deserve such a light sentence!

There are a couple of words here you may not know. In my fourth example, I use the word “demoted”. This is the opposite of “promoted”. In other words, the person was given a lower position at the company as a punishment.

In my seventh example, I use the word “raise”. This word is used to mean a higher salary.

Finally, in my last example, I used the word “sentence”. This word has two meanings. The first one you probably already know – a collection of words. However, in this case, the meaning is different. Here it means the punishment given to someone in a court of law.

the difference between words: ok with and ok for

A couple of weeks ago some of my students asked me what the difference was between “ok with” someone and “ok for” someone. I thought it was a very good question, so I’d like to share the answer with you today.

When we say something is ok with us, it means that it is agreeable to us. However, when we say something is ok for us, it means that it is convenient for us. For example:

A: How about having Korean food for dinner tonight?

B: Sure. That’s ok with me. I like Korean food.

I wanted to go to Egypt for vacation, but it wasn’t ok with my wife. She really hates hot places.

I’d like to see an action movie tonight. Is that ok with you?

A: I’d like to get together with you at 3:00 this afternoon. Is that time ok for you?

B: I’m afraid not. I have another appointment at 3:00, but 4:30 is ok for me.


A: How about meeting in Brentwood?

B: That’s not good for me. I live really far from there.

In the last example, I used “That’s not good for me”. I think this sounds more natural than “That’s not ok for me”. When we talk about a convenient time, we usually use “ok for”, but when we talk about a convenient place, we usually use “good for”. In both cases, we must use the preposition “for” because it’s about being convenient.

idiom: can’t … to save (one’s) life

The other day I heard someone use this idiom, and I think it’s a very interesting expression. It’s “can’t…to save (one’s) life”. It is used when we want to say that a certain person has no ability to do something; in other words they are really bad at it. For example:

A: Would you like to dance?

B: I’m sorry, but I can’t dance to save my life. I think you should ask someone else.

My brother can’t draw to save his life, but my sister is very good at it.

My aunt tried hard to prepare dinner for us, but she can’t cook to save her life. The meal was awful!

My classmates in my Spanish class can’t put a sentence together in Spanish to save their lives. I want to go into a different class.

I suppose the meaning behind this expression is that if a person had to do this thing (dance, draw, cook, speak Spanish, etc) in order to save their life, they would not be able to do it and so they would die.

Please remember that you shouldn’t say this directly to someone as in “You can’t sing to save your life!” Obviously that would be extremely rude and hurtful to the other person.

intransitive phrasal verb: come up


Today I have a very common and useful phrasal verb to teach you. It’s “come up”, and it has two basic meanings.

1. for a subject to be mentioned in conversation. For example:

When I was talking with my friends last night, the subject of plastic surgery came up.

I don’t like going out with my boyfriend’s co-workers because work problems always come up in their conversation. I hate it when they talk shop in front of me!

A: How did the subject of Chinese opera come up at dinner?

B: Bill brought it up because he recently went to China and saw an opera there.

2. for a problem to suddenly happen. For example:

I’m sorry, but something has come up at my office, and I have to go deal with it.

I hope no problems come up with my project while I’m on vacation.

If any problems with the children come up, please contact us at this hotel in Hawaii.

With the first meaning there is a difference between “bring up” and “come up”. As you can see in my third example, we use “come up” when saying that a subject was mentioned, but we don’t say who mentioned it. If we say who mentioned it, we use “bring up”. As you can see, we often use “the subject of” followed by the conversation topic with this meaning.

The second meaning of “come up” is very useful when we don’t want to give details about a problem which has happened, so we simply say that something has “come up”. This is a very natural and common expression, especially for business people.

grammatical expression: not on your life


I have a nice, short entry for you today for this week’s grammatical expression: “not on your life”. This is used as a response to a question, and it is used to mean that we or someone else would never agree to do something. For example:

A: Do you think Eric will come dancing with us tonight?

B: Not on your life. He hates dancing!


A: Do you think your father will let us borrow his car?

B: Not on your life! He never lets me borrow it!


A: Would you like to try bungee jumping?

B: Not on your life! I would be way too scared to do that!


A: How about having Korean food this weekend?

B: Not on your life! I can’t stand spicy food!


A: I want you to come with me to see the new Nicolas Parker movie.

B: Not on your life! I really don’t like him as an actor!

So, with this expression, we use it to talk about future events, and we say “not on your life” to indicate our or someone else’s unwillingness to do something in the future. It’s quite a strong expression, so you should only use it with close friends but not with someone of higher status.

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