Archive for June, 2011

idiom: in the bag


The idiom for this week is “in the bag”; it is used when we want to talk about something that we think will be a sure success. For example:

If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about if you’ll get this job or not. You have so much experience, so I’m sure it’s in the bag!

That actress gave the best performance of her career in that movie. She’s got the Oscar award in the bag.

A: Do you think Bob will get ABC Company to become our client?

B: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s in the bag because he’s dating the daughter of ABC Company’s president.

We always use this expression to talk about something in the future that we feel extremely confident will happen; we don’t use it to talk about a past situation that has already happened.

inseparable/intransitive phrasal verb: drop by

drop by

Today’s phrasal verb is “drop by”, and it is used when someone wants to talk about going to a place without making firm arrangements before. For example:

I think I’ll drop by the grocery store after work and buy a steak for dinner.

Is it ok if we drop by Sharon’s house? I want to return the CD I borrowed from her.

A sales representative from ABC Company dropped by our office today, but I told him we weren’t interested in their product.

I’m really glad you dropped by today because I wanted to ask you a question.

If you need to borrow anything, just drop by anytime. You don’t need to call me beforehand.

It was so good to see you today. Please feel free to drop by anytime!

So, the first three examples are inseparable with an indirect object (the grocery store, Sharon’s house, our office), and the last three example are intransitive. This means that there is no object after “drop by”. If we use “drop by” in this way, it means that we are currently at the place which the other person came to. These places are usually our homes or workplaces.

grammatical expression: to be a toss-up between…

The grammatical expression for today is to be “a toss-up between” two options. English native speakers use this when we can’t make a choice between two things, people or places. For example:

A: What’s your favorite food?

B: It’s a toss-up between sushi and lasagna. I love them both!


A: What’s the best country you’ve ever been to?

B: It’s a toss-up between Italy and Turkey. They were both so interesting. I can’t choose between them.


A: Who do you think was the world’s most evil dictator?

B: Many people think Hitler was the worst but for me, it’s a toss-up between Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. Both of them were far worse than Hitler.

My wife and I are trying to decide where to go on our next vacation, but we haven’t made a final decision yet. Right now, it’s a toss-up between France and Spain.

I believe this expression comes from the habit Western people have of tossing a coin in order to make a choice between two things. If the coin is “heads” (the front side), we choose the first option; if the coin is “tails” (the back side), we choose the second option. So, in these cases, it’s like we’re saying I have to toss a coin in order to choose between them because they’re both equal in my opinion.

adjective: desperate

Last week, one of my students asked me about the adjective “desperate”, so I thought it would make a good blog entry for today. We use this word to talk about a person’s feeling when they choose something they normally wouldn’t choose. They do this because they feel they have no other choice. For example:

I didn’t want to take this job, but I was desperate! There were no other jobs available.

I know this apartment isn’t good, but we were desperate. There are so few apartments available in this city right now.

I made a mistake when I started dating Laura. I didn’t love her but I was desperate for a girlfriend, so when she asked me out, I said yes.

I’m so bored right now! I’m desperate for something to do. I’ll even help you clean the house, and I hate cleaning!

We can also use this word to talk about something that a person really, really wants. For example:

I’m desperate for a really good meal in a nice restaurant! It’s been such a long time since I’ve done that.

My friend is desperate to get married and start a family. It’s what she has always wanted.

I’m desperate to find out what happens on that TV show! It’s so interesting right now!

As I mentioned a little while ago in my blog about the adjective “affectionate”, all adjectives ending in -ate are pronounced /it/. Therefore, the pronunciation of this word is /DES prit/; it only has two syllables.

grammatical word: make (part 2)


Today I’m going to finish writing about the various uses of the verb “make”.

9. to choose a certain person or place for a specific role. For example:

The executives at the company decided to make Gordon the new vice president.

I’ve decided to make Toronto my new home.

10. to cause a person to have a certain feeling. For example:

Doing presentations in front of many people makes me nervous.

A: What makes you happy?

B: Spending time with my friends makes me happy.

11. to achieve a previously set goal. For example:

I don’t think we’ll make the deadline for this project.

Most of the sales people made their quotas last month, but I didn’t.

12. to cause something to happen. For example:

The company’s decision to cut salaries made many people quit.

A loud noise makes the baby cry.

13. to be of a certain quality in a certain role in the future (often used with the verb “think”). For example:

Jenny just told me she’s pregnant. I think she’ll make a wonderful mother.

Bill was just promoted to department manager, but nobody thinks he’ll make a good supervisor.

14. to add up to a certain total. For example:

Seven and four make eleven.

We have 20 people on our team and the other team has 14 members, so that makes 34 people in total.

15. to cause a certain period of time to be very positive. For example:

Thanks for giving me such a nice present. You really made my day!

It really made my year when my girlfriend told me she loved me.

16. to constitute a difference between two possible situations. For example:

It makes no difference if we finish this project on Thursday or Friday.

Yvonne’s help made a big difference with this project. I have to thank her later for her hard work.

17. to force someone to do something they don’t want to do. For example:

When I was young, my mother made me clean my room every week.

My boss is making me work on Sunday! I hate him!

18. to turn left or right. For example:

When you get to the next corner, make a left and then walk down that street for five minutes.

We need to make a right here if we’re going to the airport.

So these are the main ways we use “make” as a verb. There are other less common ways in which we use it but, in my opinion, these are the most useful ones. I know that sometimes the definitions are hard to understand, so I think it’s better to focus on the examples. My advice, as always, is to memorize the example sentences and then change the small details to make new sentences.

the difference between words: cologne and perfume


I have a nice, short entry for you today about the difference between the words “cologne” and “perfume”. In English, “cologne” can be used by both men and women, but “perfume” is only used by women. For example:

I just bought a new cologne for my husband. I hope he likes it.

My grandmother prefers wearing cologne to perfume.

My wife loves the new perfume I gave her. She wears it all the time.

The ladies’ department at ABC Department Store were giving away free samples of this perfume. Do you like it?

A cologne for women has a softer scent than perfume, so many older women like to wear that.

It’s very important that you don’t use the word “perfume” when talking about a man because it will sound very funny and strange.

idiom: to be the last straw

The idiom for this week is to be “the last straw”, and it is used when we talk about being in a bad situation which we have been tolerating for a while. Then something happens, and we can no longer tolerate this bad situation. We call that final bad thing “the last straw”. For example:

I’ve told you to be quiet at night because I’m trying to sleep! Now I’ve found out you broke some of my dishes! That’s the last straw! I want you to move out!

I had been unhappy in my job for a long time. Then my boss told me he was cutting my salary by 10% and that was the last straw for me. I quit my job the next day.

My friend Gloria was not happy in her marriage, but she tried to make it work. Later, she found out her husband cheated on her and that was the last straw. Now she’s divorcing him.

This expression comes from a longer expression in English: “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. I suppose camels have been used for transporting straw. If you keep putting straw on a camel’s back, it will become heavier and heavier. Eventually, there will be one straw that will cause the camel to collapse. Therefore, the straw is the symbol for the last bad thing we can tolerate, and breaking the camel’s back is the symbol for finally changing the bad situation.

inseparable phrasal verb: cheat on


This week’s phrasal verb is “cheat on”, and it is used when we want to talk about a person having a romantic or sexual relationship with another person who is not their romantic partner. For example:

Bill is going to divorce his wife because she was cheating on him.

I think my husband is cheating on me. Last night, he came home really late, and there was lipstick on his shirt collar.

If my boyfriend ever cheated on me, I would break up with him right away.

Peter’s girlfriend would never cheat on him. She loves him so much.

So, with this expression, it doesn’t matter if the person is married or just dating, but they must be in a romantic relationship.

grammatical expression: as for

Recently I’ve had two students ask me the meaning of “as for” when they were writing business emails, so that’s what I’ll write about today.

We use this expression in a situation in which a person is asking about or talking about more than one thing or person. When we are responding to their inquiry or statement, we use “as for” to talk about the second thing or person. For example:

Thank you for your inquiry about where you can buy our new product and how much it costs. Regarding the location where it can be bought, you can buy it at our store in Upton. As for the price, it costs $125.

A: What are we going to do about the report and the presentation?

B: Well, we can write the report this weekend. As for the presentation, we’ll have to ask Julia to do it for us.


A: We need to buy some milk and bread.

B: I can buy some milk at the supermarket after work. As for bread, I think we have some in the freezer.


A: What do you think about the two candidates for president?

B: I don’t like either of them. Ken Peterson doesn’t seem very honest, and as for Tim Young, he’s just too inexperienced to be a good president.

So, we can use “as for” both in writing, as in the first example, or in conversation, as in the last three examples. In formal writing, we often use “regarding” to talk about the first thing and then we use “as for” for the second thing. We only use “regarding” in very formal situations such as writing an important email or letter.

adjective: agile


Today’s adjective is the word “agile”, and it is used to describe a person or an animal that can physically move quickly and easily. For example:

My children are very agile. They can get up and down off the jungle gym at the park so easily.

My neighbor was trying to catch a stray cat that’s in our area, but cats are very agile; it’s very difficult to catch them.

I’m not as agile as I used to be. Lately, it’s become very difficult for me to run. I guess I’m getting old.

If you’re going to join the army, you have to be quite agile.

As I mentioned before, this word is about physical movement; it’s not about people’s minds or how well they think.

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