Thursday, December 6, 2012

(to) speak out

Two common two-word verbs using "speak" as the main verb are speak up and speak out. What's the difference between them?

As I see it, the difference is in the number of people who are listening to you.  In a private situation where one person is shy or quiet and others cannot hear him or hear him well, he might be asked to "speak up".  Often it is used to refer to not being afraid to express your opinion.

Speak out has a more sociological reference: A person will "speak out" in favor of one project, or "speak out" against another. 

Let's see a few situations where the verb "speak out" is used on the world wide web.

We begin with the title of a book:

Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write about Bullies, Cliques, Popularity, and Jealousy

Can you explain why the verb "speak out" and not just the word "speak" is used here? What social forces would be upon her to keep her from expressing her viewpoints?

Here's another headline:

The website continues: Medal of Honor Recipients Speak Out About PTS. Why are they using the verb "speak out" and not just "speak up"? Who does the organization want to listen to what the Medal of Honor recipients are saying? What changes does the organization want to be made? Why?

It doesn't have to be a national or international issue for somebody to speak out. Here is a local issue:

Tiverton residents speak out on bridge tolls

Have you ever spoken out on an important social issue? If so, how? To whom?  Are there any issues that you would like to speak out about, but haven't found the time, the proper means, or "your voice"?


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

it doesn't add up

We all know that when we add one to one, we get two.  We call this mathematical process addition.  But the verb "(to) add up" has an informal meaning: it signifies that the result makes sense.

We will often hear it doesn't add up", meaning that the results don'tmake sense. This can be used when referring to numbers or when referring to facts.

Let's begin with this: Many people are puzzled or irate as to why General Petraeus was forced to resign.  They say that the facts don't add up to such a great American general being forced to resign. It doesn't make sense that the general would be forced to resign.  They wonder what's the story behind the story. Read, for example, this news story:

From Kelley to Petraeus, It Doesn't Add Up

When you read that article, Here we look at a news story that uses the term add up with reference to numbers.


Curbing tax breaks: Does the math add up?

Notice that the issue makes the news more often when the numbers don't add up. Why do you think that is?

House Democratic women's numbers don't yet add up to power


Here we switch to the use of the term both arithmetically and also emotionally and socially:


Now for your own analysis:  What facts would you add up in an effort to compute the real cost of drug abuse? What is the real cost of drug abuse? 


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

a look back

We are writing this post on election day, November 6, 2012.  People are at the polls. Nobody knows the outcome of this election. But the campaigning is over and thus we see internet articles such as this one:

Pretty soon it will be the end of 2012 and we will see headlines, "A LOOK BACK AT 2012".  We will find this just like at the end of 2011 we found this:

and at the end of 2010, before that,

and in December of 2009 we found -

The interesting thing about this is that it is being used as a noun in all these headlines, a look back, and derives from the verb, (to) look back.
So now in the last months of 2012, when you look back at this year, what stands out? What stands out in the area of politics? Science? Art? Your life?

Take a look back and tell us (or write for your own use) what you see!


Friday, August 31, 2012


It's time for another presidential election and as usual some people have already decided who they are going to vote for, and others have not.  Those who have not yet decided whom they are going to vote for have a special name: THE UNDECIDED.

As the New York Times has written,

Meet the Undecided,

a reference to those who have not yet decided whether to vote for President Barak Obama or for Mitt Romney.

Where does this adjective come from? We have "the poor" or "the hungry" or "the early risers" or other nouns that derive from adjectives. But from "the hungry" we don't say "the hungries" or from "the confused" we don't say"the confuseds" and yet these and other headlines were written:

Deciding the undecideds: Tough for Obama, Romney

The Undecideds

This article above has the following quote:  They have already made up their minds, leaving the outcome to a slim margin of those identified as either “undecideds” or “independents.”

Here we see the article straight out using the past participle adjective form of the verb "(to) decide" as a plural noun: (to be) independent --> (an) independent --> the independent --> now a plural count noun: (the) independents.

Another strange nots is that I have never heard the positive version: "the decided".

Searching for the Undecided Voter

In the next few months we shall see what happens to "the undecided." Will they make a choice? Or will they remain undecided, and not vote for a candidate for President?

Read the following article,

Poll finds swath of voters undecided, unexcited

and then let's discuss this again in November, comparing data.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

(to) bear down on (something or someone)

Here's important news for many people:

Isaac Gains Hurricane Strength, Bears Down on Gulf Coast

Anybody who is in the hurricane's path had better beware, and prepare.  Most of the time when this term is used, it's in reference to a hurricane or severe storm.

Isaac grows stronger as it bears down on Florida Keys, hurricane watch extended to New Orleans

Here's another example:

Typhoon Tembin Bears Down On Taiwan 

But not always.

Currency crisis, economic weakness bear down on Europe's car industry

But the effect is the same:  Watch out, European car industry, because it's going to be feeling the full weight of the currency crisis and the weak economy for a while.***

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

(to) hold up under pressure

The 2012 Olympics are here, and the excitement is on, and so is the pressure. Some athletes say they don't feel the pressure; they're just having fun. But not all athletes react the same on the big stage.  Here's a headline about the U.S.A.'s female gymnasts:

Olympics 2012: U.S. women hold up under the pressure and  win team gymnastics gold for first time since ‘96 in Atlanta


Here we see this phrase again:



In this article, notice the word "adversity".

If you were being interviewed for a job, how would you answer the following question:

This expression, of course, applies not only to holding up mentally and psychologically.  See the following website:

Bridge Construction Set

If you have difficulty holding up under pressure, read this piece of advice:

5 Tips for Holding Up Under Pressure

How do you rate holding up under pressure?  Do you have any special tricks or strategies for holding up under pressure?

Friday, July 20, 2012

(to) have it all

Here's a nice expression that was popularized by the women's liberation movement of the 1960's and 1970's. 

Today's headline is this:

If Marissa Mayer can 'have it all,' can you?


Here's another headline with a slightly different take on the matter:

Women (and Men) Can Have It All

And this:


Women Can't Have It All Because
Nobody Can Have It All


But the expression doesn't only refer to women (and men).  See our next headline:

Why America Can't Have It All

Reading these articles, what do you think that "having it all" means? 

With reference to women, can a woman "have it all"?

Can a man "have it all"? 

Can America "have it all"?

And who defines what "having it all" means?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Making a Choice: Which is worse?

One English structure that really stymies learners of English is the structure that provides for the person to make a choice.

One person asks:

Which is Worse: Making a Mistake or Losing an Opportunity?

You have to make a choice. You choose "making a mistake" or "losing an opportunity".  If you choose "making a mistake", you are saying that making a mistake is worse than losing an opportunity. If you say "losing an opportunity", then you are saying that losing an opportunity is worse than making a mistake. 

What do you think: Which is worse: Making a mistake or losing an opportunity? Why?


Here's one more:

Regular Soda or Diet Soda: Which is Worse For Your Health? 


Again, you have to choose one. Do you think that regular soda is worse for your health than diet soda, or that diet soda is worse for your health than regular soda? You must choose one.

What do you think? Which is worse for your health: regular soda or diet soda?  Why?


In all cases, when somebody asks you a question of this nature, you need to choose one.

Which is more difficult for you: listening or speaking?


Click here to find out more!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

(to be) better off

Here's one of the most common expressions in English. You'll likely hear this in every avenue of life.

In 1980, Governor Ronald Reagan made this phrase so popular while he was campaigning for President of the United States:

Are you better off than you were four years ago?


Politicians have been asking this question to the public ever since then!

Here is an example from current online headlines: 


Assignment: Economy: Are you better off?

The idiom "better off" follows the "be" verb:  I am better off, she is better off, he was better off, we will be better off, etc.  It indicates a comparative state that would be better than another state so there is always a measure of comparision.

Here's one:

As a married couple, are we better off filing for taxes "jointly" or "separately"?


A married person contemplating may say he or she is better off single than married. Thus, we hear many song lyrics "I'm better off alone" and so on and so forth.  There is a sad story online:

I’m Better Off Without My Dad


So in a sentence, you would be better off this way THAN that way, and so on. You're better off knowing a lot of idioms and how to use them correctly than not knowing them and not understanding others when they speak opr write, and not being able to use them to express yourself, for sure.

It's a fun and interesting expression! Explore how it's used in English,and use it!!


Monday, May 14, 2012

in the wake of

Talk about a colorful expression! 

JPMorgan Chase's chief investment officer, Ina Drew, retires in wake of $2 billion trading loss.


To understand the expression "in the wake of" or "in wake of", you need to understand the meaning of the noun,
wake.  Here is a photo of a wake, viewed from in front of the wake:

and another image of a wake, viewed from above the wake:

So when there is a $2 billion trading loss, the loss causes many other events to occur. 

Here are a few more from the new: What is the cataclysmic event in each case, and what are the results of that event?


Best Buy founder Schulze to step down as chairman in wake of CEO scandal



There are always cataclysmic events occuring. Try to find a few more in the news; it shouldn't take you long!


Friday, May 4, 2012

Shake Up

Here is an article about doing something that you don't want to do:

There's No Need to Pad Your Resume


Padding your resume means to add qualifications and data to it that are not true, that are false.  Padding your resume is wrong, and it's a very bad idea. And padding your resume may lead to this:


Will Yahoo Fire CEO, Shake Up Board??


This word "shake up" has a verb form, (to) shake up, and is a noun, sometimes written as one word "a shakeup" and sometimes written as a hyphenated word, "a shake-up".

Here we see it used with some other events from the news; those of you interested in science will be interested in this one:

Senate Panel Would Shake Up Satellite Program


What changes would be made in the satellite program, and why?

If you'd like to see and listen to some videos and are interested in politics, check out this feature:

Inside Shakeup at the White House.

Who's moving around, and why is this a big story?

As the presidential elections roll on, you'll be seeing lots of news about political shakeups, corporate shakeups, and probably even shakeups in sports teams, such as this one:

Kevin Youkilis Injury Pushes Red Sox to Shake Up Roster


We here in Boston are wishing Kevin Youkilis a speedy recovery!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

(to) end up

Here's one of the more all-purpose verb:  (to) end up.

This is an intransitive verb, which probably is indicative of its nature.

Here's an example of the context in which I saw this word used today:


Peruvian authorities are still trying to unravel the mystery of why hundreds of dolphins ended up dead on beaches in the country over the past 2 1/2 months.

Here, the reference "end up" was very final.


Of course it does not necessarily have to point to the end of ends.

Quitters still end up as winners

And of course, as athletes are bought by one team, then later sold and bought by another, we ask questions such as this 2012 one:

Where Will Peyton Manning End Up?


Perhaps you can go online and determine where Payton Manning ended up for the 2012-2013 football season.

We're going to end by quoting Natalie Goldberg, author of "Writing Down the Bones," a text I used in my writing classes:

“Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.”

Would you agree?


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

(to) step down

In today's news, we had two multi-word verbs that are different only in their choice of the preposition practically side by side. We had (to) step aside and (to) step down.  

We will begin with (to) step down. Notice sometimes the preposition "from" is used and at other times the preposition "as" is used. Can you see the differences between the sentences in each case?

Steve Jobs steps down from Apple


Summitt steps down as Tennessee's women's basketball coach


James Murdoch to step down as BSkyB chairman

In case case, (to) step down means to resign from a high position. This could be in government, in business, etc.

Now do a search for "Nixon steps down". Everything comes up "Nixon resigns". This is because Nixon stepping down was such a dramatic an historic piece of news that only the singular word "resigns" would have the type of impact that the event conveyed. 

So what is your theory about when to use "as" and when to use "from"?

Use "from" when you are going to immediately afterward name the company or event that the person resigned from.  

Florida judge steps down from George Zimmerman trial

Use "as" when you name their position: chairman, president, etc.

Mubarak steps down as President of Egypt, hands power to military

It's fun to find multi-word verbs in the news because these add so much color to what we read!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

(to) come to expect

Here's an absolutely wild and extremely common transitive verb that I have seen very little attention paid to in vocabulary books or vocabulary lists, or grammar books.

Do a Google search on "come to expect". You'll be surprised what you find.

Our first instance of it in the headlines is here, in an important health article:


“Many of the things that are routinely done are things that patients have come to expect and doctors have routinely ordered,” said Dr. Christine Cassel, president and CEO of the ABIM Foundation.


SOUNDING BOARD: We've come to expect certain negative behavior


And here's an interesting twist on the expression "(to) come to expect" in a video from Vanderbilt Hospital:

We've Come To Expect the Unexpected: Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt

What do you think it means?

Definition #13 of the Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines it as: 

Follow the link (above) and look at some other really good examples of this word in context.

And then come up with a few sentences and uses of your own.

For example, what have you come to expect from politicians?

What have you come to expect from life?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Come Down Hard On ( ~ )

Here's a transitive multi-word idiom that you don't want people doing to you.

Let's first take a look at a few examples from the headlines and see if you can come up with any hypotheses as to what it might mean:

Supreme Court Health Care Law: Justices Come Down Hard On The Mandate 


Law must come down hard on coal mine lawbreakers


NFL Comes Down Hard On New Orleans Saints For 'Bounty-Gate'


Well, based on these three headlines, would you say it means something closer to "to support" or "to admonish"? 

We see it meaning "to admonish", "to criticize harshly".  You can see that someone or something came down hard on somebody or something. It could be a teacher coming down hard on a student, a parent coming down hard on a child, or a spouse coming down hard on a spouse.  In each of these statements, it's a strong statement that may have strong repercussions, often legal.

Put this verb - (to) come down hard on (~ ) - in your browser and see the various cases in which this verb is used. In each case, look to see who did what, and who is coming down hard on him/them, and what would be the repercussions, legal or otherwise, of this.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Breaking Away (to) break away (from)

One of my favorite of all time movies was a 1979 film called "Breaking Away". It was about a group of teenage boys who discover a love for bicycle racing. The term "breaking away" has reference to sports and also to the boys' social lives, as each one has to break away from the expectations of the surrounding world to live a life right for him.

You can view the trailer of this movie by following this link.

This verb "(to) break away" can be used thus in a variety of contexts, from sports to politics to sociology. 

Let's look at how it's used in the news headlines.

As Romney breaks away from the pack, Rick Santorum hopes for an upset

Here's another one:

Presbyterian group breaks away over gay clergy

What is this group breaking away from, and why?

And here is a third headline:

Nigeria breaks away from African Union at its own risk

Why does Nigeria want to break away from the African Union? What could be the consequences of this?

See how many contexts you can find this word used.  In each case, what is the individual or group or object breaking away from, why, and what might be some consequences of this?


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

(to be) at stake

Here's a nice expression that is useful in any number of situations.  It expresses the reality that life and consequences and choices go hand in hand. 

What’s at stake for the candidates tonight on Super Tuesday

Global Warming - What's At Stake

 Social Security:What’s at Stake for Children, Youth, and Grandfamilies

The expression implies that if one thing happens, something else will be at risk. It also implies that if one thing happens, there will be other major consequences.

Is Your Health At Stake? Do No Neglect On What That Really Matters

Is your health at stake if you spend too much time in front of your computer without the proper posture? 

What is at stake is the global warming problem is not controlled or solved?

Find some other colorful expressions in the news and on the Internet that use this expression. Find out what's at stake!!!


Monday, February 27, 2012

cut back, (to) cut back on, (to) cut down on

Today's CNN poll was this:

Quick vote

Are rising gas prices making you cut back on driving?
There is a noun that derives from this verb, "(a) cut back", and this word is very common in political and economic circles:

Government Cutbacks Spur More Layoffs

The verb is - (to) cut back on (something).  Very similar to this is the verb (to) cut down on (something).  Here are some other examples of these verbs from news headlines:

Americans Cut Down On Checking For Colon Cancer During Recession 

 Chelsea Handler: Why I've Cut Back on My Drinking

India says it won't cut back on Iran oil imports, in defiance of stiffer US and EU sanctions

These two verbs, (to) cut down on (something) and (to) cut back on (something) are fairly interchangeable.  They both imply to reduce the level of whatever it is that's being done!!

So can you think of a few things in your own life that you'd like to cut down on?
Send us your thoughts in the comment box below.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

(to) weigh in on (an issue)

In the world of politics, everybody has an opinion. And many people want to add their opinion to the public record. When somebody adds their opinion to the pool of opinions, we use the verb (to) weigh in (on) ~


Below you can see in our first headline, an entertainer-turned-politician adding his voice to the debate over the economy.


'Dirty Harry' weighs in on deficit

 Here's one that might include you...

Passengers weigh in on carry-on-bag hassles

Here's an athlete from the Boston Bruins hockey team adding his opinion about a current political question:*

Bruins goalie weighs in on Obama contraception decision

Is there a current events issue that you would like to weigh in on?

Many weigh in on current events that are of importance to them by writing to their representatives and lawmakers.  If you are a citizen of the United States, you may want to visit, or email or write to you your local, State, or Federal representatives.

In a democracy, it seems like everybody wants to - and have an avenue - to weigh in on issues that are of importance to them.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

(to be) in it for THE LONG HAUL

Here's a colorful idiomatic expression for you that is featured prominently in the news as the Republican Party electoral races heat up; it seems like, as of this blog, all the remaining candidates are claiming to be IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL:

...Ron Paul Gears Up for the Long Haul

Newt Gingrich called an unorthodox post-caucus press conference Saturday night to assure the press that not only was he in the race for the long haul, but that he had only begun to go negative against Mitt Romney. 


Rick Santorum Says He’s Going Nowhere, in It for ‘Long Haul’

There was one news story that I found that actually used this expression in the context of its original meaning:

Air France says over 85 percent of long-haul flights maintained despite strike Monday

The word "haul" is both a noun, haul, and a verb, (to) haul. Its most common meaning is as a verb, and refers to carrying something over a long distance, usually something very heavy.  

Oddly, many married or engaged couples refer to themselves as being "in it for the long haul." I find this strange because of course marriage is this, by definition, intrinsically.  If you do not intend to be with somebody for the rest of your life, why would you get married? That's what marriage is!  Do you have any comments about using this expression in this context? Please share your comments with us.

Its most commercial face can be seen on the trucks and vans that are so ubiquitous: U-Haul.

At any rate,  see how you can find this colorful expression that functions as an adjective phrase ("He is in it for the long haul") used in print media and online.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Face off

Here's an intransitive two-word verb (that also is a noun) for you that is featured prominently in the news:

What caused a recent spat between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei?

Friday Night Face Off (FNFO) is a short form improv, competitive comedy show, now in it’s ninth season. In the style of Who’s Line, players use audience suggestions, we pit two teams of improvisers against each other, in an all out comedy championship show.

Republican Debate Sunday: GOP Presidential Candidates Face Off Ahead Of 2012 New Hampshire Primary

Here we have a two-word verb that is intransitive and impliesi a reflexive quality.  You will never separate the words.  On the other hand, if you used the transitive verb "to face" then you might create a sentence such as "Candidates face each other ahead of the 2012 New Hampshire Primary".

The verb "to face off" is used in politics, in debates, and in the sport of hockey, where a game is begun with a "face off".

As a verb, the verb tense is carried in the verb "face" as in this example from Boston College:
This qualified the team for the championship game on Sunday, where they faced off with home team Dartmouth.

Since this verb is so popular in politics and sports, and thus it's featured prominently in newspapers and all forms of media, it's a good one for everybody to learn!


Friday, January 6, 2012

according to....

You want your English to be perfect, right? Sure you do. So here is a lesson that is sure to help.

Here are a few headlines from the news:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is surging in South Carolina and now has a solid lead over his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, according to a new CNN/Time/ORC poll released today.

According To Plan A: A Short Film

Certain adjectives and transitive verbs, when followed by the direct object, must be followed by a particular preposition.

The expression "according to ( )" means "as stated by (source of information)" and is used in conversation and in formal writing. Thus, it is important to learn to use it correctly.

Many learners of English use the expression "according" but - incorrectly - do not complete it by using the preposition "to". They might say "according her" or "according the teacher" and this is incorrect.

Whatever you would say in your native language, make sure that in English you always use the complete expression, "according to" + (the source of information).

Would you like to see more examples of this expression used correctly?  Enter "according to" in your search bar and see how many responses are returned. You may find a book that I enjoyed reading, The World According to Garp, by John Irving.