Archive for April, 2011

the difference between words: customer, client and guest


Often I hear my students mixing up the words “customer” and “client”, so that’s what I’ll write about today. I’ll also go over when to use the word “guest”.

We use “customer” to talk about people who buy things from a store. We use “client” to talk about people who hire a company to provide a service to them. Finally, we use “guest” to talk about people who pay money to stay at a hotel. For example:

The store where I work had many customers today because it’s almost Christmas.

This must be a good store because it has so many customers.

I work for a lawyer and he has many clients. Yesterday, he talked with eight clients.

I’m going to go see my client today to talk about his financial needs.

Thank you for being a guest at our hotel. We hope to see you again soon.

One of our guests was complaining that he didn’t receive clean towels in his room this morning.

If it’s a restaurant, we use the word “customer”, and if it’s a school, we use the word “student”.

idiom: to hit the sack/hay

Today I have two idioms for you which are very similar and which have the same meaning. They are to “hit the sack” and to “hit the hay”. The meaning for them is to go to bed. For example:

I have to get up early tomorrow, so I’m going to hit the sack now.

It’s after midnight, so I think it’s time for us to hit the hay.

If I don’t want to be too tired tomorrow, I’d better hit the sack now.

I’m going to hit the hay now. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.

A: Where’s Jake?

B: He hit the sack about an hour ago. He was really tired.

We usually use these expressions to talk about our intention to go to bed now or if we think we should go to bed now. It’s possible to use them in the past tense, as in the last example, but, in my opinion, this is less common.

inseparable phrasal verb: monkey around with

I have a fun phrasal verb for you today. It’s to “monkey around with” something. We use it when we want to talk about a person who tries to fix a machine that is broken without giving it a serious effort. For example:

A: My computer isn’t working properly.

B: Ok. I’ll monkey around with it later and see if I can find the problem.

If you want me to, I’ll monkey around with your car and try to fix it. I’m pretty good with cars.

My printer was wasn’t working so I started monkeying around with it, and I actually got it working again! I was so impressed with myself!

This expression is quite casual, so we only use it in conversations with friends or people we are close to. When we use “monkey around with”, it means that the person doesn’t give it a serious effort because they are not an expert at fixing things. Therefore, professional repair people would never use this expression because they are trained to fix things. It’s only people who don’t really know how to fix things who would say “monkey around with”.

grammatical expression: fed up with

Today’s expression looks like a phrasal verb but actually is used like an adjective. For this reason, I’ve decided to write about it as a grammatical expression. It is to be “fed up”, and it is often followed by the preposition “with”. It is used when we want to talk about a bad situation that we have had to tolerate, but we don’t want to tolerate anymore. For example:

I’m really fed up with my boss! He’s always making me work on Sundays. I’m going to quit my job.

I’m fed up with the way this house looks! It’s so dirty and messy! We have to really clean it up.

I’m getting fed up with my friend’s attitude towards my boyfriend. I know she doesn’t like him.

My sister is divorcing her husband. She got fed up with the terrible way he treated her. She’s much happier now.

So as you can see from my examples, we can use the verbs “to be” or “to get” in front of this expression. That is why it functions as an adjective.

When we say “I’m fed up.”, it means we can no longer tolerate the situation and that we will do something to change it.. When we say “I’m getting fed up.”, it means we are still tolerating the situation but will probably soon want to change it. When we say “I got fed up.”, it means that we have already changed the bad situation.

adjective: eligible

Last week I was teaching this adjective to some students, so I would like to write about it today. The adjective is “eligible”. It is used when we want to talk about people who are able to receive something because they meet a certain condition. For example:

Employees who have worked here for five years or more are eligible for a 10 day paid vacation.

I’m eligible for a tax cut because I made less than $30,000 last year.

I’m not eligible for pension benefits until I’m 65 years old.

A: Is my company eligible for a discount at this store?

B: You’re eligible for a discount of 10% if you place an order worth more than $200.

We can also use “eligible” to talk about a person who is available and desirable for something. For example:

Mark is the most eligible bachelor in this town. All the girls want to marry him.

William Trenton is the most eligible candidate for mayor. None of the other candidates even come close to him.

The actress Rachel Simon is one of the most eligible candidates for the role of Princess Diana in a new movie about her.

So, with the first meaning of “eligible”, we always follow it with the preposition “for”. Please note that with this meaning of the word, there must be a condition. If there is no special condition, we cannot use the word “eligible”.

With the second meaning, we often use it to talk about “eligible bachelors”. This is quite a common expression in English. This means men who are unmarried but who are considered to be attractive. We usually don’t use this word to talk about attractive unmarried women though.

grammatical word: only


This week’s grammatical word is “only”, and we have a few different ways of using it in English. Let me go over them for you:

1. We can use it to talk about one thing or person out of a group which is special or different for some reason. For example:

I’m the only person who came to the English class yesterday.

Broccoli is the only vegetable my son will eat.

Chemistry is the only subject I failed in high school.

2. We can use it to minimize the importance of something or someone. For example:

I wish I could help you, but I’m only a junior staff member here.

I’m sick right now, but I’m sure I can still go on this trip. It’s only a stomachache. I’m sure I’ll feel better by tomorrow.

Could you come and help me with my computer? It will only take about 20 minutes.

3. We can use it to give an excuse for why something wasn’t done or why it can’t be done. For example:

I wanted to do my homework, only I was really busy yesterday.

That actress is perfect for that role, only she’s too old for it now.

I really like the design for the ad, only the colors are a little too dark.

4. We can use it to focus on one aspect of something or one group of people. For example:

This product is for women only.

I recommend this CD for heavy metal music fans only.

I’ve finished the first part of the report only.

5. We can use it when talking about a person trying to do something to help, but making the situation worse. For example:

I tried to help, but I only made things worse.

Bill tried to calm the boss down, but he only made him even angrier.

The teacher tried to explain the book to me, but his explanation only made me more confused.

6. We can use it to talk about something that happened in the very recent past. For example:

A: When was the last time you talked to Martin?

B: I talked to him only yesterday. He said he’s very busy these days.

It was only a week ago that Yvette got fired, so she’s still really upset about it.

I only just mailed the invitation to you, so you probably won’t get it until Friday.

7. We can use it to talk about our desire for a certain thing to be done in order to make a certain situation better. For example:

If you would only talk to me; I’m sure it would make you feel better.

If my daughter would only try harder in school; she could be a very good student.

If I could only find a good job; I would be so happy.

I hope the difference between these meanings is clear to everyone. As I’ve mentioned before, the best way to learn how to speak natural English is to memorize sentences and then change the small details. In this way, you will learn vocabulary and grammar at the same time without formally studying them. Good luck!

the difference between words: some and any

Today’s blog entry is about the difference between “some” and “any”. This is confusing for a lot of students especially people at a lower level. The basic difference is that we use “any” in the question form and in the negative form, and we use “some” in the positive form. For example:

Do you have any juice?

We don’t have any juice.

We have some juice.

Are there any paintings by Picasso in this museum?

There aren’t any paintings by Picasso in this museum.

There are some paintings by Picasso in this museum.

So, as you can see from my examples, it doesn’t matter if the nouns are countable or uncountable. However, if they are countable, you must put an “s” at the end of the word.

As I mentioned above, we use “any” for the question forms. However, sometimes we can also use “some” for the question form. There is a very subtle difference in meaning between the using “some” and “any” in the question: When we use “any” in the question, it means that we have absolutely no information about the answer. When we use “some” in the question, it means that we have some information that tells us a possible answer to the question. For example:

Do you have any juice?

(This means we have no information about whether the other persons keeps juice in their house because we’re probably visiting them for the first time.)

Do you have some juice?

(This means that we’ve probably visited them before and they had juice in the house  before. However, we don’t know if they have juice in the house right now.)

Let me give you some more examples:

Do we need to buy any apples?

Do you think we should buy some apples?

Do you need any more time to finish the test?

Would you like some more time to finish the test?

Do you have anything to drink?

Would you like something to drink?

So, as you can see from the last two sentences, the words “something” and “anything” can be used in questions following the same rules for “some” and “any”.

Also, please note that it’s very common to use “some” or “something” when making offers using “Would you like…?”.

idiom: to be on the blink

This week’s idiom is to be “on the blink”. We use it when we want to talk about a machine which is not working. For example:

Can I come over and do my laundry at your house? My washing machine is on the blink right now.

A: Is your stereo still on the blink?

B: No, I got it fixed, so we can listen to music now.

Nobody can reach Glen right now because his phone is on the blink.

A: Can I use your computer?

B: I’m sorry, but it’s on the blink. I’m going to take it in to get fixed tomorrow.

We usually use this expression to talk about machines that use electricity. Also, we usually use this expression to talk about personal machines that we own but not about public machines. If it’s a public machine such as a vending machine or a pay phone, we usually say “out of order”.

separable phrasal verb: fight off

Today’s phrasal verb is “fight off”, and it has two different meanings.

1. for someone to defend themselves against an attacker and make them run away. For example:

I read in the newspaper about a woman who was attacked in her home, but she was able to fight the guy off.

I think you should take a self defense class. A lot of people have been attacked lately, and you should learn how to fight off any attackers.

The Spanish attacked England a long time ago, but the English fought them off.

2. for someone to do something in order to prevent an illness in the beginning stages from becoming too serious. For example:

I think I’m catching a cold. I’m going to take some medicine tonight and go to bed early so I can fight it off.

If you start to get flu symptoms, you should drink this. It will help you fight off the flu.

I tried to fight off my cold by taking medicine and drinking juice, but it didn’t work. It’s become much worse now.

With the first meaning of “fight off”, it can be used for attacks against individual people or against countries such as in a war situation.

With the second meaning, it’s almost always used to talk about a cold or the flu, but we don’t use it to talk about very serious diseases like cancer.

grammatical expression: to take a turn for the worse

The grammatical expression for this week is to “take a turn for the worse”, and it is used when we want to talk about a bad or neutral situation which suddenly becomes worse. For example:

My life wasn’t very good, but things took a turn for the worse when I lost my job.

My friend was in an accident. His condition was stable, but he’s just taken a turn for the worse. I’m so worried!

We thought the economy was getting better, but yesterday things took a turn for the worse when one of the biggest companies in the country declared bankruptcy.

Negotiations between the two companies took a turn for the worse yesterday when ABC Company demanded more money.

We can sometimes use this expression to talk about personal situations but, in my opinion, it’s more commonly used to talk about bigger situations like politics, negotiations and serious health problems.

It’s very common to use the word “things” in the sentence such as in examples one and three.

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