Archive for July, 2011

adjective: dull


Yesterday I wasn’t able to write a blog entry. I’m afraid I’m getting quite busy these days and I won’t be able to write my blog as often as I have been.

Anyway, the blog entry for today is the adjective “dull”. This word has three meanings in English:

1. to be boring. For example:

The party last night was really dull. I wish I hadn’t gone.

My husband has become really dull recently. He never wants to go out and do anything anymore.

2. to not be sharp. For example:

This pencil is really dull. Do you have a pencil sharpener I can borrow?

My kitchen knives are so dull. I need to get them sharpened.

3. to not be shiny or bright. For example:

My kitchen floor is really dull right now. I need to polish it.

The colors in this painting used to be bright, but they have faded over the years. Now, as you can see, the colors are quite dull.

Some people think the word “dull” means “dumb” or “stupid”, but it doesn’t. Also, please note that this word can mean “boring”, but it doesn’t mean “bored”.

the difference between words: fast and early

Today I’d like to write about the difference between “fast” and “early”. I don’t know about other languages, but in Japanese they use the same word for both ideas.

The word “fast” is used to mean that someone does something quickly. For example:

I can run very fast. I won many races when I did track and field in high school.

Paul works very fast. He completed his last project in less than two weeks.

Wow! You got here really fast! There must have been very little traffic.

The word “early” is used to mean that someone arrives ahead of the scheduled time. For example:

I came early for the party because I thought I could help you get ready for it.

I like to get to work early. It gives me a chance to do some things without having a lot of people around.

Spring is early this year. Normally it doesn’t begin for three more weeks.

If you have trouble understanding the difference between these two words, think about it like this: “fast” is about the speed of something or someone and “early” is about when something or someone arrives.

idiom: to dodge a bullet

Today’s idiom is to “dodge a bullet”, and it is used when we want to talk about a situation in which we didn’t get something we wanted and then we find out that we were lucky not to get it. For example:

I really wanted that job at ABC Company, but I didn’t get it. Anyway, I just found out that the guy who got the job has been transferred to Mongolia! I guess I really dodged a bullet.

I know you wanted to date George, but he wasn’t interested in you. I think you dodged a bullet because I heard he treats his girlfriends really badly.

A: My wife and I wanted to buy this house, but we didn’t get it.

B: Oh really? You guys really dodged a bullet. This house needed a lot of repairs, and it cost me a lot of money.

I couldn’t get time off work to go camping last weekend, but it was raining all weekend so I guess I dodged a bullet.

In case you’re not sure, the word “dodge” means to move quickly away from something so that it doesn’t hit you. We sometimes use this word when talking about a game called dodgeball. This is a game we sometimes played in school in which people would throw a ball at the people on the opposite team and, if they hit them, they were out of the game. Therefore, the people had to dodge out of the way of the ball.

inseparable phrasal verb: stand for

This week’s phrasal verb is “stand for”, and it has three different meanings:

1. for some initials to represent words. For example:

A: What does ASAP stand for?

B: It stands for as soon as possible.

My friend told me UFO stands for unidentified flying object.

2. to believe in and represent a certain ideal way of living. For example:

I believe that our prime minister stands for family values.

That company refuses to use cheap labor in poor countries. They really stand for honesty and integrity!

3. to tolerate something. For example:

My mother won’t stand for any swearing in her house. One time I said a bad word and she washed my mouth out with soap!

You’d better be on time for work. Our boss won’t stand for anyone arriving late.

The third way of using “stand for” is always used in negative sentences and usually with the word “won’t”.

grammatical expression: easier said than done

Today I’d like to write about the grammatical expression “easier said than done”. It is used when we want to respond to someone who thinks a particular thing is easy, but you know that it’s not. For example:

A: If you practice hard, you’ll be able to win the piano competition.

B: That’s easier said than done. There are a lot of good pianists in the competition this year.


A: Making an omelette isn’t difficult. You just have to beat some eggs, add some cheese and vegetables and then cook them.

B: Well, for me that’s easier said than done. I’ve never made an omelette before.


A: I don’t understand why you can’t quit smoking. You just have to smoke one cigarette less every day.

B: You’re not a smoker, so you don’t understand. That’s much easier said than done.

So, as you can see, we usually use this expression when responding to someone else’s statement. Even though we say it directly to the person, it’s not considered rude to say this.

adjective: appetizing

Today’s adjective is “appetizing” and is used to describe food. However, we don’t use it to talk about the way food tastes. In that case, we would say “delicious”, “good”, “excellent”, etc. We use the word “appetizing” to say that a certain food looks, smells or seems delicious before we eat it. For example:

Look at the pizza at the table next to us. It looks really appetizing so I’d like to order the same thing.

My friend described this amazing recipe for lemon chicken that she made last night. It sounded really appetizing, so I got the recipe from her and I’m going to make it this weekend.

Durians don’t smell very appetizing, but they taste really good.

A: Here try some of this. It’s really good.

B: Well, frankly, it doesn’t look so appetizing. I don’t think I’d like it.

So, as you can see from my examples, we can use “appetizing” in both positive and negative sentences. Please remember that we can’t use this word after a person has eaten something; it’s only about the perception they have of the food before they eat it.

grammatical word: pretty

Today, I’d like to write about the word “pretty”, but not the adjective. This way of using “pretty” is put in front of other adjectives or adverbs, as in “pretty good” or “pretty quickly”. Many of my students think this is the same as “very”, but it’s not. The word “pretty” indicates that something is slightly weaker than the regular adjective or adverb. Therefore, the scale is: very good -> good -> pretty good. Let me give you some examples:

The movie was pretty good, but it could have been better.

A: Can you run fast?

B: Well, I can run pretty fast, although I was much faster when I was younger.

The color my wife chose to paint our house is pretty nice, but I would have preferred a darker color.

A: Is living downtown expensive?

B: Well, it can be pretty expensive, but some things don’t cost so much.

When we use “pretty” in this way, we usually stress “pretty” with our voices.

However, “pretty” can also be used in another way that means something is equal to or slightly stronger than the adjective or adverb. In these cases, we usually stress the adjective or adverb itself with our voices. When we use “pretty” in this way, it often indicates that we were surprised by what we experienced. For example:

I heard Tony play the piano the other day, and he was actually pretty good.

I know I look weak, but I’m actually pretty strong.

It can get pretty loud in this neighborhood because there are a lot of kids living around here.

A: I ran into my ex-girlfriend when I was on a date with my new girlfriend.

B: That must have been pretty uncomfortable.

A: It was!

So, as I said before, the word “pretty” in these cases is much stronger than in the first set of examples.  However, it’s still not as strong as using “very” or “really”.

the difference between words: moved, touched and impressed

Recently one of my students asked me what the difference was between “moved”, “touched” and “impressed”. It seems there is a lot of confusion about these words especially in Japan, so that’s what I’m going to write about today.

We use the word “moved” to talk about something that affects us emotionally. Things that can move people are books, movies, songs, etc. For example:

I’m really moved by the new song by Mark Taylor. The lyrics are so beautiful.

I was really moved by the scene in that movie in which the boy finds his lost dog and hugs him.

We use the word “touched” to talk about a situation in which a person does something considerate for us without being asked to do it. For example:

I was really touched when Jerry brought me a cup of tea because I said I had a sore throat. That was really thoughtful of him.

Julia made me a sweater for my birthday and it took her over six months to make it! I was so touched when she gave it to me!

Finally, we use the word “impressed” to talk about something that was done skillfully. For example:

I was very impressed with the work you do on the ABC project. Keep up the good work!

Did you know that  Vic plays the piano? I heard him play last night, and I was really impressed!

The examples that I’ve given you are all adjectives with -ed endings. That means that we always use these words with a person as the subject. Therefore we CANNOT say, “It was very moved.”, “It is touched.”, or “It was so impressed.” If we want to talk about the situation, we use “moving”, “touching” and “impressive”. For example:

The ending of that book was very moving.

When the singer won her award, the host gave her a hug. It was a very touching gesture.

The special effects in that movie are extremely impressive.

Please note that the words “moving” and “touching” can be used in that same way to describe something that affects us emotionally. However, when we use the word “touched”, it’s usually for a more personal situation in which someone has done something thoughtful for us.

idiom: to be a walk in the park

I have a short but interesting entry for you today – it’s the idiom to “be a walk in the park”. We use this idiom when we want to say something is easy. For example:

Installing this new computer system will be a walk in the park for me. I’ve done it many times before.

A: How was your test? Was it difficult?

B: No. It was a walk in the park because I studied really hard for it.

Can you give us a presentation about economics? That should be a walk in the park for you because you majored in economics.

I took a Spanish class last year. I thought it would be a walk in the park because I know French, but it was really difficult.

So, I’m not sure of the reason why we use “walk in the park” to mean “easy”, but I suppose it’s because walking in a park is considered to be an easy and relaxing thing to do.

inseparable phrasal verb: lay into

This week’s phrasal verb is “lay into”, and we use it when we want to talk about one person scolding another person in a serious way. To scold someone means to criticize someone’s behavior directly to that person. Here are some example sentences for “lay into”:

My mom is always laying into my dad about not spending enough time with her.

My father really laid into me after he caught me smoking and drinking. He told me he was really ashamed of my behavior.

I can’t be late for work again! If I’m even two minutes late, my boss will really lay into me about it.

Nobody in our class did the assignment, so our teacher laid into us about the importance of completing our homework.

So, with this phrasal verb, we always put a person after the word “into”, and then if we want to talk about the topic of what the person was saying, we use “about” followed by the topic.

In my second example, the person whose father laid into him about smoking and drinking is a teenager because a adult would probably not be criticized for smoking and drinking by his father.

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