Archive for March, 2011

grammatical expression: you gotta love…

I have a very casual but useful expression for you today. It’s “you gotta love”. It is used when we want to talk about something that we like and think that everyone must feel the same way about it for a certain reason. Then, we usually express that reason in the next sentence. For example:

You gotta love this restaurant. The food is good, the prices are low and they give you a lot of food.

You gotta love this city in the summertime. The girls are pretty and they all wear short skirts.

You gotta love smart phones. You can do so many things with them.

You gotta love Jim. He’s really smart and funny.

The word “gotta” is a very casual way to say “have got to” which is another way to say “have to”. In this expression though, it doesn’t mean that everyone must like this person or thing; we are simply saying that this thing or person is really great.

adjectives: rational/irrational

Today I want to write about two adjectives which are the opposite of each other: “rational” and “irrational”. We use the word “rational” to talk about an action, a decision or a general way of thinking which is based on calm logic. We use the word “irrational” to talk about an action, a decision or a general way of thinking which is based on fear or pure emotion. For example:

This is a very difficult decision for us, so we need to be as rational as possible when making it.

My dog was suffering so I had her put to sleep. It was very hard, but I think it was the rational thing to do.

A: I’ve decided to quit my job.

B: Please be rational about this. You’ll never find another job that pays you as much as this one does!

Many people lost money on this stock because they became irrational and sold all their stock as soon as price started going down. However, the price soon went up again.

My husband can be very jealous and irrational. If he sees me talking to another man, he thinks that I’m flirting with him.

My friend was very sick last year and made some very irrational decisions because he thought he was going to die.

In my second example, I talk about putting a dog to sleep. This is a more gentle way to talk about having a veterinarian kill an animal because it is suffering pain. It is done in order to be kind to the animal. Also, in my fifth example, I talk about “flirting”. The verb “flirt” means to talk to another person in a sexual way because you’re interested in them sexually or romantically.

grammatical word: head

It’s time for another grammatical word, and today I want to write about the verb “head”. Most people know the word “head” as a noun, but we can also use it as a verb. We can use it as a verb in three ways:

1. to go somewhere. For example:

I’m going to head home now. Is there anything you need from me before I leave?

If you want to go to Brentwood, take the train heading west, not east.

A: Where are you headed?

B: I’m headed to Chicago. Can I give you a ride?

2. to be the leader of something. For example:

I’ve chosen James to head the project, so you will all report to him.

There was a revolution in that country, so we don’t yet know who will head the next government.

One day, I would like to head my own company. It’s always been my dream.

3. to be in the lead position of something. For example:

My wife and I haven’t decided on a place to go on our vacation yet, but Spain is heading the list right now.

We’re in the middle of an election now. All the votes haven’t been counted yet, but so far, David Miller is heading the race.

The doctors aren’t sure what’s wrong with me, but they said that cancer is heading the list of possibilities.

With the first meaning of “head”, we can use it about a person or with a kind of public transportation like a train. With the third meaning, we often use “head” to talk about what’s at the top of a list.

the difference between words: have to and need to

The entry for today is a very subtle one: it’s the difference between “have to” and “need to”. There is a slight difference in nuance between them. We say “have to” when we want to talk about obligations – things we have no choice about doing. However, we say “need to” when we want to talk about things that are necessary to do in order to achieve a certain goal. For example:

I have to be at work by 9:00 a.m. every morning.

I have to help my friend move tomorrow, so I can’t have lunch with you.

You have to turn off the lights if you’re the last person to leave the office.

I want to go to Vietnam for my vacation, so I need to get a visa.

If you want to get a promotion, you need to work very hard.

If your daughter wants to be a model, she needs to lose some weight.

In the case of the second example, the person uses “have to”, even though they have a choice about helping the friend move. In these cases, when we agree to do something, we feel an obligation to do it, and so we use “have to” in these cases.

In the last three examples for “need to”, the person does the thing (get a visa, work very hard, lose some weight) in order to achieve the goal (go to Vietnam, get a promotion, be a model).

Sometimes, “have to” and “need to” can be exchanged freely in a sentence and will have a very similar meaning. For example:

I have to go to the bathroom.

I need to go to the bathroom.

I have to finish this job by Friday.

I need to finish this job by Friday.

I write down things I have to do on sticky notes.

I write down things I need to do on sticky notes.

In these cases, the meaning is very close but has a slightly different nuance. Again, when we use “have to”, we’re emphasizing the fact we have no choice; when we use “need to”, we’re emphasizing the fact that it’s necessary.

idiom: to be a whole new ball game


Today’s idiom is based on sports. It is to “be a whole new ball game”. We use it when we want to talk about when we have a bad situation and then change it in some way. Then, this change results in an improved situation. For example:

I used to hate going to work, but my old boss left the company a few weeks ago. After that, it was a whole new ball game.

My husband and I had a lot of problems in our marriage, so we went to a marriage counselor. Since then, it’s been a whole new ball game. We are much happier with each other now.

My class has the lowest grades in the whole school, but it’s because we had a terrible teacher. Now, we have a really good teacher, and it’s a whole new ball game.

Jeff wasn’t a very good athlete, but he’s been exercising a lot lately so it’s a whole new ball game.

If the situation has just changed and the improvement hasn’t yet happened, but we think it will happen in the future, we say “It’s a whole new ball game.” with the present tense. If the improvement has already happened, we say, “It was a whole new ball game.” with the past tense.

I think this idiom is based on the idea in sports, especially baseball, when a team is losing a game. Then, they change the players and suddenly they start to win. I hope this is clear to everyone.

inseparable phrasal verb: sleep on

The phrasal verb for this week is “sleep on”, and it is used when we have to make a big decision about something and we want to think about it overnight. For example:

A: Are you going to take this new job?

B: I don’t know. If I take it, I’ll have to move to London. I need to sleep on it.

We’d like to offer you this job. Please don’t make a decision yet. Just sleep on it, and let us know tomorrow.

A: Have you decided which car you’d like?

B: Not yet. Let me sleep on it, and I’ll tell you tomorrow.

I asked Jennifer to marry me, but she said she needs to sleep on it. That’s not a good sign!

With this phrasal verb, we always use the pronoun “it”. We never use a noun; therefore we do NOT say, “I need to sleep on this decision.”

If we have to make a decision and we say we’re going to “sleep on it”, then it is expected that we will give our decision the next day.

grammatical expression: what if

Today’s grammatical expression is “what if” and it can be used in three ways. The first way is when we are worried about something and we want to talk about the thing we are worried about. For example:

I’m really worried about my new job. What if I make a mistake on my first day?

I really don’t want to change my school. What if nobody likes me at the new school?

I don’t want to buy such an expensive watch. What if I break it?

The second way to use “what if” is when we are making a suggestion and we want to know someone’s opinion of our suggestion. For example:

A: I like the design for this ad, but it doesn’t look quite right.

B: What if we changed the background color to green?

A: Yes, I think that would be a good idea.


A: My wife is angry at me because I forgot her birthday.

B: What if you took her out for an expensive dinner?

A: No, I don’t think that will work. She’s really angry!


A: I don’t know how I’m going to finish all this work tonight.

B: What if Sam and I help you?

A: That would be great! Thank you so much!

The third way to use “what if” is when asking about another possibility which is different from the present situation. For example:

A: Did you hear that ABC Company went bankrupt?

B: Really? I almost invested in them. What if I had actually done that? I would have lost a lot of money.

There was a big fire in my apartment building while I was at work. What if I had been home at the time? I could have died!

What if you found out you had only six months to live? What would you do with that time?

This last way of using it is a little more complicated than the other two ways. In this case, we are imagining the possibility of something happening which is not real. Therefore, we often use the word “would” or “could” because they indicate that we are talking about something which is only in our imaginations.

adjective: nosy

Today’s adjective is “nosy”, and it can be used to describe a person who tries to find out personal information about other people. For example:

My neighbor is really nosy. She’s always looking out her window to see what we’re doing.

I don’t want you to think I’m being nosy, but I was just wondering if you’re married.

I caught my friend snooping through my things in my apartment. He’s so nosy!

I don’t like Jill and Tom because they’re so nosy. They’re always asking people really personal questions!

So, as you can tell from my examples, the word “nosy” is always negative. In my third example, I used the word “snoop”. We use this word when we want to talk about a person who looks through the things that belong to other people. Again, this is always considered negative.

grammatical word: ruin


Today, I have a verb for you which is very useful, but which many of my students don’t know about; the word is “ruin”. It is used when we want to talk about someone damaging a situation so much that it cannot be fixed. For example:

I added salt instead of sugar to the cake, so I ruined it.

Bruce got completely drunk and ruined my party! I’m so angry at him! I’ll never speak to him again!

Vicky spilled ink all over my shirt. That stain will never come out! My shirt is ruined! (passive voice)

I had an opportunity to get a promotion but I ruined it by being lazy at work. I’ll never do that again.

So we can use this word with physical things like clothes or food or we can use it with non-physical things such as parties or opportunities. We don’t use it when talking about machines or fragile objects though. In those cases, we use the word “break”.

the difference between words: anticipate and predict

Recently, one of my students asked me about the difference between “anticipate” and “predict”. That is what I’d like to write about today.

We use both “anticipate” and “predict” when talking about what we or another person think will happen in the future. The difference is that we use “anticipate” when the event will happen in the near future or at a specific time. We usually use “predict” when the event will happen further in the future or when we don’t know the specific time.

In addition, when we use “anticipate”, it sounds like we have some information that allows us to guess what will happen. When we use “predict”, we may or may not have some information which helps us to guess what will happen. Generally, it sounds like it’s simply the person’s opinion about what will happen. For example:

We anticipate at least 50 people will come to the party, so we’d better make sure we have enough food for everyone.

The weather forecaster said they anticipate that the storm will hit our city at about 9:00 p.m. tonight.

Based on our sales figures for last year, we anticipate an increase of about 30% in sales during the months of September and October.

I predict that people will live on the moon within 100 years.

Everyone in high school predicted that Ken would become rich one day, and they were right. He’s worth over 20 million dollars right now.

Some people are predicting that Chinese will replace English as the international language in the future, but I don’t think it will happen.

With both of these words, we can use the word “that” after them, but this is optional; many people leave it out, especially in conversation.

Also, we can put a noun after the word “anticipate”, as in my third example.

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