Archive for April, 2011

separable/intransitive phrasal verb: conk out

Today’s phrasal verb is one which is quite slang. It is to “conk out”, and it can be used in three different ways.

1. for a machine to stop working (often an engine). For example:

My car’s engine conked out in the middle of the race, so I lost.

My lawnmower conked out last week, so I can’t cut the grass today.

2. to lose consciousness. For example:

I drank so much last night that I conked out in the taxi on my way home.

I was so tired last night! I conked out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

3. to hit someone on the head so that they lose consciousness. For example:

When I was walking home, someone conked me out and stole my wallet.

I found my neighbor on the ground last night. Someone had conked him out with a big rock.

The first two ways of using “conk out” are intransitive. This means that the phrasal verb does not take an object. The last way is separable which means that the words “conk” and “out” can be separated by a noun or a pronoun.

As I mentioned before, this expression is slang, so it is only used in casual conversations.

grammatical expression: I’m afraid…

Sometimes when we’re speaking and writing English, negative statements can seem a little rude. This week’s grammatical expression, “I’m afraid” can help in these situations.

We use this expression at the beginning of negative statements to make them sound softer and more polite. For example:

A: Can you come to my party on Saturday night?

B: I’m afraid I can’t. I have other plans that night. Maybe some other time.


A: Is Geoffrey Parker there?

B: I’m afraid he’s not here right now. Can I take a message for him?


A: When will you be able to finish the project?

B: I’m afraid we’re behind schedule, so we won’t finish it until the end of the week.


A: I’m afraid I have some bad news. I got laid off today.

B: Oh no! That’s awful!

The statements which follow “I’m afraid” can either be negative grammatically (contain the word “not”), as in the first two examples, or negative in tone, as in the last two examples.

Please note that the word “afraid” in these cases doesn’t mean that we are scared. In these cases, it is simply used to soften the statement.

adjective: gullible

This week’s adjective is the word “gullible”. It is used to talk about a person who easily accepts or believes anything others tell them. These people can be easily tricked by people who want to deceive them. For example:

I told my friend that I used to date Angelina Jolie, and he believed me! He’s so gullible!

I used to be quite gullible when I was younger, but now I’m quite skeptical about what people tell me.

My cousin bought this machine because a salesman told her it would make her lose 20 kg in one week! How gullible can you be?!

You bought this necklace because someone told you it will bring good luck? Don’t be so gullible! I think you’ve just wasted your money!

This word is quite negative in tone, so be careful about using it with people directly. Also, adults would only use this when talking about other adults, but we don’t use it when talking about children.

grammatical word: hassle

Today, I’m going to write about the word, “hassle”. It is a noun used to talk about an activity which is not convenient for us and which will take a lot of time. For example:

I had to go to eight different places to find this product. It was such a hassle!

My boss wants me to go to a special store all the way across the city to buy something! What a hassle!

I have to get a visa to visit Vietnam. I hope it won’t be too much of a hassle.

I know it’s a hassle, but can you help me move this weekend?

It’s quite difficult to make this recipe, but it tastes so good! It’s really worth the hassle.

We can also use this word as a verb, and it is used when we want to talk about a person pressuring someone else to do something as soon as possible. For example:

My boss is hassling me to get this project done as soon as possible.

I will clean the living room this afternoon. Please stop hassling me about it.

I wish my wife wouldn’t hassle me about fixing the kitchen sink. I’m so busy right now.

This a very common word in English, but it always has a negative meaning. If we want to use a verb which is more positive, we can say “remind”.

the difference between words: electric and electronic


The other day, one of my students asked me the difference between “electric” and “electronic”. I thought it was a very good question, so I’d like to share that with my readers today.

We use the adjective “electric” to talk about things which can be operated with electricity. Such things include lamps, toasters, radios, etc. However, we use the adjective “electronic” to talk about more complicated machines which have some kind of computer device operating inside them. Such machines include cell phones, video games, computers, iPods, etc. For example:

Our electric bill was very high last month, so please don’t use so much electricity this month.

This radio is electric, but it can also be run with batteries.

I went to an electronics store yesterday to buy a new computer.

My mother doesn’t feel comfortable using electronic devices. She doesn’t even have a cell phone.

Please note that the word “electricity” is the noun form of “electric”.

Also, the word “electronics”, with an S, is used to talk about machines in general which are electronic. Therefore, we can either say “electronic devices” or “electronics”. In the third example, I wrote “electronics store” with an S because it’s a store which sells electronics. If I wrote “electronic store”, it would mean the store itself is electronic, which is totally wrong.

idiom: to go the extra mile

The idiom for this week is often used to talk about customer service. It is to “go the extra mile”, and it is used to talk about a person who gives someone service that goes beyond expectations. For example:

I really like the service at this store. They really go the extra mile for their customers.

Brenda is the best salesperson on our staff because she always goes the extra mile when serving her customers.

ABC Company is a very important client for us, so I want you to go the extra mile for them.

John was the most popular teacher at this school because he always went the extra mile for his students.

This expression always uses the word “mile” even in countries that use the metric system. Therefore, we NEVER say to go the extra kilometer.

phrasal verb: hit off


Today, I have a short but useful entry for you about the phrasal verb “hit off”. We use it when we want to talk about having a really good relationship with someone from the first meeting. For example:

I met my wife at a party about six years ago, and we hit it off right away.

I want you to meet my friend Jenny. I think you two will really hit it off.

I had a blind date tonight, but I’m not going to see him again. We just didn’t hit it off.

A: How did you and Ian get along?

B: We’re completely different people, so we didn’t really hit it off.

Please note that we always put the word “it” in the middle. Also, as you can see from my examples, we can use this in both positive and negative sentences. It can be used to talk about both romantic and non-romantic relationships.

grammatical expression: at best


Today’s grammatical expression is “at best”, and we use it when we want to talk a person not being able to do something really well or within a certain time. We use “at best” to talk the highest level we think they are able to achieve. For example:

I don’t think I’ll win the race. At best, I’ll come in second place.

There’s no way we’ll be able to finish this project by May 5th. At best, we’ll finish it by May 8th.

I can’t make ten cakes by 5:00. I’ll be able to make seven of them at best.

I really doubt Steve will get an A in his chemistry class. I’d say he’ll get a B at best.

So, as you can see, we can put “at best” at the beginning of the second sentence or at the end of the second sentence. We always have a sentence at the beginning to explain the situation. We can use this expression to talk about ourselves or about other people who are not there. However, it’s very rude to say this to a person directly because it’s quite negative.

adjective: shrewd

Last week, when I was reading, I came across the word “shrewd”, and I thought it would be a good adjective for today’s blog.

It is used to talk about a person or a decision that displays a lot of intelligence and awareness about a certain situation. For example:

Ken is a very shrewd businessman. If he says this company is a good investment, then I believe him.

It was very shrewd of Lyle to sell his stock when he did because very soon after that, the price went down.

Our current prime minister is quite a shrewd politician. He is able to use the media very well in order to win votes.

My husband made some very shrewd business decisions a few years ago, and now he is able to retire early.

We usually use this word to talk about business people or decisions, but it can also be used to talk about politics.

grammatical word: dump

I have another word for you today which has a few different meanings. It can be used as a verb or a noun.

The main meaning of the verb, to “dump” is to discard something in a fast and careless way. For example:

My son dumped his toys on his bedroom floor. I told him to pick them up and put them away properly.

A big truck just dumped a load of dirt in the middle of the street. We’d better call someone to get it cleaned up.

I hate people who litter! A lot of people in this city just dump their garbage anywhere they like.

Another meaning of this verb is to break up with someone that you’re dating. For example:

Peter is really upset right now because his girlfriend just dumped him.

I’ve dumped a lot of people, but nobody has ever dumped me.

I think my girlfriend is going to dump me. I’m really worried about it!

This way of using “dump” is quite casual and should only be used with friends.

As a noun, the word “dump” refers to the place where a city’s garbage is taken and piled up. In this case, we always says “the dump”. For example:

I threw away those old dishes last week. I’m sure they’re at the dump by now.

I was driving past the dump yesterday and it smells so bad! I think the city should burn the garbage instead.

It can also be used to talk about a person’s home which is very cheap and of low quality. In this case, we always say “a dump”. For example:

I hate my apartment! It’s such a dump! The problem is I can’t afford to get a better place.

Did you see where Cheryl is living now? The place is a real dump! There are cracks all over the walls and it smells really bad!

This meaning of the noun “dump” is quite slang and should never be used directly to someone to talk about their home.

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