Friday, May 29, 2009

on the verge of

This phrase is similar to the one we learned yesterday: about to. However, while about to is widely used, on the verge of is a little less common, a little more formal and sounds somewhat dramatic.

Also, while you can use about to for just about anything, using on the verge of is a little tricky. For example, it's very common to say "It's about to rain," but you'll hardly ever hear, "It's on the verge of raining." On the other hand, "I'm so stressed; I'm on the verge of going insane," is pretty much comparable to "I'm so stressed; I'm about to go insane." Similarly, you can say "They're on the verge of starting a business," just as you can say "They're about to start a business."

The word verge means edge or border, so the idea of the phrase is you are at a border or edge before you let something happen or before you do something.

Because on the verge of is somewhat formal and dramatic, it's best to use it with big events such as quitting a job or losing your temper or giving up on English because it's difficult--something you will never do, right? On the other hand, on the verge of is hardly used with everyday events like washing the dishes or taking out the garbage or doing the laundry. For these activities it's better to use about to.

The best suggestion for mastering the use of on the verge of is to practice and to experiment. Be bold but careful while you are still learning to use the phrase. Ask your teachers or friends who are native speakers if you can say this phrase or that phrase. For example, can you say "on the verge of planning our wedding?" The answer is yes. What about "on the verge of going to the zoo?" Not really. It's better to say "about to go to the zoo."

Also remember that this phrase has to be followed by a noun, so use the gerund (ing or noun form of a verb) if you're following it with a verb. You can, therefore, say "Her job is so stressful, she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown," or "she's on the verge of having a nervous breakdown."

like this:

A: I just spoke to Tom. They're on the verge of buying a house.
B: Oh yeah? That's great! We should probably help them move.
A: Yeah. He said they could use our help. They're about to start packing.
B: We can also get the kids to help. They can carry the small things.
A: That's not a bad idea. Tom and Janet have a lot of stuff.
B: I know. So have you heard from Sam and Christy? I wonder how they're doing in Vegas.
A: I spoke to Sam this morning. He said they were on the verge of losing all their money.
B: Oh, that's so typical.

about to - getting ready to
somewhat - kind of, sort of
just about - almost
mastering - becoming an expert
a nervous breakdown - when someone loses emotional or psychological control

Ok. Don't worry if it's a little complicated. I will use on the verge of in future blogs so you can see more examples of it. In the meantime, do your part. Try it out. Sometimes you'll be right, and sometimes you'll be wrong. But eventually, you'll get it with a lot of practice.

Have fun and enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

about to

We've seen this expression before on a past blog. Since it's a widely used and idiomatic phrase, we're going to focus on it today. About to + verb means getting ready to do something or something is almost going to happen. For example, you can look up to a cloudy sky and say it's about to rain. When you're stressed out you can say "I'm about to go crazy." If a mother asks her child if he has done his homework, he can reply, "I'm about to do it."

You can use about to with just about any verb.

like this:

A: Hi honey! How are the kids?
B: They're driving me insane. I'm about to scream.
A: Alright. Take deep breaths. I'll be home soon. I'm about to leave.
B: That's great. Can you stop by the store for some milk?
A: Sure. You want the organic kind right?
B: Yeah, that'd be great. I might make some milk shakes later. Alright, I'll talk to you later. I'm about to start laundry.
A: Alright. See you later.
B: Later.

just about - almost
driving me - causing me; making me

That's it for today. Use about to as much as you can today. Tomorrow, we'll learn something similar but a little more formal.

Have fun!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cut it out!

Cutting something out can mean removing or deleting something. For example, if you are writing an essay and you don't like one paragraph in your essay, you can cut out that section or cut that section out. People who make movies often cut some parts out when they are putting the film together.

However, there's another meaning to cutting it out that I want you to learn. It is more idiomatic; it means to stop doing something right away. We often say this to friends or family when we are upset or annoyed and we want them to stop what they are doing immediately.

When someone's teasing you about your new haircut and you're tired of it, you can say, "Cut it out!" If you're
watching your friend's kids and they are fighting instead of eating their dinner, you can sternly say, "Guys, cut it out or there will be no dessert."

We can also use cut it out in a friendly manner if it's imperative that we stop what we are doing right away.

like this:

A: We're supposed to be studying, but we've been screwing around for the past hour.
B: I know. We'd better cut it out and buckle down. This exam is 60 percent of our final grade.
C: If I don't make at least an 80 percent on this exam, I'm screwed.
B: Alright. Should we start with our notes from Chapter 10?
C: That sounds like a good idea as soon as Alice tells us why she was kissing the professor.
A: I told you that wasn't me! Why don't you tell us why you were stalking the professor.
B: Ok guys. Cut it out. Let's get serious. We have one hour left to study.

sternly - strictly and seriously
imperative - important and necessary
screwing around - playing around, not being serious
buckle down - get serious and determined to do the work
screwed - in big trouble
as soon as - right after, soon after
stalking - following without being seen

Alright. Time to practice. Talk to you tomorrow.

Have fun!

Monday, May 25, 2009

get caught up in

When you get caught up in something, you usually forget something else important. Getting caught up in something means to become so engrossed, so interested in what you are doing that you forget about what you are supposed to do.

If you are supposed to call a friend at 3 p.m., but you forget about it because you started watching a dvd that was so interesting, you can call your friend after the movie and say, "I am so sorry; I started watching Terminator and got so caught up in it, I completely forgot to call you."

When you're reading a book that is so amazing that you forget the time, you can recommend the book to someone by saying, "This book is so awesome. I was only going to read a few pages before going to bed last night, but it was so good, I got caught up in the story that I read the whole book. That's why I look so tired. I only got two hours of sleep last night."

You can get caught up in reading a magazine article that you miss your stop on the train. You can get caught up in doing homework that you forget about your friend's party, although the other way around is probably more likely to happen. You can get caught up in a novel or a song or a film that you start crying or dancing or singing or forget where you are. You can get caught up in pretty much any activity if it makes you forget something.

like this:

A: That was an awesome party. Don't you think?
B: Oh yeah. I can't believe I started dancing.
A: I saw that! You were good!
B: Well, I don't normally dance, but the music was so good. I guess I got caught up in it, I just starting moving and the next thing I knew I was on the dance floor. I'm a little embarrassed about it now.
A: Oh, don't worry about it. You were amazing. I got caught up in Scott's speech, I started crying.
B: So did I! I can't believe he's leaving tomorrow.
A: I know. We're all going to miss him.

to be engrossed in something - to be focused on something; to be very interested in the moment
the other way around - the opposite

Well, I hope you get to use this expression soon and often. If you're in the U.S., enjoy the Memorial Day holiday. I hope you get to relax and enjoy some nice weather outdoors. If you're not in the U.S., spend some time outdoors anyway and enjoy the weather.

Until tomorrow,

the small guide site

Friday, May 22, 2009

while you're at it

While you're at it is an idiomatic way of saying "while you are doing that". It often goes with the expression we learned yesterday: might as well. We often say "while you're at it, you might as well do this." This means "while you are doing that, it's a really good idea to do this or it's the perfect time to do this." We sometimes use these expressions together to be funny.

like this:

A: Hey Tom, what are you doing right now?
B: I'm about to wash my car.
A: That's a great idea. It's a beautiful day. You know, while you're at it, you might as well wash my car, too.
B: Ha! Ha! very funny. You'll have to wash your own car, buddy.

Another way of suggesting or saying that something is a good idea is to ask "Why don't you ...?" or "Why not ...?" You can also use these with while you're at it.

like this:

A: What are you up to right now, Mindy?
B: I'm checking out the Website of the University of Minnesota.
A: Oh yeah? While you're at it, why don't you look into their music therapy program? You're still considering it right?
B: Oh yes. I'm going to look at their liberal arts program first, then I'll check out their music therapy program.
A: Great. Let me know what you find out.

This combination can also be used to be sarcastic like this conversation between siblings.

A: Were you guys smoking inside the house?
B: Not really. We just lit a cigarette to see what it's like.
A: I'm going to tell mom and dad.
B: You're such a snitch. Why don't you just call the police and have us arrested while you're at it.

Get the idea? Now, it's time to practice. Try to use it in your conversations in the next couple of days. Remember, the more you use it the more it will become part of your language skills.

By the way, did you recognize some expressions that we've learned before? What are you up to? and about to. If you don't, check out previous blogs to get their explanations and examples.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

might as well

Sometimes you're browsing around a store with no plans of buying anything. Then you see a shirt that's on sale for 50% off. You don't want to spend any money, but it's such a cool shirt, and it's 50% off! So you think "I might as well buy it."

You're on a trip; you've been doing a lot of sightseeing and at the end of the day, you're completely exhausted. You just want to get back to your hotel room to rest. On your way back to the hotel, however, you see a museum that's open for another hour. You don't feel like going in because you're so tired, but because you're on vacation, and because you're already at that place, you say "we might as well go in. We're already here."

Might as well is a useful phrase to know. It means it's a good idea to do this because we're in the perfect situation or we should take advantage of this situation and do it. You usually say this when you're not sure if you want to do something, but you decide to do it because the situation is just right.

You can follow might as well with a verb: If we're going to Chinatown later, I might as well buy some fish. Fish is very inexpensive there.

You can also say might as well to end a sentence or by itself: I'm thinking of driving to San Diego when I'm in Los Angeles next month. I'm renting a car, so I might as well.

Sometimes people use might as well to be sarcastic and often also to be dramatic: If the price of gas keeps rising, I won't be able to afford to have a car. I might as well sell my car now.

This expression can be tricky to put into practice at first. The key, of course, is to try to use it as much as possible.

like this:

A: Should we get some milk? We still have a little in the fridge.
B: Ah, might as well, since we're already here.
A: Ok, I'll go get it while you choose which cereal to buy.
B: Ok thanks. While you're there, you might as well get some yogurt. We're completely out.
A: What kind do you want?
B: Choose whichever one you like.
A: Ok, I'll be right back.

...after grocery shopping.
A: Oh no! You got a parking ticket.
B: Oh great! I can't afford to pay for this. They might as well take my car away.

completely out - none left at all
great! - this is said sarcastically about something horrible

That's it for today. Don't forget to practice. If you have any questions, write in your comments or start a discussion on Facebook.

All the best.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

pull it off

Don't confuse this expression with "pulling something out", as in: When Emily realized she still had the tag on her new pair of jeans, she "pulled it out" immediately. ... or Johnny got a splinter; his mom "pulled it out" with a pair of tweezers.

Pulling it off is completely different. It means being able to do something that was quite difficult or challenging. When you are very busy and you don't think you'll have time to write the essay that's due tomorrow, but you managed to do it, you can say, "I pulled it off. I didn't think I'd have time to do it, but I did." Similarly, when you don't think you can give a speech because you get very nervous talking to an audience, but in the end you are able to do it, you can say, "I can't believe I pulled that off. I was so scared, I was shaking. But I pulled it off."

like this:

A: That was an excellent party. I can't believe you guys pulled that off at the last minute.
B: I can't believe it either. But John's boss just told him yesterday that he would be transferred to Hawaii.
A: So you guys got a hold of his friends right away. That was a good turnout!
B: Well, he's definitely popular. But it was difficult to get his favorite local band to come and play at the last minute.
A: I bet. So when is he leaving for Hawaii?
B: He's packing as we speak. He's leaving tomorrow evening.
A: Wow! You really had to have the party tonight. You guys are good!
B: I know. I still can't believe we pulled it off.

get a hold of someone - call, contact someone
turnout - the number of people who attend an event
I bet - I'm sure that's true. I would think so.
as we speak - right now (while we're speaking)

Alright. So now think of something that was difficult for you to do, but you were able to do it. Tell the story, then say "I'm so glad I pulled it off." or "I can't believe I pulled that off."

Don't forget to stop by the small guide site.

Good luck!
the small guide site

Monday, May 18, 2009

pet peeve

Do you have a pet peeve? Most people do. A pet peeve is a specific thing that other people do that really ticks you off (makes you angry).

A common pet peeve is when someone cuts in line at the post office or at the grocery store. For some, their pet peeve is when people talk too loudly on the train. If you're a parent, your pet peeve might be when your children don't put away their clothes. One pet peeve of mine is when people cough without covering their mouths.

You can say "my pet peeve is when ..." then describe the specific thing that ticks you off. You can also describe the situation first, then say "that's a huge pet peeve of mine."

like this:

A: I just saw a guy pick his nose on the bus. It was so disgusting.
B: Tell me about it. That's a huge pet peeve of mine, especially when you're sitting next to the person.
A: That's so gross. I can't stand it either when people sneeze without covering their mouths.
B: Oh yeah. That's my pet peeve, too. And there's a lot of that on the subway. Do you know another pet peeve of mine?
A: What?
B: People who play their music so loud you can hear it through their headphones.
A: I hate that, especially when you're so tired you just want your commute to be as quiet as possible.

So, what's your pet peeve? Think of things that other people do that really tick you off. Is it a cashier who is rude? Is it when someone is being lazy at work? Is it when people walk their dogs and don't pick up their poop off the sidewalk? Now that is a huge pet peeve of mine.

tick you off - make you angry
Tell me about it. - an expression that means "I completely agree." or "I know exactly what you mean."
commute - your trip from home to work or to school and back

Alright. Get out there and speak English. Tell your friends about the small guide site and our free blog lessons. If you're on Facebook, be our fan.

Until next time,
the small guide site

Friday, May 15, 2009

What are you up to?

My goal for this blog is to post a lesson everyday, Monday to Friday. However, some days are so busy that I just can't find the time to type something up.

Yesterday was such a day. Because of technical difficulties trying to link one Website with another, I spent a great deal of time resolving issues instead of being productive.

In any case, you can expect a lesson a day from us. But if we run into another busy day and miss a lesson, which may happen now and then, you can use the opportunity to review past lessons and practice. You can also visit the small guide site to practice your writing.

Today's lesson is a very common and idiomatic way of asking "what are you doing?" The next time you call a friend and want to know what he or she is doing, you can say "what are you up to right now?" Similarly, when you run into someone you haven't seen in a while, you can also say "what are you up to these days?" or "what have you been up to lately?"

like this:

A: Hello.
B: Hey John! What's up?
A: Nothing much. I'm just watching TV. What about you? What are you up to?
B: Well, I'm about to head out to go to a party. Wanna come? (Do you want to come?)
A: I can't. I'm waiting for a phone call.
B: Alright. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. It's at Todd's.
A: Alright thanks. I'll see you tomorrow.
B: Alright. Later. (See you later)

A: Hey Trish!
B: Hi Mindy! Wow. How long has it been?
A: It's been a long time! Let's see, about 5 years or so?
B: So, what have you been up to lately?
A: Well, I started a business about a year ago. It's doing pretty well.

B: That's awesome. You'll have to tell me all about it. Right now, I have to run. I'm late for an appointment.
A: Ok. I'll call you. We'll catch up.
B: Ok, great. I'll talk to you soon.

resolving issues - solving problems
being productive - successfully doing something important
now and then - sometimes, once in a while
run into - meet, experience
what's up? - what's new? what's the latest?
about to - getting ready to
later - "See you later" is often used to say goodbye
We'll catch up - We'll tell each other the latest.

I listed some vocabulary that you may or may not know already. A few of them are quite common. Don't worry if they're difficult, we'll practice some of them in future lessons.

The dialogs above are quite conversational, so practice them with a partner and try to act them out. This helps you become comfortable with the phrases.

Don't forget to visit the small guide site, and check us out on Blogger or Facebook. Be a fan!

Good luck!
the small guide site

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

get to the bottom of it

If you've been studying English for a long time, you know that the verb get has a lot of uses in the English language, especially with phrasal verbs and idioms. I'd like to talk about get again today before we move on to other expressions tomorrow; I'm sure we'll look at the verb get again in the future.

The key, I think, is not to overdo it as to avoid confusion. For you, the important thing is practice and a lot of it. It's really easy to forget something if you don't use it on a regular basis.

Having said that, one common meaning of get to is to reach or to arrive. (We got to the party after midnight. I usually get to work at 7 in the morning. We'll get to class on time; don't worry.

One very useful idiom you should know, however, and our phrase for today is getting to the bottom of something. This expression means reach or find out the reason or the meaning of something.

like this:

1. I don't really know why they didn't come to the party, but I'll get to the bottom of it. (I'll find out the reason why they didn't come.)

2. She's not sure why her professor gave her an F; she's trying to get to the bottom of it. (She's trying to find out the reason why her professor failed her.)

3. He hadn't been feeling well, so he went to see a doctor to get to the bottom of it.

A: I was wondering why she was late again, so I got to the bottom of it.
B: How?
A: I called her mother. She said she overslept because they were out late last night.

Alright, it's your turn. What are you trying to get to the bottom of right now? Remember, use this phrase as often as you can. Make as many sentences as you can and have someone--a friend, a teacher--check them, so you can be comfortable using it on your own.

As always, join us on Facebook or Blogger, and visit us at the small guide site.

Good luck!
the small guide site

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

get to it

Yesterday, we learned to use let's get to it, which we usually say when we're about to do something together with another person or a group of people to do an activity.

Have you used this phrase so far? Try it with someone. You can say, "Are you ready? Alright, let's get to it!"

We can also use get to it to talk about the past, the future, or with a modal verb. We do this when we want to talk about starting an activity and often when it is kind of difficult or inconvenient, such as when we are busy.

like this:

A: I had to write an essay for a class, but I was so busy all weekend, I never got to it. (I was never able to do it.)
B: I was really busy, too. I had a lot of homework, but I didn't get to it until late Sunday night. (I wasn't able to do it until ...)

A: Hey Paul, have you taken out the garbage?
B: Not yet. I'll get to it later. I'm studying for a test right now. (I'll do it later.)

with a modal
1. My boss wants me to start this project, but I can't get to it now. I'm just so swamped! (I can't do it now.)
2. Your mother's waiting for you to do the dishes. You'd better get to it as soon as possible. (You'd better do it ...)

swamped -- very busy

Alright, the best way to learn is to use it, so say get to it as much as you can in the next couple of days. The more you practice, the more confident and comfortable you'll be using it.

Good luck!
the small guide site

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Let's get to it.

Hello everyone!

Welcome to all of you, and congratulations on finding our first blog post of English lessons.

This blog is brought to you by the small guide site, a place on the Web where ESL (English as a Second Language) students can find ways to improve their English, so stop by and visit us often.

We post this blog on Facebook and, and our posts will feature English phrases, expressions, idioms, and slang that we think ESL learners should be familiar with in order to take their English to the next level.

On this first blog, let's begin with a very common expression: let's get to it.

Let's get to it basically means "let's get started immediately" or "let's start this now." Sometimes we also say "let's do it." You often use this just before you begin a task and often after you've explained what needs to be done.

like this:

A: Ok everyone. Does everybody understand what we need to do before the manager gets back?

Workers: Yes!

A: Alright. Let's get to it. We only have an hour to get this done.


A: So, should we practice essay writing first before we do the listening?

B: That sounds like a good idea. Let's do one essay together, then we can do two sets of listening if we're not too tired.

A: Ok. Let's get to it. Which essay topic do you want to write about?

B: Let's see. What about ...

For more practice, visit the small guide site, where you can ask grammar questions, read tips on how to improve your English, and practice your writing. Good luck and see you soon!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Soon to come!

Look for our first English expression. Soon to post in two days.