Archive for February, 2011

adjective: thorough

The adjective for this week is the word “thorough”. It is used when we want to talk about doing something completely and carefully. For example:

We did a thorough search of the house, but we couldn’t find your watch anywhere. Somebody must have taken it.

I’m very impressed with your research for this article. It was extremely thorough.

My wife is very thorough when she cleans our house. She even cleans the tops of the doors.

We often use this word as an adverb by adding -ly to the end. For example:

We searched the house thoroughly, but we couldn’t find your watch anywhere. Somebody must have taken it.

You researched this topic extremely thoroughly. I’m very impressed.

My wife always thoroughly cleans our house. She even cleans the tops of the doors.

Sometimes, we use “thoroughly” to express our feeling about something. In these cases, it simply means “completely” or “very much”. For example:

I thoroughly enjoyed your party. Thank you for inviting me.

I was thoroughly disgusted by that movie. I’ve never seen so much blood in a movie before.

The professor’s lecture thoroughly confused me. He needs to express things in a more simple way.

Please be careful of the pronunciation of the word “thorough”. It is pronounced /THUR row/.

grammatical word: initiate

Today I would like to go over the verb “initiate”. It has three meanings in the English language:

1. to be the first person to start a plan with another person (usually among friends). For example:

I’m really annoyed with my friends now. Whenever we do something, I’m the one who always has to initiate. They never call me first.

I don’t usually initiate plans with my friends because I’m so busy. They always call me first.

A: Who initiated the plan to go bowling this weekend?

B: I’m not sure, but I think it was Lance who initiated it.

2. to begin some kind of policy, plan or project. For example:

My company has initiated a new dress code policy. Now we have to wear a suit at work all the time.

America will initiate the next phases of the new health care law soon.

North and South Korea have initiated talks to resolve some of their differences.

3. to allow someone to enter an organization through some kind of ritual or challenge. For example:

The university fraternity initiates its new members by making them eat really strange food.

A: How did that club initiate you as a member?

B: They made me memorize a long speech and give it to them wearing only my underwear.

Please be careful with the pronunciation of this word; it is pronounced /in NISH shee ate/. If you’re not sure, you can use The Free Dictionary to hear the proper pronunciation. The link for that site is on my blog.

the difference between words: will and shall

I had a request from someone last week to go over the difference between “will” and “shall”, so that’s what I want to write about in my blog for today.

Basically, the difference between these two words is formality: the word “shall” is much more formal than “will”, so it’s much more common for people to use “will”. For example:

A: Please finish writing the report by tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.

B: Ok, I’ll do that.


A: Please finish writing the report by tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.

B: Of course, sir. I shall do that.


We have to leave now, or we’ll be late.

We have to leave immediately, or we shall be late.

In these cases, the use of “shall” is extremely formal and sounds a bit strange in most conversations with friends or family members. Therefore, I would recommend using “will” instead.

However, the word “shall” can be used naturally in some other situations. For instance, it can be used to make offers to people, especially in a formal business situation. These sentences are very polite, so if you want to sound more casual, you can use the word “can” instead. For example:

Shall I take your coat?   (Can I take your coat?)

Shall I get you a drink?  (Can I get you a drink?)

Shall I make a reservation at the restaurant for you?  (Can I make a reservation at the restaurant for you?)

We also use “shall” when making plans with another person and we’re trying to decide on certain details. Again, it’s a little formal but not too much; many people use “shall” in this situation. However, if you want to sound more casual, you can use “should” instead. For example:

What shall we do today?  (What should we do today?)

Where shall we meet?  (Where should we meet?)

What time shall we meet tomorrow?  (What time should we meet tomorrow?)

Who shall we invite to the party?  (Who should we invite to the party?)

The word “shall” is also commonly used when making a suggestion to another person in the form of a question. For example:

Shall we dance?

Shall we leave now?

Shall we go for a walk?

In these cases, the person wants to do the thing (dance, leave, go for a walk), but using normal suggestion patterns like “let’s” or “why don’t we…” could sound too strong. So, the person uses “shall” instead because it sounds more polite.

idiom: to pull someone’s leg

Today is Sunday, and that means it’s time for another idiom. Today the expression I want to teach you is to “pull someone’s leg”. This is used to talk about one person telling a lie to another person as a joke. For example:

My girlfriend told me she was pregnant, but she was just pulling my leg.

A: Guess what! I’m moving to China next month!

B: Is that really true or are you pulling my leg?


A: Bill told me he used to date Julia Roberts.

B: You believed him? I’m pretty sure he was just pulling your leg.


A: Do you really work for NASA?

B: No, I was just pulling your leg. I’m really an accountant at ABC Company.

So, with this expression, it’s important that you only say “leg” without an S. If you say, “pulling my legs”, it will sound very strange. Also, it’s very common to put the word “just” in front of this expression.

The idea of lying to someone as a joke may be strange to people from certain cultures, but it is quite a normal part of humor among many English speakers.

inseparable phrasal verb: frown on

Today’s phrasal verb is “frown on” and it is used when we want to talk about when someone disapproves of something. In other words, when someone thinks a certain situation is not a good way to live. For example:

My mother frowns on couples who live together before marriage.

I used to frown on drinking alcohol, but now I sometimes like to drink.

A: Don’t your parents frown on you being a rock musician?

B: No, they think it’s cool.

This expression is a little formal but not extremely.

grammatical expression: to have…in common


Wow! I can’t believe it!!! Today is my one year anniversary of starting the English Help Online blog! I started writing it on February 10, 2010 and have written exactly 300 blog entries so far! Today will be my 301st entry!

For today’s entry, I would like to write about another natural and useful expression: to have something “in common” with another person. This expression is related to yesterday’s topic, the word “mutual”. It is used when we want to talk about two people who have the same interest or situation in their lives. We can also use it in the negative and say that two people don’t have anything “in common”. This means they don’t have mutual interests or situations in their lives. For example:

My friend Steven and I have a lot in common; we both like comic books, race car driving, hiking and action movies.

I don’t have a very good relationship with my brother because we don’t have much in common.

A: I don’t understand why you’re dating Tyler. You’re so different from each other. What can you possibly have in common?

B: Well, one thing we have in common is that we both hate being told we’re so different from each other.

I find it’s difficult to work with Betty. We have nothing in common, so it’s hard to talk to her.

So, this expression is related to “mutual” because if two people have a mutual interest, we can say they have that thing “in common”. This is a very natural and often-used expression. I think “in common” is a little more casual than “mutual”.

I would sincerely like to thank all my readers for your questions and kind comments about my blog over the last year! I hope I’ve been able to be of some help to you in learning this crazy language we call English. I hope we’ll have another great year together! Thank you!!!

adjective: mutual

The other day, I was explaining the meaning of the adjective “mutual” to some people, so I want to write about that in today’s blog.

We have two ways of using “mutual”. The first one is when we want to talk about having the same interest or person in our lives as another person. For example:

Bill and I have a mutual ancestor, so I guess we’re kind of like cousins.

Penny and I met through our mutual friend, Will. She met Will in university, and I met him when I started working at my company. He introduced us at a party.

Nathan and I have a lot of mutual interests. We both like skiing, cooking, science fiction and German beer.

The second way to use it is when we want to say that we feel the same way towards another person as they feel towards us. For example:

A: I really like you.

B: The feeling is mutual. I really like you too.

Oscar and I have mutual respect for one another.

I know that Jennifer hates me but, believe me, the feeling is mutual.

Please be careful not to mix up the two meanings of this word. For example, we CANNOT say, “Jennifer hates horror movies, and the feeling is mutual.” In this case, we have to say, “Jennifer hates horror movies, and so do I.” or “Jennifer and I have a mutual hatred of horror movies.” The second meaning of “mutual” is only when talking about how two people feel about each other.

grammatical word: agree

Today I have another verb for you which has a second and surprising meaning; the verb is “agree”. I think most people know the first meaning of  “agree” which is to share another person’s opinion. For example:

I agree with Bill when he says that we have to change our business strategy.

In my opinion, the best music in the world is 80’s pop music. Do you agree?

However, the second meaning of “agree” is for some food to give a person some trouble with their stomach. For example:

I have a stomachache now. I guess the seafood I ate for dinner didn’t agree with me.

My husband can’t eat pickles. They don’t agree with him.

A: Have you ever eaten any Japanese food that didn’t agree with you?

B: No, I can’t think of anything in Japan that didn’t agree with me.

My mother could never eat Korean food because spicy food doesn’t agree with her.

So, it’s important to note that we always use this verb in the negative when talking about food. We DON’T say, “That food agreed with me.” We only talk about it when some food doesn’t agree with us and gives us a stomachache or some other problem.

Also, we DON’T say, “It didn’t agree with my stomach.” That sounds strange. We always say, “It didn’t agree with me.”

In addition, we DON’T use the word “agree” to talk about food we don’t like. It’s only used when some food gives us a medical problem.

the difference between words: go somewhere and get somewhere

Today I’d like to go over a common misunderstanding for many of my students – when to use “go” somewhere and when to use “get” somewhere.  The difference is that we usually use “go” when talking about leaving for a certain place, and we use “get” when talking about arriving at that place. For example:

I usually go home at 8:00 and get home at 8:45.

Come on! Let’s go! It’s going to take us at least 20 minutes to get to the movie theater. We don’t want to be late!

A: We’re going to go to the park at around 2:00.

B: Ok, no problem. What time do you think we’ll get there?

A: We should get there at about 2:30.


A: How do you commute to work every day?

B: I go by train.


A: How do you commute to work every day?

B: I get there by train.


A: How long does it take you to get to your office?

B: It usually takes me 40 minutes to get there.

In the fourth example, person B answers the question using “go”, but in the fifth example, person B answers the same question using “get”. The reason is that in the fifth example, the person is mentioning the place, which is represented by the word “there”. Therefore, we say “get there” because the person is focusing on the idea of arriving at that place. In the fourth example, the person is focusing on the journey itself, so they use “go”.

Please note that when we use “here” and “there”, we usually don’t put “to” in front of them. Therefore, we say:

I go to my office by train every day.


I go there by train every day.

We usually use “to” in front of a location, but there are some exceptions. These are the words: “home”, “downtown”, “abroad” and “overseas”. For example:

I got home very late last night, so my wife was angry.

We’re going downtown tonight to see a movie. Do you want to come with us?

I’m going to go abroad for the first time next month.

I don’t want to go overseas. I prefer staying in my own country.

idiom: to be (still) up in the air


Today is Sunday, so that means it’s time for another idiom. The one I’ve chosen for today is it’s “up in the air”. Often, with this expression, we use the word “still” before the word “up”. We use it when we want to say that something is still not decided and that we are still waiting to receive someone’s decision about a situation or that we’re waiting for more information that will allow us to make a decision about something. For example:

I don’t know how much my salary will be at my new job. It’s up in the air right now because we’re still negotiating my contract.

A: When will the office Christmas party be held this year?

B: It’s still up in the air. The boss is still trying to decide on a date.


A: How many people will be attending the conference?

B: I haven’t heard back from everyone yet, so it’s still up in the air.


A: Which university will you be going to in the fall?

B: It’s still up in the air. I haven’t heard back from all of the schools yet.

We don’t use this expression when we have the power to make the decision ourselves. Therefore, for example, if it’s up to us to choose a school to attend in the fall and we haven’t chosen one yet, we would NOT say “it’s still up in the air.” Instead, we would say “I haven’t decided yet.” or “I haven’t made up my mind yet.” By using “It’s still up in the air” we are saying that we have to wait for more information or for another person’s decision.

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