Archive for February, 2011

the difference between words: because and since

A few people have asked me about the difference between “because” and “since”, so that’s what I’ll write about today.

Generally speaking, we use “because” to state the reason for something that the listener or reader doesn’t already know, or when it’s uncertain if they know or not. We use “since” to emphasize the reason for something that is already known to the listener or reader. For example:

I went to Hawaii because I wanted to visit my friend there.

Because my best friend lives in Hawaii, I often go there to visit her.

Since my best friend lives in Hawaii, I often go there to visit her.

You shouldn’t let your children play around here because it’s a dangerous area.

Because this is a dangerous area, you shouldn’t let your children play around here.

Since this is a dangerous area, you shouldn’t let your children play around here.

I’m really nervous because this is my first time to give a presentation at work.

Because this is my first time to give a presentation at work, I’m really nervous.

Since this is my first time to give a presentation at work, I’m really nervous.

So, in the examples above I first used “because” in the middle of the sentence. This indicates that the speaker thinks they are stating a reason that the listener doesn’t know.

After that, I used “because” at the beginning of the sentence. This indicates that the speaker isn’t sure if the listener knows the reason or not.

Finally, I used “since” at the beginning of the sentence. This indicates that the speaker thinks they are stating a reason that the listener already knows.

My statement about using “because” at the beginning of a sentence is not a strict rule but, in my opinion, it’s a good guideline for when to use “because” at the beginning of a sentence.

idiom: to have something in spades

It’s Sunday here in Tokyo, and that means it’s time for another idiom. This week’s idiom is to have something “in spades”. Now first of all, I should explain what a spade is: It is either a garden tool used for digging or it’s one of the suits used in playing cards. There’s a picture of the king of spades above.

When we use “in spades” as an idiom, it means that someone has a very large amount of something. For example:

That girl has singing talent in spades. I think she’ll be a big star one day.

I’ve got money problems in spades right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I might have to declare bankruptcy.

We don’t have to go to the DVD store. We have DVDs in spades here.

Bill has got confidence in spades. I wish I could be as confident as he is.

So, as you can see, we can use this idiom with both countable and uncountable nouns. Apparently, the origin of this expression comes from the card game of Bridge. In that game, the spades are considered the highest suit. So, I suppose, if you have a lot of spades, then you’ll be more likely to win the game.

inseparable phrasal verb: get by (on)


I have a phrasal verb for you today which is very useful in these difficult economic times: get by. It is used when we want to talk about a person who is able to survive on a small amount of money. For example:

I have to get by on only $1500 a month. I need to find a better paying job.

Right now, I’m getting by on my salary, but I’m not able to save any money. It’s very frustrating!

My best friend just lost his job. I’m so worried about him. How is he going to get by?

A: You don’t have much money. How do you live?

B: Don’t worry about me. I get by.

As you can see, sometimes we use the word “on” after “get by”. When we do that, we focus on the salary or the amount of money the person has. If we don’t use the word “on” in the sentence, as in the last two examples, we’re focusing on the survival of the person. Therefore, when someone asks the question, “How is he going to get by?” it means, “How is he going to survive?”. Also, in the last example, when the person says, “I get by.” the meaning is “I’m surviving.”

grammatical expression: can’t be bothered to…

A while ago a friend of mine asked me to explain today’s grammatical expression: “can’t be bothered”, so I will pass that information on to you today.

We use this expression when we want to talk about something that we should do but which we don’t have enough physical or emotional energy to do. For example:

My apartment is so messy right now because I just had a party, but I can’t be bothered to clean up tonight. I’ll do it tomorrow when I’m not so tired.

I can’t be bothered to explain the meaning of this philosophy book to Greg because he’ll never understand it.

My wife and I couldn’t be bothered to make dinner last night because we both had to work overtime. We just ordered a pizza instead.

We can also use this expression to talk about being annoyed or angry with another person for their inconsiderate behavior. For example:

My husband can be so inconsiderate! I often make nice dinners for him, but he can’t be bothered to thank me!

I’m so annoyed at my friend Mary right now! It was my birthday yesterday, but she couldn’t be bothered to call me or send a card!

I’m really angry at my neighbor’s kids now! They broke my window with their baseball, but they couldn’t be bothered to apologize to me!

When we use “can’t be bothered” as in the first meaning, “I” or “we” is the subject of the sentence. When we use this expression as in the second meaning, “he”, “she” or “they” is the subject of the sentences. Please note that the word “can’t” can be changed to “couldn’t” if we are talking about a past situation.

adjective: spontaneous

I have another adjective for you today, and this week the word is “spontaneous”. It is used to talk about people who suddenly decide to do something in the moment without planning it before. For example:

Karen is a very spontaneous person. One time, on a Friday night after work, she suddenly decided to fly to Korea for the weekend.

A: Hey, why don’t we drive out and visit your family?

B: Right now? I didn’t think you were such a spontaneous person.

My wife thinks we’ve become a boring couple. She wants us to be more spontaneous.

A: Why did you buy such an expensive coat?

B: I didn’t plan to buy it. It was a spontaneous decision. I saw it in a store window and just decided I wanted to have it.

I don’t think I’ve ever done anything spontaneous in my life. I feel more comfortable when I have a plan.

So, when we use the word “spontaneous”, it can describe a person’s personality, as in the first three examples, or it can describe the decision, as in the last two examples.

grammatical word: carry

For today’s grammatical word, I’ve decided to write about the word “carry”. It has a several uses, so I’ll go over the most commonly used meanings.

1. for a person to hold something while they are moving. For example:

Would you like me to help you carry your suitcases to the car?

My backpack is full of books. It’s really heavy, but I have to carry it around all day.

2. for someone’s words to express an indirect message. For example:

When someone speaks and their voice goes down, it usually carries the meaning that they don’t like the situation.

The company president’s words in his speech carried the threat of layoffs.

3. to be pregnant with a baby. For example:

My sister carried her baby for almost 10 months before it was born.

The doctor just told my wife and me that she’s carrying twins!

4. to propel something over a distance. For example:

The wind blew my hat off and carried it several meters.

The tide carried the toy boat out into the open sea.

5. for a store to offer some products for sale. For example:

Do you carry Time magazine at this bookstore?

I’m very sorry, but we don’t carry products from ABC Company at this store.

6. for a product to have something included with it. For example:

This computer carries a two-year warranty.

All our products carry a money-back guarantee.

7. for the media to run a news story. For example:

The ABC Newspaper carried a story this morning about a man who tried to kill his wife.

The scandal about the president’s illegal activities was carried by all the newspapers as well as all the radio and TV stations. (passive voice)

There are a few other ways we can use the word “carry”, but I think the meanings I’ve explained above are the most useful for people for conversational English.

the difference between words: must and might

In English, we often do something called speculating. This means that, when we don’t know the reason for something, we make suggestions about what the reason could be. We also often speculate about another person’s feelings about a certain situation. We use the words “must” and “might” to do this, but many people are confused about which one to use in each situation. That’s what I’d like to go over in my blog today.

We use “must” when we think there is only one possibility. For example:

A: Why is Jack late for the party?

B: He’s working on a big project now, so he must still be at the office.


A: Why was Beth talking so strangely last night?

B: She must have been drunk. She’s always talks like that when she drinks too much.


A: My sister and her husband are going to have their first baby!

B: That’s wonderful news! They must be so happy and excited!


A: When I was young, I wanted to get into Harvard, but I couldn’t.

B: You must have been so disappointed.

We use “might” when we think there is more than one possibility. For example:

A: I don’t know why Ken cancelled our plans for tonight.

B: He might be sick. A lot of people are getting a cold nowadays.


A: Our neighbor’s house burned down last year. I wonder how the fire got started.

B: It might have been started by a gas leak, or it might have just been some kids playing with matches.

We can also use the words “may” and “could” instead of “might”. The words “might” and “could” are both used in normal conversations but the word “may” is a little more formal.

Please note in the examples the use of the past tense: we use “must have” and “might have” to indicate a past situation.

Also, please note that we can use “must” or “must have” to talk about either reasons or feelings, but we DON’T use “might” or “might have” to talk about feelings.

idiom: to keep someone in the dark

If you’ve ever felt that someone in your life has been keeping a secret from you, you can use today’s idiom, to “keep someone in the dark”. It is used when we want to talk about a person who doesn’t tell another person about something; in other words they are keeping information from the other person. For example:

I think there’s a problem with my wife’s health, but she hasn’t said anything about it. I hate it when she keeps me in the dark like that!

There are rumors of my company merging with another one, but my boss is keeping us in the dark about it.

I know there’s something wrong! Please tell me what it is! Don’t keep me in the dark like this!

We’ve kept the children in the dark for too long about our plan to get a divorce. I think it’s time we told them.

This expression can be used in personal or business situations because it is neither formal nor casual in tone.

inseparable phrasal verb: fork out (for)


This week’s phrasal verb is to “fork out” for something, and it is used when we want to talk about having to pay a lot of money for something. For example:

My parents told me they’re not going to help me pay for my wedding, so now I have to fork out for the whole thing myself!

I just found out I have to fork out for my son to get braces on his teeth! That’s going to be so expensive!

My girlfriend expects me to fork out for dinner every time we go out!

My friend just had to fork out for a new computer because his old one stopped working.

So, when we use this expression, the person who pays for the thing doesn’t want to do it, but they have no choice. Also, the person considers the amount of money to be quite large.

grammatical expression: for the time being,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg

The other day, someone asked me to explain “for the time being”, so I want to write about that today. This expression is used when we want to talk about what we will do while we’re waiting for something to happen in the future. For example:

I want a new winter coat, but I don’t have enough money for one now. For the time being, I’ll have to wear my old one.

I can’t get a permanent job right now so, for the time being, I’ll have to get a job as a temp worker.

I don’t have anywhere to live right now. Is it ok if I stay with you for the time being?

I know you don’t have your own computer so, for the time being, you can use mine.

When we use “for the time being”, the amount of time we will have to wait is usually unknown. In my examples, the people don’t know how long it will be until they can get a new winter coat, get a permanent job, find their own apartment or get their own computer.

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