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English as a Second Language

Viewing entries tagged with 'language'


Rule of Thumb


There is no official explanation for how this expression developed, but most people think it has to do with measuring distance; an average thumb is about an inch long, so if you don’t have a ruler, you can use your thumb as a substitute. It makes sense then that "rule of thumb" has come to mean ANY GUIDING PRINCIPLE OR GENERAL METHOD FOR DOING THINGS. It’s not intended to be 100% accurate all the time, but it can be useful in certain situations. 

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Couch Potato


Here is an expression that we use to describe a person who likes to spend their free time being lazy, sitting on the couch, and watching TV all day. These people usually do not get enough physical activity.

"I wish my roommate wouldn't lay in front of the TV all weekend. It would be nice for us to hangout, but she is a couch potato!"

So, as we begin our weekend, let me encourage you: DON'T BE A COUCH POTATO!!! Get outside and have some fun!

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Paint the town


Last night as I was cooking dinner, Michael Jackson's song "The Way You Make Me Feel" came on the radio. As I was dancing around my kitchen and singing the song, I heard this expression and wanted to share it with you!

To 'paint the town' or 'paint the town red' means that someone is going to go out and have a really good time. Usually, this involves going to numerous parties or bars in one night. 

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HAVE a hand vs. GIVE a hand


If you HAVE A HAND IN something, it means you are participating in or involved with something.

If you GIVE someone A HAND, you are helping them do something. Let’s use the party in the picture to show the difference. Let's pretend that Stacy's best friend threw her a surprise birthday party and that she planned it with Stacy's sisters. 

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Run Over


Phrasal Verb: RUN OVER

The phrasal verb 'run over' has a few different meanings. Let's take a look at how we use them.

1. To hit something with a vehicle. "This time of year, you have to be careful not to RUN OVER all the squirrels that are in the streets."

2. To knock someone down. "I know I'm not a fast runner, but the other guys didn't have to RUN me OVER once the race began!"

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High Stakes


This adjective phrase is used to describe a situation where there is a great deal to be won…or lost. For instance, a HIGH STAKES poker game is one where the players are betting a whole lot of money. There is great risk, but there is also a chance for a greater reward.

We might use these words in a slightly different way to convey the same meaning. Pretend, for example, that I am meeting my girlfriend’s father for the first time at dinner tonight. I love my girlfriend and hope to marry her someday, and I’ve been told that she will never marry anyone her father does not like.

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Can vs. May


More often than not, "can" and "may" are used interchangeably in speaking and writing. So today, let's look at how they should be used.

"Can" is used to express someone's ability to do something.

He can cook spaghetti for dinner tonight. (He is able to cook spaghetti.)

"May" is used to express possibility or permission.

He may cook spaghetti for dinner tonight. (It is possible he will cook spaghetti./He has permission to cook spaghetti.)

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Work Out


There are several meanings to this phrasal verb.

1. To solve (or resolve) a problem or problems. “Megan and Kevin are always fighting. I hope they can WORK OUT their differences.”

2. To exercise. “Mike WORKS OUT at the gym on the second floor of his building every day.”

3. To formulate or develop. “My teacher and I WORKED OUT a plan that would help me improve my writing.”

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It's vs Its


This is a common grammar mistake that even native English speakers will make when writing. When do we use "its" and when do we use "it's"?

ITS shows possession for the pronoun 'it'
IT'S is the contraction for 'it is' or 'it has'

"The college has its graduation ceremony at 10:00am." In this sentence, possession is shown. So there is no apostrophe in 'its.'

"It's raining cats and dogs outside." In this sentence, 'it's' could be replaced with 'it is,' so we need to use an apostrophe.

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Cut to the chase


Cut it to the chaseWhen we use this expression, we are usually telling someone else to hurry up and get to the point. We may also use it about ourselves to express that we are going to tell you the most important thing, first.

Example: Let’s say that there was a fire in my office - a big fire. There three fire trucks as well as news cameras reporting on the situation. I got out of the building, as did everyone else. When I call my wife, I might begin the conversation like this: “Hi, honey. There was a big fire at my office today, but let me CUT TO THE CHASE. Everyone is fine.” Then, I’ll proceed to tell her some of the details.

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